“Oh, no! The Walrus got out of his cage! Where is he going?”
I was hauling a carload of kids (my girls and their friends) to church last Sunday. The five-year-old had found the magnetic zoo I recently picked up at the Goodwill and stuck in the car for just such a time as this. She was happily placing the animal magnets in their places on the metal pages. And out of their places, apparently.
The ten-year-olds picked up the conversation.
“How could a walrus escape the zoo?”
“It would be pretty hard for them to run away. Can you imagine a walrus waddling down the street?”
“What would you do if you found a walrus in your backyard?”
So it began. The what-if game.
“What if you woke up and a walrus was in your yard, Mom?”
“I’d seriously wonder how it got there.”
“It waddled away from the zoo!”
“It fell out of an airplane!”
“It swam through interconnecting canals!”
“Where exactly do I live? Venice?”
“What would you do, though?”
“Take lots of pictures. Pour water on it. It would probably be hot. Call animal control.”
“Would animal control know what to do with a walrus?”
“Probably not, but I’m guessing they would know who to call.”
“What if it was a lion that escaped from the zoo? What would you do?”
“Scream. Run inside. Lock all the doors and windows. Scream some more. Call 911.”
“What if it was a tiger?” “What if it was a hippo?” “What if it was a kangaroo?”
“Why do all your answers involve locking yourself in the house and calling animal control?”
“What if it was an elephant? Locking yourself inside wouldn’t be enough! I would crush your whole yard!”
“What if it was a cheetah? Would you race it?”
“Why are you locked inside the house again?”
This conversation lasted the entire twenty minute drive and then was picked up the minute we got in the car to go home and lasted all the way back. We laughed. We mocked. We debated the wisdom of calling police versus animal control versus the zoo itself. We speculated on how animals could get away. We imagined which ones we would fear and which we wouldn’t. We projected how they would act if they found themselves in an urban neighborhood. We agreed that it would be best not to keep bananas or raw meat in our house, in case it encouraged them to try to break through the windows.
Escaped zoo animals are always hungry, obviously.
You could have written about forty hilarious short stories about the scenarios from that one “what if” game.
In fact, I promised them I would a poem about walruses and how they aren’t very good at sneaking around. It’s to be called “Walruses Don’t Make Good Spies.”
Kids’ lives are an endless “what if?” “What will happen if I walk barefoot on this hot sand?” “What will happen if I swing this bat near my brother’s head?” “What will happen if I feed the dog chili peppers?” “What will it taste like if I put pickles on my peanut butter sandwich?” “Exactly how mad will Mom be if I eat fourteen cookies?” “What if we build a treehouse out of cardboard?” “What if my birthday party includes water balloons and pinatas?” “What if whoever loses the race has to jump up and down and shout that they are a monkey?”
When was the last time we got in on the fun? When was the last time we just let ourselves run free in the realm of ridiculous possibilities?
It’s just another form of storytelling, really. The ‘What if” story. Kids supply the situation. You supply the action.
And it’s all imagination, so you can run inside and call animal control, or you can make a whip out of your leather belt and go crazy, if you prefer.
Either way, there’ll be a rhino in your backyard, so you’ve already won.
(Though your garden, I’m sad to say, has lost. We all agreed on that point.)
(Photo above by Hal Brindley, courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)
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