My son is reaching a point in his life where the fact that he’s capable of annoying other people is becoming pretty clear.
It’s a milestone, really. It means that he’s branching out into the world, reaching for the sky in his own brave direction, even against the winds of opposition. He’s no longer just an extension of my branch on the family tree; a reflection of what I’ll allow. He’s becoming his own branch altogether. It means that when he does something annoying, people don’t get irritated with me for allowing it, they get irritated with him for doing it.
Maybe it’s just the Momma Bear in me, that animalistic dimension of the brain all of us seem to inherit upon entry into motherhood, but I don’t take kindly to people getting annoyed with my son. I can’t imagine that I ever really will. It’s strange, too, because Heaven knows that kid can annoy the piss out of me once in a while. Maybe it’s because I know that not far at all underneath of whatever thin layer of contempt I might have for his more aggravating habits, there is a deep and fiercely devoted appreciation for all that he is. Maybe, I kind of feel like the people who don’t love him as achingly much as I do haven’t earned the right to react or think negatively toward him at all, ever, under any circumstances. Maybe that’s irrational. Maybe that’s downright impossible. But I’m pretty confident that on some level, it’s how we all feel, isn’t it?
Like when someone gets uppity about your mom. Except way worse because if your mom really wanted to, she could fend for herself. (And let’s be real, she probably isn’t entirely innocent, anyway. Am I right?)
I don’t talk about this as much as I’d love to, but Matthew could sight-read the word Tyrannosaurus when he was two, and pretty much mastered all the basics of phonemic awareness the following year. We’ve been plugging away at the Reading Eggs program (riding free promo codes for all we can - man, I love the internet) for a little over two months now, and he’s progressed through five maps, completing something like (wow) I guess 50 lessons entirely on his own. 86 including the ones he tested over when we first signed up.
Matthew loves to read -- I’m willing to bet more than even the average bookworm three times his age. And that makes perfect sense because he’s grown up in a pretty bookish environment. I’m currently reading Gone With The Wind, which is about the size of three Bibles put together; Mary’s always had a book in her hand, even if only out of school-assigned obligation; and even though Spencer admittedly doesn’t even like to read, he’ll compulsively burry his nose three feet deep in a car manual (or something mind-numbingly man-ish like that) for days on end in preparation for a weekend project. Even before he was born, I compensated for being pregnant fresh out of college with only a part-time job to show for myself by reading anything I could to my sweet, ballooning belly. I read to him long novels out of Oprah’s Book Club with strong words and deep moral entanglements. I read to him novice chapter books like Junie B. Jones and Flat Stanley from Mary’s backpack. I read the ingredients on shampoo bottles in the shower. I read picture books illustrated by Eric Carle, and I read to him about how to nurture healthy independence in the cantankerous years of boyhood by authors with fifteen degrees in child psychology.
So it didn’t surprise me when Matthew slipped into toddler hood, clutching hard to a love of words. He wasn’t unlike me that way, and I am about as plainly ordinary a person as it gets. But then he also, (be still my beating heart) turned out to be like a right brained sage for his age, and is up everyday before the sun just to paint pictures of the things that he dreams. Everyday. At four he’s already motivating me to get off my ass and paint if it’s what I wake up wanting to do. It’s as if he took this natural inheritance of everything that I loved and just ran with it as far and fast as he could go, as soon as he was capable. And he has always been precociously capable.
He still stutters when he’s overly excited and takes about eighteen and a half minutes to tell four seconds of actual story, (in other words, he’s still four) but Matthew’s use of language is definitely a little offbeat. His everyday vocabulary is peppered with phrases like “speaking of which,” and words like “unintentionally.” Once, after Matthew said some kind of word that made me and my husband both stop what we were doing to look at each other, I was told “If you don’t stop teaching him stuff you’re going to turn him into a weirdo..” in a tone that conveyed pretty clearly that my husband was only halfway joking. “Seriously?” I said. “What do you think we do, sit around reading the dictionary?” I don’t teach him this stuff. It’s just how he talks.
As his mom, I think it’s incredible. As his dad, Spencer knows other people are gonna think it’s weird.
Mary already thinks he’s a complete nerd, and as his sister, was the first to find anything he did anything but awesome. Whenever she’s practically hogtied into having to read something for school that she doesn’t want to, Matthew will hover over her shoulder on the couch, going ON!… AND!…. BUT!… ABOUT!… THEN!… WHY!… THE!, picking out words he recognizes while she’s trying to read. Obviously, that’s annoying. And as Mary’s mom, too, I can sympathize with how she feels. But even her getting annoyed with him kind of rubs me the wrong way. The thought of someone else, who doesn’t otherwise adore him the way that I know she does (even if mostly in secret) makes me want to claw them to death like an angry bear.
Up until now the few little quirks he did have never really surfaced enough to attract any kind of attention outside the family though. (He pulls friends out of his rear end like it’s just supposed to be that easy for everyone.) But now they do.
The other day I had to pull him away from this adorable little girl who was almost certainly going to kick him in the testicles for implying that she was dumb. She tried to dance alongside him when he started fearlessly singing a song he’d memorized from this CD we picked up at the library once called Dinosaur Rock, which has the word “transmogrified” in the chorus. Only, when she couldn’t, for the life of her, pronounce “transmogrified”, he grabbed her by the arm and repeated the word to her real slow, like she was a caveman. You know, the kind of thing that any self-respecting girl would knee a boy in the chestnuts for.
And I just keep thinking that soon he’ll be in school. Soon, I’ll be releasing him, my gorgeous little bundle of blue eyes and brazenness into the wild world of kindergarten, amongst children and teachers alike who don’t love his every idiosyncrasy the way his momma does. And sometimes I wonder if I owe it to him to… I don’t know, I guess “knock him down a few pegs.”
To be clear, I never will. It’s just not in my genetic-mommy-make-up to do, and I can own up to that. There’s nothing - short of my other children and maybe mocha flavored coffee creamer- that I love the way that I love everything that he is. He’s as right brained as he is left brained and he’s as tough as he is tender. He dances the way you’re supposed to when nobody’s watching, even when everyone’s watching. He’s everything I knew I wanted in a kid ten years before I ever thought of having any. If it’s my job to hold him back from believing with every fiber of his being that he is anything less than outstandingly perfect, then I have no shot at being a totally competent mother.
|Matthew's unreasonably enthusiastic reaction to some scientist talking about states of matter.|
To switch gears just a little bit, for Matthew’s fourth birthday Spencer and I took the kids to The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. There was a live chemistry show going on in the main lobby that Mary said came to her school once. It was about matter and molecules and stuff you learn about in like I don’t know, fourth or fifth grade usually, so we tried to walk past to the next exhibit but Matthew stopped us, too enraptured to move.
He learned about molecules when he learned about transmogrification - which is just a fancy word for the way the molecules of dinosaur bones were rearranged over time, turning them to stone. So he was interested.
A week or so later I found him out in the living room, standing between the coffee table and his entire cache of teddy bears and stuffed animals, lined in a row like an audience. He was wearing his dad’s oversized work gloves and Hot Wheels sunglasses which he was pretending were safety goggles and mitts for handling liquid nitrogen. He had an arsenal of kitchen and craft supplies spread along the coffee table behind him like an exhibition of “highly scientific technologies” (his words, hand to God), and he was putting on a Live Chemistry Show of his very own!
He let me sit in on his audience that day and take a thousand pictures but ONLY because it’s what I did during the real show. Whenever I raised my hand to answer one of his half-witted questions, he’d slap his little mitts together in that lightly authoritative way men usually do and say things like, “EXACTLY!” or “OH! SO CLOSE!” or “Lady! Let someone else have a turn, would ya!?”
I sat there that day, totally enamored by this colossal capacity he has to imagine the world at his fingertips -- to see the world in such a refreshing, obtainable way -- cracking up at his priceless, dearly unassuming precocity and periodically snapping photos of it. And I thought to myself: This is how I will remember Matthew turning four. More fondly than anything else, I think I will remember him being so fascinated by even the things he doesn’t completely understand that he has fun just imagining that he does.
Mary, of course, thought that this was the dumbest thing she’d ever heard.
To the rest of the world, he’ll be a lot of things. And I’ll do my best to tie up the loose ends of his peculiarities, things that might alienate him from having a healthy social well-roundedness -- (Hell hath no fury like a woman’s scorn, son. If you imply that a girl who might otherwise be charmed by your moves to the dinosaur rock is DUMB, she will probably think you’re a jackass.) But to me, he will always be perfect.
Oh, he’ll be a jackass and a weirdo and a defiant pain my ass, sure. Probably even more so with age. But the definition of perfect extended to include him on the day that he was born… because he’s my boy, and that’s just what motherhood does to our definition of words.