Monday, March 24, 2008

The Big Adventure

It's taking me much longer to transcribe the audio tape than I thought it would, but I'll give you a general description of how it went today, with some specific dialogue sprinkled in later this week.

Let's see. On Friday morning at 5:20 a.m., I was driving in the darkness in Wells Branch, totally lost. I was trying to find a cul-de-sac that had a park entrance right by the designated treasure location, but I got all turned around (very sleepy plus a terrible sense of direction in the dark). A few minutes later, having stumbled back to the proper street, I was sprinting through wet grass between houses in a highly unauthorized manner to get into the park close to the dig spot. I buried the treasure box at the bottom of a gravel pit (about 12" deep), then got back home around 6 a.m.

So, pretty much a typical morning around our house.

Eli 6.7 was all in from the minute the Fed Ex package "arrived" on our doorstep on Thursday. Having it be a Fed Ex delivery immediately gave the contents total legitimacy. And having the "will" printed on brown parchment (appropriately aged by crumpling, uncrumpling, and re-smoothing) made it look totally authentic, at least to a six-year old (and a smart one at that).

That's all it really took to convince him. And he was as excited as I've ever seen him. If there's such a thing as infinite excitement, six-year-olds have it, and Eli definitely had it on Friday morning.

When we got to the park, just after dawn, I stopped the car right in front of the two buildings that were in the will. I wondered how long it would take him staring at those buildings to realize that they matched the pictures--about five minutes, as it turns out.

Once he found the buildings, we were off. Our dialogue, even by Eli's usual high standards of comedy, was hilarious, and I'll try to have excerpts transcribed for you sometime this week. He got progressively more excited as we worked through the clues, and when we got very near the end, he was giddy.

As we reached the gravel pit (and found the "ears" and the "Foolish Guardians"), he wanted to start digging, but I warned him about the blank page and said it looked like a trick. I had brought one of those charcoal lighter wands as part of our "supplies," and I told him the page might have secret writing on it. I walked to the other edge of the pit so that he "wouldn't be close to the fire," then turned my back and substituted a page I'd written the night before in vinegar that had been revealed by being just above a flame.

When he saw the secret writing, he was amazed. He kept saying "Dad, those Foolish Guardians aren't real. I don't believe I could turn into a tree."

I said "I don't think so either, little man, but if I were you, I'd dig really fast."

And he did. He dug so fast that he was spraying gravel onto me, and when his shovel struck the wooden box, he yelled "HOLY SNOT! I FOUND SOMETHING!" Then he had to struggle to get the box out of the gravel, because every time he dug out more, the gravel on the sides would just fall back in. So there was this incredibly dramatic minute or two where we saw the box, but couldn't get it out.

When we finally did, I gave him a screwdriver to pry open the lid, which I'd nailed down. When he got the lid off and saw the treasure chest inside, he was thrilled. And when he opened up the treasure chest and saw all the coins inside, I'm surprised he didn't pass out like he said he would. "We did it, Dad! We FOUND the TREASURE! I CAN'T BELIEVE IT!"

On the way back, every time someone passed us on the trail, Eli would lift up the lid of the treasure chest and say "I CAN'T BELIEVE WE DUG UP THIS TREASURE FROM THREE HUNDRED YEARS AGO!" He was also saying, almost constantly, "No one at school is going to believe this!" He was so elated. The impossible had become possible.

Which is when I started to feel guilty.

I know. It was one of the best moments in Eli 6.7's life, he was overjoyed, and everything was perfect.

Except, of course, that the cake was a lie, so to speak. He got cake, but it wasn't eighteenth century cake.

We've never lied to Eli, not even for convenience. I'm not sure I've told him a single lie in his whole life. He knows that he can always, absolutely, depend on us to tell him the truth. And now I'd told him a series of absolute whoppers.

I always intended to tell him the truth at some point, but it was fuzzy as to exactly when I should do that. As he kept talking about school, though, and saying "Who do we call to be famous?" (which cracked me up), I started wondering at what point this might cross over from being a great adventure to a situation where he might be embarrassed. Even in first grade, kids are pretty savvy, and I suspected that someone in his class would call bullshit. Then he'd come home from school, say "Dad--it was real, wasn't it?" and I'd have to tell him he'd be tricked.

I was trying to create an illusion for his enjoyment, not embarrass him.

So at a time when I should have been feeling great, when I'd made my son so happy, I felt like a heel. I think this says more about me than anything else, because I have a tendency to find a way to be critical of myself. It's a hobby.

We got home and, of course, the treasure was all Eli could talk about. His Nana was coming in for the weekend, which normally thrills him, and he hadn't even mentioned her.

I realized that instead of waiting a few days, I was going to have to tell him very soon, and I wished I'd given it more thought when I was planning things out. I'd written an additional page to the will, which read like this:
And now, me lad,
A big hug for your Dad,
Who, with pen and quill,
Wrote these clues, and my will.
May fair winds fill your sails, and your skies always be bright.
With good mates to tell tales on the darkest of nights.
Pierre L'Orange

I kind of forget about it, though, because I thought it would spoil it for him if he found out it wasn't real after he found the treasure. Ironically, of course, I was about to do the same thing.

So I explained it to him (I wish I had an audio tape, but I didn't record it). He didn't quite understand at first, because the realness was firmly in his head, but then the light bulb went on. He looked at me and said "Dad, you made all that up? That is AWESOME!" and he gave me a big hug. I told him the story about getting lost on the way to the park and running through the neighbor's yard, and he made me tell it a second time because he was laughing so hard.

That was all great, and I felt like everything had gone as well as it possibly could. Later, though, Gloria said "I think Eli is kind of disappointed that the treasure wasn't real," and I felt like a heel again.

We all went out to dinner, and I walked outside with Eli while we were waiting for the food. He sat in a chair in front of the restaurant, and I kneeled beside him. "Little man, I'm sorry that the adventure wasn't real," I said. "I wanted you to have a big adventure, but there just aren't any real pirate adventures near our hourse."

"Dad," he said, putting his hand on my shoulder, "it's no big problem." I was very touched that he could be so incredibly gracious, even kind, because I knew that he was disappointed.

What I hoped though all this, though, is that he would eventually understand that if I created one of these adventures for him, I could create more.

On Friday, that didn't register. On Saturday, he took his treasure chest absolutely everywhere with him, and I felt a little better. Then, that night, he said "Dad, could we go on ANOTHER adventure?"

"Sure, little man," I said. "What kind of adventure would you like to go on?"

"Ghosts!" he said. "With a tomb! And a knight quest. And an adventure on the beach!"

"Well, just make a list of the adventures you most want to go on," I said.

On Sunday morning, we made an unscheduled trip to Krispy Kreme, and on the way, he started talking in the backseat:
"On a ghostly night,
On a beach at sea,
We walked into the graveyard,
Of Zin-Twa-Zee."

That was the start of his next adventure, of course, only he wrote a better opening than I ever could have. We agreed to write the first part together, but after that, I'd write the rest and it would be a surprise.

We wrote more while we were eating doughnuts, and we agreed to work on it every week until this summer.

Zin-Twa-Zee should guard his treasure well, because we're coming.

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