I used to be invisible, a shape changing magic kid.
I could move at the speed of thought and frequently I did,
But my greatest accomplishment was a slow and looping glide.
I saw the tops of everything, back when I could fly.
~Trout Fishing in America
Somehow, when we weren’t paying attention, my son turned into a big boy. While he never had anything approaching “baby fat” or “toddler belly” or any other spare body mass of any dimension, his face has thinned and the brown eyes that stare up at me stare out of a face that is starting to show the dimensions of the man he will become. He’s still a “little boy”, certainly, but the glimpses of his future become more concrete.
And he reads.
Somehow that one cultural passage has seemed to catapult him out of babyhood.
He reads confidently and voraciously. He has started out of the reading gate like a pure thoroughbred, in a rush of full sentences and multisyllabic words that astonish me. There was no “See Jack run” for Harry. With a very few stumbles (owing more to the illogical spellings of English, the great thief of other languages, than to his own command of phonics), he reads everything from billboards to the backs of cereal boxes. He eagerly grabs the comic pages from the Sunday paper. He has even read my clinical protocols over my shoulder, faltering only when he stumbles over drug nomenclature I cannot even reliably pronounce.
Somehow, those long, confident words falling from his mouth, give him a worldliness far beyond the little voice that they are spoken with. It has become easy for me to forget, that behind it all, he is still a little boy of six.
My best friend’s son had a similar problem, but for slightly different reasons. He was born premature, at NINE pounds. A nine pound preemie. Not only tall for his age his entire short life, he also has always looked indefinably older than other children his age, exacerbated when he soared to 6’2″ at 16 years of age. Like my husband, also always proportionally larger (his adult height almost 7′), people expect behavior more appropriate to a much older child. Either they spent their lives under unreasonable disapprobation, or they simply conform to expectation, and age beyond their years.
Harry is in no danger of that kind of physical expectation. Small for his age, with delicate features, he still looks very young at a glance. That is, until he opens his mouth.
Being my only child, and my only intimate experience with raising one, I have no scale for childhood milestones. Harry is simply Harry, and we have blundered through child-rearing with only the haziest gleaned-from-parenting-books expectations (notoriously vague) about what a six-year-old-boy is supposed to act like. So it isn’t until a volunteer day at school that I realize how different Harry is. While there is a spark of pride at that realization, there is also a bit of frustration. His teachers are often flabbergasted at what to do with a child who has not a concept of peer pressure, who is so unlike the other children that he doesn’t really see them as examples of behavior. And there is a slight, deep, sadness, a fear, that Harry, much against my firmest held hopes and dreams, will be as I was: A lonely child who keenly felt the “apartness” of being different. Who never shook the feeling of separateness, of being the perpetual observer, always there, but never quite participating in society.
May you have a child just like you. That oft-spoken parental curse.
But it’s only the mild paranoia of a parent that sees the widening crack.
For Harry whole new doors have been flung aside. Open eyed, his world has just expanded by orders of magnitude, and he is joyous in his pursuit of it.
My big boy.