Most of us are fascinated by bad guys. Doesn’t matter if it’s Lex Luthor or Saddam Hussein or Bernie Madoff. We are repulsed by their terrible acts but we also wonder what causes them to behave that way. Maybe we recognize in ourselves some flaw or weakness that, if provoked, would turn us into villains, too? We are taught from an early age to believe there is some shred of humanity in even the worst of us, which make explain why evildoers are so interesting. Even the devil was once an angel. Bad guys have layers, man.
For my three-year-old, the ultimate bad guy is that infamous threat to homeowners everywhere, the Big Bad Wolf. My son finds him terrifying but also strangely alluring. As a result, the Golden Books version of The Three Little Pigs is well-worn in our household, as is the satirical True Story of the 3 Little Pigs!, which tells the wolf’s side of how things went down.
This fascination has taken over bedtime. “Tell me about the Big Bad Wolf,” my son says as I tuck him into his toddler bed and turn out the light. “Tell me how the Big Bad Wolf come to our house.”
“Well, okay,” I reply, getting on my knees so I can look into his gleaming eyes. He wants to hear a story I concocted in which the Big Bad Wolf emerges from the woods behind our house and attempts to, well, blow our place down. There are several opportunities in the story for my son and I to recite the “I’ll huff and I’ll puff…” line, and, in the end, our heroic Australian Shepherd Keiko runs out of the house and chases the evil wolf out of the backyard, across the creek, through the woods and into the next county. “And,” I always conclude, “we never saw the Big Bad Wolf ever again.”
I was pretty proud when I came up with this tale. Even a relatively clueless dad like me knows the story must end with the wolf vanquished, as opposed to going on some lunatic rampage through our neighborhood. Also, in making our dog the hero, the story seems realistic. My three-year-old would never buy into the idea that his parents, who struggle each morning just to pull him out of his Jake and the Neverland Pirates pajamas, would ever summon the nerve to defeat the Big Bad Wolf. Keiko, however, seems resourceful (and mean) enough to pull something like that off.
Now, being a word person, I enjoy telling a good story. Still, there’s a certain point when one tires of telling the same story over and over, night after night, just as I am sure that Bruce Springsteen sometimes tires of playing “Born to Run,” at every show, no matter how proud he may be of its creation. I told The Big Bad Wolf Comes to Our House every night for about a month, waiting for my boy to tire of the subject. Instead, his obsession grew.
“Tell me,” he growled each night in a way that was intended to sound just like the arch enemy himself, “about the BIG, BAD WOLF!”
So I mixed it up a little, inventing a story called The Big Bad Wolf Comes to Grandma’s House, which ends with the wolf falling into a big pot of scalding water. I also devised a gentler story about my son as a zookeeper who takes care of the Big Bad Wolf and eventually befriends him. There were other variations as well and, like most sequels, all were inferior to my original wolf story. But I had to add some new wrinkles to our bedtime routine just to keep from going completely insane.
So now I have a problem. We are six months into the Big Bad Wolf craze with no end in sight. I am officially out of wolf stories. And I am weary of recycling the old ones. I am tired of describing the wolf as having “beady green eyes that glow in the night,” and possessing “teeth as sharp as scissors.”
Now, I could easily tell my son that Daddy is a little sick of these stories about the Big Bad Wolf, and couldn’t we just read a nice book like Green Eggs & Ham instead? But what would that say about me, the self-fashioned “creative” dad? The one who invents stories on the spot to captivate and inspire his young son, even when that dad is so exhausted some nights that he finds himself sprawled next to the toddler bed, patting his child’s back and murmuring something about a wolf and the dog and Grandma and, are we getting sleepy yet? Want Daddy to go get you a cup of milk?
I know someday my son will tire of the Big Bad Wolf and will probably move on to something mind-numbing like Chuggington or the Power Rangers. One day, I’ll ask him if he wants to hear a story about the Big Bad Wolf, and he’ll say, “No. I want a story about Lightning McQueen.” And I’ll feel sad that one door of his toddlerhood has closed and another one has opened.
But, damn, right now I am sick of that psychopathic wolf. I wish he would go away, like he eventually does in all my made-up stories.