Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Wildebeest Kind of Winter

I was driving in my car with Bar Mitzvahzilla, then three, in December 1998. Of course there was no snow, this being Arizona - instead there were Christmas lights on all the palm trees and cacti in the neighborhood, especially the yard of one neighbor who seemed determined to offset our unlit Jewish house by putting up so many lights that his house could be seen from outer space.

I was ready for my his questions. He'd been too young the previous two years to notice anything as we drove around our tiny Jewish world - to our synagogue, to his Jewish preschool and back to our Jewish home. This bubble had to burst sometime.

It wasn't like he hadn't been exposed to the outside world. My family is so diverse it's like a United Nations conference. I was ready for an age-appropriate discussion of religious pluralism. Sure enough, I noticed he was staring out of the window, his mouth open, his eyes wide.

He pointed at the neighbor's house and yelled, "Mom! A wildebeest!"

This I didn't expect. Of course, I knew there wasn't actually a wildebeest in my neighbor's front yard. Even my HOA couldn't be that lax. But I said, "A wildebeest? Where?"

He was pointing at a reindeer. I thought quickly. Should I tell him the truth or should I let him have a little magic for one more year?

I said, "Wow! A wildebeest!"

Sometime earlier that year Bar Mitzvahzilla had become obsessed with the movie "The Lion King." After watching it every day for a year, I came to like it, too. For some reason, his favorite scene was when Simba's father Mufasa fell off the cliff into the stampeding wildebeests. He re-enacted this in our home day after day, clinging to the clifflike edge of my bed, while I, Mufasa's evil brother, Scar, flung him off the cliff. Bar Mitzvahzilla would fall to the floor onto a herd of toy wildebeests that just happened to be stampeding by on the carpet.

So he was a little obsessed with wildebeests. Having them appear all over the neighorhood that December was an truly a wonderful thing.

After he noticed the first wildebeest in our neighborhood, we started taking walks each night for wildebeest sightings. There were the ones who moved their heads up and down as they fed, the ones that looked off to the side, watching warily for lions, the ones that were frozen, caught in mid-prance, or skittering in the hunt, running from hyenas. If something didn't make sense - like the wildebeest that leapt in the air with the blinking red nose - Bar Mitzvahzilla just ignored it. His only disappointment? That there were no elephants adorning my neighbors' lawns, no giraffes with their heads sticking up as tall as the palm trees, and no actual predators lurking in the bushes.

Eventually it ended. He grew older, and we had the talk we needed to have. But for a while, our neighborhood became an African savannah, with wildebeests magically standing in each yard and lions just around the bend.

Has your child ever made up their own answer to a question that was very different than the answer you may have given? Any obsessions with movies, watching them over and over again? Do remember seeing magically through your kids' eyes?

* Although I've always written original pieces for this blog, I wanted to tell my Wildebeest story so I reran it here. This piece originally appeared in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix on December 11, 2009. Here's the link to the original piece:


  1. That is so cute! Nathan loved watching The Lion King when he was little. Over and over.

    We also watched the Rugrats Movies copious numbers of time.

    But what I still remember most is watching Barney with Chloe. I still hear some of those songs like Grand Old Flag and am immediately transported back to 1994 when she used to make me sing Grand Old Flag every time we saw the stars and stripes.

  2. This is just precious, Linda. I love the way kids open our eyes to new ways of seeing.

    We had a hybrid set of traditions, and still do, and take pleasure in celebrate two sets of holidays. As for creatures and belief therein, we left oatmeal mixed with sparkles sprinkled outside our stoop - for the "wildebeests" that would surely need sustenance one particular night of the year. In case you were wondering, that's what they ate at our house.

  3. All our movies are princess movies. With a little Lightning McQueen on the side. Kachow.

    But I can just hear it now:
    Rudolph the red-nosed wildebeest
    Had a very shiny nose
    He used it when Mufasa fell over
    To crunch all of his fingers and toes ...

  4. my kate loved mulan...alot. Also pocahontas.
    well, my husband deployed a lot and after he left on a train (she was four) she took some scissors and whacked big gobs of hair off her head...she was going to go and fight.
    She ended up with a very cute bob haircut. so it was alright in the end.
    and I love the wildebeest thing. I am glad you let him have it.

  5. What a great story. It reminds me of when my brother was three or so and he called Christmas lights, the multicolored bulb lights, "blue lights, blue lights." I was eight at the time and I thought it cute. This also reminds me of how much more I appreciate Sea World, Disneyland, walks so much more when you have a curious child to go with.

  6. I love this story, Linda! Isn't it wonderful how the mind of a child works? Now I will think of wildebeests every time I see a reindeer!

  7. So beautiful. I love it. We've just entered the phase where my toddler wants to listen to Uncle Moishy all the time. And not just one song, mind you. He wants to hear one particular stanza in one particular song. It's really yummy.

  8. How wonderful that you let him have that moment...It must have been so much fun to go out on safari's each night, searching for more!

    There are times that a parent should set the record straight, and other times when we should just let our children's imaginations run wild. I am so glad you chose the latter.