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Modern Parenthood

Mermaids: Are they real? NOAA says 'no,' but Mom and Animal Planet say ...

Mermaids, for the mom who wrote the book on them, spark the most amazing questions from people who should know better. Still, Mom and Animal Planet want to stretch childhood just a little longer.

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The first thing I tell people is that when we moved from New Jersey to Norfolk 10 years ago our sons, then ages nine, eight, and three, would point to each and every mermaid sculpture they saw, competing to be the first to shout, “There goes a mermaid!” The first to shout it claimed that mermaid as his own personal property.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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My husband told them, “They’re not real. They’re just statues.”

Son Ian, then eight, would have none of that kind of talk and beset his father with questions in an effort to prove that these so-called sculptures must have some actual connection, some secret entrée to the magical world of merfolk. Every car ride was peppered with questions about these fiberglass sculptures. See the Norfolk City website Mermaids on Parade to view some of our “mermaids."

Because each sculpture is mounted on a pipe, Ian insisted, “Why pipes? Pipes are useful things, carrying water. Maybe there’s a reason they chose pipes for the sculptures!”

One day, as we drove around downtown, a place where one can’t swing a dead catfish without hitting a mermaid sculpture, Ian had my husband at the end of his rope due to his relentless inquiries.  

To save us all from impending doom I turned to Ian, who was in the back seat, and delivered the impromptu speech that would change our lives and make me “the mermaid author” for all-time sake. 

“The pipes are there because they go down through the street, under the city and out to the river which leads to the sea. Mermaids are shape-shifters. They can turn into water and swim into the pipes, under the city and flow up into the pipes, up through the city and into the hollow sculptures which are their city apartments. When we stop the car you can get out and put your ear to one of the mermaids and if you hear the ocean you know a mermaid is at home inside.”

Ian looked at me and weighed this answer carefully before responding, “Excellent! How do they get out and turn into women?” Ummm…

When Hurricane Isabelle hit the next day, we had nine days with no electricity and a note pad to figure out the answer to that and all the mermaid questions the other boys asked during that time. The answers became the book “There Goes a mermaid! A NorFolktale," which benefits two children’s charities here in Norfolk.

Unfortunately, telling that simple and slightly ambiguous truth with no explanation of how I “knew” that about the sculptures often fails to satisfy. In those cases I simple recite "Magic," a favorite childhood poem from Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends":

“Sandra’s seen a leprechaun,

Eddie touched a troll,
Laurie danced with witches once,
Charlie found some goblins gold.
Donald heard a mermaid sing,
Susy spied an elf,
But all the magic I have known
I've had to make myself.” 

Of course being a parent means making magic all by yourself. To do so requires imagination and isn’t the necessity for that daily magic the mother of invention?

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