I love film adaptations from children’s books, but I had another reason to run out to see Lyle, Lyle Crocodile this fall. My family recently moved across the country, and I found myself intensely nostalgic not only for the place we left but also for who we used to be before this transition.
Something happened during the pandemic, though. Despite the library’s best intentions, my kids became more focused readers, no longer allowed to grab random picture books from the shelves and flip through them within the library’s walls. Our inspiration for reading stemmed from what was most within our mental recall, that is, a lot of Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Book series hold their own value, don’t get me wrong, but I started to notice that we sat together less and less frequently, and read my childhood favorites even less than that.
So I was already on edge this summer as we geared up to move out of state, and from city to suburban living. Among other changes, I realized we would no longer have built-in bookshelves in the living room. If I couldn’t display those childhood favorites, would we sit and read together again? With my youngest children now seven years old, would I also have to say goodbye to an era, to childhood, in addition to everything else?
It was while I was hyperventilating, trying to resist the ephemeral nature of time, that I saw a preview for Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, which was to be released in theaters on October 6th. I stared at the screen, entranced, and knew I absolutely had to be there opening weekend. This movie is a sign, I realized. This movie is a metaphor.
Lyle, along with the young son Joshua, takes center stage in this story, but after reviewing the plot now as a mother, I see another dimension peeking out between the lines. In the storybook, the action seems to begin with Mrs. Primm entering the upstairs bathroom and encountering Lyle for the first time – a real shock to be sure – but the story for Mrs. Primm herself begins long before that.
The Primms, like my family, enter the story in a moving van, distraught by many things, like where to put the piano (Mrs. Primm’s first concern) and where to freshen up (Mrs. Primm’s second concern). Now I wonder, was the piano really the only piece of furniture that was hard to place? And, after doing all of that work, was there no powder room on the main level where this hard-working mother might refresh herself? Nonetheless, the focus here is on the mother, and the need to wash her hands draws her to the discovery of Lyle in the bathtub upstairs.
Once the family overcomes their collective shock, Mrs. Primm begins to settle into her new home. She cleans, decorates, and entertains. And, she is drawn out into the community, presumably where she can enjoy Italian ice and visits to the park, just like Lyle.
After my family moved this summer, there were no scaly surprises in our new bathrooms, although perhaps my “Lyle” appeared in the form of my property tax bill, among other expenses that jumped up dramatically. But maybe all of that would pay for something good? I waited in anticipation for something like Lyle that would draw us into the world and then accompany us home to rest.
I’m still adjusting to the shock of driving everywhere – I really mean everywhere in this suburban environment – but overall, I’m trying to focus on how we’re engaging in our new place, how our kids are involved in sports and activities through the town and at school. This is where I meet people. The bus stop especially is a daily check in for neighborhood parents.
The thing is, we don’t have a clue as to what the Primm family did with their time before Lyle came into their lives, before they lived on East 88th Street. Did Joshua enjoy sitting next to his mother on the sofa while she read to him? Or had he just outgrown that, same as my kids? Whatever their lives were like before, they learned to love Lyle, miss him when he is gone, and celebrate his return. Realizing this, I think the Primm family has a message for anyone trying to settle in after a big move:
Be entertained. Be cozy. Be together. Bring delight to the community.
How to do this? My first thought is to throw a barbeque and invite the neighbors. Never mind that summer has passed. We’re here now, and it’s time. Bus Stop BBQ, here we come.
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