While Henry organized his Stormtroopers, I had some precious phone time with my friend.
“Damn, I burned my onions,” said Stacey.
“You burned your onions?” I said. “I didn’t even know you were cooking. You cook while you’re talking? You talk while you’re cooking?”
“I’m a multitasker,” she said.
Henry, meanwhile, was staring at me. “Who burned what?” he asked.
“Stacey burned her onions,” I told him.
“Let me talk to her,” he said. He grabbed the phone and confirmed the events surrounding the onions, and the burning of said onions.
Eventually I got the phone back. While I attempted to finish our conversation, Henry pulled at my leg, barraging me with questions regarding The Burning.
I began to lose my patience. I suggested that he play. Look at a book. Do something while I have the only interaction I’ve had with an adult all day except for those few minutes with the cashier at the supermarket that I continued way past an appropriate point.
His lower lip began to quiver. “But why did everything get all burned up?” he said. Then I noticed he was holding his special bear.
Finally I got it. Burning. Fire. Three-year-old listening, thinking our friend is aflame.
I explained to him as best I could about what we meant when we said the food “burned,” how it’s not on fire and etc. He was not appeased. I got off the phone and sat next to him. He leapt onto my lap and dug his head into my chest.
I explained it all again. “That was confusing, when we talked about something burning, wasn’t it? You were worried.” He nodded vigorously into my boobs.
“I didn’t understand,” he said.
“Well, why would you? When we say something’s burning, we usually mean it’s on fire, right?”
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand about the burning,” he said.
“You don’t have to be sorry about that,” I said, and held him tighter.
When I was three, a boy we called Little David began spending weekends with us. I am unclear about the reasoning behind this, but I know that he lived at an orphanage where my mother was a volunteer. It seems strange to me that the orphanage would loan children to volunteers, but there it is. Little David came for weekends, and according to my parents, I did not like this at all. He was maybe a year younger than me, and very physical and boisterous, and I was a little girl who liked everything just so and he was touching my stuff and he even slept in my room, and I wanted him out out out. So after a few weekends, my mom told the orphanage the weekend arrangement wasn’t working.
The following weekend I asked my mother where Little David was. “Don’t worry,” she said, “We know you didn’t like having him here, so Little David’s not coming back.”
The next morning I woke up and couldn’t talk.
I couldn’t talk for a while, actually. Well, can you imagine? I had wielded untold power! One complaint from me and I could disappear people! How could I say something? What would happen next? I would say I didn’t like my hamburger and then all the cows on Earth would spontaneously combust?
Eventually everyone in charge figured out what had happened; I was reassured and shortly thereafter I returned to my usual chatty self. And every time I heard the story of my temporary muteness, I would wonder at how impressionable little kids are. I knew, however, that when I was a parent I would certainly be as mindful as I could of my child’s fragile grasp on how the world works.
But the thing is, it’s haaaard. It’s like you’re raising an intelligent, perceptive, mildly psychotic Armenian. He’s got a good grasp of the language, the Armenian, but he doesn’t get the idiomatic expressions, he has frighteningly good hearing, he remembers everything, and he’s extremely sensitive. You can’t get away with anything with this Armenian. Don’t tell your husband, after a long day, that you’re pooped—because five days later the Armenian will shout to you in the supermarket “WHY WERE YOU POOPED DID YOU HAVE POOP ON YOU?” (For instance.)
A few months before the Armenian really wasn’t as interested in what you had to say. He didn’t have a real handle on the language, so if conversation went over his head he would let it pass him by. He was invincible, the Armenian—if he didn’t get something, it didn’t need to be gotten. All that mattered was what he knew. But now he’s figuring out how much he doesn’t know, and how much he needs to know, and suddenly he spends a lot more time with his bear, on your lap, needing some extra comfort.
Okay, so my metaphor has fallen apart, but you get what I’m saying.
A couple of hours later we were playing on the floor, and he asked me what the floor was made of. Was it made of sticks, like in the Three Little Pigs? He studied the floor, checking it for signs of weakness. “No, no, it’s nice, sturdy wood,” I said, and he knocked on it. There was a faint echo.
“Hey, it’s like someone knocked back from underneath there,” I said. As I said it I thought, hmm, perhaps this isn’t the image you want to give your child, and before I could even finish the thought he was back on my lap with his bear.
Hey, at least he can still talk.