Arlo turned 7 today

If the Jesuit motto, “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man,” as popularized in Michael Apted’s Up Series, has any merit, the time we have left to influence our son Arlo, who turned 7 this morning, is fast running out. As of right now, we have just 364 days to mold him into the man he will be the rest of his life.

For the most part, I’d say that, if he grew up to be exactly the same as he is now, only a little bit larger, more worldly, and perhaps employable, we would have done a pretty good job as parents. He is, by most accounts, a pretty terrific kid. He is smart, inquisitive, thoughtful, and, when it really matters, kind. He’s not perfect by a long shot, but he shows great potential. He pushes boundaries at home, pokes and prods for attention, and quarrels with his teenage sister, bit, beneath it all, he’s an incredibly sensitive kid with a big heart. With no encouragement on our behalf, he told us a few years ago that he wanted to be a vegetarian, as he couldn’t stand the thought of animals dying so that he might eat them. Granted, he said he still wanted to make an exception for bacon and pepperoni, but, for a five year old to say that on his own, and then stick with it, I think, is an impressive thing. And I think it gets to the heart of who he is. Beneath all of the fart jokes, and the nonsense, he’s a pretty serious, thoughtful young man who cares about those around him. And I couldn’t be happier to have him living here with us, even if he spends a good part of each day asking us if he can get on the iPad, talking about Pokemon, and making up reasons not to go to sleep.

I had a migraine this morning, so I missed a good deal of his birthday, locked up in my bedroom, with a pillow over my head. I usually get my migraines later in the day, and I always handle them in the same way. I rush home from wherever I am before I completely lose my vision, which usually takes about half an hour, and then I jump into bed and go to sleep. When I wake up, I’m usually a bit disoriented, but the headache is gone, and I can see clearly again. As today’s migraine hit me early in the morning, though, as I was folding laundry, I couldn’t get back to sleep. So I just lay in bed, thinking. I spend hours just watching the light show of my migraine flash across my closed eyelids, while thinking about my son. [Thankfully, the pain this time wasn’t too bad.] It was like I was dreaming while awake. My thoughts just jumped around without much rhyme or reason. One minute, I was thinking about watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with him in bed on a snowy night, and the next, I was thinking of how much he impressed me during a recent trip to Greenfield Village, when he was talking with one of the historical reenactors about turn-of-the-century refrigeration. And I didn’t really have any control over what I was seeing. I wasn’t trying to summon up specific memories. It was as if I were dying, and everything was just kind of flashing before me. I’d see his smile on a carrousel, and the next thing I knew, I was standing in a pool and he was jumping into my arms for the first time. It sounds weird to say it, as most of my life is spent worrying that a migraine might strike in any minute, but it was really incredibly beautiful.

I don’t know how much Arlo would want me to make public about his young life with us. I’m sure, at some point, he’ll ask me to scrub this site of any mention, for instance, that he was born in our dining room, with his sister helping, but there are a few things I’d like to mention, just so they’re recorded somewhere. The following are in no particular order, and they’re not necessarily the most important things about my son. They’re just all things that I thought about today, while in bed, waiting for my migraine to pass.

First, I used to tease him about not being human. I’m not sure when it started, but it was relatively early on. I told him that he was a creature called a Whoodie Boodie, and that a farmer somewhere in rural Michigan had caught him in a Whoodie Boodie trap. [The Whoodie Boodie were eating his fields, so he didn’t have much choice.] Arlo knew that I was kidding, as he knew that he was born in our dining room, in a rented, inflatable pool, which he’d seen photos of, but he’d get mad every time I said it. [It was kind of a fake mad that I don’t think we have a word for in English.] I’d tell him in detail how we had to surgically remove his trunk, file down his fangs, and shave him every night in his sleep, and he’d scream at me in this funny kind of way, yelling, “I am a real boy, not a Whoodie Boodie.” Clementine, for what it’s worth, was not a Whoodie Boodie, but something called a Fuddah Fuddah. There was no real origin story in her case as I recall. She wasn’t caught in a trap, and surgically transformed into a little girl. And, if memory serves, I think she started it. She would say that I was a Fuddah Fuddah, and I would correct her, saying that, no, it was she who was the Fuddah Fuddah. And we’d go back and forth.

Speaking of Clementine, I just remembered that one of the first things she said as a baby was in response to me saying, “Daddy’s alwayssss.” I’d say, “Daddy’s alwayssss….,” and she’d enthusiastically add, “RIGHT!” Linette didn’t find it funny, but it amused me. I guess it was probably my first foray into the world of what people now refer to as dad humor.

Second, it’s a super small thing, but Arlo told us a few days ago that a girl in his school came in late because she had to have her feet shaved. When asked to explain, he couldn’t. He just said that was what he’d heard. And I told myself that, one of these days, I should write it down for posterity. It must have been this thought, this morning, as I lay in bed with a headache, that triggered my memory of telling him that we had to shave him every night, so people wouldn’t recognize him as a Whoodie Boodie. [Who knows, maybe Whoodie Boodies are real.]

Third, Arlo is getting to the point where he appreciates that there’s a difference between boys and girls. Last fall, he was telling me about a girl that he’d been playing tag with at school, and how it felt different when she tagged him than when his other friends tagged him. He was genuinely asking me why it felt different to him, and I found it to be incredibly sweet. He also said that her eyes were “sparkly,” which isn’t something he’s ever said about his male friends. I don’t want him to rush into the world of young-adulthood, but it’s interesting to see how it happens, and I’m happy for our conversations. I don’t think I was very open about such things as a boy, and I suspect my life my way in life may have been a bit easier if I had been. At any rate, I’m thankful that we have the kind of relationship where we can talk about such things.

Fourth, we’ve been having quite a few conversations lately about how it’s important for people to “know their audience,” and how, for instance, humor that might work incredibly well on the playground, doesn’t work quite so well with a teenage sister, or middle-aged patents. And I think that’s one big downside to having an older father. While I think I’m probably better in a lot of ways, my tolerance for some things is pretty much nonexistent. For instance, there’s a pitch that he can hit that just kills one of my 50-year-old ears. And it’s difficult to convince a six year old, no matter what kind of potential they may show toward empathy, to hold it down. I mean, he knows he can’t push me down the stairs, as he knows what would happen. But it’s impossible to convey what might be going on inside my ear, or, for that matter, inside the mind of his 14 year old sister. It just doesn’t register with him. So we’ve been talking more about his need for attention, how absolutely normal it is, how there’s a difference between positive and negative attention, and how, if what he really desires is our time, he might do better to request that we read the Three Investigators together, or play a game of Uno, than leap out of a box, and scream “oodgie budgie,” while poking us in the stomach. [Thankfully, he sees to be transitioning away from “oodgie budgie.” His new go-to phrase this week is “mommy karate.”]

Fifth, we took him and some friends to an indoor trampoline park yesterday, to jump around like maniacs and eat donuts. When the jumping was over, a young woman who worked at the place led Arlo over to a giant wheel, where he could spin for gifts. She told him to go ahead and spin the wheel, pointing out all of the things that he might win, and then he gave the wheel the tiniest of spins ever, moving it about two inches, and landing on “Icees for the Crew,” which is what he’d wanted. She thought about it for a moment, considering the possibility of telling him that he’d broken the rules by not spinning the wheel harder, but she just said, “Well, no one has ever done that before, but I guess there’s no rule against it.” As we walked forward to get our icees, she said, “He’s a really smart kid, isn’t he?” And it was at that point, it dawned on me that he’d probably be able to take care of himself once he left he nest. At least that’s my hope. And, while it’s true that he is smart, I think a better word for him is clever.

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5 Comments

  1. ElsieGal
    Posted December 2, 2018 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm…would I rather be a Whoodie Boodie or a Fuddah Fuddah? That’s a really tough choice; I love them both, and I hope that Arlo and Clementine never ever forget these “alternative origins” you and Linette have given them. Sorry about your migraine, but it inspired a truly fabulous post. Congrats to your entire family, and thanks much for sharing such unabashed joy. I enjoyed every single bit of it!!

  2. iRobert
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Just moments ago I heard a testimonial for Sleep-Quiet (snoring aid device) given by a couple named Mark and Linette, on KFI radio’s iHeart Radio livestream. I tried to find a webpage and hoped for an online testimonial in text, but have come up with nothing so far.

  3. iRobert
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    That’s was the best idea I could come up with for a birthday gift to give Arlo.

  4. Sad
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    That’s sweet.

    I wonder what H.W. was like at 7?

  5. Stewart
    Posted December 3, 2018 at 8:27 pm | Permalink

    Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

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