Jefe's House

To Think That I Saw it on Markenpower Street

by on Jan.20, 2015, under Pophood, The Sixth Boro, The Truth Is In Here

My son’s multiverse of alternate realities crossed into the real world in a remarkable way.

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Parenting: Oh, the places you’ll go.

My 3-and-a-half year old son  is among those many toddlers who live in numerous alternate realities at once.  In a sense, so do I.  I’m, bi-urban, teaching in New York City and in Philadelphia. As a writer I am also often working on multiple projects at once for vastly differing audiences.  When my son’s not at daycare or cooking something up in his kitchen, he works in “my New York” and “my Philadelphia” as he calls them. These are different cities than the ones I know and love.

“Hey Pop. In my New York, red means go and green means stop…Hey Pop, in my New York, I have a baby daughter who just turned 21.”  In his Philadelphia, he teaches college courses in museums and in making drinks.  My wife is a biologist who works in the Philadelphia suburb of Spring House, which must seem to him a distant, fantastical place. One of her coworkers is named Eric.  “Hey Ma, at my Spring House, I also have a friend named Eric but he’s no the same Eric.”

Not surprisingly, he has gravitated toward Dr. Seuss from among the many children’s authors at his fingertips. He’s obsessed with crunk cars and wonders when we’ll be able to all take a ride together in a zumble zay or make quick exits by ejecting ourselves out of a gazoom.  He’s watched the original Cat in the Hat animated 1971 TV special ad nauseaum and loves to sing along to the complicated lyrics of “Calculatus Eliminatus.”  This past Halloween he decided to be The Cat in the Hat and insisted that my wife and I dress as his oversized Things 1 and 2.

A neighbor asked me how I felt about my son’s “telling stories” about his fictional New Yorks, Philadelphias and Spring Houses, suggesting that we were encouraging him to grow up to be a George Costanza; a neurotic, emotionally immature, chronic fibber who has trouble facing real world problems. I countered that my wife and I heartily encourage his colorful imaginativeness.  Rather than scold him or nudge him back to Earth we ask ever more probing questions during one of his increasingly fantastical yarns, seeing just how far will his racing young mind carry him as he speaks extemporaneously and thinks on his feet.

Then again, perhaps we’ve given him a little too much imaginative freedom for his own good. His multiverse reached its zenith recently when it crossed into the real world in a remarkable way that left me flabbergasted.  One grey and sprinkly afternoon I needed to mail a Netflix DVD, and knowing how my son loves to drop things into mailboxes I took the red and white postage paid envelope with me when I picked him up at our neighborhood daycare. I handed it to him and told him we could walk an extra block to a mailbox and he could do the honors, then we could hustle home before the rain began and grab an after-school snack.

“Oh no,” he corrected me. “Pop, we need to go to my mailbox on Markenpower Street.”

For the record, there is no Markenpower Street.

“Okay,” I said uneasily as it began to drizzle. “Well, maybe you can show me where that is some other time.”  I took his hand and guided us toward the nearest mailbox.

“Pop, it’s way, way over there,” he said, pointing at some distant vanishing point far up the sidewalk as we approached the mailbox.  I tried politely to give him an exit strategy so we could zoom home before we got drenched. “Why don’t we just use this mailbox today and you can take me to the one on Markenpower Street another day?” I suggested.

“No, Pop, we have to go to my mailbox today.”

I much as I was loathe to go down this puddle-drenched primrose path, I had to admit that I had nowhere better to be at that moment even as my glasses started to fog. “Alright,” I said.  “Let’s go.”  He sauntered past the mailbox, tugging me along behind him.

After another block he hadn’t broken his gait and I was starting to worry just how far he wanted to carry this thing. The rain was picking up.  “We should get home soon,” I nudged. “How much further is it?”

“Pop, I go to it when I take my subway to my New York.”  We had nearly reached the next intersection.  “Pop, at the corner there will be a hidden arrow and that’s where we have to cross.”

Cross? We were getting decidedly further away from home. Besides, crossing was a bold move coming from a 3-year-old, and one I hadn’t intended on making. I wanted to circle us back toward our house, not take us across this busy avenue further into Whoville.  And what of this hidden arrow? How the heck was he going to pull this one off?  He had just made this fantasy impossible to fulfill, and I was secretly glad about it. “Okay,” I said, but if we can’t find the hidden arrow we’re going home.”

Without missing a beat he marched onward. At the corner his eyes lit up as he pointed eagerly at the ground ahead of us.  “We’re here! See?” There on the asphalt, sure enough, I’ll be damned, was a painted white arrow in the bike lane. My jaw dropped.  “Now we have to cross,” he said assuredly.

As he led me over the crosswalk his eye fell across a One Way sign on a far corner of the intersection. “See?” he said casually. “There’s another arrow.”

Now on the other side of the avenue we continued onward.  As we passed the local public high school he pointed out a side door as we sauntered past. “That’s my secret subway entrance. Want to go in?” he dared me.

The Markenpower Disillusionment was coming to him any moment and I didn’t want to see him even more embarrassed, so I told him we didn’t have time to ride his subway today but maybe another day. He consented and we struggled mightily onward looking for a street that I knew for a fact wouldn’t be there.

We were now approaching a major intersection.  He slowed and looked around, perplexed. Here it comes, I thought.  The meltdown.  His eyes searched the horizon for a mailbox. Soon he spotted a boxy, solar powered garbage can, weakly pointed at it and took a few half-hearted steps.  Even he knew it wasn’t a mailbox.  As we approached it his eyes fell and he came to a dead stop. I watched and waited, holding my breath. He looked up at me, defeated.  “Pop, where’s a mailbox?

He had broken character and was admitting failure. A moment of truth had arrived–mine, not his.  Would I be a dad who delighted in his son’s failure to teach him a lesson and then launch into a smug talk about tall tales getting people lost, soaking wet, or worse?  Or would I throw rational thinking under the bus and step into a fantasy to save my son from humiliation?
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.  “I’m following you to Markenpower Street.” I stared at him fixedly.  “Lead the way.”  I won’t always be there throughout his life to spare him from life’s snares and rescue him from awkward situations but here was a time when I could truly mold reality simply by refusing to break character, and more importantly by refusing to allow him to break character. As we say in theatre, the show must go on.

He weakly took my hand and trudged onward through the downpour to the crosswalk. In the rush hour noise and chaos his eyes darted to and fro, searching perhaps for another hidden arrow to tell him which way to go.  With nowhere else to turn, he fixed his gaze across the busy thoroughfare and pointed to the other side as though it were a distant shore. “Markenpower Street is that way, Pop,” he said firmly. We waited for the light to change and slogged onward through the mist.

Just after reaching the far side his face lit up. There, half a block ahead of us, lo and behold, stood a mailbox. For me it was dumb luck. For him it was a shot of adrenaline. “There it is, Pop!” He powered toward it and patted the side of the mailbox like it was an old friend. I couldn’t help but smile.

“Is this Markenpower Street?” I asked.

“Yes! And this is my mailbox, Pop!”  He dropped the damp Netflix envelope into the mailbox’s “mouth” so it could fall into its “tummy,” and we headed for home. He beamed, trotting ahead of me. He had led us to the promised land.

Then he stopped and turned back at me, looking serious for a moment. His voice dropped.  “Hey Pop, are you gonna tell Ma about this?” he asked.  I hesitated.

Well…what would you do if your son asked you?

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