The Imaginary Duck & The Firetruck

Noodle goes to “school” two mornings a week so that I can focus on important work, like writing blog posts. (More often than not, I can be found tucked in the corner of a cafĂ© scribbling philosophy, undeterred by the simple fact that philosophy doesn’t sell and that a little cash in hand would be a lovely change these days. Of course, there isn’t exactly a pot of gold at the end of the rain-blog either. Writers are a damned stubborn lot.)

When I pick Noodle up from school, I always chat with him about his day, tell him about what I’m working on, and more often than not, we pop into the bakery for dad-and-son gingerbread treats. Routine keeps us grounded.

It only seems worth losing all you left behind when there’s still something worthwhile ahead. As an American expat in New Zealand, not every day felt worth all that, as Noodle and I would bob and weave our way through what, on the surface, looked familiar, only to find there was a bristling, unfamiliar place just beneath. We have stuck it out, made new friends, and have come out the other side with an optimistic outlook on the whole adventure.

We want Noodle to be more social, learn to play well with others, catch their viruses to shore up his immune system — all the obvious benefits of being around heaps of other kids. Kindy achieves all these things. When we chat about his day, I’m always interested to know who he plays with. “Who did you play with today?” has been an everyday question, and every day, he would tell me that he played with Becky.

How cool. I’m not surprised that Noodle would befriend the little girls first. his daddy, much to his mommy’s puzzlement when they first met, has always had lots of female friends. Becky and Noodle play in the sandbox with the diggers and tractors. They ride on the cars. They doodle and listen to stories.

Then one day, I get a different answer. “Who did you play with today?” He tells me, Nina. Another little girl! Noodle is quite the ladies man. “What did you and Nina do?” They played with firetrucks. Noodle loves firetrucks, so if there’s a little girl playing with them, no doubt he will be a first responder to that scene.

Curious, one day I looked at the wall of names by the school entrance. Every kid has a mail slot where parents can correspond with one another, and where the school deposits our weekly bill. Rebecca is a common name in New Zealand, but I figure I can narrow it down. I scan the names. There is no Rebecca. Is there a Becky? No. What about Nina? No Nina.

Well now that’s an interesting development.

So I ask Noodle who Becky is. “She’s at school.” OK. What does she look like? He changes the topic. Do you sit with her at tea? (The kids have “morning tea” at ten. It’s a British thing; you get used to it.) He talks about what he ate, not-so-deftly avoiding the question again. Do you think Becky would like to play with you at the park? Yeah. This is getting us nowhere, so I ask again: Noodle, who is Becky?

She’s a duck.

Managing a straight face, “Oh. I see. Do you talk to her?”

“She goes quaaaaaack!”

Of course she does. Ducks quack. Noodle’s best friend at school is a duck. A duck that he made up. Lovely.

At school I ask the supervisor if there is a student called Becky. There isn’t. I tell her this story and she notes that Noodle really loves book time, so perhaps there is a duck in a book that he likes. This is the most reasonable answer.

As the supervisor and I chat about America, New Zealand, culture shock, plans for the future, and so forth, in the background I overhear a little boy playing with the firetrucks, leaning over one of them making a siren sound: “Ni-Na, Ni-Na, Ni-Na.”

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