Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Age Of Reason

Son has turned four. Another year has passed, too few pictures taken, too few opportunities seized, etc. The normal maudlin reflections on seeing another year's worth of road devoured on the highway to imminent death is something that seems reserved for the grown-ups. So exclusively, in fact, that I've added it to my list of indicators of adulthood. You know you're an adult when you no longer look forward to birthdays.

But enough about me.

When we compare parenting notes, my Dad occasionally mentions how one thing that amazed and confused him when my brother and I were about Son's age, was the fact that the language skills were there - he knew we could understand the words he was saying - but we just didn't "listen". He couldn't get why we couldn't "be quiet", or "sit still", or "stop doing that". He would grab both my shoulders, look me in the eye and say "Boy, do not climb the bookshelves. If you do that, they could fall and kill you. Do you understand?" I would nod, or say "Yes daddy", and ten seconds later he'd be frantically digging me out from under a pile of furniture and books of my own creation.

The reason, he figured much, much later, was pretty basic, and had to do (obviously) with mental development. Just because Son understands the words I'm saying, I shouldn't assume he's able to reason the way an adult would. It's very easy to fall into this trap, because the gestalts of language and reasoning are very closely linked in our minds. When you think, you don't do it in some sort of color- and shape-based language (unless you're pretty goddamn special). You do it in the same language in which you speak. Go ahead, try it. Think of something right now. Anything. Aren't you thinking in English (or French, or Esperanto, or whatever)?

As son grows and his surprising brain matures, I can see those logical structures erecting themselves. His capacity to reason is growing and improving, catching up to his ability to communicate. Of course I'm proud, but I'm also sad. There is some region of this ever-changing psychic landscape that we'll eventually have to draw a border around, and point to it, and say "There. There was your childhood. Wasn't that nice?"

In the meantime, son shows a healthy and well-developed predilection for all things Spiderman - this, despite never having seen a movie, cartoon, or comic book on the subject - and so, of course, his birthday gifts tend toward a theme. The insidious tide of spider-themed debris that chokes the halls of our home ebbs only in the sleeping hours, thanks to the midnight cleanup crew.

You can't really eliminate it, you can only hope to contain or direct its flow, but if any scrap of arachnorabilia is to be eliminated, t'were well it were done quickly, and while the boy is asleep, or there will be hell to pay. Sometimes though, on special occasions such as birthdays, we are called upon to contribute to, rather than mitigate, this ceaseless flux of Spidey-stuff.

So, this evening we piled into the car and trucked out to Toys R Us, where we surfed the aisles picking and choosing from the vast selection of plastic crap they have there. This retail outlet, like many, is really just a gigantic warehouse-like repository for Movie tie-in merch. The flavor of the week is transformers, a pile of chromed effluvium that pays homage to a movie, based on a cartoon, that spawned it's own line of plastic crap in my youth. Give nostalgia it's due, these new transformers aren't a patch on the transformers we had when we were kids.

But if one has the wherewithal to persist, there are diverse and subtle strata that lie beneath, waiting to be re-discovered. Just as a sedimentary geologist can examine the walls of the ParanĂ¡ Basin and discover the origins of those glacially striated surfaces, so too can a persistent father, and his obsessed son, pierce the surface layer of transformers detritus, traverse the dreaded Pirates of The Caribbean era, and descend, helmet lights flickering, to the depths of prehistory, and the Spiderman 3 layer.

So we walked out with many, many toys. One of these is a "web" shooting thingy that straps to your wrist and fires spinning streams of sticky caustic gray goop at the touch of a button. Of course the small print on the can of "webbing" specifically warns: "do not spray at walls, floors, furniture or clothing. Do not use near open flame. Do not allow to come into contact with skin or eyes. If product comes into contact with skin or eyes flush immediately, etc, etc."

So of course we let 'er rip. I exaggerate only slightly, when I say that this toy - so called - is the vilest abomination ever wrought upon the world of man. Instantly and permanently staining all it touched, the webbing of course flew from it's dispenser at supersonic speeds to disintegrate into a gray cloud of toxic fumes and oily glue. And so it came to pass that Son's favorite birthday present, the toy he's been pining over for two months, is banned from the house, and is only to be used outdoors, in a well-ventilated area, away from civilization, and only while wearing protective head and eye gear, non-latex gloves, and a breathing mask. This toy is banned by unanimous UN resolution. It is outlawed in places that have no laws. It is the tool of The Devil.

And everything else requires batteries, which we forgot to buy (just like every birthday and Christmas).

In other news, we has us some bikes! Wife made the mistake of musing aloud, along the lines of: "I wonder if it might not be a good idea to buy bikes for the whole family, then we could take day trips, teach Son to ride, maybe do some family trails and picnicking and such". To tell you the truth, I'm pretty much extrapolating everything that was said after the word "bikes", because by that time I was at the bike shop, putting down a deposit.

Since that momentous purchase, three weeks ago, Son rides his bike about once a week around the park, forbidden to ride much faster than Wife or I can walk, since we must protect him from perverts and maniacs by keeping him in sight at all times. Wife hasn't yet gotten on hers. She says she doesn't have time. I say she doesn't have the balls. She rolls her eyes. I ride mine to work and home every weekday. My finely chiseled buttocks can be used to crack walnuts. The ladies swoon at my perfectly turned calves.

Wife says they more likely swoon in comic relief at the sight of a sweaty, pear-shaped man, cursing with every gear change, puffing along at a walking pace and falling off at every red light, but she's just jealous (I mean just look at these calves!).

My earlier post lamenting my total ignorance on the subject of the Darfur civil war and genocide had the desired effect of guilting me into thinking about it. So I picked up this pretty decent book by Dave Eggers. I've read his stuff before, and never been, you know, "wow", but "What is the What" is a very human story told from the point of view of a Sudanese refugee. It bills itself as a "fictionalized autobiography, as narrated to Dave Eggers", which is pretty much in keeping with everything else I've read by him. So far, the voice seems unauthentic. More Eggers than Sudan, but really, what do I know? The story is still poignant, promising, and educational. Definitely check it out, if you don't give a damn, and feel like you should.

Yes, I know I promised Doggerel. I have the picture in my head, but the words just won't come. Ah well, maybe I'll put it up here anyway.

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