Friday, January 20, 2012

Scaring the Kids

I hate lion dances.  I mean I seriously hate lion dances.  At this time of the year, living in Hong Kong, lion dances abound.  One of the reasons I hate them is the ear piercing (not as in an ice cube-and-needle-in-the-ear piercing, but as in inner ear damaging) clanging of the cymbals and drums that goes on and on and on, with the same monotonous, unremitting tone.  My western (and maybe prejudiced) ears just can’t quite make peace with the assaulting sound.  (Of course, I was raised on Christian rock of the lighter variety so I have no experience with punk rock or guitars that play anything but acoustic or classical harmonies.  Even bluegrass and Tchaikovsky are completely rattling to me.)

Another part of my hatred of the lion dance comes from living in China for so many years and the reaction it spurred in my daughters: for a good month around Chinese New Year every time we turned around there would be another lion dance, seemingly making a beeline for us: in the alley behind our apartment building; in front of the 7-11; suddenly serenading us in restaurants while we were eating our noodles; as we were coming out of the bathroom at the mall. 

How a group of grown men dressed up as a gigantic, garish red lion with the head the size of a compact car could sneak up on us like that, I don’t know, but somehow they always managed.  Charlotte and Emily would shriek in terror, holding their ears, tugging my arms in opposite directions and screaming, “Mama, Mama – run!” 

And run we would.  And around the next corner, there would be another damn lion troupe up to the same discordant clanging and prancing, grabbing at wilted lettuce leaves and bobbing its head like some kind of horror show monster.  Honestly.  It’s like a recurring nightmare.

Today at school we had the annual lion dance in honor of Chinese New Year coming up next week.  I was with my older students in the back, craning my neck to be sure my daughters were not shrieking in the front along with the inexperienced preschoolers, several of whom were hysterically crying and being carried away by parents and teachers.  (For those of you who have never had the privilege, it really can be terrifying, especially if you are a virgin to the lion dance experience.)

Imagine my horror when I came home tonight to find Emily balanced on Charlotte’s shoulders, Charlotte standing perfectly erect and prancing around our living room. The girls do gymnastics and tricky skipping so I’m not surprised by a lot of their antics and derring-dos, but this was downright dangerous.

I don’t like to resort to scare tactics, but in this case it seemed both warranted and necessary.

“Girls, do you know what could happen if Charlotte slipped and Emily fell?”

They looked at me with big eyes and the same furrowed brow they have just before mommy is going to tell them even though daddy said they could, they are not going to get ice cream tonight.

“Could we die, Mama?”  Emily asked.

“Well, yes you could,” I answered reluctantly.  She’d stolen the worst-case scenario, but I had something even scarier up my sleeve.

“You could break your neck and be paralyzed forever.”

“Does that mean you’d be dead, Mama?”  Charlotte asked. 

I went on to explain the medical definition for paralysis, probably going to far by expounding on the words parapalegic and quadraplegic.  (I always take it just that one step too far.)

“So does that mean an ambulance would come and take us to the hospital?”  Emily asked.

I nodded.

“Yes, and we’d be dead,” Charlotte added for good measure.  (I didn’t bother to correct them because, as I said, sometimes the biggest scare is the best deterrent.)

I made them both raise their right hands and solemnly swear they would never ever carry each other or any one else on their shoulders either here or abroad ever in their lives.

They raised their paws, promised, and then asked if they could play lion dance with the red blanket on the living room sofa.

“So long as nobody is on anyone’s shoulders, you can do whatever you want,” I replied.

“You be the butt, Emily.  I’ll be the head,” said big sister sagely, ever the boss.

“Okay,” said Emily happily.  “That way I get to do all the bum wiggling.”

They danced away happily creating their own music by pounding pencil crayons on the coffee table and hitting each other’s bums for good measure.  A few minutes later, Emily came over and asked me, “Mama, when I’m a daddy, will I be able to carry my baby on my shoulders like daddy carries us?”

Ah, the sweetness. Out of the mouth of babes.

Charlotte patiently corrected her, “No, Emily, you can’t be a daddy because you don’t have a penis.”

And then the conversation went in another direction altogether.

On my ongoing list of things to do:
  • Record all the treasures that come out of my children’s mouths
  • Watch them like hawks for the next several days to be sure there are no children anywhere near any other children’s shoulders
  • Try to keep my explanations brief and succinct, without getting into unnecessary details
  • When I hear another lion dance (and I will), go the opposite way and take my children with me 
  • Try to keep my scare tactics to a minimum, unless they could end up saving a life
  • Teach Emily the facts of life

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