Last Christmas, we...I mean, Santa gave William a Batcave toy. It's essentially a Batman-themed dollhouse for little boys. But instead of a nursery for the baby doll, it has a jail for the bad guys. And instead of a kitchen, it has a command center.
That was some of the best money that Santa ever spent. It was not only a huge hit, but more than a year later, William still plays with it almost every day.
But there is a downside of having such a beloved toy. That downside is for his parents, of course: William always wants us to play Batman missions*--and he wants us to play those missions with him to his exact specifications. You see, if you've never had the opportunity to play a Batman mission with William, let me fill you in on what happens.
(*"Mission" is William's current favorite word to describe a session of play. I believe that it came from playing the Star Wars Lego game. It replaced his previous favorite word, which was "episode." If you have to interrupt playtime to, say, answer the phone or go to the bathroom, William will call out, "Pause the mission!" When you return to the play area, William will then say, "Unpause the mission.")
The unofficial rules of any and all Batman missions directed by William:
Rule No. 1: William is in charge. No exceptions.
Rule No. 2: You do not get to choose which Batman character you get to be. William will choose for you. You are very unlikely to ever get the chance to be Black Batman. On a really really good day, however, you might land the chance to be Arctic Batman. You are more likely to be assigned Superman and Robin, however.
Rule No. 3: William gets to decide the objective of the mission. Typically the main objective of any Batman mission is to defeat the bad guys and throw them into the Batcave jail. Usually but not always the bad guys have taken refuge under those dreaded strongholds of evil, the sofa cushions. However, no matter where they are hiding out, laughing their evil laughs, they must be brought back to the Batcave jail.
Rule No. 4: You have absolutely no say in what happens on the mission. If you attempt to make any independent decisions about action taken on the mission without getting William's prior approval, your idea will immediately be shot down with virtually no chance of reconsideration.
Rule No. 5: You are expected to make sure your characters carry on a sparkling conversation throughout the mission. Apparently there is no such thing as the strong silent type on a William-led Batman mission. They can't just stand there. Good dialogue is key. And in case you forget, William will remind you to make sure the characters keep talking.
If you keep all those points in mind, you'll do okay. You may be tempted to put your head down on the floor a little bit, but at least you won't cause any major existential Batman arguments.
Some missions are better than others if you stray just a little bit but still stick reasonably close to the rules, even if they do bear a striking resemblance to all the previous missions. Every once in awhile, William will be feeling very magnanimous and he'll let me be Green Lantern. That's always good. Today, he even let me have Green Lantern and Arctic Batman talk about the day earlier this week when Arctic Batman went to preschool with William for show-and-tell. Arctic Batman had chips for a snack while hanging out in William's totebag, in case you were curious.
But there are some days when I just. can't. play. another. Batman. mission. I've had to turn William down for the sake of my own sanity. Sometimes I'm genuinely working on a freelance story, but other times, I just don't want to do it. I say, "Hey, wanna watch TV? I think "Dinosaur Train" is on..."
Of course, every time I do that, I swear I hear the strains of "Cat's in the Cradle" playing in my head. One day he'll be all grown up, and I'll be all lonely and sad and wailing, "Why, oh why, didn't I play more Batman missions with William when he was four?"
I guess I can go make up for it, though. As I am typing this, William is standing right next to me, saying, "I really want to play a Batman mission." I am capitulating. I told him to go "get the mission ready" and I'll be in there in a minute. What can I say? It's that darned song, getting to me.
William with Green Lantern and Arctic Batman: