My 6-year-old is thriving in the first grade. Good social skills. Hates getting in trouble. Seems to already have pride in "homework" — if you can call this snow flurry of worksheets homework. He loves to read. Has the coolest teacher ever.
Imagination galore. Got his Official Boy accreditation the other day, having passed with flying colors his test for all the Official Boy Impersonated Sound Effects: car engines (with Doppler effect), jet turbines, gun noise (single shot and machine gun), falling bomb noise, bomb explosion noise, generic carnivore growling (bears, tigers, skunks and T-rexes all sound the same), and recently learned the Bruce Lee "meowing" thing when he kung-fu’s me on the trampoline.
Come to think of it, that last sound effect might be my boy’s impersonation of Kung Fu Panda’s impersonation of Bruce Lee.
He’s real connected to me right now. Touchy. Physical. Hands on. Likes to crawl in my lap when I’m writing. Wants to know if he can help. He’ll ask what I’m writing about, and then he’ll start telling me what he thinks about that subject, which I’ll type verbatim. He digs watching his words show up on the screen.
Peg-o’-my-heart, though. See, children are two-legged, psychic tape recorders. They record the lives of parents, and, in utter innocence and pure whimsy, they play the tape back in ways and moments impossible to anticipate. And rarely at opportune times. You can’t prepare for it. You just learn, over time, to stand there and let it slay you. Take you apart. Because the truth takes you apart sometimes.
Like the other day …
Boy: What are you writing about today? Can I help?
Me: I’m writing about people who love each other, but are mad at each other. What do you think they should do to fix it?
Boy: Oh, they get a divorce and live in separate houses.
Sound of crickets chirping.
Funny thing is, until that moment, he had never said one thing, not one thing, about his parents’ marital status. Never, with me anyway, had he used that word in a sentence.
Not a crisis for my boy, mind you. The failure of his parents’ marriage had to come out in the light of his conscious somehow, some way, sooner or later. But, it just caught me so off guard. Which was my crisis.
I didn’t handle it well. I tried to assume an encouraging tone when I said, "Oh, no, Joseph, that’s not what married people do when they are mad and disappointed …." But if you had been there to see the look on his face, you’d agree with me that all he heard was "Wrong answer!"
I was caught between the reality of life that I must teach Joseph (marriages sometimes fail), the reality of my life (my marriage failed) and my desire to teach him how much marriage matters. How precious is the value of covenant commitment. How warriors of great marriages sooner or later go to hell and back, often more than once, to scratch and claw their way to new life, new love and real personal growth.
But he’s 6. And all the little boy knew for sure is that the energy there in his father’s lap had changed, and not for the better. It was no longer a place of ease, comfort and safety, but a place of distress. That is what he soaked up like a squeegee at a carwash.
And what made me feel like a toad is that you could see he was worried it was a distress that he awakened. Maybe a distress that he had caused.
Not my best moment as a father.
He hopped down out of my lap and said simply, "I don’t want to do this any more," and made his escape.
Well of course you don’t, little boy. I was thankful for the consoling idea that at least he had sufficient ego strength to recognize unpleasant energy and go do something else. Good for him.
Originally published in View News, Nov. 4, 2008.