Mastermind and Minion

My eldest son snitched the “Essential Calvin and Hobbes” from next to my bed when he was five years old. I caught him poring over the adventures of the older boy and his striped companion, and loomed over him with mixed feelings. On the one hand, yay love of reading! On the other hand, Calvin is not an ideal role model. On the third tail I’ve always promised myself that – like my parents – I would only make access harder to books that really do damage. I simply hadn’t planned on my non-censorious resolve being tested before my son started first grade.

But there was my spiky-haired son, putting on his best space alien accent and saying “Dat darn Kalfin! He stole ma space chip!” I forked over the complete collection.

He was quoting this tonight, and I swear I hadn't mentioned it.
He was quoting this tonight, and I swear I hadn’t mentioned it.

When you think about Calvin (as a grownup who may or may not spend too much time thinking about Calvin and Hobbes), you think of a kid who drives his parents nuts, does poorly in school and has behavior problems. But when you return with fresh eyes and see what Calvin DOES in the panorama of his time and tale, you begin to wish your son was – and could be – more like Calvin. Calvin has *time* and freedom. He wanders the woods with only a fearsome predator for company. He has long leisurely afternoons for the creation of mutant snow goons. He exercises his vast and untrammeled imagination in a whole panoply of joyful childish pursuits, many of which my poor son is forebarred from by shifting culture and a mother who works. There is no circumstance under which my seven year old would spend a whole afternoon playing with a little creek running through mud. He doesn’t have that much free time, and I am more constrained to periodically check on him.

The book was next to my bed, which explains the odd lighting.
The book was next to my bed, which explains the odd lighting.

But Calvin is teaching Grey what it could mean to be a little boy, and fires his imagination. Grey considers his circumstance, and finds his own way to be, well, an Evil Mastermind (of the amusing, kind, relatively-well-behaved type).

This Calvinic mischief was brought to mind the other night. Grey has a tremendous advantage over Calvin. Although entirely lacking in feline company, Grey has instead a little brother who is his willing and eager minion in acts of creative mischief. How joyful are those two boys in their shared universe! Anyway, the other night the boys were doing their usual delaying song and dance regarding sleep. Basically, it was part of our intricate tradition of them not going to sleep when I’ve told them to go to sleep already. At one point they came downstairs and demanded that I set up a tent for them to sleep in. (In truth, my actual challenges getting Grey to sleep are worthy of a serious post. But it’s funny in small moments.) This demand arrived at the point at which I had HAD ENOUGH ALREADY JUST GO TO BED AND IF YOU DON’T YOU’LL BE SLEEPING IN THE BASEMENT NEXT TO THE WORM BIN!

There was thumping upstairs after my chastened (so I thought) sons went back, but no more demands were lobbied by the prepubescent set, so I declared myself satisfied.

When we went in to kiss them good night, however, an astonishing feat of architecture met our eyes. Sadly, I could find no angle of photography that would take in the full glory but imagine this.

You walk into the room, and the wall appears suddenly several feet nearer, and covered in blue stars. You realize that blessed children have stood Thane’s mattress on it’s side. (I swear this is why I won’t buy either of them a proper bed.)

Wall of bed
Wall of bed

You are convinced that shortly your children will be squashed by said mattress and tiptoeing up you check out the situation. The brothers – the Lego Mastermind and his brother the Builder Minion, have used the kiddie chairs in the room to ensure their sleep remains unsquished. They lie in opposite sides of the “fort”, in a stuffed-animal-and-blanket filled enclosure.

The Minion, in Scooby Doo PJs, protected by the Green IKEA chair
The Minion, in Scooby Doo PJs, protected by the Green IKEA chair

Isn’t this what childhood is all about, my friends? The problem solving? The rule-breaking ingenuity? The ability to sleep on a pile of stuffed animals right next to your brother? Perhaps Calvin taught my son a bit of what was possible. I can’t regret it. And I can’t wait until Thane is old enough to read it too.

The Mastermind, with fuzzy dinosaur blanket and Puppy on a white chair.
The Mastermind, with fuzzy dinosaur blanket and Puppy on a white chair.

Girls have more delicate heinies

Complete vindication on all counts!
Complete vindication on all counts!

I think as a parent you often hope that your children will end up loving the things you loved. Mostly. I have always loved comics – newspaper, Sunday-morning-type comics. My favorite, along with everyone else is my generation, was Calvin and Hobbes. Before I went to college, I had amassed the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes cartoons. They’ve spent most of the intervening decades near my bed as safe bedtime reading to wash the taste of hard days from my mouth.

This harmless location takes on an entirely new aspect when your own unkempt-haired six year old boy learns to read. Sure enough, when I dared sneak one of the books next to my bed, it was found in short order by my young son. With trepidation, I warned Grey that Calvin didn’t always make good choices and if I caught him pulling some of Calvin’s stunts, or acting as rude as Calvin could, I would be disappointed. Then I let him at it.

He loves them. Loves. They are scattered throughout the house. They are far and away Grey’s favorite reading material. He sits on the heat vents and reads them after school. He reads them while he eats. He lounges on the couch and reads them during his brother’s nap time. His mis-readings are pretty hysterical. For example, the word “heinie” is not in his vocabulary. “Mom, what is a ‘hee-nigh?'”

He has also started sneakily reading after bedtime. He’s never been able to relinquish his nightlight, so his room is quite bright. Many’s the evening lately I sneak in to give him his goodnight kiss and find him facedown on “The Authoritative Calvin and Hobbes”. As long as he seems reasonably rested, I’m not going to bust him on it – and it’s making bedtimes much easier since instead of trying to lure us to stay longer he wants us gone so he can read.

I was afraid of the bad influence of Calvin on Grey, but instead Calvin is teaching Grey about a style of imaginative play that’s gone out of style lately. Grey built a tiger trap (tuna fish sandwich). Grey recently constructed his own transmogrifier, and has turned himself into various creatures. Grey made an adventure flip book similar to Calvin’s detailing tiger-food but less gory. Following Calvin’s lead, he’s flipped it over in order to do time travel. He’s begging to experiment whether cereal actually tastes better when hunted and stalked around a corner. He’s requested stuffed monkey heads for dinner, and telling him that food will turn him into a mutant is an effective way of getting him to eat. I suspect that if we get any snow, he’s going to want to imitate Calvin’s phenomenal snow-creations.

For all Calvin’s parents exhaustion, and his own complaining, Calvin had some pretty fun times in his 11 years of first grade. I hope that Grey enjoys himself with some of Calvin’s more enjoyable ideas. And so far we seem to have avoided the less salubrious elements of Calvin’s childhood!