Friday, August 03, 2007

The Talking Buffalo (and other horrifying tales)

Lest you all begin to get the impression that everything is all sunshine and roses over here at Milkweed Hill, let me tell you a little story about my family's evening out.

Ernesto called me as he left work tonight and we chatted about what to do for dinner. It was too damn hot to cook, so we thought about take out, but then couldn't agree on what to get. So finally I said, "Okay, let's just go out to a restaurant then. I'll get the kids ready and we'll leave once you get here." Easy enough.

So we head out to one of the "Bugaboo Creek" chain restaurants, and no, this is not a gourmet night out, but it's kid friendly and there's air conditioning. We had an incident there once with David when he was three because he was scared of the talking moose, but we got through dinner without too much trouble. There were enough people there to help distract him and I think he may have ended up under the table, but whatever. He assured me he was no longer afraid of the animatronics, making this a safe bet.

We were seated fairly quickly as I had called ahead and they brought us around the corner, past the talking Moose to a table directly under the mounted head of a talking buffalo. So Ernesto and I are like, "Hey kids, isn't this great? Look at the cool stuff!" David points out a skunk peeping out of some fisherman's waders and there's a red squirrel hanging from a lantern. I get Isobel all situated next to me and then I look to Sofia with her face turned upward, trembling with fear, wide eyes filled to the spilling point as she stares in horror at the stupid talking buffalo.

Immediately Ernesto and I spring into mommy/daddy reassurance mode. "Oh, it's okay, Sof, it's just a little robot inside it, like your barking puppy, you know?" Ernesto tries to place her in her seat but she clings to him for dear life, still unable to turn away from the wall-mounted beast looming above.

Between the quiet sobbing and the cries of "I don't want to hear it talk!!" we somehow manage to order some drinks. Somehow I think she'll be appeased by a fancy frozen lemonade. Not so. She comes to my side and implores, "we've got to go hooome..."

I'm both sympathetic and very frustrated. I understand that she cannot help her fear of the robotic buffalo telling lame jokes, but I just want her to get it that this thing is benign and it's nothing to be afraid of. Ernesto takes her outside to try and calm her down and meanwhile the waitress is trying to complete our order, but she can't with Ernesto gone. And now David has got his ears covered and is saying that he just doesn't want to hear the buffalo because "it's so loud." His sister has got to him. At least the baby is happy.

They finally come back, but Sofia is no happier than when she left. Tears are streaming down her red cheeks and she's trying not to look directly at the hairy beast, who hasn't moved or said anything for at least ten minutes. I ask Ernesto if we should try and get another table but the place is packed and there's no way we'd be eating anytime soon. We begin getting snippy with each other and finally we determine we have to leave. We pay for the drinks and tip the waitress for her trouble and leave, getting funny looks from some of the other tables as we go. Some sullen faced woman is staring at me as though I've just ruined her life and I insincerely mouth the words, "I'm So Sorry".

We pack into the car and head home. As I'm driving I'm reminded of the time I was about Sofia's age and went to the annual Christmas party that they held through the newspaper my mother worked at. It was a gala event every year, with magic acts, presents for all the children of the employees which numbered in the hundreds, and of course Santa was there in his grand sleigh, patiently listening to Christmas wishes while his cheerful elves (also employees of the paper) looked on. And as glorious as this whole scene was to my delighted young eyes, there were also the clowns.

Oh, the dreadful clowns.

I now know they were just doing their jobs, but I remember it like it was yesterday. There were four, or maybe six of them. A zippy little gaggle of them, all buzzing around in their primary colors , their pom-poms and their crazy hair. Most, if not all of them made balloon shapes and so there were kids running amok with "swords", battling it out in the great orchestral hall. Some of them talked, but many fancied themselves mimes I guess, because they wouldn't speak, but would rather honk or make some kind of whistling sound with a device hidden somewhere in their costume. They were all just awful.

But of course they weren't at all. I think as clowns go they were probably the best out there, but I was so freakin' afraid of them I could not stand it. And the most vivid memory I have is of my mother holding me on her hip while one of the clowns tried to give me a balloon shaped like an apple and all I could do was cry. He made one of those sad clown faces and I think it just made me cry even harder. He kept trying to give me the apple but I wouldn't take it. What was it about my wailing and refusal of the latex fruit that he didn't get? I mean come on. Enough already! I remember even feeling sorry for him, as though I really was hurting his feelings, but I couldn't bring myself to talk or smile or engage this character in any way.

So I get it. Sofia's scared of something that can't hurt her in the least, but it doesn't matter. She perceives it as terrifying, so that's just what it is. No amount of cajoling will fix that. She'll grow out of it, as I did my fear of clowns. Well, I'm mostly not afraid of them. I can talk to them without bursting into tears, anyway.

Tonight after I had put the kids to bed, I went in after a few minutes to check on them. David was crashed out but Sofia was still wide-eyed.

"I heard a loud sound," she says to me.
"It was just some thunder."
"Thunder?" she begins to look frightened.
"Yeah, just some thunder. Thank goodness it's not a talking buffalo!"
She smiles brightly, "Oh, yeah, it's good it's not that! Just some thunder!"

And with that, she rolls over and happily nods off to sleep.

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