When J watches fireworks for the first time, all he wants to know is, “What happens if people go in there?” pointing to the explosions in the sky. “Hot and loud,” his dad answers, making me laugh out loud for some reason. But this answer does not amuse or satisfy J and he continues to insist on knowing what happens if people go inside all those fiery colors in the sky. To me, it is slightly disturbing question and I would like to avoid the image it brings to my mind, so I inform him that we don’t go inside the fireworks but watch from the outside, like a show. But this does not satisfy him either. He keeps asking, in his funny little sweet, slightly robotic-sounding voice, “But what happens?” until his dad finally shows him a youtube clip of a drone flying inside a fireworks explosion. He watches with solemn concentration, picking at a hangnail on his thumb.
He asks, “How do you pway (play) tag?” “What is wuv (love)?” “What is a macaroni-saurus?” and “What is quarantine?” Most of the time his questions crack me up and make me look at the world in a different, more interesting way. But some of the time, they exhaust me, like the Saturday morning when all I wanted to do was lay in bed staring at the ceiling or hide in the bathroom, painting my nails. Instead, I found myself driving across town to J’s favorite park, tired and thirsty, and feeling increasingly irritated by his barrage of questions that go like this: “What happens if you drive your car on a railroad track? What happens if you drive your car on the sidewalk?” “But what happens if you drive your car on a railroad track? But what happens if you drive your car on the sidewalk?” and on and on (and oh yes, we go over the same questions many, many times), until I am finally forced to declare official “no-talking-time” until we get to the park.
One day when we are playing on the rug together, he tells me, “This is when monsters give love to each other—that’s a heart (pointing to a heart-shaped toy) and that’s a circle (pointing to circle shape) and that’s love (holding them together). Monsters give it to each other and they are not mad any more. They don’t fight anymore.” Sometimes he tells me, “I wuv you mama,” when he senses my impatience with him, and this works—immediately jolting me out of my irritation and into his world, where spending way too much time deciding between “flaky flakes” or “square kind” cereals is all part of the fun. He simply puts a heart to my circle and the world is okay again—that sharpness I sometimes feel at life, softening.
He tells me in a serious voice, “You know how people get in the TV, they have to squeeze themselves in there.” He cracks himself up by singing, “If you do, I don’t care, I will put your underwear!” Put it wear? I ask him, which only makes him laugh harder. He talks about “the old house” and asks if he can draw a picture for our incredibly sweet babysitter who helped take care of him before we moved. He sits quietly scribbling a picture for her with his crayons and then proudly announces: “That’s a trumpet. That’s a curly rollercoaster.” We get out another piece of paper to write her a message and he only wants to say one thing to her and that is, “I wuv you.” Anything else? I ask, and he shakes his head no.
He seems to understand what’s most important, and prioritizes his time well, asking his dad, “Can I please cuddle with you for a few hours?” On father’s day, he points to his dad’s presents and says in a serious voice, “He earned it for being a good daddy and for teaching me how to be good.” I feel so proud of him in that moment that I almost cry right there at the breakfast table. And the truth is that every day J teaches me how to be good—how to look at the world with wonder, how to explore, how to laugh, how to say, “I love you,” how to move out of irritation and selfishness, how to be patient and forgiving, how to resolve conflict, how to be who we are—embracing the circles and the hearts, imagining, daring, reaching ourselves into the fireworks to places we have never been before.