Excerpt for A preschooler's introduction to disappointments in life by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

A preschooler's introduction to disappointments in life

Published by J. Lewis Celeste at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 J. Lewis Celeste

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An unexpected meltdown

Henry had been a very good boy! When his baby-sitter Maria told him to stop twisting the chains on the swing-set he stopped. He didn’t want to, and he really didn’t understand why he should because no one else was in the swing area, but he was intrigued by what she had told him when they left for the park:

“Now Henry, if you are good today, and listen to me when I tell you to do something or not to do something, maybe I’ll reward you. No promises, but be a good boy and we’ll see.”

So against his desire, but for the greater good, he readily complied and reminded her as he did so with a loud “Yes Maria!” As he ran off to the jungle gym.

While he was having a blast hanging upside down from the highest bar, letting his legs dangle way over his head in an almost somersault, Maria yelled out:

“Henry that’s dangerous stop it at once!”

For a moment, he almost forgot his greater good! He was having such a good time that he hesitated, but he quickly snapped to before she had to repeat herself. He felt he beat her by mere seconds. As he climbed down he glanced her way to gauge her reaction. She was staring at him, but not in a frosty way, so he quickly sweetened the deal, or so he calculated, by standing momentarily near her—

“Sorry Maria,” he said with downcast eyes.

She waved him away with a quasi-frown kind of smile, so he raced off, fortified that he was still in good standing and explored the seesaws. He had watched some older boys balance in-between the long planks and shift their weight right and left to bang the ends off the ground. It looked like jarring fun and he desperately wanted to try it out for himself, and now he had the opportunity for other than a few babies, he was the only kid in the park. Unfortunately, he did not have enough weight or knowledge of body shifting to get the heavy plank balanced off the ground, but he realized he could have just as much fun walking from one end to the other and achieve the same jolting result. He was having a grand old time “walking the plank,” until Maria called out:

“Henry! Those are not meant to walk on!”

Now, technically, Maria did not tell him to stop, but a “good boy” would do so, acknowledging that she has implied a corrective action. This was not lost on little Henry and although he would have loved nothing more than to continue walking the plank, he immediately jumped down and finished his playtime in a most sedate manner, rocking slowly on a creaking hobbyhorse.

As a reward for his exemplary behavior, Maria did indeed surprise him! She bought him his favorite Popsicle, a “Bomb Pop,” and he was so happy and so proud! He loved the three different flavors, but like most kids he relished the cherry tip best. He was very excited about his reward and savored each nibble and lick as he walked back home holding Maria’s hand.

‘Only a few bites!’ he cautioned himself, for he was so proud and he wanted to show his mother the hard fought prize.

Everyone knew that Henry was irascible. Lovable, yes, snuggly, of course, cute as a Kuala Bear, no doubt, but Henry was very trying, especially when he felt constrained, which was often, even constant when he was with Maria. But he did it! He pulled it off and he had the goods to show for it.

When they got back to the apartment, Maria told him to go to his room and play because she had some homework to do. He nodded, absorbed in his treat. Slurping carefully, he walked down the hallway towards his room, but stopped in front of the kitchen. He took one last nip off the edge of the Popsicle and carefully placed his treasure on the uppermost rack in the refrigerator. He then went to his room to play with his weeble wobble farm set, where Banjo the dog was being very naughty to the farmer and his pigs. Immersed in his play, he lost track of time and only snapped out of it when he heard the front door close and his mother’s voice chatting with Maria.

Little Henry couldn’t get up quick enough! He tossed Banjo into the silo and scrambled to his feet.

“Mom!” he yelled triumphantly as he yanked his door open and darted down the hall.

“Mom!” he pronounced with delight and urgency—for as soon as he proclaims his worthiness and presents the reward, he knew he would be allowed to finish the delectable prize whether supper was close by or not—for who could resist letting him feast when he waited so long to enjoy his treat properly?

“Mom! he bellowed a third time as he screeched into the vestibule, disrupting whatever conversation was going on between his mother and Maria. He grabbed her hand and began pulling her towards the kitchen. She laughed and bent to his will, as any mother would when their child expresses so much joyful animation. But she paused, briefly holding him back.

“Henry, let me put my purse down first!” she chided lightly.

But he would not be assuaged so easily, not one bit, and he tugged and pulled and leaned way back using her arm as a lever. She placed her bags on the table and gave in. Backpedaling as fast as he was able, little Henry guided her blindly backwards into the kitchen.

“Henry, my goodness! she exclaimed, smiling.

“Mom! Mom! I was good I was really good! And Maria was so nice! Look, look what she gave me!” he announced as he pulled the refrigerator door open. He didn’t turn just yet to look himself. He was focused on his mother. Beaming with a child’s pride, he gesticulated wildly.

“Look Mom!” And he turned to look as well, knowing exactly where he placed his precious treat, but it wasn’t there! And the look on his face changed so suddenly from one of pure joy to deepest dread.

It was there actually, the gooey remnants dripping off a stained wooden stick, but the popsicle he knew and savored was gone—most of it now pooled on top of the meatloaf just below it.

He was mortified! He was stunned beyond words, and stricken with an immediate palsy as the moment he had been anxiously waiting for vanished, replaced by a sick, melting joke. Devastation! Utter horror! And it took less than a second for the loss to register in his mind as he stared in disbelief.

For her part, the patient empath that she was, his mother, his patient, cherished, awesome mother who realized all even faster than Henry, was smitten with compassion, but still she had to cover her mouth and stifle a laugh. Not that it wasn’t a laugh of love, it was, of course, but it was also a laugh at dinner, because the meatloaf was bathed in a red, white and blue syrup that looked awful. But Henry, in his present state, would not understand the humor one bit. And just as he began to wail in absolute heartbreak, she pulled him close and cradled him in her arms.

That night after pizza and an extra scoop of chocolate ice cream, Henry said his prayers and was tucked in with more than the usual kisses. Hugging his pal “Pooh-Bear,” he contemplated the tragic event and he couldn’t figure it out, Pooh-Bear either, and they thought hard upon it until they both fell asleep.

To listen clearly

A few weeks later, Henry was watching Sunday morning cartoons and eating his favorite cereal, Captain Crunch, when his mom told him that they were going to do some shopping. Henry groaned inwardly because all that actually meant to him was that he was going to do a lot of walking. But of a sudden, he perked up for as she was walking away he heard her say that he needed new “trucks,” and he certainly did. How astute of her to notice and even more to take such action to fix it. Indeed, this is a fortuitous turn, for it wasn’t near his birthday or Christmas, and yet he was going to acquire new trucks.

The more he considered, the more he realized that the trucks he has are well past replacement. His big yellow Tonka dump truck couldn’t even roll anymore and the plastic windows enclosing the cab had been smashed out. And his favorite green bulldozer couldn’t doze because he accidently broke the left arm and now the bucket can’t rise. Yes, he definitely needed new trucks, so he scoffed down the rest of his cereal for surely today, he was going shopping!

It was hot, only ten in the morning, but already clammy, muggy and no good. Henry’s consolation was that soon after the grueling trek he would be playing with some new trucks. So instead of fussing too much—but some, for appearances of course—he would consider the possibilities:

‘A new dump truck was required . . . a bulldozer too!’ And he really wanted a cement truck with a drum that turns and everything. Perhaps he could convince his mom to take him to the park afterward. There he could play in the sandbox, because really, what’s the point of having trucks and no sand!

So excited he was, even with the clingy mugginess, that he skipped along keeping time with his mother’s long strides. Soon enough though, which is inevitable with little boys and walks on a hot humid day—and in this case, no more than a block and a half from home—his mind wandered away from trucks and sandboxes as he lost himself in the cadence of his mother’s gait. The sun was bright and beating down hard on his head. He studied the interesting objects plastered into the pavement—gum, bottle caps, glass even. The black streets glittered with a mosaic produced over many years. So it is on large city streets where the traffic and passersby are endless, and people discard needless and inconvenient things.

The rhythm of steps from the sidewalk to the curb to the street to the sidewalk again held Henry’s attention for a while. He compared his motion with that of his mother and that of other people who passed by. And the sounds accentuated the heat of the sun—legs pumping, horns honking, and music blaring here and there. The city was alive and Henry was too and he drifted along soaking everything in.

Another block or so and he wanted to let go of his mother’s hand. It was slick with sweat and he didn’t like it at all. He also wanted a little space for he was feeling restricted. He knew better than to run ahead — that lesson was instilled long ago—but his mom, like most moms, had an iron grip and she sensed every time he tried to slip free and tightened accordingly. At first it was almost a game, but eventually it was a battle and Henry was intent on winning. In order to do so he had to add some elements and a distraction.

He started to fidget and misstep in order to confuse the pace. He also started to whine. At first just under his breath, but soon louder and louder:

“I want my trucks!” he muttered.

“How much longer?” he blathered.

“I’m sweaty!” he accused.

But for every attempt to control the trip, he was met with firm resistance and total domination:

“Henry stop it!” she ordered. “We’re going to get your trunks!”

“Soon honey, soon, only a few more blocks,” she promised.

“We’ll be out of the sun soon dear,” she soothed.

They were heading uptown to 181st Street where most residents in Washington Heights shopped. There was a Woolworth five and dime and Wertheimer’s, a large department store that dominated all the other establishments and was the icon of shopping in the Heights. At the time, Henry didn’t know anything about 181st or the names of the different stores, but he did know the two big ones had toy sections, and he perked up again even if he couldn’t escape his mother's grip.

After a few more blocks, Henry saw before him the ugly blue and gray façade of the bus terminal on 178th Street. The design was peculiar, even to his young mind, as the structure looked so out of place nestled between the taller buildings of brown, beige and red bricks. Every time he saw the terminal he imagined that it was an alien bug-like spaceship and it was staring at him. He wondered if it could take off at any moment like a big blue grasshopper.

Just when he was done walking and fantasizing about flying buildings, his mother turned left and entered a store under the protruding dome of the terminal overpass. He knew the store and groaned. It was a clothing store, not a toy store, and he knew what that meant. His mother guided him through the racks and carousals and told him to stop whining.

“Come now Henry, isn’t the air conditioner nice? she asked.

He nodded, but wasn’t willing to stop his fussing on that account.

“I want my trucks!” he demanded, as he drove his head in-between a rack of shirts. The feeling of the cool mesh against his sweaty head was soothing and fun and he almost lost himself in the activity but something caught his ear.

“We are getting your trunks dear, now turn around.”

He immediately complied, renewed with the clear reaffirmation just uttered. He stood patiently as his mother placed clothing items up against him. Well, bathing suits up against him, and more than a few. A yellow pair, and a green one with scales like Aquaman, a red pair with brown sand dollars all over them and some blue ones with white embroidered anchors. He liked the blue ones best, but the scaly ones were neat too, and he nodded when his mother asked.

“We’ll get both,” she declared, “now that was quick huh?” she asked smiling.

Henry nodded fingering the anchor emblem on the blue bathing suit. Soon they will be on their way to the big stores with the toy sections. And for some extra reassurance, he suddenly asked as they moved toward the cash register—

“Can we go get my trucks now?”

His mother stopped abruptly and turned around. Holding his new green swimsuit in her hand, she looked down at him puzzled and then held it out.

“We are my dear, trunks, swim trunks, I told you this morning that you needed new ones.”

A prop is just a prop

In the middle of his second week of nursery school the teacher announced that a street fair was going to take place on Friday just one block away from their school. The announcement meant nothing to any of the kids until certain key words were spoken such as clowns and rides and cotton candy. Then—of course—they were all buzzing about the fair and couldn’t wait for it to start. The teacher, Ms. Hannah, said that everyone would be going as long as they had parent’s permission and enough chaperones.

That afternoon, Henry couldn’t get the words out fast enough when his mom picked him up. She smiled and said it sounds like a lot of fun. She was a schoolteacher in the Bronx and wouldn’t be able to take Friday off, but his dad worked nights and should be available. This was most welcome news to Henry for his dad was much easier to sway, so he was sure he would score big at the fair.

When the day finally arrived (two whole days later!), he could hardly keep his chair as he waited until eleven when all the parents would arrive to take them to the fair. After like forever, parents began rolling in and he saw his dad. He waved to him eagerly, but gave his undivided attention to Ms. Hannah who was giving instructions, and—in his opinion—putting on something of a show for the adult audience. As soon as she was done, a cacophony of noise erupted as Henry and his classmates rushed to quit the room.

The fair was awesome! Seven rides, including bumper cars, and stalls of goodness with everything kids crave: ice cream, taffy, popcorn and the king of confections—cotton candy! There was music and laughter and color everywhere. He marveled at all the neat things to buy—invisible dogs, sparklers, cowboy hats and candy. Candy, candy, candy!

The clown was cool—but kind of creepy. This one was named Buckley the Buffoon and he was taller than Henry’s dad. Buckley preferred the color green, and he pretty much looked like the jolly green giant! But he made the best balloon animals! Henry got a yellow one that looked like a lion, and he added it to the pile of stuff his dad was already carrying. His dad didn’t mind—he was having a blast too! He bought extra tickets to all the rides and other than the wait time, they agreed that the bumper cars were clearly their favorite.

It was a great day—the best day! The smell of roasted nuts permeated the air, the laughing kids, the wizardry of the cotton candy rollers and the magician’s show. The magic show—that was the main event!

He was the "real deal" according to Henry’s dad. His name was “The Great Scarletti” and he claimed to be a descendent of Houdini. He had a big tall hat and a long black cape and in the deep pockets, which he said go to another place, he kept all kinds of stuff: handkerchiefs—literally dozens of them—all colors, all textures; a long yellow flute; balls, lots of balls; large hoops, jangling rings and bowling pins . . . bowling pins!

He juggled everything! With his cape flashing behind him, and the dashing red lining catching the sunlight, he tossed everything up and caught everything coming back down. It was mesmerizing, it was magical, and Henry was certainly dazzled. The Great Scarletti started with the balls—just three, then five, then ten—and then he held open a slash in his cape and they dropped in one after the other like missiles on a target!

Then the handkerchiefs, like floating whiffs—so dainty, so light—and so many! So many that he was hidden behind their shimmering dance, the audience only knowing he was still there by the motion of his hands and the occasional flash of his cape.

Next came the hoops, and The Great Scarletti was jumping through the hoops, jumping over the hoops, and even rolling the hoops over his shoulders, bouncing them up over his head to roll down the other side!

For the finale, he juggled all of his props at once! He tossed up the balls, the handkerchiefs, the hoops, the rings and the bowling pins—all the while he was blowing on his flute the Yankee Doodle Dandy. He started low, and the rhythm was fast but controlled—the exception being the scarves for gravity paid them less attention. He made fun of them, as if annoyed when he finally had to grab one and toss it back up. But he was building the show—the momentum—and Henry was hypnotized.

Slowly, he began to toss the bowling pins higher, the rings higher, the hoops higher. And the tempo of his song changed as the space between tosses changed. Everyone was transfixed. And when you couldn’t believe the bowling pins could go any higher, he plucked each one out of the synchronized dance and placed them standing straight up before him in a line. He then twirled the hoops—like a whirling dervish—he spun them straight up higher and higher and then stepped back still juggling all the rest, so that the shimmering hoops landed perfectly over the standing pins.

The intertwined rings made a wonderful whirring sound as they flew, and Henry liked them most. The Great Scarletti caught them with particularity and flung them back up with a twist of his wrist. They stretched to the full length of their joined coils with a hollow clang, then closed back together into a single silver sphere upon descent. These he played with while the handkerchiefs floated and the balls hopped and the audience hummed along to his wonderful song—until he surprised everyone by suddenly catching them one after another and flinging them over the crowd like Frisbees! Everyone ducked instinctively, then laughed in delight.

Then the finale was upon them, and Henry and his dad were mesmerized; nothing less than a sonic boom could have turned their attention away, as he gently placed each descending handkerchief over the tops of the bowling pins in an orderly fashion. Then he started sending the balls, and I mean sending them! He no longer tossed them underhand, but instead grabbed each ball, leaned back, and threw it up into the sky as hard as he could. Higher and higher they flew. So high, that in-between his heaves he was able to take a breather, wave to the crowd, wipe his brow, and put his flute away. He caught all but three in his mouth and spit them out casually into one of his cavernous cape pockets. And all the while little Henry gaped, and little Henry gawked, and little Henry goggled at the feats of The Great Scarletti.

Then the magician focused, and he aimed, and he made great calculations and adjustments as he threw the remaining three balls toward the sun. When he was sure—when he knew they would land just right—he stepped back, clasped his hands behind his back, and winked at the crowd. All eyes were on the balls as each one bounced off the top of a waiting bowling pin and flew into the crowd. Kids scrambled to get the magic balls, and Henry scrambled too—but he was in front of the stage and didn’t stand a chance.

At some point during the act—likely early on—Henry, like any four-year old who witnesses magnificence on the scale of The Great Scarletti, decided that he was going to be a magician and juggle just like him. But Henry—being a rather precocious boy, though quite astounded at what he was witnessing—actually decided that he would be far greater than Scarletti, and his mind expanded into the horizon with images of everything he would hurl into the sky and catch. So after the show, as he fantasized about his future greatness, he failed to notice his friend Ted approaching all sticky and flushed.

“Amazing huh!” Ted blurted, gushing with excitement.

But Henry didn’t reply. He went from his own grandiose musings to staring at what was draped over Ted’s shoulders. A cape. Not as illustrious as The Great Scarletti’s, but definitely worthy of wear. Then he noticed walking around them other boys wearing the same cape. He grabbed Ted by the arms and shrieked—

“Where did you get the cape?!”

It took a few attempts, but Ted was finally able to point Henry in the direction of the stall that sold the capes. It was at the other end of the fair, on the corner of Fort Washington Avenue. They were on the opposite end near Haven, and it was a crowded pathway to be sure. Henry wasted no time, but wrenched his dad’s hand and hurtled up the street. He wanted that cape; he needed that cape! His eyes were glued to the distant corner as he navigated through the crowd like a running back. He zigged, he zagged, with his dad laughing all the way, hurrying along as well as he could with his arms full of Henry’s other procurements.

But when they reached the stall—and after waiting desperately for some annoying freckled girl to decide which color hula-hoop she wanted—Henry, all full of magicianship and gusto, heard the unbelievable words “sold out,” spill from the merchant's lips.

Henry could not believe his ears. But armed with the experience from his previous absolutely horrible letdowns, he was prepared not to be so stunned or perplexed, but to rush immediately to utter despair, and so he did—with passion. He was apoplectic, he was inconsolable, and he was wretched! The merchant was equally dismayed, for being a very keen and experienced seller in fairs and carnivals for over forty years, he knew that Henry was truly upset. He offered a cowboy hat; he offered a sword, but little Henry was so despondent that no other item could satisfy him. And not just these conciliatory gifts, but even the comfort of his father’s arms could not stem the shuddering tears of let down for a child who imagined mightily and was so dejected. For Henry knew that without that cape, he would never be a magician. He knew it as clearly as the flash of red in bright sunlight.

So Henry moved forth grudgingly, and other calamities that beset him over time were dealt with; these setbacks collectively built within him an appreciation of things. And he grew through them—and now, many years later, with much experience, Henry remembers with a chuckle and an emphatic smile, these early disappointments in life.

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