Lydia was upset. She woke up from a nap buckled into her car seat and then she proceeded to scream all the way from the garage to the couch in our living room. I sat across from her, with a little boy on my lap and watched as she curled herself up like a tiny pink snail and screamed into the couch cushions.
The boy and I glanced at each other and then back at the girl. We didn’t need to speak. We knew what the other was thinking.
“Lydia,” I tried to yell through the wall of noise she was projecting. “would you like to watch a show?”
“Superman?” her little brother suggested, sounding hopeful.
“No!” she yelled.
I turned around in my chair and started browsing videos on my computer. Suddenly, I found something I was not expecting.
“Oh, Lydia. This is perfect. You will love this.”
“No! No, I will not!” she yelled, still face down on the couch with her face in a pillow.
I started it anyway.
As the theme music began, the little girl stopped screaming and instead quietly whimpered into the pillow. I watched her as a single eye peaked out.
“Hello,” said a calming voice behind me. “I’m Bob Ross, and thank you for joining me today on The Joy of Painting.”
The man very gently began mixing colors on a large pallet held out in front of him. I looked quickly back at Lydia and saw that she now had two eyes watching the screen.
The man brushed at the canvas in feathery circles inventing a golden sky with pastel red hues and the illusion of faraway clouds. The girl’s head was now fully turned to face the screen, resting on the tear stained pillow.
The man took a pallet knife and magically scraped several mountain peaks into the distance, and then veiled them in mist with a sweep of his brush. He flicked his wrist and trees suddenly appeared. A contented bush materialized on the bank of a flowing river. Green. Blue. Yellow. Orange. Colors swirled together. Happy accidents happened. Life continued. I looked back; the girl was now sitting up on the couch, leaning forward onto her seat. She didn’t blink for a full thirty seconds. She didn’t breathe for fifty.
Finally, the end credits began. I pressed pause and swiveled around in my chair. “What did you think?” I asked.
“Play another one!” she yelled, without hesitation. She jumped out of her seat and pointed wildly at the screen. “One more, Please!” She shook her fists like a starving child begging for one more bowl of soup. “Please! Please!”
She pushed me out of my chair so she could sit closer to the screen. I moved to the couch behind her, a sleeping boy curled up in my arms. A few minutes into the next episode I noticed her arms beginning to twitch unconsciously at her sides. Soon they were swishing through the air, mimicking the man’s gestures. She was memorizing the spells of this new magic she was witnessing. As the man continued, his gentle voice mixed with the rhythm of the rise and fall of the tiny chest on top of my own. Suddenly I was being carried away in a warm river and I drifted off to sleep.
I was awaken several minutes later by a frantic little girl. “Dad! Dad!” she was yelling. “Dad! I need you to play another one! It’s over, play another one!”
As I blinked around the room trying to remember where I was and what was happening, the girl turned and bound up the living room stairs, never touching any of them. Immediately she bound right back down carrying here chalk board easel and a large box of colored chalk. “Dad! Start another one! Start another one!”