The Land of Make-Believe
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“What are you boys up to?” Rachel Stubert stood in the doorway to the family’s rather cluttered garage. Her son Bobby’s overactive imagination had skillfully constructed yet another huge mess, but had had some help from Caleb’s imagination. Caleb’s imagination was staying for the night. The two imaginations were best friends, and proved that some partnerships were more than the sum of their parts, for the two together always made a bigger mess than the two could apart.
“What was all that noise? Did something fall?”
The boys looked at each other for a brief moment before Caleb answered.
“Nothing fell Mrs. Stubert, that was us. We were trying to finish up the antimatter cannons so we could protect the house against all the aliens. You won’t have to worry with us around. We’re gonna have the biggest, most powerful antimatter cannons in the world.”
“Yeah,” chirped Bobby, “they’re the best, too. Our antimatter cannons are gonna create a force field around the antimatter shot, so it all stays together and hits where its supposed to. So see, Mom? You don’t have to worry about the house. We’ll protect you.”
Rachel sighed as she looked around at the once only slightly cluttered garage. Where mere disorganization and dust had been before now lay a conglomeration of screwdrivers, broom handles, wrenches, coat hangers, two funoodles and a hammer. It was plain to see that the kids were having the time of their lives, but Rachel was exhausted from a long day of housework and family chores.
“Well, I hope you can finish up in twenty minutes, because when I come back then, I want all of this mess cleaned up. You put everything back where you found it. And did you get permission from Daddy to use his tools?”
“Yes ma’am. Daddy said we could use them this morning before he went to work.”
Of course Ron would let them. He never missed an opportunity to stimulate Bobby’s imagination, and he wouldn’t have to clean up the mess anyway.
“Okay, just make sure that you clean this up in twenty minutes. I’ll be back then.”
Not being in the mood to argue, she left the boys with those words, and a resolve to talk to her husband about letting Bobby watch so many episodes of Star Trek. The boy’s imagination was already going to make adjusting to the real world difficult for him, so he hardly needed something to make the gap between make-believe and reality even more fantastic. All this nonsense about antimatter cannons would never get him a job or put him through college. She knew about the successful writers, who supported themselves by their imagination through literature, but those were few and far between, and she had to think about what was best for Bobby. She told herself that she would bring it up to Ron after the boys were in bed.
After she put the finishing touches on dinner and noted that the allotted twenty minutes had passed, she went to inspect the job the boys had done in the garage. She was shocked to see a spotless garage floor, but disappointed to notice that the boys had not put away the components of their completed projects. They were now proudly displaying their newly manufactured weapons to Rachel. She listened to each boy talk about how his was better at this at the expense of that, their reasons for choosing those particular benefits and drawbacks, and even what kind of sounds they thought the guns should make. At the end of their charming speeches, they asked permission to go outside and practice for that night.
“Can we, Mom? Please? I’ll eat all my vegetables at dinner!”
“Can we, please Mrs. Stubert? We need to practice; we won’t hit the aliens if we can’t practice!”
“No, not today. Why don’t you put back all the things you used to build your cannons, wash up and come to dinner? You can make new cannons again some other time.” She hated to tell the two youngsters no, but she had told them to put away all of the things they used to make their “cannons;” she had to stand by her words if she wanted Bobby to respect her later in life. Besides, they could build the same cannons again in the morning and play with them all day.
Caleb and Bobby weren’t so easily dissuaded.
“Mom, I promise I’ll put it all away tomorrow; just please let us have them tonight. Please?”
She thought for a moment. It was hard to balance being a fun parent with being a practical one. In the end, she decided that letting the boys keep the monstrosities overnight wouldn’t hurt too much. She could reinforce Bobby’s respect for her with some other issue that would likely come up that night.
“Okay. You can keep them until tomorrow. But I want those things taken apart and put right back up where they belong before Caleb leaves tomorrow. And you can practice for a little while after we eat. Now go, wash up, and come to dinner.”
“Yeah, thanks Mrs. Stubert!”
After the boys had run off to wash their hands, Rachel looked in earnest at what the boys had made. The two structures were mostly the same, being based on a broom handle protruding from a section of funoodle. Bobby’s funoodle had been cut about two feet long, and his broom handle was a short one that Ron had cut a long time ago to make a costume for Rick, their older boy. The unpainted handle protruded a little less than three feet from the funoodle. On the other hand, Caleb had used a section of funoodle a little over three feet long, and his broom handle showed a little more than two feet of old, cracked yellow paint from the top of the funoodle. All told, Caleb’s weapon stood about six inches taller than Bobby’s did as they stood leaning against the doorjamb. Taking one last look at the clean but still disorganized garage, she sighed and went into the dining room.
By now, Ron had come home, washed up, and set the table. He was putting the food on the family’s yarn hot pads. The yellow and red pads were originally owned by Rachel’s grandmother, and they were such bright yellows and reds that Rachel, in her childlike foolishness, had believed the first time she saw them that they themselves were very hot, and kept all of the food hot. It was embarrassing for her to remember how she had refused to touch them for fear of burning herself. Her mother had had to hold her down while Rachel was screaming and crying in protest, and touch her with one of the pads to convince Rachel that the pads weren’t hot. She had been very embarrassed that her imagination had gotten the best of her, and she didn’t want Bobby to go through the same thing.
While she reflected on the hot pads, she walked to the main bathroom to check the towels. They were clean, so the boys must have washed their hands properly. They probably guessed that they had pushed their luck with the “cannons,” and wanted to make sure that they didn’t provoke her to anger and loose their chance to practice. As she entered the dinning room to sit down for dinner, she decided that someone had to watch the boys when they went outside to practice. She didn’t want them to wander too much so close to bedtime. However, she decided to make sure that Ron wasn’t the one watching them. If the kids were having a good time, he would let them play until it was much too late for them to be awake.
As the family was eating, Ron was in a lively conversation with Bobby and Caleb about their antimatter weapons. He asked them how they worked, where they found the materials, what they expected to use them for, and anything else he could think of to encourage the boys in their game of make believe. When dinner was over, she decided to not give the boys a chance to ask Ron to accompany them.
“Okay boys! You can practice now!” said Rachel after the two had taken care of their dishes. When they had run off to retrieve their weapons, Rachel decided that she would ask Rick to watch them so she could relax and talk with Ron.
“Rick, would you mind keeping an eye on the boys while they play? It’s been a long day for me.”
Rick looked at her as he picked up his backpack and headed for the stairs, saying on the way that he wouldn’t mind, but he couldn’t because he needed the time to work on a project for his law class. Rachel couldn’t object; she knew how much Rick wanted to be a lawyer.
Why couldn’t Bobby be more as Rick had been when he was eight years old? Even then, Rick was practical, eager to help his parents (or any authority, for that matter), and almost professional, if an eight year old child is capable of such an attitude. He had known for a long time that he wanted to be a lawyer, and the idea had originally entered his mind when he was allowed to stay up late one night and watched an episode of Perry Mason. She was glad that television had made a positive impact on her older child. Since that fateful night, Rick had used persuasion and arguments to convince his mother to allow him to go over to friend’s houses, have certain things for his birthday, and a multitude of other privileges. He often put her in a position where she couldn’t say no, but was always obedient when she did turn him down. Once, she had caught him giving a mock trial with several action figures. He had been horribly embarrassed when he heard her bump the doorframe as she tried to walk away undetected. A week later, he had insisted that all of his action figures be given away to charity.
If she closed her eyes, she could see a much older Rick sitting on the bench of the Supreme Court, looking every bit as stern and sagacious as the other justices. He did have the best score in his law class, so she knew he was bright. However, she also knew that a multitude of other law students in high school were at least as bright, and probably more determined to get to the Court than Rick was; dreaming would only set them both up for disappointment later in life.
“Okay, Rick. Make sure that you check your work.”
“Don’t worry about that, mom. If I want to keep my class rank, I have to check everything.”
Rachel walked out the back door that opened into the Stubert’s backyard and an enormous hay field beyond. The boys were lying down in the hay field on their stomachs, holding their creations like thick colonial fowling rifles. The practice target was a giant rock that the mower could never get very close to, some fifty yards away. She stopped to sit on the split-rail fence and listened to the boys play.
“Hey, Caleb! Don’t shoot any real bullets yet; just use imaginary ones now. Let’s save up all our ammo for tonight.”
“Yeah, okay. Hey! I bet I can hit that rock more times than you can!”
The boys proceeded to point the broom handle ends of their weapons at the rock. Just before the firing commenced, Bobby pressed an invisible button on his weapon, informing Caleb that he had almost forgotten to put his gun into “imaginary mode.” After the boys had made an impressive racket mimicking cannon sounds while pointing the broomsticks at the rock, they looked at each other with a sense of accomplishment and reported the number of times that they had hit the rock. Caleb said he had hit it twenty three times, and Bobby had landed thirty hits. The boys quickly decided that this was because they were both good shots, but Caleb’s gun fired much slower than Bobby’s, thus allowing Bobby to fire many more times than Caleb had. Rachel took advantage of the lull in the shooting to inform the boys it was time for them to take their baths and go to bed.
“But mom! We just got out here!”
Rachel smiled internally. She had guessed that she would have another opportunity to put her foot down. She decided to take this chance to make up for giving in to the boys and letting them keep the cannons.
“Haven’t you heard about over practice?” she said with the exaggerated expressions adults use with small children. “You can practice so much that you get too nervous when you’re shooting for real.”
Caleb’s eyes were two huge circles of wonder. “Really?” he asked.
“I’ve heard Rick talk about that when he has to write a speech. You’re only supposed to practice it a little,” interjected Bobby.
Rachel jumped on the chance. It was already late, and she didn’t have the energy to drag the kids to bed if she missed this chance.
“That’s right, Bobby. You’re also not supposed to practice more than once when you're going to try to shoot at aliens. Why don’t you two go to bed so you can have lots of energy tomorrow to shoot at them?”
Bobby instantly refused. “Mom,” he said, “the aliens will be here tonight!”
So much for the easy way, she said to herself.
“Bobby, you and Caleb have to be asleep in half an hour, so that means that you have to go to bed right now. Go.”
Bobby and Caleb both looked as if she had told them to jump off a cliff. Nonetheless, Bobby decided not to push his obviously tired mother any more.
“Yes ma’am,” he said unenthusiastically.
With the kids finally in bed, Rachel had some time to herself at last. She sat down next to Ron on the couch. Star Trek was on. She leaned over on Ron and let her head of thick brown hair rest on his shoulder. An exhausted sigh she had been holdin in all day escaped from some deep place within her.
“Ron, I need to talk to you about Bobby.”
Ron reached over to the side of the couch and picked up the remote. He turned off Star Trek, replaced the remote, and looked at his wife’s careworn face. Her hair was in what remained of the ponytail she had put it into that morning; some stray hairs fell over her soft, rounded face and others parted from the intended design in seemingly random directions. Her eyes were showing her inner fatigue just as the dark circles under her eyes betrayed her physical exhaustion. She was wearing an old sweat suit aver her just slightly lumpy form. All he could think of was how gorgeous she was, and how lucky he had been that she had chosen him.
“What’s on your mind, honey?” he asked her.
“I’m really worried about Bobby. He has a very active imagination, and that’s going to make it very difficult for him to adjust to the real world. I had some experiences in my childhood when my imagination embarrassed me terribly. I think that imagination is a good thing, but not when someone lives with so much of it like Bobby does. I think that we need to stop letting him watch Star Trek so often. For heaven’s sake, he’s absolutely convinced that aliens are going to come tonight and he needs to defend us with a floatie wrapped around a broomstick! I just worry that he may not be accepted later in life when everyone else grows up a little.”
Ron spent a moment in silent thought before he answered.
“Do you remember Chuck Mangione?” he asked.
Rachel was puzzled. Mangione was a jazz composer that had been popular when she and her husband were considerably younger. They had met because they had both bought one of his records at the same time, and Ron bumped into Rachel, causing her to drop her things. Her newly purchased record had broken into pieces. Ron gave her his copy, on the condition that she was to invite him to play cards and listen to the album that weekend. Of course, she remembered Mangione! How could she forget?
“Yes, dear. How could I possibly forget?”
“Then you remember the song, ‘The Land of Make Believe.’ Just to refresh your memory, the song basically says that the land of make believe is wonderful because no one ever dies there, every one there is happy and everything is fine. Always. As you and I have grown older, we have lost a great deal of our ability to escape to this wonderful place. I see you so stressed about the smallest things; wouldn’t you like to have an escape where you could do whatever you put your mind to without fear of failure? While we do need risk, it’s nice to not have to worry about it all the time. I don’t really think that Bobby’s going to have too much trouble adjusting to the real world. He’s a good, flexible kid. If he wants to pretend to build an antimatter cannon and shoot it at imaginary spaceships, that’s great. He won’t fail. He won’t get hurt. There’s no risk, and there’s no stress. He’ll take his share of risks, don’t you worry about that. For now though, why not let him play with broomsticks and shoot imaginary bolts into the night sky? If you think it to truly be in his best interests for him to stop watching Star Trek, then I’ll send him to bed earlier. You spend the most time with him, so you should be able to judge that better than I.”
Rachel’s fire was gone. She was about to say that he could let Bobby watch Star Trek as long as it didn’t prevent Bobby from doing other more important things. She was going to wrap her arms around him as she said it, and give him a kiss to show him that she was in agreement with what Ron had said. Instead, she jumped to her feet and nearly swore under her breath, for she had heard two low thumping noises followed by a boom, and then a massive explosion that shook the floor. The two parents looked at each other in horror. They both ran upstairs to the boys’ room; Rick was already inside. He was staring at the open window. The screen had been removed, and Rachel could see where the two boys had climbed down the downspout of the gutter to get to the ground. Ron ran out of the room.
“The field!” he exclaimed. The other two were right behind him as he went out the back door. All three were greeted by two faces grinning from ear to ear.
“We got ‘em, mom! We got ‘em!” shouted Bobby jubilantly.
Rachel, Ron and Richard Stubert all stood awe-struck on the back lawn. For behind the two eight-year old faces, a charred and twisted Romulan Warbird lay burning in the hayfield. Several Romulans were standing by the rock the boys had practiced on earlier with defeated looks on their faces. Ron was the first to find words.
“I thought you boys were just pretending with broomsticks!”
“Nah,” said Caleb, “broomsticks are boring.”
-by The Recycled Avatar
"You have lied to me, my dear Morpheous, and I have ended our little game; I wonder if I fear the truth more than your lies?"