Thursday, June 12, 2008

As The Boy Turns

Without so much as warning me, The Boy has started to move from small child to proto-tween.

Yes, I'm biased, but he's a remarkably smart kid. Earlier this week his class did an exercise with contractions, in which they were supposed to fill-in-the-blanks with the appropriate contractions. One sentence was “Mars ____ have water.” The 'correct' answer was 'doesn't,' but he knew that was wrong, so he crossed out the n't. His teacher raised an eyebrow, but he got a round of high fives when he got home. Speak truth to power, big guy! We were proud that he knew the facts, but even prouder that he was willing to contradict the official story when it flew in the face of the facts. That's not bad for a first grader. Hell, the President of the United States can't do that. Go, TB!

I took him recently to a baseball clinic for kids held at the local stadium by our local minor-league team. It was that nasty Northeastern muggy hot, where it's too humid to sweat but too hot not to, and you start to reflect that maybe the root of the Middle Eastern conflict is a lack of central air. His friend Chip was there, so he and Chip immediately paired up and went from station to station together. (I was in the stands, with the other parents. It looked like a photojournalism workshop, with Dads wielding all manner of cameras from all over the stadium.) Watching him field grounders brought that mix of pride and shock that all parents know. Pride that he was out there, un-self-consciously participating and giving it his all. Shock that my little guy has hit an age I remember being, and is doing things I remember doing. He's better at it than I was at that age, which, I'll admit, is easy.

Standing in line at each station, he and Chip just kept making each other laugh, doing impressions of characters from the Star Wars movies and showing off their armpit-fart techniques. When other kids were fielding grounders or throwing pitches from a windup, he and Chip were just busting on each other and having a great time. It was fun to watch, and I know it was a great experience for him, but there's something a little humbling about realizing that you've been demoted to 'chauffeur' status.

Or sometimes censor. We get 1-3 newspapers every morning, because I'm a nerd. I read them at breakfast, and encourage TB to read them, too. (Yes, I know, it's very pre-internet of me, but there's just something comforting about reading a paper while drinking coffee at breakfast.) He usually just does the kids' page or the comics, which is fine, though sometimes there's a cool story-with-picture about a volcano or a Mars rover or something and I'll point that out to him.

But he can read, and sometimes he'll scan headlines before I realize he's doing it.

This week there was a story about the parents of a girl in his grade, at his school. He has friends in her class. Her father shot and killed her mother in their home, and the girl and her younger sister have become wards of the state. The girl hasn't been to school since then, but so far, the kid grapevine hasn't picked up on the story.

I'm not ready for him to know that yet.

Luckily, the headlines were sufficiently indirect that even if he saw them, he probably wouldn't have connected the dots. And the sheer ubiquity of violence in our culture, perversely enough, means that this story gets coverage for a day or two, then fades away to make room for the next ones. He doesn't know the girl himself.

TW and I have discreetly hidden the last few newspapers.

Yes, he'll eventually have to be exposed to the whole panoply of human behavior, including the inhuman parts. Coming to some sort of terms with the barbarity people are capable of is part of growing up. But for God's sake, he's in first grade. It's too soon. It's just too soon.

For all his astonishing maturity, and his composure beyond his years, he's still a kid. I want him to have that. I'll accept demotion to chauffeur status for sports, and the vaguely patronizing look he gives me when I don't recognize some character from the second Star Wars trilogy. But let him have a few more untroubled years to grow stronger, to develop the perspective and empathy and ability to compartmentalize that lets us read something utterly horrific and then go to work. Without more life behind him, I worry that news like that could just overwhelm him.

At some point, he'll learn about men who think they're entitled to shoot their wives and leave their young children defenseless. I'd just rather he not learn that while he's a young child himself.