Say It Like It Is
It-s one of the moments of which family lore is made. Three-year-old Benjamin grabbed the telephone receiver out of my hand and asked in a concerned voice, "Are you in prison again, Daddy?" My husband, thousands of miles away in some Asian city whose name had been lost in a whirlwind of flights and time zones, was speechless.
Startled at my son's words, I repossessed the phone and spluttered, "I have no idea what he's talking about!" Then we all dissolved into much-needed laughter. This snapshot is firmly embedded in my brain, not just for its high humor quotient (my favorite part is the word "again," implying that incarceration is a frequent occurrence for Daddy), but for its accuracy. While John has thus far managed to avoid being convicted of any crime, Benjamin's words were, metaphorically speaking, right on the mark.
To put it bluntly, John hates business travel. He despises the long hours, the emotional and physical distance from his family, the bad food, the tiny rooms, the isolation. In fact, though he's never referred to it in this manner, all of the above make his frequent departures seem -- as his son so rightly identified -- like a prison sentence.
Although he's only 3, incidents like this make me realize how insightful Benji is, and how, despite -- or maybe because of -- a limited vocabulary, he has a knack for plowing through the fluff and getting right to the heart of the matter.
Not long ago, I had one of THOSE days. You know the type: Husband out of town, bad news about the house, bills piling up and then a call from an editor saying the story I'd slaved over wasn't what she wanted. "You missed the mark," she said, her own words hitting me right in the bull's-eye of my pride. Benjamin, sensing something was amiss, came over and presented me with one of his plastic soldier figurines. "Here, Mama, this is for you," he said. Lost in my misery, I thanked him and distractedly tucked it into my pocket, forgotten.
Later that evening, I bemoaned my fate to my mother, listing the numerous ills of my life. "Sometimes it feels like I don't have anything," I wailed. "Mama, that's not true," Benji cut in, patting my arm. "You have one Army man." And he was right.
There's another example of his perception I'll always recall. Kinsey was crying inconsolably in her car seat on the way home from an evening out. "I just don't know what's wrong with her," I said to John, having exhausted attempts to placate her with food, singing and pacifiers. "I know what's wrong," Benjamin piped up from his seat behind me. "Her crying because her can't see the moon." I turned around, and sure enough, the glowing full moon hovering above the shadowy trees was visible only from his side of the car, out of view of Kinsey, facing backwards in her infant seat. Was this the cause of her misery? I'm not sure, but Benjamin's simple explanation, coupled with his belief that a view of the moon was so important that its disappearance was cause for tears, moved me.
Are all children so perceptive, so in tune to their surroundings? Since Benji is my first, I can't answer that. But I'd venture to guess that kids pick up on a lot more than we give them credit for, and they contain much more wisdom than we think. Because they're shorter than we are and don't yet have proficiency over the language, I think we tend to downplay their contributions to the conversation, assuming they don't have anything useful to add. How untrue that is.
My son may have only walked a few years on this earth, but he's already learned several important lessons which he's been kind enough to share with me. First, jails without bars curtail our freedom as much as those made of steel and stone. Next, keep the moon in sight at all times, even if you have to change your seat. And finally, if you think you've lost everything, dig deeper into your pockets.
The "one Army man" hidden there is a reminder that anything worth having can't be taken away.