Some kids ask their dads why the sky is blue. Not mine. Which is good, because I have no idea why and couldn’t care less. I’m willing to stipulate that there’s a reason, but have no interest in discovering it and am glad my children never pressed me on it. To me, blue seems like a good color for the sky, and that’s the end of the matter.
No, my kids ask me things like: “Are there mountains in this world?” and “Are cartoons real?”
Those are two questions my second daughter, Ida, asked when she was very young. We were living in New Orleans at the time, where the highest elevations – aside from the levee system – are anthills and crawfish chimneys. She’d never seen a mountain, except in movies and on TV, and had no way of knowing if they actually existed.
I’m no world traveler, but I’ve seen the Smokies and the Rockies with my own eyes and was thus able to testify to the reality of mountains. Whether Ida accepted my witness or not, I don’t know, but she has since seen mountains herself and is now a believer.
The second question was more difficult: Are cartoons real?
I don’t know anyone who liked cartoons as a child more than I did. Popeye, Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse, Yogi Bear, the great Tex Avery classics – I loved them all, so much so that two decades later I bought videotape collections of most of them for my kids so I’d have an excuse to watch them all again. And watch them we did, over and over and over.
I bought videotapes of all the old animated Disney films I’d seen as a child, too, from Dumbo to Lady and the Tramp to Jungle Book.
All my kids became cartoon aficionados, well versed in the classics. Then, they began to develop new animated favorites. Ida discovered the Anamaniacs on TV one afternoon and soon had us all watching Yakko, Wakko and Dot, Pinky & the Brain, the Goodfeathers , and Katie Ka-Boom (modeled, I’m convinced, on my oldest sister).
We began to watch the newer Disney films, too: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, The Little Mermaid, The Rescuers Down Under, etc.
Though we didn’t acquire the tape until much later, The Rescuers Down Under came out the year Ida was born and proved to be one of her early favorites. It’s the story of two mice who ride on the back of an albatross all the way from New York to Australia to foil a poacher.
Are cartoons real? Well, that one seemed a bit far-fetched, but, still, it had a good message: There are people/animals out there that need rescuing – and you might be the rescuer!
Ida grew up with animals, When she was born in Wisconsin in 1990, we had two dogs and 15 cats, which seemed like a lot of pets at the time. When we moved back to New Orleans, she discovered lizards. When we moved to St, Louis in 1995 and lived in a farmhouse down by Creve Coeur Lake, she discovered tree frogs. Eventually, we wound up in Bridgeton and – what with birds in cages, fish in tanks, hamsters, guinea pigs, a ferret, and miscellaneous reptiles – we had a grand total of 75 pets, most of them Ida’s.
Then one day she came across a notice online about a dog the owners no longer wanted and asked if she could rescue it. It was a mess and we already had a dog, so I demurred. A month or two later, it was still there and she asked again.
She went and got that mangy, half-dead dog and brought it back to life. She became a rescuer.
Tomorrow, she’s going to marry a guy named Dan who’s an EMT/fireman. A rescuer, too.
They both know that there are mountains in this world, because they’ve climbed them together. They both know that cartoons are real, at least on some level. And they both know, I hope, that the greatest thing anyone can do in life is to rescue someone else.