When Elephants Fly

Jeremy seemed to like going to Nana’s house, but the four-year-old refused to understand he couldn’t watch his TV shows – at least not on demand.  “Paw Patrol!”  he would yell at the relatively small television screen, but without cable there was no Paw Patrol, nor any of the other fodder made to appeal to twenty-first century preschoolers.  Jeremy glared at Nana as if she was holding out on him. 

Jeremy’s expression was similar to the one Nana got when he didn’t like what she served for lunch.  Mommy always was willing to substitute the original offering at least twice to get Jeremy to eat.  Nana followed suit, but against her better judgment.  The conversation often went something like this:

“Here’s the peanut butter and jelly sandwich you wanted.”

“Don’t want it.  Jelly’s red, not purple!”

“That’s because it’s strawberry jam.  You love strawberries.”

“Don’t want it.” Now Jeremy pushed the plate away and looked like he was about to bolt out of the kitchen.

“I don’t have any grape jelly.  What do you want?”

“Hot dogs.”

The hot dogs, of course, were in the wrong kind of bun – slit on the top rather than the side.  Nana made a half-hearted attempt to explain that after Jeremy chewed them, he wouldn’t know the difference, but Jeremy was sure he would always know the difference.  And so it went.  Jeremy eventually might eat a fluffernutter and Nana would feel bad on two counts – for arguing with a four-year-old and for giving in (with marshmallow fluff). 

The business with the TV was worse.  Nana did get PBS on her antenna, and so – if it were the right time of day – they could get Arthur or Curious George, but if they were boring, Jeremy would point at the television and scream “Paw Patrol!” at increasing decibel levels, until Nana finally turned the television off and  directed him out to the car for a trip to the park or, if it had been a long afternoon, back to Mommy’s house.  Nana could, in fact, have taken care of Jeremy in his own house where he could indeed get Paw Patrol, but her daughter’s house was such a mess that she usually spent all afternoon cleaning and Jeremy spent all afternoon in front of the television (Paw Patrol).  As hard as it was, Nana preferred her own house and she thought it might do Jeremy some good to see how other people lived.

Nana had moved to South Kingston to be close to her daughter, Molly, who was a single working mother with an adored only son.  The father was acknowledged, but had little to nothing to do with his son’s life, and Nana thought that it might be mutually beneficial after Grandpa died (Nana’s husband Frank) to be close to her only daughter and grandson.  She bought a condo about two miles away and was available to babysit when the pre-school was closed or Jeremy wasn’t feeling well enough to go.  She also took him for assorted hours over the weekend to give Molly a chance to do errands and nurture her love life.  But it wasn’t easy.  And Nana was sure that it was her fault.  Lately, Nana was pretty sure that everything was her fault.

Ever since Frank had died – and even before – Nana felt that she was responsible for the downward trajectory of her life.  She had come home from an unexpectedly prolonged shopping trip (she had met a friend from church at the bakery and they decided to have coffee), to find her beloved husband dead on the garage floor, apparently having suffered heart failure while trying to start the lawnmower.  The EMT’s found no pulse, but took him to the hospital where he was pronounced dead.  No one could tell Nana exactly when and how quickly he died.  What she really wanted to know was whether it would have made a difference if she had arrived home an hour earlier.  Since she could not be convinced that it would have made no difference, she took responsibility.

After that, it was as if everything she touched turned bad.  Plants she had nurtured for years suddenly died from over- or under-watering.  Buyers for her house signed purchase agreements and then backed out.  Two trips in a row, her flights were cancelled.  The cat, who was only ten, got some kind of cancer and had to be put down.  Nana never had much self-confidence, but whatever self-assurance she had once was gone now.  Everything bad that happened was her fault – and now there was a four-year-old telling her what to do, that it was a mistake that she did not have cable and didn’t know how to cook what he wanted.

And that little boy was so sure of himself!  Nana wondered whether she had ever been able to bark orders that way, that she had ever have assumed that she had a right to demand what she wanted.  Of course, when she was a little girl, children had no rights.  They ate whatever was for dinner, hoped they would be allowed to watch Lassie on Sunday night (if there wasn’t a game on), and learned quickly that the best kind of attention from adults was no attention at all.  Anything else was dangerous.  Little wonder that Nana had no idea how to handle Jeremy.

Nana was more hopeful this cold wet November morning.  She had gone to the local library and gotten out a pile of Disney DVD’s;  she hadn’t seen a kid’s movie for years, so she had to ask the librarian for recommendations, and came back with a pile including Frozen, Toy Story II, and one of Nana’s favorites from her own childhood  – Dumbo.  After lunch, she started several films, only to have Jeremy wander off looking for something more interesting in the four-room apartment.  The rain was lashing too hard to go outside, and her daughter was out with friends for the afternoon celebrating someone’s birthday.  Jeremy was there for at least a couple more hours.

 “Jeremy, do you want to play Go Fish?”  He did not really know how to play, but he sometimes liked pretending.

“Paw Patrol!” he yelled as if Nana were deaf.

Nana patiently told the little monster (again) that her TV was incapable of conjuring up Paw Patrol, but suggested he look at the remaining DVD’s, which were in a pile on the kitchen table.  He did and came back with  Dumbo. “Elephants!” he cried.  All Jeremy’s requests were full-pitched commands.  Nana was glad to watch something she remembered warmly, and soon they were both mesmerized by the poor baby elephant and his mistreated mother.

Jeremy particularly liked the crows, and Nana refrained from telling him that they were no longer considered politically correct.  The little boy was also taken with the feather that the little mouse gives Dumbo and its ability to make its possessor fly.

“That’s a magic feather,” announced Jeremy, as if Nana couldn’t possibly understand.

Of course, Nana knew that the magic was all in Dumbo’s head, but she thought she might let Jeremy figure that out for himself.  I need a magic feather, thought Nana.  One that would make me think I could do everything right.  That I was doing everything right.  Of course, the exterminators came in monthly to make sure that no little mouse was available to provide the magic, but Nana sat thinking about where else she could get such a powerful token.

At the end of the movie, when the feather gets lost and Dumbo has to conjure up his own belief that he can fly, Jeremy still didn’t seem to get the message. 

“He lost his feather!” groaned Jeremy.

“But he could still fly.  Maybe he never needed his feather,” suggested Nana.

“But he lost his feather!” yelled Jeremy as if his stupid grandmother had not understood him the first time.  She tried again.

“It was like a lucky charm – it made him think he could.  You know that book you like – the Little Engine That Could.  It’s sort of like that.”

Jeremy glared at Nana.  “I don’t like that book.  I like the pigeon books.”  Nana had to admit he was right.  It was Nana who liked the little engine, Nana who didn’t know how to feed her grandson, Nana who had to cope with Jeremy for at least another hour.

But the rain had stopped, so Nana suggested they go to the pond on the local campus and feed the ducks.  Jeremy enjoyed tearing up half a loaf of bread and putting it into a sack, then he got into the car seat Nana had installed in the back seat.  Nana had a continual stiff neck from turning around to look at Jeremy when she was driving him anywhere, and was sure that – while the arrangement may be safer for children – it was certainly hazardous to her spinal column. 

When they got to the pond, Jeremy unbuckled himself and raced to meet the ducks and geese who had seen him coming.  The bread was almost gone by the time Nana got to the water’s edge, and Jeremy was happily mucking around in the goose droppings. 

“Let’s walk around the pond,” suggested Nana.

Jeremy didn’t think walking would be much fun, but he was willing to race, and took off before Nana could tell him she wasn’t participating.  It was a safe area though; she could see the whole perimeter sidewalk and ambled along as Jeremy alternately ran and stopped to examine various curiosities.  Halfway around Nana found a large, glossy black feather, and picked it up.  When she finally caught up with her grandson, he immediately demanded the feather.

“Doesn’t it look like it might be from one of the crows in the movie?” asked Nana, not relinquishing the feather.

“Yes!  Give it to me!”

Nana hung onto the feather.  “No.  I think I’ll keep it.  You can look at it if you want, but I’m going to hold it.”

That was not what Jeremy wanted and it got very loud at the pond all of a sudden.  Nana ignored him and headed toward the parking lot.  Finally Jeremy got into the car with his swollen red face.

“Time to go home,” chirped Nana.

Jeremy stuck his lip out and leaned forward to pound on the back of his grandmother’s seat.  He was a frustrated little boy.

“You know what?” he screamed.

“What?” replied Nana.

“Maybe that’s the magic feather.  Maybe I need that feather.”

“Maybe it is.  But I found it and it’s mine,” Nana said with a smile, as she tucked the feather in her visor.  She was almost to her daughter’s house and had already decided to go out for spaghetti after she dropped Jeremy off.  By herself.