I bought a goldfish this week. His name is Captain Hook.
This came about because I’ve had a bumpy time getting back into the swing of things while combating jet lag and yet another cold, so one gray morning a few days ago, I wandered into a pet shop and promptly decided that a small swimming companion might be just the ticket. In the past I’ve named fish after characters in whatever book I happened to be reading at the time, but I’m currently in the middle of two very depressing books (Richard Wright’s Native Son and Diary by Chuck Palahniuk). So instead, I chose a book that I hadn’t even realized I’d been reading so much of: Peter Pan.
Three-year-old Alex is completely and hopelessly fascinated by Peter Pan. And not just Peter; in fact, his most extreme obsession is with the relationship between Captain Hook and the ticking crocodile. He is at once horrified and mesmerized by the fact that the crocodile wants to eat – yes, eat – this man. He can’t stop talking about it. At any given moment he is either pretending to be the pirate or the hungry beast. All he does as Hook is say, “I’m Captain Hook!” and all he does as the crocodile is say “tick tock tick tock!” and pretend to bite me. Stunning performances on both counts.
This only began about a month ago. Tired of the previous favorite – some awful Mickey Mouse book about alphabet soup – I switched his interests over to a lovely storybook adaptation of the Disney film. Alex was hooked instantly. And I, as though teaching him the alphabet, had him repeat the names back to me: Tinker Bell, Wendy, Mr. Smee… After the second read, he’d already committed to memory the names of every character and place. It got in his head. In the middle of totally unrelated activities, he’d randomly look up at me and say, “Where’s Captain Hook?”
Since then, his generous parents have also gotten hold of both the Disney DVD and an audio version of the original by J. M. Barrie. Now, my previous knowledge of Neverland and all its wonders was quite extensive due to my own earnest Disney upbringing – for example, I couldn’t stop singing “You Can Fly” the whole time I was in London with Big Ben staring down at me – but after the last few weeks, I now call myself an expert. And I am in no way complaining, only looking forward to whichever Disney delight he chooses next.
It’s funny, the places we end up that we could never have imagined when we were younger. I remember myself as a kid on the couch fixated by the mermaids and the children soaring through the air, or singing the soundtrack by heart, or standing for too long in the cramped line for the Peter Pan ride at Disneyland, the one that lets you sail over Neverland and London in your own flying pirate ship.
Now I sit in the playroom of an old Dutch house on a quiet block lined with streetlamps glowing orange underneath the magic moon. A little boy standing on the furniture holds a tiny plastic retractable telescope to his eye and, his every nerve poised and tingling, announces that a pirate ship and a crocodile and mermaids are in the canal just outside. He can see them in the water. It’s all play, of course, but who knows? Imagination is a powerful thing. And although “all children, except one, grow up,” I’m sure if we all looked a little closer through our tiny plastic telescopes, we’d be surprised at what we might see.
When there’s a smile in your heart
There’s no better time to start
Think of all the joy you’ll find
When you leave the world behind
And bid your cares goodbye
You can fly.