Sophie has been silent for awhile, her head cast to the side of her car seat, her mouth working steadily on her thumb (likely shriveled and white, as if she has sucked the life and blood out of it), listening to the infernal soundtrack of Beauty and the Beast Jr. I know all the nuances of this album. I know the subtle ways in which a cast member will pull his face wide and tight to draw forth a different voice for a villager or accent it heavily to become the clock. I know how the wardrobe rushes through her lines at one point, and the pathos with which Beauty will plead with the Beast not to die at the end. Sometimes, before I realize that I’ve begun singing along, Sophie will shush me from the back.
I am not allowed to talk. Or sing. Or even hum along.
Which is fine with me. One of the things I love about driving is how boring it is, providing me with ample opportunity for my mind to wander. Whole fabricated conversations, possible (and impossible) futures, and occasionally morbid flashes of how I will die bloom in the emptiness of my mind. The banal highway landscape disappears for chunks of time. And, when I come to, I’m surprised to find how far I’ve traveled while my thoughts have drifted, anxiously wondering how it is that we haven’t crashed.
Now, I am startled out of my reverie, when Sophia suddenly exclaims, “Mom! I’ve got a great idea!” I look into the rearview mirror. Her blue eyes are round and wide. “What if we invite the entire neighborhood to put on the play of Beauty and the Beast in our basement?!?” She’s gesticulating wildly, her hands, palms-up, drawing large ovals in the air as she speaks. If it wasn’t completely unconscious, I’d think she was mocking me. I’m lost for a moment in the thought that Sophie is a caricature of me, just as I must be a caricature of my own mother. How many generations back does this gesture go, I wonder?
“Mom?” she’s checking to see if I’m listening. I kind of wasn’t.
“Yes, that’s an interesting idea,” I say, one corner of my mouth turned up, bemused.
“We could have all the girlies from the block. And my friend Lexi….” She pauses. “Lexi doesn’t know Beauty and the Beast,” she frowns for a moment, considering this assumption (which may very well be false. I, for one, have no idea if Lexi is or isn’t familiar with Beauty and the Beast). “I’ve GOT ANOTHER IDEA. We can invite everyone to LISTEN to Beauty and the Beast in our basement. That way, everyone will know it!!!” She says this like she has discovered the cure for cancer or how to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels. This is my daughter’s mission: to spread the gospel of Beauty and the Beast.
I find it charming that she has no idea that Disney has beat her to it. Her desire to share her love of this musical extravaganza, of recruiting everyone she knows to participate in her very own Spectacular Spectacular a la Moulin Rouge reminds me of my own younger self. I was older, probably about nine or so, when my best friend Christine and I had dreams of bringing the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour to the kids on the block. We spent months perfecting dances (flitting across a floor covered in strawberries and then hula dancing to the flute music at the end of Strawberry Fields), making tickets, creating marketing materials, imagining how we might build a stage. In reality, it never happened. The joy was in the possibility and the vision—the hours spent in joint imagination.
I feel a small thrill when I hear Sophie speak so passionately about her fantasy. I want her to be a dreamer and dream big.
In my youth, daydreaming saved me.
It offered me an escape from the oppressive tedium of school. Hours spent listening to teachers drone on about something easily read in a book. The constant waiting. Waiting for books, papers, tests to be passed out. Waiting for the film strip to be loaded into the projector. Waiting for the bell to ring.
All my elementary teachers said the same thing. She’s a good student, but she spends too much time daydreaming. As if it was my fault.
It offered me an escape from my bedridden state—constantly ill, often absent, frequently alone. In the absence of real relationships, I fabricated virtual ones. I would dress myself in clothes I didn’t own for dates I’d never go on to places I’ve never been. I feel sad now, reflecting on it. But at the time, it was all so beautiful, like the splendor of The Little Princess’ attic, decorated with imagination. The images in my mind were sustaining. They gave me hope.
It offered me an escape while my parents fought—eyes turned inward are blind to one’s surroundings, ears attune to an inner voice are deaf to shouting. My fertile inner life delivered me from my dismal “real” life. Books helped. The provided a window, opened the doors. They supplied endless friends and travel to exotic locales. They kept the fire of my imagination stoked.
Even now, if I don’t want to be here, I don’t have to stay. My bag is always packed.
I owe boredom my gratitude. I have read that the availability of information, the phenomenon of everything “on demand,” the constant stimulation of the digital world has all but eradicated boredom—and that this bodes poorly for creativity. It is in the moments of nothingness that something is created—whether its dramatic play or scientific advancement. Boredom necessitates change. It creates frustration. It begs filling.
These empty hours in the car have perhaps, unwittingly, become one my greatest gifts to Sophie as her parent.