When I was three years old, the story goes, I asked my mother, as she was tucking me into bed, “Are we real or are we a movie?” I remember the vivid sensation that prompted the question, the feeling that Gd was high above us beyond the clouds, seeing everything simultaneously and zooming in on the parts that interested him – a director/producer type, literally sitting in a director’s chair.
I have no idea how I thought up any of that. I’m not sure I’d ever seen a director’s chair. Sesame Street was the only filmed entertainment I’d been exposed to then. Maybe it was the collective unconscious, maybe a fellow preschooler. I was curious about the nature of existence. I had a feeling there was more going on than surface sensory reality and I wanted my mom’s take on it.
“We’re real.” Is what my mom says she said, and I remember it that way too. She says she wanted to keep things safe and simple for me. “We’re real, honey. Now go to sleep.”
I remember lying awake in bed, feeling confused, lonely, and disappointed. Betrayed. I couldn’t tell whether she just didn’t want to get into it with me, was blowing me off, or if she didn’t know what I strongly suspected: Something else is going on here.
In other words, was she lying to me? Or did she really believe what’s here is only what we can see, touch, smell, hear, and taste? Did I know something she didn’t know? Something I wasn’t supposed to know? Something big? None of that felt safe or simple. I let go of my visions of parallel realities with imaginary characters and moved on to activities that garnered more attention and praise here and now.
And now I’m a mom and I’m thinking about this stuff again. My five-year-old son Ax gets chatty at bedtime too. Sometimes it’s about different kinds of trucks and what they do – cement mixers, diggers, cranes, bulldozers, cherry pickers, dump trucks, snow plows, and others. Or dinosaurs. Or rocks. He’s quite an infomaniac. Sometimes I feel like crying I’m so tired when he says he just wants to show me one more thing about this one kind of helicopter.
It’s only after I’ve accomplished brushing and flossing his teeth and finished nudging him to make bedtime potty and gotten him under the covers and read him his three short books or two long books, plus bonus book, and gotten him some water, and perhaps apple slices, and turned out the lights he’ll say something like, “Do you know Foxy?” And I’ll say, “Foxy?” And he’ll say, “Yeah, my friend. He’s a fox.”
And I’ll say, “I’m not sure.”
“Do you want to see where he sleeps?”
And we’ll climb out of bed, in the dark, and I’ll follow him into the living room and he’ll point to a spot on the carpet beside the white club chair where there is nothing.
“There he is.”
“Oh,” I say, trying not to make too big or too small a deal out of it.
“I love him so much my furry foxy!” Ax says. I give him a squeeze, standing in the cold dark living room looking at the empty space beside the chair.
“Thank you for showing me your friend,” I say.
“No problem, Mom,” he says.