A Boy and His Transmogrifier

For Christmas, Santa brought our six-year-old boy the classic tales of another six-year-old boy (plus a tiger): "Calvin and Hobbes." And oddly, he was not enchanted, like, immediately. Calvin and his tiger Hobbes moved around the house for a while, our six-year-old boy assiduously ignoring them both. They lived on the coffee table, the most obvious place I could find, they lived on his bed next to numerous books about disasters on the high seas. Somehow, my son resisted cracking the spine.

I found this almost intolerable--knowing what's good for him, after all--and decided to take things into my own hands. One night I just started reading it to him even though he was bouncing around the bed (much like Calvin) and acting out (much like Calvin) and refusing to go to sleep (much like...). And then, just like that, he was transfixed.

First we read it together, but I think my dramatic interpretation wasn't good enough for him. He couldn't devour it quickly enough with me acting out all the parts, so he began to read it to himself while I sat next to him in bed, me staring at the ceiling while he would scour each page and start tittering. Eventually, he didn't even want me there at all, which is a big (not unwelcome) change.

We have a thing, he and I: the nighttime rituals. Often there's a book, unless he's dawdled himself right out of one, me nagging about brushing his teeth, and always a nighttime chat. It's been this way forever. Now we just have the chat, because Calvin and his tiger Hobbes have captured his imagination with a devotional zeal that makes me beam with pride but off the hook for almost any other responsibilities.

About a week into his obsession, he began asking for a transmogrifier just like Calvin's. The Transmogrifier is a cardboard box that Calvin climbs under, and comes out transformed into whatever flight of fancy has taken him: multiple Calvins, jelly monsters, a tiger much like Hobbes himself. So my husband, always indulgent when his boy is excited about something, ran out to find the best transmogrifier Craigslist could buy. He found it at an appliance store: the biggest refrigerator box I've ever seen.

Our son got a transmogrifier so large my husband had to chop it down by a couple of feet. It stands like a mighty fortress in the middle of his room, and he put his bean bag chair in it so it became a Plush-mogrifier full of the comforts of home. It's so enormous that he and a parent can lounge relatively comfortably, though he wants no such thing most of the time. He's begun decorating it with stickers, a poster about spies, and a hand-crafted bookshelf that he and his papa made one sunny afternoon.

And because Calvin reads by flashlight, we've given him one on permanent loan so that, come bedtime, he races upstairs, darts into the transmogrifier, puts on the flashlight and starts reading Calvin and Hobbes before I've reached the top riser. I hand him his toothbrush and some jammies, and he hands me his used toothbrush and pants (or sometimes just tosses them out like a puppet show prop), I tell him I'll be back in twenty minutes and he barely glances at me.

That's it.

No muss. No freak out. No dilly-dally-wishy-washy-can't-focus-two-seconds-to-get-his-damned-jammies-on.

That boy loves his transmogrifier, but more gratifying is how much he loves to read about it. We can hear him guffawing to himself at some joke that only he and Calvin share, and it is one of the most heartwarming sounds to hear: the sound of independence.

I'm a little sad that I'm not completely involved any more. Not really, but wistful. A little tender.

On the other hand, a whole precious half hour has been returned to me in the evening. And I know that we must invest in the collected works of Watterson now, but it might not be enough to satiate our son's ravenous appetite. I wonder how Watterson would feel about starting the strip back up?