Posted on September 3rd, 2013
hen Marcel was in the third grade, he told his teacher that he wanted to be Rasputin for Halloween. She was horrified.
Maybe it makes sense, then, that I found myself thinking about her again when Marcel emerged from the arts and crafts room at our children’s science museum with this terrifying-looking respirator thing that he’d assembled from materials he’d found there.
He’d been reading Scholastic’s pre-fab the 39 Clues series the year he expressed his desire to dress up as the power-mad Russian holy man. Each book in that Sysyphean saga was written by a different, proven children’s author and focused on a different step in an ongoing adventure that referenced historical and geographical points of interest.
Lately, Marcel’s been pushing through the Tunnels franchise, soon-to-be six volumes (Terminal, the final installment is due out this fall) that target teen boys with a fantastic story about a malevolent world beneath our own that really is out to get us. Turns out those characters need their fair share of gas masks and breathing apparatus to survive the subterranean winds and noxious fumes trapped in pockets along the way.
Like every other parent, I spend part of every day wondering what is going on inside my kids’ heads. Either they are telling me one thing and I find myself suspecting there’s something else, something more, or they are thinking nothing at all and I simply don’t accept that as a real answer (even though it most certainly is). Slowly I have learned that oftentimes the articulation of their creative impulses in word and deed is often the clearest window through which I can glimpse the secret workings of their mysterious brains.
Since bringing it home a few weeks ago, I have caught sight of this mask on a counter somewhere around the house only to be struck anew by just how much that teacher of Marcel’s would have hated this. Perversely, the thought makes me love it that much more.∗