Thursday, April 6, 2017

Das (toy) Boot

For the two years I have had the privilege of knowing her, my daughter has been fearless. She will throw herself headfirst down slides that would give pause to children twice her age. She purposefully submerses her entire head during bath time just to see how long she can hold her breath before me or her mother panics. She walked into her first day of full-time childcare as if the presence and reassurance of her parents was already hindering her social ascent.

So you can imagine my surprise when she displayed true, involuntary fear. The catalyst for this reaction? A wind-up toy boat. Months ago my son had received a green speed-boat toy. You could wind a tiny knob affixed to the faux outboard motor and then presumably the boat would speed along the surface of the water creating hours of fun and enjoyment.

In reality, once you wound the boat it would sputter on for about two inches before taking on water and rapidly sinking to the bottom. It was less of a bath-toy than a maritime disaster practice kit. The only accessories missing were hapless crew members and a poorly-maintained life raft. It was for this reason my son had quickly lost interest in the toy and it remained in the bathtub simply because we lacked the will to remove it.

So when my daughter recoiled in horror at one end of the tub, it took process of elimination to determine that the source of her fear was this same toy boat. Somewhat confused, I utilized exaggerated motions to remove the offending craft from the tub and place it into the nearby sink. Reassured but still shaken, she eased herself back into the water but never really took her eye off of the sink where I had placed the toy.

While drying her off, she continued to inquire as to the whereabouts of the green menace. I told her that the boat was “all gone” (utilizing sign language for good measure) and would not bother her again. I mentioned this to my wife but neither of us could understand why this tiny toy was able to locate the chink in my daughter’s psychological armor.

Despite my assurances that the source of her fear was gone, she would continue to inquire as to its whereabouts at odd intervals. Diaper changes, car rides, and even story time would be interrupted by her shaky voice asking “where boat?” One morning when my wife went in to wake her up, she frantically asked to see me. When I got in her room, she clung to me and whimpered “boat get Daddy!” over and over again.

I tried my best to assure her that, statistically speaking, my demise would more than likely be attributable to heart disease or Type 2 diabetes but nothing seemed to calm her fear. Since I hadn’t thrown the boat away, I theorized that I could make a production of destroying it in front of her. Perhaps I could place it in the driveway and make an elaborate display of running over it with the push-mower.

When I ran this idea past my coworkers, one of them pointed out that this would do nothing but transfer her fear from the boat to my push mower (since anything powerful enough to destroy an evil boat must be exponentially more evil). Faced with this airtight logic, I went back to the drawing board.

Eventually my wife, who is far more emotionally perceptive than I can ever hope to be, discovered that my daughter’s newfound fear of boats and their effect on the well-being of her caregivers was attributable to binge-watching the Disney movie Frozen.

As with any classic Disney film, the parents meet an untimely death before the close of the first act. In this case, the parents’ demise occurred when the boat they were on sinks at sea. To Disney’s credit this scene was understated and the emotional gravity was quickly undermined by a musical number, but the idea was there and somehow my daughter had connected the presence of a toy boat with the loss of her parents.

Once again, I was taught a lesson in how perceptive children can be. Ironically, Walt Disney movie studios may be the reason that my family never takes a Walt Disney Cruise line. Perhaps in their next movie, the protagonist’s parents will meet their demise at a Chuck-E-Cheese.

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