It was not the question I was expecting to hear over a glazed donut on a Sunday morning. "Googie," Sooby asked recently, "what's a stake-out?"
A stake-out? Between finger-licks of sweet, sticky goo, I struggled to imagine what, in the deep, dark recesses of a mind newly five years old, had spawned this question. And I struggled equally hard to figure out how to give the term a context and a set of words it could grasp.
"Well," I said, pausing to borrow the time I needed to formulate a coherent thought. "If a bad guy has done something wrong, and the good guys want to catch him, they all get together and wait for their chance to do that."
Not bad, I thought, watching Sooby contemplate this impromptu explanation. "You mean, like a trap?" she asked.
"Exactly," I said. "It's like setting a trap to catch a bad guy." (This is the typical answer of someone who has watched entirely too many episodes of Law and Order). I asked her why she was thinking about stake-outs, and where she had heard about them.
"Well," she said. "Like in Tod and Copper." She was thinking about The Fox and the Hound. In that story, more recently a Disney movie, a hunter named Amos Slade encourages his dog Copper to trap a young red fox named Tod, a lost cause since the two had become bosom buddies during their youthful critterdom.
"Yeah, like that," I said, thinking that a good enough analogy, although, technically, Tod didn't really qualify as a bona fide "bad guy." Amos Slade and his fellow hunters had surely "staked out" Tod and other foxy prey. It made sense to me, and, for the time being, we moved past the donuts and any further mention of stake-outs.
Later that day, I overheard an excerpt from a video the kids were watching involving Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Titled "Doggie Detectives," this particular cartoon pitted Clifford and his canine comrades against a mysterious thief they thought had stolen the merry-go-round from the playground.
As a devoted reader of books about a character named "Detective Mike," one of the crew, a three-legged beagle named K.C., knew just what they should do. You guessed it--they needed a "stake-out."
One of the dogs asked K.C. what a stake-out was, and that's when I heard K.C. explain the concept better than I had. "You hide near the scene of a mystery," he said, "and wait to see who shows up."
After duly "investigating" and "tailing" their suspect in the modus operandi of Detective Mike, it turns out that K.C.'s owner, Bruno, had taken the merry-go-round from the playground to give it a new coat of paint in his shop. Mystery solved. Stake-out successful. Merry-go-round returned the following day. Case closed.
All, that is, except Sooby's association of the concept of a "stake-out" to The Fox and the Hound. I looked back at that story, and there was no mention of the term there. All on her own, she had taken the idea of entrapment from the Clifford cartoon and related it to the story of Tod and Copper. For me, it was another fascinating example of the way little minds learn by association and begin to generalize concepts.
This is the kind of stake-out I love. You hide among the nuances of your grandkids' lives and watch what shows up. If you are lucky, you get to do this often, and you will never fail to be amazed.