As a parent of a young child learning to read, I recently introduced my son to one of the great books of my youth: ``The Cat in the Hat,'' written by an American institution, Dr. Seuss.
I'm sure you know the story. . . this rather large cat (in a red and white striped hat) comes to the house of two children, juggles some furniture, invites some of his friends to come in and trash the place, cleans it all up and leaves just as the kids' mother comes home. The story is told in playful, up-tempo rhymes, and, for kids, is a fun, imaginative tale with unpredictable twists and turns.
However, for parents of young kids, it may no longer be considered a story of playful chaos. Perhaps, like me, you will now see it as an homage to parental irresponsibility, suggestive criminal behavior and a willful disrespect for property. Let me explain. . .
The book begins with two kids at home. . . alone. This is the first ``red flag.'' These days, two young kids at home alone - all day - without any supervision borders on abandonment. In fact, parents have been indicted for less! Second, why aren't these kids in school? Staring listlessly out the window is no way to expand their minds. The next thing you know, they'll start watching Jerry Springer, or worse, congressional hearings on C-Span.
Third, what about the ``Cat in the Hat''? He is supposed to be a cat, but he is as big as an adult, he talks like an adult, and he has very adultlike features, which leads me to think that he is no cat at all, but is a criminal dressed up like a cat!
Folks, like me, you will probably notice all of these problems just a few pages into the story. It gets worse. In what can only be considered more evidence that this cat was a criminal, the ``Cat in the Hat'' enters the house with a loud bang (does he kick open the locked door, perhaps?) and walks into the living room wearing a bizarre looking Dennis Rodman hat. These kids do not know this Cat! He was not invited! (Breaking and entering?)
Then this cat tells the kids their mother approves of his being there (I don't know about you, but I warn my boys never to listen to that line).
When the only significant resistance comes from a talking fish in a fishbowl, the Cat coolly blows him off. (This should serve as fair warning to parents who use talking fish as baby-sitters.) Then the ``Cat in the Hat'' decides to juggle some furniture, using the fishbowl as a prop, and begins trashing the house, though playfully, but it is the kind of trashing you would only recognize if you had two boys, like me. (Parents of boys will shudder when reading this section.)
Just when you think this Cat can do no more damage, he brings in his two buddies, ``Thing One and Thing Two'' (two rodents with A.D.D.) for a party!
With no adult to chaperone, the house becomes every parent's worst nightmare. (Fearful of having my son think such activity was acceptable, just because it is a part of a playful Dr. Seuss story, I warned him that this sort of behavior would definitely warrant a ``time-out.'')
Finally, just as Ms. ``I have no problem leaving the kids alone all day'' comes home, the ``Cat in the Hat,'' with his quick criminal mind, realizes he has to clean up the house (I will argue that he is merely ``removing evidence'' of his presence). After somehow stealing a Zamboni from the local ice arena, the ``Cat in the Hat'' uses it to ``cover his tracks,'' and, in yet another sign that he was up to no good, he sneaks out the back door.
With the ``Cat in the Hat'' now gone, the mother returns home. When she asks her children what they did while she abandoned them, they lie! (Seuss doesn't say they lie, but you know they do.) The story ends with the mother not realizing how close she came to a total looting and destruction of her property.
Parents, I share this with you so you can stop yourselves before it is too late. Do not read this book to your kids. When you were young, perhaps ``The Cat in the Hat'' was about playful, chaotic fun, but now, with a parental perspective, you may now, like me, see it as a story of neglect, harassment, the wilful disregard for personal property, and dishonesty.
Though this may be a tough pill to swallow, I know you will appreciate my efforts to set the record straight.
(Be sure to check out my next book review, ``The Cat in the Hat Comes Back,'' where I explore the disturbing issue of the ``Cat in the Hat'' as a stalker.)
Jim Watts is a humor writer the Chicago suburb of Deerfield. Readers may write to him at: 1111 Oxford Road, Deerfield, Ill. 60015.
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