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When Pretending is Hard

Ottawa, March 2015
Ottawa, March 2015

It’s 9:30 p.m. and we are in the middle of an existential crisis.

“So what do we bring?”

“The plastic beach toys?”

“Nah, there are souvenirs!” Feng complains. “We brought them back from Mexico.”

“Well, I’m not dressing him in shorts. Otherwise we have to put the snowsuit on for the car ride, and you know how tough it is to buckle him up with the pants on. Plus, he is going to whine all the way there.”

“How about the yellow truck that is in the bathtub?”

“Sure. A mini-Caterpillar backhoe. That is so… ‘beach’. Good one. Oh, we have sunglasses somewhere.”

“Eh, I’ve never seen them!”

“Your parents bought them, I think. Not that he ever wore sunglasses.”

“I have the towel. Hat?”

“Screw that. I don’t have the time to look for it. I have to finish a rush translation for tomorrow a.m. Sorry but Internal Radiological Contamination Protocol trumps going through summer clothing bags.”

“I feel bad if we don’t bring anything.”

“Then bring a fucking bucket of sand, then!”

Of course, we don’t have sand. We don’t have sand because 1) we live in Ottawa, not exactly a beach town 2) it’s March and there are huge snowbanks outside.

But it is March Break and Mark’s daycare decided to organize fun activities throughout the week. It’s a great idea, except that tomorrow is “Beach Day”.

And I must admit I’m struggling with the concept.

The day before was “Museum Day”. I was totally on board with that. Mark loves museums and I thought it was really cool (although borderline masochist from the teachers) to have the toddlers and pre-schoolers spend the day at the Aviation Museum. They rode the yellow bus, ate a picnic brown bag lunch there and saw the planes. Or at least that’s what I gathered from Mark, who then refused to eat dinner in our boring kitchen because he wanted to “eat at the museum MORE!”

For this event, I had to sign Mark’s first ever “field trip permission slip”.

“I, Juliette Giannesini, authorize my son, Mark Pan, to attend the field trip at the museum, blah blah blah.”

“Can you imagine if we had to use permission slips every time we go backpacking?” I asked Feng as I was okaying the details. “We, Feng Pan and Juliette Giannesini, are going traveling. Destination planned: no idea. Cost of the trip: as little as possible without sleeping in parks. Items to bring: two backpacks and a toddler.”

“You’re crazy!”

“Yes. Oh, oh, can you imagine if my parents had to sign one of these when I first traveled with you and never actually came back to France after two weeks, as planned, but ended up in Canada months later?”

Yes, it’s probably a good things you don’t need permission slips once you’re 18.

Explaining Mark he was going on a field trip was easy. Keywords were… well, the key. “Bus, museum, planes.” Sure, he felt cheated for a minute or two when we parked in the daycare parking lot as usual, but once I repeated he was indeed going to the museum that day, he was happy.

Now, “Beach Day” is a new challenge. Mark loves going to the beach—the real one. This is a toddler who played at the beach in France, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile. He knows his shit as well as Anthony Bourdain knows his food. I can’t possibly tell him he is going to the beach because no matter how many beach toys they will have in the classroom, he is not stupid—this is not the beach. And he will be very disappointed to be “lied to”.

This is taking pretend play a bit too far.

We constantly navigate between literal and symbolic with Mark, but it still somewhat makes sense. Stuffed animal can “sleep”. A Duplo boat can float in the bathwater (and collide with the aforementioned backhoe). McDonald’s is conveniently often “closed”, “Ham” as well (“Ham” is Mark’s nickname for Subway, unfortunately both fast food joints are close to home and we drive by often). We can check the closet for monsters. Mark “makes dinner” with fake plastic food.

But I don’t know how to fake going to the beach.

Do you?

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