Friday, April 25, 2008

Figuratively Speaking

The following is a snippet of a conversation Elder Miss and I had a few nights ago. We had just finished the first book in the American Girls series about Kaya, a Nez Perce girl living during the late 18th century. I had asked her what she thought had been the most interesting part of the book. She talked for a minute about an exciting river rescue scene, then asked me the same question. I responded that I thought the part about all the village children being punished by the Whipwoman for Kaya’s mistake was interesting.

EM: Why?

Me: I just think it’s interesting that all the kids had to be punished because one kid did something wrong.

EM: Why?

Me: Well, how would you feel if I whipped all three of you kids every time Boy pushes the cushions off the couch. (something he does every other God damn day, and it pisses me off)

EM: We would cry.

Me: But would you let him do it over and over again if you knew you were going to get whipped for it?

EM: I’m glad there are no Whipwomen in Norway.

Me: I’m sure you are. But you didn’t answer my question.

EM: In Norway, tree branches are for roasting hot dogs, not for whipping children.

Me: Yes, but focus darling. What would happen if, for example, all the kids in your class were punished because one boy was teasing a 1st grader and stealing his lunch?

EM: That’s bullying! Bullying isn’t allowed.

Me: I know. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. Would you be more or less willing to let a classmate bully a 1st grader if you knew you might be punished for it?

EM: Punished how?

Me: A whip, EM. Remember the Whipwoman?

EM: There are no Whipwomen in Norway.

Literal much?

Her father is exactly the same way. Try playing the ‘what would you do if you won a million dollars?’ or ‘were granted three wishes?’ game with him, and you’ll soon find yourself casting about for the nearest large, preferably jagged object with which to knock him over his pee-brained head, and put him out of his pee-brained misery.

Willing suspension of disbelief, and unnecessary expeditions into the realm of the hypothetical are not things that either one of them do willingly. I do not have a million dollars, so why would I pretend that I do? There are no Whipwomen in Norway, so why are we talking about being beaten by one? If you can’t say something sensible, please don’t say anything at all.

Which is not to say that they are so starkly dull in all aspects of their lives. You’d think, for example, someone so married to the literal truth as EM would approach her clothing choices with a bit more sobriety. But no. Elder Miss mixes colors and patterns, in improbable layer after improbable layer with the fanciful whimsy of a kindergarten teacher. I have no idea why she’s so blind to the ghastly wrongness of most of her fashion combinations. I guess because in her very literal world blue is blue, pink is pink, and the tedious parsing of all the clashing tones and hues in between is for artsy–fartsy types like myself who waste their time finding beauty in moonscapes and poetry in waterfalls.

Boy, by the way, is shaping up to be the polar opposite of EM in the cloudy intangibles department. Boy, it seems, is my spiritual apprentice in all things artsy-fartsy.

Last year I posted some examples of the random, illogical leaps conversations with him would often take. He doesn’t do that anymore—thank God—but it seems obvious to me that those loopy rejoinders were early indications of the looser, more abstract way his mind works.

You can see the natural progression of that conceptual freewheeling when he’s trying to tell a story and can’t remember some simple word in English. Rather than simply use the Norwegian word as EM would have done, he manages to throw in the most wonderful descriptive substitutes like chocolate water for mud, or wiggly stick lights for candles, or, my personal favorite, rock-sky day to describe dark, overcast weather.

He’s also always been better at pretend play than EM; since they were of an age to start playing together, EM has had to follow Boy’s lead. It was Boy who taught EM that it was okay for her Polly Pockets to live in the castle next door to his Transformers, that they could even gasp talk to one another. And when the two–headed dragons came to attack, it was Boy who showed EM what effective missiles Duplo Legos made against them. EM was scandalized that Legos should be used for anything other than building the officially sanctioned figures that came illustrated with the factory instructions. She actually came to ask me if it was okay.

EM: Boy is making the Duplos act like bombs.

Me: Say what?

EM: He’s using the Duplos to kill the dragons. He’s throwing them.

Me: Is he throwing them at you?

EM: No.

Me: Sounds like fun EM. Death to the dragons!

EM: But what if we want to build something with them later?

Me: Then you’ll pick them up off the floor and build something.

EM: Oh.

I know that all of this must sound like I’m pitting one kid against the other and saying, “Look how dumb that one is compared to this one.” I swear that’s not what I’m driving at. In fact, I don’t think any of this has anything to do with intelligence at all. I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention that EM has a remarkable aptitude for practical problem solving—there is no obstacle you could put in front of that kid for which she couldn’t come up with at least 3 different alternatives inside a minute. Boy would just stare slack-jawed at the very same obstacle and cry, then later he’d describe that bleak moment as unto a journey into the very foothills of darkest Purgatory (or maybe just the dentist’s office, he is only five after all).

All I’m really trying to say (and I’m ashamed and humiliated that it’s taken me this long to say it) is that it is becoming ever more apparent that EM thinks like her father and Boy thinks like me.

One last story to illustrate my point, then I’ll shut up.

I’ve been reading the Magic Tree House series to Boy and Missy every night at bedtime. About a week ago we were in the middle of an adventure set in the Wild West, and a cowboy character said something like “I’m going to round up all them thur’ horses, then split the wind over that thur’ ridge.” It’s a phrase I’d never heard before, so I paused to ask Boy what he thought “split the wind” might mean. He didn’t stop to think even a second before he shot his hand out in a half karate chop and shouted, “GO FAST!”

Almost a week later we were all in the car when we hit a long, straight stretch of road (very rare in these parts) and Mister laid on the gas--revving the engine, and noticeably speeding up. From the back seat Boy cried out, “This car is splitting the wind!” I laughed out loud, and so would have high-fived him if we had been face to face. EM and Mister, on the other hand, snorted simultaneously with intellectual distain, “You can’t cut air, Boy."

"And besides,” EM added helpfully, “Air is a gas. Didn’t you know?”

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