Boyhood

Boyhood

“Do you think you cut a diamond with a tool or with a laser?” my son asked a few days ago.

“A tool,” I replied.

“Yes, because a laser is light, so it just passes through the diamond.”

When he’s explaining something he often emphasizes what he considers the most important idea (“a LASER is LIGHT’’) and then crunches everything else together (“soitjustpassesthroughthediamond”).

He’s not only a gemologist. He also knows how the ear drum detects sound and translates it to words. He can anticipate which Greek god will prove to be behind the nefarious plot of whatever book he’s reading hundreds of pages in advance. Having recently managed to get a quarter of the way up the climbing wall at the local gym, he can now confidently tell me which of the various routes are the most challenging and why.

Of course, he’s not really right about any of this. Lasers are used to cut diamonds, I wouldn’t trust him to pick the best way up a ladder, his knowledge of aural physiology consists of the vague idea that ears have some sort of little hairs in them, and the real villain never turns out to be Hades.

This approach to the world is a sign, I think, that he’s growing up. While he still loves to collect facts, he now wants to deploy them to make sense of all the stuff he only half understands, even if he doesn’t yet quite know how to distinguish a plausible explanation from pure invention. He’s aware that there are causes and results, so why shouldn’t he be able to intuit the connections?

I find his earnest inquiry into whatever happens to catch his attention both endearing and a little sad. Like any parent watching a child grow, I am aware of how mercurial a time this is. My own mind is settled enough to cultivate an illusion of stability, a false assumption that I am basically the same as I was last year and will be basically the same the next. The rapidity with which children change punctures puts the lie to this idea.

Its entertaining to listen to whatever wildly inventive idea he’s come up with, and to see how real it all is to him. From Connect Four strategy to distinguishing dreams from reality he shares his thoughts emphatically and without a hint of self-consciousness. In time he’ll come to know everything he doesn’t know, but I’m certainly in no rush to hurry him along.

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