CONVERSATIONS · slice of life

The Legend of Great Uncle Carl

Today’s latest and greatest Ari moment can only be told after you know the Legend of Great Uncle Carl.


There aren’t many tall people in my family or my husband’s side of the family. According to Schaefer Family Legend, Great Uncle Carl, my father-in-law’s uncle, was tall. Just how tall was Great Uncle Carl? I’ll never know since he passed away well before I met my husband 15 years ago. But by the way people made it sound for the first ten years of my relationship with Marc, Great Uncle Carl was at least 6’4” before old age made him shrink an inch or two.

In the years that followed Isabelle’s birth, I’ve invoked this giant of a man from time-to-time when Isabelle didn’t want to eat her dinner. Slowly, I learned (from my mother-in-law) that Great Uncle Carl wasn’t so tall. She said that in his heyday, Great Uncle Carl wasn’t more than — wait for it — 5’10”! (That’s still tall by my family’s standards, but 5’10” does not a skyscraper make.) So, I stopped invoking Great Uncle Carl with Isabelle.


A few days ago, after a few years of not invoking Great Uncle Carl’s stature, I told Ari about the legendary Great-Uncle Carl who was a towering figure. You see, Ari was not eating well, which is out of character for him. Talking to him about getting tall enough to ride the next set of rides at Hersheypark wasn’t working so I thought the image of Great Uncle Carl would give him something to aspire to. And it did — for a night.

This evening, my cranky three-year-old (who didn’t nap) refused to eat dinner. We took him upstairs and figured he would drink a cup of milk and then go to bed. But Ari refused to sip on the straw. I begged and pleaded for Ari to drink his milk since his belly was virtually empty, but he refused.

Even through Waterlogue, I bet you can tell how unamused and sleepy Ari was this evening.

“Why don’t you want to drink your milk?” I asked.

Ari mumbled something that I couldn’t make out.

“I didn’t understand you. Would you say it again?”

“Because I don’t want to get as big as Great Uncle Carl,” he weeped.

I stifled my laugher, which was hard because that was NOT the answer I was expecting. I went into reassurance mode (make that panic mode) and told Ari, “You don’t have to get as big as Great Uncle Carl. He wasn’t really that tall. You can get as big as Daddy if you want. It doesn’t matter just how tall you are. What matters is that your belly is full. So, what do you say? Have some milk.”

“No!” Ari said shoving the cup away from his face.

There were no more legends to lean on. I was beaten so I murmured the only question I knew that would be answered affirmatively, “Do you just want to go to sleep?”

“Yes!” Ari declared. In a flash, he grabbed his blanket and walked over to his bed. Within minutes he was fast asleep.

20 thoughts on “The Legend of Great Uncle Carl

  1. Tall tales
    tumble and fall
    from family
    stories, a call
    to remember
    the towering figures
    of our past,
    legends interlocking
    with the present

    — Kevin, a poem as a comment

  2. What a fun tribute to your uncle – and little Ari is onto something; it can be terribly hard to be TOO tall! I love hearing the thought processes of children. Their insights and perceptions are endlessly fascinating. I once described my step-grandfather as “tall” (he died just before I turned three) and my father laughed: “No, he wasn’t! He was about 5’4!” My dad didn’t think I really remembered him. But when I said Papa wore a gray worksuit every day, my dad stopped laughing… a reminder to consider the perspective of a child. Papa was tall to ME. And that Waterlogue -! It’s breathtakingly beautiful.

  3. I love how children interpret the world, and Ari has his own way, that’s for sure. Poor Ari – who can sleep when they’re thinking about giant great uncles? (In our family it was “eat your bread crusts and your hair will be curly.” We, of course, have stick-straight hair. My sister, ever stubborn, adamantly refused because she did NOT want curly hair AT ALL.)

  4. Oh, dear! The challenges of that age! My boys are – wait for it – 25, 20, and 18! But, they are all still as stubborn as your three-year-old! This experience has already made a great memory for you! I’m sure there are more to come! I’ll bet he did fine going to bed on an empty stomach! 🙂 Loved the story!

    1. He’s been waking up earlier now that he’s not drinking milk at night. It’s frustrating, but it is what it is. (Right now he’s been sick with a fever so I’m just hoping to get back to normal soon.)

  5. We have had eating issues with Kieran for 14 years. He is in a new phase of not eating enough and then wondering why he’s dizzy or has a headache. I really connected with what you wrong here. Sweet Ari!

    1. As soon as they realize that eating well helps them feel their best, it’s a whole new world. (Neither of my kids have gotten to that point yet, but if Kieran’s age is any indication, then we have several more years until that self-awareness kicks in.)

  6. We never know what our stories shape into in the head of a child. Or how the stories morph in general, like how big was Great Uncle Carl.
    BTW: the book I am reading is in Estonian, Tõnu Õnnepalu “Aaker.” I am not aware if any of his books have been translated.
    March is right around the corner. Are you getting excited already?

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