February 24, 2022 Comments Off on Welcoming Absurdity
Last week, on an episode of the podcast, “We Can Do Hard Things” (fess up, I know you listen, too), Glennon Doyle pronounced that the 2022 vibe most worthy of embracing is “absurdity.” We’re “fresh out of giddy-up,” she says. The last two years have depleted every ounce of resiliency we had, leaving us largely “dead inside.” In her line of reasoning, it follows that the only antidote to this zombie-like state is the Theater of the Absurd.
I immediately thought of Alice B. McGinty’s absurd—and absurdly funny—new picture book, Bathe the Cat (Ages 3-6), brilliantly illustrated as per usual by David Roberts (you know him from the beloved “Questioneers” series—most recently, Aaron Slater, Illustrator). While a family scrambles to ready their house for Grandma’s visit, their pet cat repeatedly and mischievously scrambles the chore list—spelled out in magnetic letters on the fridge—resulting in a mayhem of misunderstandings. Sweep the dishes? Scrub the fishes? Mop the baby? Bathe the mat? Just you wait.
Bathe the Cat is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. The rhyming text relishes being read aloud, and the giggles will only increase with repeat readings. We’re well outside the age range over here, and my kids were still delighted by it. Much the way the four of us have been delighting in our new doodle puppy, who can’t manage to chase a ball across the wood floor without at least three of his legs splaying in different directions. Whose muppet face breaks out into the silliest lopsided grin when you scratch his neck, and whose paws move to their own mysterious beat when he’s sleeping.
Yes, our home has welcomed its own brand of absurdity in the past six weeks, and it does feel a bit like shaking off the grogginess from a nap that’s gone on too long. Who knew watching a dog run after a ball and come back with a stick could be so entertaining? “He’s proud as a pumpkin!” my son recently said, as the dog paraded around the living room with a piece of bubble wrap in his mouth. Rather than correcting the metaphor, we merely adopted it as our new Fozzie-speak.
But back to today’s book. Because there’s something else you need to know, beyond the entertaining premise, high-energy illustrations, and purr-fect ending (trust me on that last one). The story centers a biracial family of five, headed up by two dads. In the publishing industry, the is called “incidental” representation, and it’s something to celebrate. We are finally beginning to see racial and LGBTQ+ diversity in stories that are not about that diversity. The two dads here are simply doing what families with babies and toddlers do best: rolling up their sleeves, keeping a sense of humor, and trying to survive Grandma’s visit.
The story opens on a sea of blocks, crayons, dolls, and musical instruments, scattered across the floor. Dad lies amidst the mess, three kids on top of him, while Daddy tries to summon everyone to action. “Come on folks,/ it’s time to clean!/ Upstairs, downstairs, in-between./ It’s such a mess! If Grandma sees…/ She comes at two, so HURRY, please!”
It turns out Daddy already has a list of chores organized on the fridge, and as he reviews the list for the rest of the family—“Bobby, mop the floor/. Dad will scrub the dishes.”—the cat does a double take upon hearing the final thing on the list: “and I’ll bathe the cat.” Just exactly how far will the cat go to avoid a shampooing?
As hijinks ensue in the name of procrastination—the vacuum hose makes a good telephone—no one notices the cat’s paw on the refrigerator door, scrambling the magnetic letters into a new arrangement.
By the time everyone gets down to work, they don’t notice the chores they’re doing are preposterously out of whack. But the reader does. And therein lies the fun, because watching an older sibling (dressed in a fluorescent dinosaur costume) try to mop a giggling baby is great fun.
But it gets even funnier when Daddy realizes something’s amiss and goes back to check the list. “No, no! That’s WRONG! You call this work?!/ Have all you people gone BERSERK?/ You’ve scrubbed my fish? You fed the FLOOR?!/ MUST I READ THIS LIST ONCE MORE??”
But the cat has messed with the list again, after realizing the former arrangement wasn’t going to end any better for him. (Bathing is bad enough, but “mow the cat” is downright terrifying.) The trouble is, the cat can’t exactly read, so he doesn’t realize the alternatives to bathing are all pretty lousy.
Round and round we go, as different permutations are discreetly put up by the cat and then attempted by the well-meaning, if distracted, others. Until Daddy wonders if he might be going insane. (“This list is TOTALLY out of hand. I’ve lost my MARBLES. Understand?!”)
It’s not unlike the experience of juggling a pandemic, if I’m being honest.
Eventually, something approximating order is restored, moments before Grandma Marge arrives at the door. But does the cat get his bath? Or does he have the last word? You’ll have to read to find out.
Oh, and as I’ve been writing this, my puppy has been spinning in a circle attempting to catch his tail. He just got so dizzy he fell over. I busted out laughing. A little less dead inside for today.
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