Parent Moments: Joining Up With Captain Hook
"So try the life of a thief
Just sample the life of a crook
There isn't a boy
Who won't enjoy
A-workin' for Captain Hook
The World's Most Famous Crook!"
-- "Peter Pan," by J. M. Barrie
When our son Henry was three, he started to associate with some pretty sketchy characters. Specifically, a band of pirates. Their leader? Henry, as self-appointed Captain Hook.
Henry didn't always embrace the dark side. A few months earlier he had happily worn a Peter Pan costume to Disneyland. As we made our way through Fantasyland, however, he locked eyes with a seven-foot-tall Hook, complete with red velvet jacket and rakish plumed hat. Something must have clicked -- very loudly.
That Christmas, Henry's grandmother gave him a red velvet Captain Hook costume, complete with gold buttons, and the Peter Pan suit became an abandoned green heap on the floor. Hook was officially in the building.
We soon came to understand that living with a pirate isn't as much fun as housing an ageless boy. Even though Henry's Peter Pan would sometimes fly into our kitchen door with a force that shook the windows, that was nothing compared to the huge downside of parenting a lawless-brigand-in-training. For one, there's the Facial 'Tude: curled lip, furrowed brows, sneering scowl. Pirates, I discovered, have a piquant but limited vocabulary, dropping "yo ho ho," "walk the plank," and "shiver me timbers" into casual conversation. They like to hoard jewelry and coins. Their repertoire of roguish slang is rich: "blimey," "scurvy dog," and "landlubber." And pirates, even three-year-old ones, have many enemies, so it's key that they jump out from corners with a robust "arrrgh!" They also need to be frisked for weapons whenever you leave the house.
But under the guise of encouraging creativity and letting him get it out of his system, my husband Dave and I let Henry wear his Hook costume nearly everywhere except school and church. Just as his interest in the Peter Pan costume had waned, we assumed that Hook-mania would too.
"We need to contain this Captain Hook thing," Dave sighed one night after a particularly rowdy encounter with a plastic cutlass. At this point we had been living the pirate life for four months. That evening his preschool teacher called as we sat down for dinner. Henry had recruited a willing band of pirates in his preschool class --a sweet group of three year old boys and one feisty girl, she said. He had given them standard training in pirate skills: walking the plank and firing the cannon. It hadn't taken long for other parents to find out and for a pirate backlash to grow.
"That's ALL they want to do," complained his teachers. "So we don't allow them to build pirate ships with blocks and fire cannons anymore. We just wanted you to know." "Was anyone hurt?" I asked, concerned. "No. But we would like them to engage in more positive play."
As spring ebbed and a hot summer rolled in, I hoped that humidity might discourage Henry from wearing his velvet jacket. It didn't, and I can still see him swashbuckling through the farmer's market as Hook in 90-degree heat, sweat beading on his forehead as old folks smiled indulgently. He had abandoned the black pants and plumed hat, but the jacket stayed on through Halloween.
I can't remember exactly when Hook sailed out of our lives. A series of bad-guy guises followed, but none with the hold of Hook. It took many years for Henry to outgrow villains-as-heroes, and when he finally chose Luke Skywalker over Darth Vader, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Looking back, my family's pirate phase seems to have passed in the blink of an eye, but back then, it seemed endless. The other day I found a carefully wrapped picture mug forgotten in the back of my "Christmas gifts" closet. On it was a picture of Henry, in his full Captain Hook regalia. I cradled the cup, filled it with coffee and drank to pirates, scurvy landlubbers, and a little boy's imagination.