AJ told me yesterday that he no longer wanted me to cut up his granny smith apples that I include in his lunch. He wanted to eat it whole. I balked, because I've seen him attempt that maneuver several times and it takes him a couple hours to finish. He pecks at the fruit in small increments, barely breaking the skin. Considering he only has 50 minutes for lunch and I assume he uses at least 40 of those to run around and rip holes in his pants, I thought my slicing was in the best interest of all.
So I asked him why the change of heart. He wouldn't tell me. I began by offering reasonable explanations, hoping to find the answer.
"Is it because sliced fruit is for babies?"
"Do you get too much juice on your hands and spend the rest of the day sticky because you have no use for water or cleaning products?"
He answered each with an inflated "Nooooooooooo," and a whimsical smile from across the breakfast table. So I leaned into it. I'm not above absurdity for my own, or AJ's, amusement. I turned it into an exaggerated interrogation, pointing at him accusingly,
"Is it so you can pretend it's a martian planet?"
"Is it so you can sell it on e-Bay?"
"Is it so you can put the apple in your underpants and walk around the blacktop saying, 'It's naht ah tum-ah.'?"
He kept giggling, but I had to cut it short. He'd have sat there 'til Thursday. But I finally wriggled it out of him. "Why DO you like the whole apple, son?"
"Because the sticker is still on it and I like to eat the sticker."
Oh. I suppose my guesses were not so absurd.
That's pretty much life at the Speaker Compound. AJ says weird things ("Hey Daddy, wouldn't it be funny if a person had whoopee cushions for feet?") and I pretend what he says isn't weird. Don't want to stigmatize the kid, though one of his soccer teammates dropped the dreaded 'W' word on him once and he simply confirmed the diagnosis.
He's a handful and a half. At his recent parent-teacher conference, his teachers gushed over his smarts--the best vocabulary they've ever encountered in a 2nd grader, they said--while also noting that his classroom behavior has gotten worse. I was telling my mother this, how his "listening" had gone from Satisfactory to Unsatisfactory in the second semester when he shouted at me from the other room, his hearing apparently fine at that point,
"It's not my fault! You should have raised me better!"
Mom laughed at that. I couldn't. Not outwardly. But it was funny. Then it bothered me for several days. Was there meaning in that statement, or just a child's desire not to be held responsible for anything? Subtext, or simple acting out?
Doesn't matter, I suppose. What matters is that is surely a harbinger of things to come. As he grows older, he will more frequently question his elders. Considering his situation, some of those queries are bound to be difficult, are certain to hold his mother and I with a degree of contempt. Why did he have to grow up in this segregated life?
I know the feeling. I've come to work the clutch pretty well, switching gears as the changes come. But I am armed with these years of experience, the maturity (ha!) to problem solve and communicate truth, regardless of how painful it may be.
I want everything in the world for that little boy. To keep him filled with spunk and spark, wonder and inquisitiveness. I straddle the line between keeping order and letting his energy and intellect express itself. I have no desire to dim that light. To render his thoughts to the margin because they come forth unedited. I don't want to shush him when he speaks out of turn.
Because he might have something very important to say.