It always starts simple.
I can’t say exactly how the song London Bridges came up in conversation, but it did. And Opal somehow knew all the words, though it was the first time I had sung it with her.
You know the tune: London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady…
After a few rounds of singing only the first verse, since that’s all we knew, Opal asked, “Did the bridge really fall down?”
“I don’t know, honey.” I said. “Let’s look it up.” I pulled my laptop toward us across the kitchen table and flipped it open. She took a bite of carrot and nodded, dripping Goddess dressing precariously close to the keyboard.
In our attempt to get to the bottom of the mystery of the London Bridge(s), we wanted to learn more of the song lyrics. So we perused through Youtube and came upon the following.
Note to self: always preview Youtube videos before watching them with Opal.
We were singing along, bopping back and forth to the tune when we came to a lengthy part about a prisoner? He “stole your watch and broke your chain.” Excuse me?! It went on about the prison guard who fell asleep and had to smoke a pipe all night to keep himself awake before I pulled the plug.
What I want to know is how this video—under the name oh my genius—got to the top of the list?
No matter, the damage was done. And a lengthy conversation began with Opal about what a prisoner is, why he was in a cage (her word, as it showed in the cartoon video), what made him bad, was he a bad man and (finally, perhaps most importantly) should she be afraid of him?
(I would have loved to have had some time to study these questions before being summonsed to report on them, but no such time was available.)
Me: “…um, a prisoner is someone who breaks a law, who does something bad.”
Me: “Because that’s his choice. He makes choices that he gets in trouble for.”
Opal: “Why do they put him in a cage?”
Me: “That’s where he lives. It’s a punishment, like a really long time out. The bars are to keep him there as long as they want him there.”
Opal: “What made him such a bad man?”
Me: “Well, they are not all bad men. Some are good men who make bad choices.”
(I could feel myself sinking into a rabbit hole of a conversation that was going to take us nowhere good. So I took a bite of one of her carrots. Loudly.)
Opal seemed to understand my wish to change the subject, so she said, definitively, “I don’t like them. They scare me.”
I tried to explain to her that she was totally safe (at least as much as we can control). That there were no prisoners anywhere near us (as far as I knew) and that she may never even meet one (in the very near future). She got quiet and reached for her watercolors.
A short while later, she revealed what was sulking around in her little mind.
She said, “I guess I’ll just have to make friends with him, huh?”
I asked her what she meant and she reminded me that when she had bad dreams of monsters, I sometimes told her to experiment with making friends with them. I’d ask her to imagine inviting them to a tea party and have them all wear goofy hats. It never seemed to totally work at the time, but clearly it stuck with her.
I told her I thought making friends with the prisoner was a good idea.
Throughout the remainder of the day, I received frequent reports of all the festivities Opal was inviting her invisible prisoner to. They were going to the mall to meet Santa, and she would remind the prisoner that he could sit next to Santa if he was nervous about sitting on Santa’s lap.
They were going to walk their dogs (Yes, he has a dog, too! It’s name is Sparkleworks.) They were going to have a birthday party and put way too much icing on the cupcakes because the Prisoner loves icing.
Hours later, as we were driving to pick up our dog from daycare, Opal informed me that she was going to have the prisoner over for a sleepover. She said it was his first sleep-over and asked if we could all have pancakes in the morning.
By the time I ran in to fetch the dog, she had planned their next few days together. I opened the back car door for Elvis (our dog) to jump in next to Opal.
She screamed a real blood curdler, “Elvis is stepping on the prisoner! Get him off!”
I got out of the car and led a confused Elvis from the back and into the front passenger seat next to me so Opal and the prisoner could have the backseat all to themselves.
And as I pulled the car in the direction towards home, I kid you not, I heard Opal whisper to the invisible prisoner, “Don’t worry, we’ll sleep with an extra light on for you in my room tonight.”
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Editor: Catherine Monkman