Have you ever met a child who could literally unnerve you by their stare, their independence, or their sheer oddity? I… was that child. So much so that I often feel I owe something to my parents for having had such a bizarre little person with whom they had to deal on a daily basis.
I have heard stories from both my parents about what I was like as a very young girl. They tell them with equal parts pride and disbelief. “Fiercely independent” is a good way to describe my foray into shoelace tying.
By Dad’s recollection, my shoe had come untied, and, as he knelt down to re-tie it, I promptly and with great annoyance slapped his hand away and said, “Let me do it!” I allegedly sat there for an hour until I had figured out how one gets the laces into that pretty bow. I was four.
That same year found me sitting at the kitchen table one Sunday morning waiting for Dad to come home with Dunkin Donuts. This was a Sunday ritual which took on great hilarity as I got older and realized the irony in a cop bringing home donuts. Ma would pour me a glass of milk, she and Dad would rifle through the Tribune, and I’d get the cartoons… which I would read aloud, verbatim. This was nothing new in our house; I’d been doing this for a year already.
By the time I was five, I was developing nicely into the INTJ I’d later become.
Example: Our neighbor had gotten tickets to the Bozo Show which was a big deal in the ’70s in Chicago. I think my Dad’s cousin may have been the guy in the gorilla costume. Regardless, five year old me got to go to the Bozo Show. Sat in the front row and everything. Ma had done my hair up in pigtails which, by that age, were nearly down to my elbows and formed two big banana curls. Adorable.
The show was telecast on WGN Channel 9. There I was, in the front row with an enormous smile on my face. Cut to commercial. And… we’re back. Panning of the audience, panning of the audien… uh oh… there’s Nicki: enormous smile has turned into pursed lips, furrowed brow and yes, ladies and gentlemen don’t adjust your screen, her arms are in fact, crossed. What could possibly have happened during the commercial break that would cause such an horrendous change in this delightful child?
Cookie. It was Cookie, the Clown. Cookie was Bozo’s sidekick and general instigator. During the commercial break, Bozo and Cookie were talking to kids to choose some for the Grand Prize Game. They got to me, Bozo said he liked my pigtails, and that’s when Cookie did the unthinkable; he touched… the pigtails.
The day was ruined.
When I got home, Ma asked our neighbor what the hell had happened that Nicki had the “fahtch” (Chicago-Italian slang for faccia which means face, and in this case, a scowl). The cat was out of the bag; Nicki was pissed off because Cookie ruined her hair. What a pain in the ass I must have been as a kid. Good grief!
I should probably mention that this post it not about my early reading abilities or my propensity for insurrection. I am merely setting the stage for the doozy coming up in the next paragraph when a four year old Nicki completely wigs out her poor mother. It’s important that you be aware of what special kind of demon I was.
I don’t remember all the details surrounding the afternoon trip to the movies, but I’m fairly certain I was taken by my Ma and one of her girlfriends. We went to see Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. I had just seen Fantasia and loved the “scary guy on the mountain.” (Spoiler alert! Foreshadowing! Foreshadowing!) I’m sure Ma thought a nice fairy tale would be good for me after that. The best laid plans…
As we left the theatre, Ma asked me what was wrong, as I had my signature pursed lip and furrowed brow going in full force. I had only one question: why didn’t the pretty lady win? My poor mother, cringing, asked, “Nic, who is the pretty lady?”
The queen. She looks like Grandma Vicki.
My mother’s worst nightmare was realized. Not only had her four year old daughter felt a bond to perhaps Disney’s most terrifying villainess, but she’d equated her with… the mother-in-law. A fate worse than death. Having once had a mother-in-law, I find the whole ordeal hilarious.
What is it in us that causes us to identify or bond with a character in a movie, someone we’ve read about, or met? And what does it say about us when that person is not someone who falls into the category of “socially acceptable and normal role models?” It is clear that I, as a four year old, thought Maleficent looked and sounded like my paternal grandmother with whom I had a close bond. It is completely logical, then, that I wondered why the pretty lady didn’t win.
What interests me is how that single event at the movies influenced much of my perceptions, including the relationship I have with my Ma. I am still drawn to villains–– on movie screens, in books, even sometimes in life. When I became aware that Ma did not like my Gram––whom I had equated to a fairy tale queen––a switch was flipped in me which triggered a desire to like what Ma didn’t. How’s that for reverse childhood psychology? What an obstinate little shit.
In hindsight, I can count myself lucky that I cannot have children. The thought of having to deal with a little me chills me right to the bone!