I'm discovering one of the joys of becoming a grandfather: since I don't bear the responsibility for my granddaughter's ultimate development, I can play with her psyche as much as I want to.
When she eventually seeks psychotherapy, Evelyn never will connect her existential angst with the children's book that I read to her over the weekend.
Of course, she didn't grasp the deeper aspects of "Ned Goes to Bed" this time around. (When you're not quite a year old, pondering philosophy plays second fiddle to seeing if the pages rip out of a book.)
But I intend to keep reading "Ned Goes to Bed" to her every time she visits.
In my late adolescence I was heavy into Sartre, Camus and other existentialists. It isn't too early to start trying to turn Evelyn into someone who'll feel comfortable in a Parisian coffeehouse, smoking unfiltered Gauloises, sipping a darkly strong expresso, wearing black, and expounding in deeply accented French, Life is so…I don't know…nothing!
I've got my work cut out for me, because right now Evelyn has a decidedly sunny personality.
Yet during our visit to Salem's Gilbert House Museum yesterday, I saw a more existential side of her. Turning a wheel connected to a structure that never changes direction.
So I think she's going to enjoy "Ned Goes to Bed" more and more. My wife got the book. After I finished reading it to Evelyn, I asked Laurel: Did you look at it before you bought it?
No, she said, the cover just looked cute. I like dog books.
Well, Ned starts out as a seriously troubled dog. Crawling into bed,
Ned feels lonely when evening draws nigh,
Like the solitary moon in the dark blue sky.
Into his room, moonbeams creep
And Ned just cannot fall asleep.
He gets under the covers and wonders what he might discover. Off to the moon!
"Is anyone there?"
calls out Ned.
There was nothing but silence,
Not even a fly
As the sun began its slow descent
Behind the earth's sky.
So now Ned has realized that the anxiousness he felt in his bed extends into space. There's emptiness everywhere.
Then blackest night finally arrives
And loneliest Ned just wants to cry.
I need to rip out the rest of the book's pages. Because this is a wonderful ending for an existentialist children's book.
Unfortunately for my fantasies about discussing "Being and Nothingness" with Evelyn before too long, "Ned Goes to Bed" ends on a positive note.
Some stars come down to cheer Ned up, blah, blah, blah. I was so disappointed that Ned wasn't left on the moon all alone, staring into the darkness, unable to sleep, unable to stay awake.
What's wrong with kids realizing early on that life doesn't always have a happy ending? It sure seems that at least a few children's books could end with, "And so he lived uncertainly ever after, not being sure what the heck was going on."
Well, I guess I need to write one myself. "Ned Goes to Bed" started existentially strong, but finished weak.
Sleep tight when you close your eyes at night,
And may all your stars be very bright.