The Poetry of Pre-Schoolers
My four-year-old son Julian is in the middle of one of his endlessmonologues. He does this often, spinning his serpentine tales intoseeming infinity. They are entertaining enough, a seamless mixture ofthe real and the imagined, the factual and the fantastic. He's aninspired orator. His eyebrows pump like pistons; I don't know whetherthey're the engine behind the storyteller, or the byproduct of thestory. At times like this, you can hear his brain grow.As spellbinding as his narratives can be, it's hard not to fall intoan alpha state stupor. At the moment, he and I are driving to aSaturday morning movie, and so I've got combo highway/hypnosis,Julian/jabber going on. Besides, there's plenty to mull over to blotout the babbling boy. Every time I apply my brakes, for example, thefront end of the car does the watusi. No simple alignment problem.I'm sure I'm looking at hundreds of dollars of repair; how am I goingto pay for that? And why exactly are my lightbulbs at home constantlyblowing out? Is there some kind of electro-magnetic field disturbancein my house? Are we all risking leukemia? And another thing: why isit my kids will only wear crass-looking leisure sports wear?Yes, my mind is wandering, over the meaningful and the mundane. Andof course the Oklahoma City bombing is sitting like a burr on myconsciousness. Even when I look away, the pain is present, albeitperipherally. My God, there was a daycare in there. I feeldeeply for those touched directly by the Oklahoma City disaster, andjust as deeply for the rest of us, somersaulting in uncertainty. Howwill I ever keep up with the cluster catastrophes our global villagetraffics in? Japan, Bosnia, Rwanda, the flaccid dollar, the decrepitozone--and suddenly I tune in to Julian, because he's said a wordI've never heard before."What'd you say?" I ask."I was talking about that boy--the boy in Taylor's gang at school,"he replies, eyebrows dancing."Right. Right. But what did you call him?""Choptree. His name is Choptree. Because he helped his mother chopdown a tree."This is probably one of his imaginative embellishments, but it'snever easy to get a straight metaphysical position from him. Bestjust to bag it for now."Oh, I see. Choptree.""So anyway, Taylor told Choptree to venture into the creepy Einsteinwoods..."And so he launches into another odyssey of pre-school machinations,with accompanying facial tics. I catch myself slipping away into thedark void of unknowing again, so I quickly interrupt him."You know, Julian, I was talking to one of your teachers yesterdayabout you. She said you were a good conversationalist.""Huh?" he asks, pursing his left-cheek dimple with a squint."She said you were a good chat."He thinks about his for a moment, then says, and I quote him exactly:"Well, most kids are kind of hasty."Hasty. Hmmm. I'm not always sure Julian's got the precise meaning ofa word, but he's usually in the ballpark. Kids are pretty hasty--whenit comes to conversation. They've got a lot going on, these littlepeople. They don't want to stand around hearing wit, wisdom, orwheedling from the big people around them.But the truth is, I'm thinking, as he begins his monologue anew, thatgrown-ups are also full of haste. We don't have a lot of time for ourchildren, or other people's children, because we're busy making thebuck to fix the car, or replace the lightbulbs, or get to the movieon time. We're busy trying to create leisure time--or at least thefolklore of leisure time--in our lives.I brake for a stoplight and the car wobbles to a stop. What if somepot-hole takes advantage of my vulnerable front end? What if thefront wheels simply fall off, en route, AWOL-ling away, while I'mdriving along, listening to my post-toddler pontificate intoperpetuity. Then again, this very morning, we could end upsmithereens in a terrorist-attacked movie theater, the object ofpolitical or random violence, and the subject of multiple newsstories.Well. Some things I can control, like getting my car fixed beforedisaster strikes. Other possible events, however, are left to thegreat karmic ckrapshoot in the sky.So I'll listen to my son a little more closely, because of theuncertainty around me, and also because, sometime later, sooner thanI can imagine, he'll sit beside me in silence, creating these epicrambling poems for his friends. Right now, they're for me.