At my parent's annual family Fourth of July cookout, my two nieces noticed I had a scratch about 7 inches long in the middle of my right shin - the byproduct of hazardous yard work. When they asked where it came from, I said matter-of-factly, "From the lion in my backyard." They looked at me a little puzzled and I could see they were thinking it over, but ultimately they accepted my answer.
My three year-old niece was very curious and wanted more information. With equal parts confusion and wonder, she confirmed, "You have a lion in your backyard?" I replied with a yes and then came a series of questions including, "Is he a nice lion or a mean lion?" When I replied that he was a nice lion, she asked very practically, "If he's a nice lion, why did he scratch you?" I responded, "Well he's still a lion. We were playing and he accidentally scratched me. You know sometimes when you're playing you can get hurt, but it's just an accident." She nodded her head and simply replied, "Oh."
About an hour later she came back and asked "Zizi (meaning auntie in Italian), is the lion still in your backyard?" I said, "Yes" and she asked, "What’s his name?” Without hesitation I responded, "Lorenzo." I had been reading a great book chronicling the history of the Medici family of Florence including Lorenzo the Magnificent, so the name was forefront in my mind. Come to think of it, the entire lion idea probably came from this book which mentioned that lions had been emblematic symbols of the city, but I digress.
She asked a few more questions to which my responses established that Lorenzo the Lion was, in fact, my friend. She then asked, "Where does he sleep?" and I replied, "Outside." This didn't go over well with my niece who persisted, "Why doesn't he sleep in the house? Is it because he smells?" I said, "No. It's because he's a lion. He's kind of big. Where would he sit?" Then, she said innocently and concerned, "Zizi, he can stand. If he's your friend you shouldn't let him sleep outside. That's not nice." I agreed and told her I'd let him in the house as soon as I got home. She seemed to be satisfied…for the moment.
A little while later, she came back yet again. I was in the house sitting on the couch and she climbed onto my lap. I could see that she had been thinking about it and was both marveling at and trying to understand the fact that her Zizi had a lion. She looked at me and said with a slightly desperate sigh, "Zizi, I really want to see your lion." The expression on her face was so consuming I couldn't help but laugh a little. I replied, "You can come over anytime," but was thinking, "Where am I going to get a lion!" Then with authority she said, "I will be over in five days to see him." I'm not sure why she picked five days, but I agreed knowing that I'd be away the next weekend and that she really didn't know how long five days was.
That night, I got home and started looking into buying a garden statue of a lion. The next morning I told the story at work and my boss suggested I get a stuffed-animal instead. It was a good idea, more economical and not as much of a commitment. After seriously considering a six-foot, life-like, stuffed-animal lion, I decided on the smaller, but more practical 18-inch fury friend seen in these photos. In making this choice, I realize I'll have to go even further with the storytelling. I mean this guy is cute, but a little underwhelming. As both my nieces have recently seen the live-action Beauty and the Beast movie, they now understand that things “come to life,” so the story will go that Lorenzo comes to life as a real lion at night and only for me. Nailed it!
They haven't come over yet, but I expect them soon as neither one has forgotten about the lion. Just this past weekend, they urged me to take home leftover steak tips from a cookout at my parent's house to feed my lion for dinner.
As a closing thought, I will say that lying is hard work! There's a reason I don't do it! One lie leads to another lie which leads to another lie and then suddenly you’re searching the internet for pet lions! Conversely, one of my favorite parts of being a Zizi is playing a magical-mystical-fun role in the kid’s lives, which means the storytelling (ehem...lying) will continue for as long as they all believe me.