Encouragement

by Jeff Fleischer

“I don’t want to talk about it!”

“Not this again,” his mother said. Wendy knew from her first two progeny that it was important to encourage a child’s creativity. She also knew that there was a fine line between that encouragement and cementing bad habits. Her oldest’s brief dalliance with clown college probably could have been stopped in its infancy.

“I want to sing about it!” Denny continued. As he did every time he said that phrase now, he spread his arms wide and waved his fingers in a childish approximation of jazz hands.

Denny bobbed in place, bending his knees to the left, back up and then to the right. Wendy continued to make her son’s dinner, secretly curious about how long he’d wait for his cue. She had to admit, his little dance was kind of cute.

“Fine, sweetie, but it has to be fast. I’m trying to get dinner ready.”

A few weeks earlier, Wendy had decided her son was old enough to enjoy movie musicals. It made sense; a lot of the cartoons he watched were basically musicals anyway. Denny had a tendency to watch the same movies over and over, and Wendy had started to get sick of his animated movies after hearing them from the family room dozens of times. She could quote almost all of them from memory at this point.

Her instinct had been right. Denny loved musicals; maybe a little too much. Ever since then, he’d insisted on converting a big chunk of each day’s conversation into song (not all of it; she thanked her lucky stars that nothing she owned on video was sung-through).

“Tooooday at schooooool,” he began, launching into a three-minute number about how Evie Johnson (he whispered her name a bunch of times like an echo, quieter each time) had accidentally knocked his soda onto his lap, and how the cola — the “coaoaoala” in his warbling version — explained the brown stains all over the new jeans Wendy’s mother had bought him for school. “And thaaaat’s why they’re roooooooined.”

Wendy shook her head and nodded with her lips together; she had stopped complimenting the songs days ago. For one thing, she really wished he’d give up the habit. For another, Denny was a terrible singer. His voice was already high and a bit screechy when he talked, but Wendy assumed puberty would take care of that in a few years. When he sang, though, he tried to move up another octave, and the effect was somewhere between an air-raid siren and their cat anytime he figured out he was on his way to the vet.

Denny now had his arms spread out, leaning forward as he attempted the highest note yet.
“And noooooow I neeeeeeeed to. Change. My. Jeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeans.” He tried to tap along with each of the words, but had never gotten the rhythm down, so it just sounded like hard pounding on the linoleum kitchen floor.

As Denny ran upstairs to his room, pounding all the way, Wendy grabbed the aspirin bottle from the junk drawer under the microwave and popped a pair. They sometimes helped with the Denny-induced headaches.

Next time, she promised herself, she was going to introduce him to Buster Keaton.

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