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Dad Next Door: The country in Pippa’s room



A little encouragement from across the fence

PHOTO: JOSHUA HUSTON

A year and a half ago, when Pippa was just 5, she came up with a new dish called Bagaleelee, which consists of pasta, tomatoes, cheese, raisins and dates. She wrote down the list of ingredients, complete with detailed drawings, and supervised me while I cooked up a batch for her. It wasn’t half bad.

When we asked her where she got the recipe, she told us it was a famous dish from another country — the country in her room. It turns out, there’s an entire island nation somewhere among her bookshelves, toys and loft bed, though it’s a little unclear exactly where.

Since then Pippa has taken me on many a tour of this uncharted land. It is, to say the least, remarkable. The climate is sunny but cold enough to ice skate any time of year and features occasional hazardous precipitation in the form of falling lawn furniture and food. The streets are lined with trees that bear small dogs as fruit, and the wildlife includes a creature called a High-Tongue Licker, which has three long tongues protruding from the top of its head.

ILLUSTRATION BY PIPPA STANTON-HSIAO

An Aqua Ice Bullet Hypno High-Tongue Licker

Pippa is the supreme leader, as you might expect. She took over when the former president (an evil winged creature called a Hoak) began behaving badly and needed to be replaced. By all accounts she is a just and benign ruler, and she presides over a happy, peaceful citizenry. There are no courts and no jail, though there are police officers charged with controlling a gang of clever octopuses who have taken to a life of crime. The only law I’ve discovered so far is that one is required to have the right number of popsicles. That number is 10 per hour.

The economy is a wonder of egalitarianism and abundance. There’s one factory on the island that supplies everything you need on demand. You simply state your request, and it’s delivered via special expandable tubes that course through the countryside and supply every home. Should you ever want something that the factory can’t make, you simply barter for it. The current exchange rate is as follows:

A set of marbles = a small parakeet.

Some books = some butterfly wings.

Of course, no 5-year-old’s imagination is purely utopian. There are scary things that go bump in the night. In addition to High-Tongue Lickers and evil Hoaks, there are the Towers of Terror. Each one is guarded by a ghost, including the King of Ghosts (recognizable by the fish skeleton protruding from his head). No one lives in the Towers of Terror, but reportedly there is excellent trick-or-treating there.

In the country in Pippa’s Room, no one has to work or go to school, but somehow there are many stores and restaurants. My favorite breakfast spot is Jean’s Special Crepes, Pancakes and Other Flippy Stuff. And there’s good window shopping at Mrs. Swan’s Curtain Drawing and Pillow Plumping, and Mickey Thinky’s Stinky Bikinis.

For entertainment, you can skate, ski, scooter or skateboard anywhere on the island. There’s good snorkeling at Eyeball Tail Reef, and panoramic views at Oceanviewcliff (which is pronounced exactly as it’s spelled as long as you say it very rapidly in one breath). But the favored place to go for a night out on the town is the amusement park, known as the Land of Light Bulbs. The best ride there is the Light Bulb Roller Ride where you climb into a giant light bulb and ride continuously for a week. Luckily, there are extra shirts and underpants inside if you need them and a vending machine that supplies ice cream, lollipops and “healthy food.”

This Christmas I helped Pippa create a travel guide to the country in her room as a present for her mom. As we worked on it I began to realize that her country actually makes a lot more sense than mine right now. I’d wake up to headlines about nuclear threats, rising sea levels and mass shootings, and I’d immediately dive back into our book project, escaping to a place that was kinder, simpler and a lot more fun.

Unfortunately, I can only visit the country in Pippa’s Room accompanied by a certified guide, and the only one I know just turned 7 and shows no sign of getting younger anytime soon. Eventually she will have to live in my world, one where there are scarier things than High-Tongue Lickers lurking in the shadows.

So here’s my New Year’s resolution. This year, I’d like to make my country a little more suitable to pass on to Pippa. After all, she was nice enough to share her country with me. It wouldn’t be fair if I had nothing worth sharing in return.

Jeff Lee does his own curtain drawing and pillow plumping in Seattle.

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