I just went on eBay to buy a Ringo doll but was deterred by the fact that Ringo not only costs $49.95, but that to have him shipped to me from Canada will cost me an additional $17.95. I love my Beatles, and I love my kids, but wow.
We have the other three. I actually bought all four for Christmas two years ago, way before my kids even knew that “Beatles” was connected to their beloved song, “Yellow Submarine.” I got them for a pretty good price–around $32 each, as I recall, which still seemed outrageous. I gave Ringo to my nephew. That was a good thing to do: at the time, he was way more excited with his Beatle doll than either of my children were about the strange figures whose legs didn’t bend and whose clothes wouldn’t come off.
No more. John, Paul and George are fixtures at our dinner table. They get fed whatever the kids are eating–pizza, oat bran, tangerine slices. Today they went to school with Johnny. He was supposed to bring just Paul, because his class is studying the letter P, but he couldn’t bear to leave John and George behind.
Yellow Submarine wasn’t a bid deal for me, growing up. I didn’t have the soundtrack until I was in my twenties, and I don’t think I watched the film until my 30s. I knew the Beatles had had little to do with it creatively, so I didn’t bother. I noticed when I finally got the Yellow Submarine CD that the liner notes inexplicably didn’t even mention the CD they were connected to–instead the writer raved about the double album known today as “the White Album” which was due to come out two weeks hence. I’ve always seen YS in the same way–as a kind of fun precursor to the dark, twisted, wonderful, gritty The Beatles.
But having kids has deepened my appreciation for the Submarine. I still haven’t really watched it all the way through, but there is a 6 minute 15 second clip on YouTube which I look at regularly, both kids on my knees, and I find it thoroughly delightful. In it, cartoon Ringo finds himself in a room full of black spots (“Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall”?) and takes one away with him, muttering, “I’ve got a hole in me pocket.” Later, that same hole saves the day when the Beatles, trying to save Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from their glassed-dome frozen state (they’ve been there for 20 years, of course) try to get them out by breaking the glass. “It’s Beatleproof,” Paul (Or George) tells John. But then Ringo applies the hole in his pocket, and somehow the toxic fumes of Blue Meaniedom come pouring out, and the glass dome melts away. And then they all sing “All You Need is Love.” I am totally charmed.
Johnny won’t share the Beatle dolls. He is convinced they are his. Lila pleads with him to let her have Paul, and sometimes I find her cuddling Paul in her arms. (Of COURSE Lila would want Paul.) I suggested Johnny could have John and George and Lila could have Paul, and Ringo once he arrives. Tom was aghast. “You would break up the Beatles?”
Speaking of which, I mentioned today something about the Beatles breaking up when Lila asked who was best friends with Ringo, and I said Ringo got along really well with everyone.
“But who was his best friend?” she persisted.
“Well, in the beginning, it was George. Then later, in the 70s, probably John. I think he had a hard time with Paul after they broke up.”
“I don’t understand,” said Lila. “What’s ‘broke up’? What does that even mean?”
“Well,” I said. “When I was just three years old” [as if they were my divorcing parents] “the Beatles decided they didn’t want to play together anymore. It was very very sad.”
“But….why?” Lila asked, her eyes wide.
“No one really knows,” I sighed, as if I were trying to explain some concept like life and death, or why the Republicans and Democrats hate each other, or why anyone would be against gay marriage. “Maybe they got tired of each other.” (I pointedly did NOT pin the break-up on Yoko, as I fervently believe she should not be blamed. Let’s give this new generation a new paradigm, please. Also, I love Yoko.) “They wanted to make other music by themselves. They were sick of being bossed around by each other.”
Also today, Lila said, “Which of the Beatles died first?”
I don’t remember ever saying any of them were dead.
“John,” I said.
“How did he die?”
I paused. “I don’t want to tell you right now. When you are older. But it was very sad.”
“Why won’t you tell me?”
“Because I just don’t.” And I realize this is not my highest and best parenting moment. But I also feel committed to being authentic with my kids about what happens in the world. I don’t want to lie and say, “He just died,” when that is not at all what happened. And she is certainly not old enough–at five and a half–to hear about assassination. The Beatles story is so rich and complex–as rich and complex as any Greek myth or Bible story. Maybe I should have told her. After all, parents have told their kids about the crucifixion, or Daniel in the Lion’s Den, or Chronos eating his children, or The Three Little Pigs eating the wolf (true story–that’s the version Johnny learned in his preschool) for millenia. Bruno Bettelheim, in The Uses of Enchantment argues that the dark stories and fairy tales are essential for children to develop emotional growth, integrity and a sense of purpose in the world. (We wrote about this just a couple of weeks ago right here.) At some point, we have to tell kids about death. Lila had to learn about that two years ago when her grandmother died. But somehow I just couldn’t tell her about John Lennon being killed by a crazy fan. Not today, not in the middle of this amazing festival of yellow submarines and flower power and my kids beginning to figure out who is singing and playing what. (When “Hey Bulldog”–an excellent reason to buy the Yellow Submarine soundtrack–came on, Johnny said, “Hey, Mama, dat’s John, wight? Is dat John pwaying ewectwic pinano?”)
So instead I just pressed “return” on Ringo. He’ll be arriving here in about a week from Canada, and I am $67.40 poorer. And for a while, anyway, we’ll have all four Beatles together again.