Adventures in Parenting: Metaphor, Painting and Narrative for Pre-Schoolers

(Separated at birth?)

My four-year old loves metaphor, although she says she loves simile better than “plain metaphor” because she likes the “like” in a simile. She first became aware of metaphor when in The Berenstain Bears Go Trick or Treating, light “stabs” out of a spooky house in the woods. Ever since she will stop conversations to announce “that’s a metaphor.” For example, after a doctor’s appointment for an ear infection, I call Jim to say she’s doing fine and that “the nurse practitioner showered her with stickers.” Maisie: “Mom! ‘Showered’ is a metaphor.’” She makes up her own similes: “the raindrops are like fork points.” Comparisons, connections. She noticed, during our winter break stay in Florence, Italy that Donatello’s Mary Magdalene is like her raggedy-haired Disney Rapunzel doll.

Maisie says she’s going to be a poet when she grows up. Sometimes a poet-zookeeper. Sometimes “a poet and a storier [like her dad] and a mom.” One time she said “Mom, I’m a better poet than you are because you just write story-poems and I write real poems.”

I didn’t tell her her anti-narrative stance was so 1999. Children must find their own way in all things.

She does tell stories, mostly to herself. We hear bits and pieces. Recently she was sitting on the floor, legs straight out in front of her, doing a dialogue for Bad Pig and Good Princess. “‘Hocus pocus, be dead,’ he said, but she jumped up and said ‘I SAID, don’t bother me with that dying!’”

That resurrection imagery probably comes from our Florence trip too; standing in front of three Peruginos in the Uffizi (Crucifixion in the center, Pieta at the right, Resurrection at the left) she wanted to know what was up with this stuff. Jim grew up Catholic to the age of 14 before a complete and irrevocable lapse into atheistic leftism, and he gave her the socialist version: “Jesus said ‘share the money with the poor people’ and the rich people didn’t like that so they hung him on the cross and he died. Then they took him down again.” I think it was me that put in the sentimental bit, moving on to panel 2, “They laid him like a baby on his mommy’s lap because children will always be their mommy’s babies, even when they grow up, and his mommy was very sad.” Jim took over again for panel 3: “Then they put him in the grave, but three days later he jumped out again, and said ‘haha haha HAha, share the money with the poor people’ and went up to heaven. But it’s only a story.”

Subsequently Jim explained the Parable of the Wine, and Limbo, and Judith and Holofernes (Artemisia Gentileschi version, blood spurting everywhere), and Caravaggio’s Abraham and Isaac, in which, in Jimology, after the angel comes down and stays Abraham’s hand, Abraham says “That’s a terrible joke! Grow up, God!”

Originally Published: April 19th, 2011

Daisy Fried is the author of three books of poetry: Women’s Poetry: Poems and Advice (2013); My Brother is Getting Arrested Again (2006), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; and She Didn’t Mean to Do It (2000), which won the Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize. She has been...