If You Have Five Seconds To Spare, Part One

I have some catching up to do. Theater and otherwise. But let me just tell you about Barnaby and Marlena.

Barnaby is four. He is an enthusiast and a poet, but not much of a worker bee. The world that spins in front of him is a giant connected tapestry, a mosaic tile picture made of smaller mosaic tile pictures, and his obsession isn’t to stand back and look at the whole, or to zoom in and look at the detail, but rather to move from one point of view to the other as quickly as possible, as many times as possible. And this can be lovely, it can be wonderful to watch – particularly when his point of view matches yours. When you need him to see the big picture, and he happens to be looking at the big picture, it’s like sitting next to a bodhisattva, and when you need him to see the details, and he happens to be looking for details, it’s like having Sherlock Holmes as your running buddy.

But he can’t choose, and he has no desire to try. His mind isn’t exactly a leaf in a windstorm, because there’s the possibility of the wind ripping it apart, having some kind of effect – it’s more like a piece of sand in a roiling ocean. When everything aligns, his smallest thought is pure poetry, but more often than not he’s doing something insane that makes it difficult for him to respond to the most basic question or request.

His body, the entire physical world, seems slightly foreign to him. He doesn’t like to be dirty, doesn’t like the feel of his clothes, hates having a runny nose… but he’s also curious about the way he interacts with the rest of the world. He will explore the smallest thing as if he’s an alien picking up information. He exists so out of this world that he still hasn’t got a dominant hand, he just reaches with either hand, or an elbow, or his foot, and manipulates the stuff around him. I’m surprised, now that I’m describing it, that he’s never tried coloring with a crayon in his toes, I’m sure he would have no problem with it. His imagination and internal life are filling up all the holes around him, so that when he sees me he often asks me who I am, if I’m a dinosaur or a superhero or even, sometimes, his daddy.

His teachers say that he’s the politest stubborn kid they’ve ever had. Most kids throw tantrums, but Barnaby very politely says “no, thank you!” when asked to do something. In his mind, if all the kids in class are doing an assignment, then it’s probably being taken care of, he doesn’t have to do it as well. That politeness extends into his friendships as well, he’s not terribly warm with other kids, but he’s always accessible. He introduces himself to strangers and asks them questions, he’s not remotely shy. Which makes sense, he’s apparently on our planet to investigate, and these people aren’t that different from his imagination anyway, he might as well be pleasant.

He’s a really wonderful companion. He’s deeply interested in almost everything – there’s nothing you can’t explain to him that he won’t understand and ask more questions about. Today a truck drove by gunning its engine, and Barnaby asked if the man driving was a grown-up who didn’t stop being scared, something that I told him about loud motorcycle riders when he was less than two. He’s incredibly intelligent and he’s constantly equating vastly different things, as if the whole world were geometry and once you get enough assumptions put together, you can start defending your proofs. The very best way to interact with him is one-on-one, and letting HIM do the conversational driving. Every day now, between projects and videos and other self-improvement nonsense, I set aside time for him to talk to me, and even though most of what he says are flights of fancy, there’s always, ALWAYS something substantial.

It’s one of the best parts of my life, if I’m being honest.

He’s been in speech and occupational therapy for four months, and I think we’re getting pretty close to not needing the ST any more. He’s very clear, and our last family trip we didn’t have to translate for anyone. His hand-eye stuff is still pretty rough, so we’re sticking that out with him. His kindergarten teachers wanted to put him into the general ed class, but they agreed that the integrated classroom, with 40% kids who get special therapy, would be fine, so we’ll have someone watching him next year as well. Our concern is that he’d end up in special ed, but as they told us, “it’s ALL special ed now, things have changed…”

I have a feeling that there won’t be any way to control his wandering mind, so I’m not worried about anyone hammering down his artistic temperament. To be honest, I’m not worried about his attention span or his lack of work ethic either. More often than not, when I can’t seem to get his point of view to match mine, I wonder if maybe I should just give up for a minute and try to see the thing HE’S looking at, and when I do, I never regret it. I’m pretty sure that makes me an awful father, and it’s why he isn’t reading and writing with the other painfully bright kids in his class, but I do think he’s reading and writing *enough*, and… honestly, if there’s any one thing I’ve learned about being a parent, it’s that you can’t follow an inorganic parenting method. You are who you are, your kid is who your kid is, and there isn’t a whole lot you can do about the latter without a radical change in the former.

Tomorrow, I’ll tackle Marlena. She’s only eleven months old, but I think we’re starting to get to know her.