Let the Pigeon Do Whatever He WantsJoel Stein
I love Mo Willems’ books. Laszlo loves Mo Willems’ books. We both love his series about the pigeon who is conniving, relentless, unreasonable and unaware of his own best interests much like someone we both know. Willems’ very first book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! (2004) was finalist for a Caldecott Medal, one of the two most important weird, creepy gold stamps they put on kids’ books to make them seem less fun.
Willems’ pigeon books ingeniously put kids in their parents’ role. Each one starts with a presumable pigeon-keeping adult who empowers the readee by beseeching him not let the pigeon do something (drive a bus, stay up late, get a puppy, kill the Jews) while he’s away for a few minutes. Then, as the pigeon begs, pleads and entreats your kid to do exactly that thing, the child has to take a firm disciplinary role telling the pigeon “no,” over and over. Which, as you know, kids love to do. By the end of the book, after page after page of dealing with that frustrating, stubborn pigeon, your kid looks up at you with eyes that say, “I now understand why you have to keep me in line for my own good. I shall not be intransigent ever again.”
Except with Laszlo it doesn’t go that way.
It goes like this:
On page one of “Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late!” a very nice man asks Laszlo to do him a favor while he brushes his teeth. Laszlo, who is very nice and cooperative, says, “Shu—ure!”
The directive: “Don’t let the pigeon stay up late!”
Laszlo nods in the affirmative.
Then we meet the pigeon and all those promises and good intentions go straight to hell. “First of all, I’m not even tired,” the pigeon says. “In fact, I’m in the mood for a hot dog party! What do you say?”
Laszlo immediately says: “Yes!”
I stop him here, mostly because otherwise the next page won’t make sense since there will not be a drawing of the pigeon hot dog partying. There will be a picture of the pigeon saying, “No!? Hmph.” This isn’t, after all, a Choose Your Own Adventure book. It’s a book where you just have to yell “No!” as you were told to just one page earlier.
And “no” shouldn’t be a huge reach for Laszlo. “No” was his first word. It still erupts out of his cautious, nervous soul as an involuntary reaction to everything anyone asks, ever. “Do you want pizza, Laszlo?” “No,” he says, before taking two seconds to think and saying, “Actually, I want pizza.” “No” is his protective cocoon. And yet, when it comes to the pigeon, it’s all positivity and giving and lightness.
But even when I remind Laszlo of his responsibilities vis a vis the pigeon and he is excited to do a good job enforcing the rules, all the pigeon has to say is, “Tell me about your day” and Laszlo is blathering on about who did what on the playground. If Laszlo were given Stanley Milgram’s experiment, he would have been the one guy not to shock anyone at all.
It’s hard to be mad at my son for failing to be a dick. Especially because I think he might be trying to teach me not to be so uptight about something as stupid as his bedtime. Better to do the best I can in getting him to sleep, but also enjoy my son while he still wants stories read to him. As the pigeon says, “C’mon! What’s five minutes in the grand scheme of things!?”
I think I’m going to let the pigeon stay up late.
Order my book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity on Amazon.
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