Thursday night it was time to read books with Jackson before bed and I had picked out a small pile of stories I thought might interest him: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, a couple of old Golden Books, a Shrek comic based on the movie but about ten times more surreal, and Curious George and the Puppies, which is a post-H. A. and Margret Rey Curious George book put out by a faceless committee that appears to enjoy portraying George as some sort of branding solution with aggregated cross-platform framework solutions, i.e., let's get his face on as many lunchboxes as possible and screw the story line. We'd just seen the movie last weekend so Jackson wanted me to read Curious George first. Then, as he gets all snuggled into his pillows, he says, real chatty-like: "Sometimes I like to hurt dogs."
Sometimes I like to shove lit firecrackers up cats' asses, mom. Would you hand me the remote, please? Seriously, that's the next step, right? And I'm all, this is the first sign that he's going to turn into a serial killer. Likes to torture animals. I'm raising The Iceman.
But I keep it cool. Because if you freak out about the freakiness the kid will begin to hide and thus intensify the freakiness and we don't want a pet torturer on our hands. So I just calmly ask, "Why?"
And he says, "I don't know. I just can't help it. There's something inside that makes me do it. I can't stop."
Here's where my left arm goes numb and I need a warm blanket and a defibrillator.
"Are you angry at dogs?" I ask. I don't even know where I'm going with this, I just want him to keep talking out so I can look at this from all angles, possibly under the guidance of a professional.
"Just read the story, Mom."
So I read a few pages of Curious George and the Puppies but I'm so distracted I'm not even listening to myself. I'm one quarter panicked, one quarter wondering where the hell he heard the phrase there's something inside that makes me do it, and fully one half disgusted at the fact that this pleasant little rip-off of a book has no sense of the anarchic narrative magic that the original stories had. I wonder if Jackson's a little bored, too, because he interrupts me to tell me again that he agrees with Roger Ebert, although personally I think the movie would have had wider appeal if it was live-action and Will Ferrell actually flew over a lion's den clutching two dozen giant balloons with a chimp clinging to his face.
And then I have to admit, when I have thoughts about how entertaining it would be to see Will Ferrell eaten by wild animals? I can sort of see where Jackson gets it from.
Anyway, we're getting toward the end of the book now, and I think it's clear by now that underneath my stoic exterior I am COMPLETELY DISTURBED by what my four-year-old son has revealed to me. But I can't help it, I need to hear more.
"So, how do you like to hurt dogs?"
"Oh, I just jump on them, or pat them real hard on the head, or squeeze their ears."
"Like when you squeezed Katies ears that one time and she yelped?"
"Not that much, just a little bit, like this." He demonstrates with a slight pinch on my arm. I know he's not giving me the full-strength pinch; he knows I'm starting to freak out; neither of us is telling the other one the truth. So I just barrel forward and tell him that if I ever see him hurting a dog I will stop him until he learns to stop himself. I'm quoting almost verbatim from Touchpointsand I don't even care. He shrugs.
I grudgingly read the last two pages of Curious George and the Puppies, where the director of the animal shelter asks George if he'd like to take a puppy home, and George sure would!
And Jackson goes, "I hope he hurts it."
By this point I'm really, WTF little man! I am frankly pissed off, and I refuse to read him any more stories, I just sit there in his bed with him, brooding, until he falls asleep on my faithless arm.
I tell Jack about it the next day and he says, "He's yanking your chain."
I'm all, You think? And Jack just nods and looks at me sadly, a look that says my life is going to be sheer hell when this boy becomes a teenager.
Today I asked Jackson if he still thought about hurting dogs, and he said, No? with that little uptalk swing, like, What the hell are you talking about, Mom? And then he skipped to the playground with his Spider-Man blanket to help make a tent with three neighborhood girls.
My god. Jackson is in preschool. He knows all the state capitals of the original thirteen colonies, and he will bluff me until I'm on the verge of brief reactive psychosis. And then he falls asleep hugging my arm.
So either I'm raising a little Ted Bundy, or I'm raising a normal little boy who is totally honest with me about the vagaries of his growing heart and mind. Or he’s just fucking with me.
Goddamnit. I'm screwed.
But I've still got my eye on you, buddy.
MONDAY MORNING UPDATE I asked him again this morning, if he still thought about hurting dogs, and he laughed and said, "Yes! I still like to hurt dogs!"
So I was all, You know that's not right, right? And then I thought of something. Are you scared of dogs? And he goes, "Yes!" Is that why you think about hurting them? "Yes!"
So we went through a list of every dog I could think of, to find out which ones he was scared of -- Are you scared of Katie? No. Oreo? No. Are you scared of Jasmine? No. Daisy? Jose? Tyson? Angel? Rocky? No, no, no. So who ARE you scared of? And I quote: "Big dogs with fangs coming down." Like you see on TV? "Yes. Or in your imagination."
My son wants to hurt imaginary dogs. Today. That's the story today. We may find out more tomorrow; I can't decide whether to pick this scab until it bleeds or let it fall off by itself.