Today Sr. Jr. turns 11. This is what an eleven year old boy looks like, complete with sneer:
But not so long ago, he looked like this:
He was just over four years old in that shot. That's about the time we had the "African squirrel" discussion that has long been the story I tell when I want to give someone insight into his personality. We used to (still do) take lots of walks around the neighborhood. The owners of one house around the corner from us often leave out bowls of peanuts for the squirrels to take. (In fact, it's the same house that was nearly demolished by a tree a couple of months ago, pictured in an earlier post.) One day when we were walking by, I commented that the squirrels must really like the peanuts.
"But Mommy, they haven't eaten any," said SJ.
"Yes they have," I said, pointing out how the shells had been broken and the nuts removed. "The squirrels eat the nuts from the inside and leave the shells behind."
"Well, mommy, those are the American squirrels. The African squirrels eat the shells, and they haven't been by yet."
"Oh," I said, playing along to see where this was going to go, "African squirrels? Really? How do they get here?"
"They walk, of course."
"But, sweetie, there's a really big ocean between here and Africa. How do they get across the ocean?"
"They get on the boats and sail. And then they get off here and walk to our neighborhoods."
"Oh, that's really interesting. How can I tell which squirrel is an African squirrel and which is an American squirrel?"
"The African squirrels eat the peanut shells."
Then and now, the boy will NEVER admit he's wrong about anything, and will contort himself verbally and rhetorically in all sorts of ways to minimize any wrongness there might be. As one of his teachers put it, "he likes to have the last word."
About a year earlier, we had our first cross-examination experience. It was holiday time, and we had a tree up in the living room. We had baby gates around the tree, mainly to keep SJ from getting over there and possibly breaking something or pulling the tree down. We told him that the gates were there to keep the cat from getting to the tree. One evening, I was busy cooking and baking when SJ decided to question me about the need for the gates.
"Mommy, are the gates in front of the tree to keep the kitty away from the tree so she won't break the ornaments?"
"Mommy, cats can jump, right?"
"And the cat can jump on the couch, right?"
"Yeeesss," I said, seeing where this was going.
"And once she's on the couch, she can just jump off the back over to the tree, right?"
"You're right, sweetie."
"So the gates don't really do anything, do they?"
*Sigh* Beaten in a cross examination by a three year old. He did something similar to me in the produce department of the supermarket once, gathering a following as we went along. At the end of it, three people looked at me and said, "He's hysterical. You're going to have your hands full!" Yes, SJ WAS that verbally talented when he was three.
Here he is on the first day of kindergarten:
And with his little brother, later that year:
Now we get into the bike racing and hiking years:
I am amazed at what the little tiny bundle I cuddled for so long has turned into. He's ferociously smart and opinionated. He's so strong! He's passionate about nature, the environment, and politics. He loves baseball, biking, tennis, and hiking. He's beginning to be interested in girls. He's responsible and conscientious (mostly). He never stops talking. He loves to argue. Way too many of his sentences start "Actually..." He can be arrogant when it comes to people who don't understand things as quickly as he does. He can be surly one moment and sweet the next. He's a pretty good judge of character, which I hope will serve him well in the coming difficult years of adolescence. He's my Doctor Who watching buddy.
Middle school seems scary to me. I know he's ready for it, but I'm not sure I'm ready. I know the issues he (and we) will face will be much tougher than those we've faced so far. I think he's got a good head on his shoulders, but temptation and peer pressure can be strong. I'm encouraged by the way things have evolved this year. There was a bit of a friendship group realignment this year, which started out painfully as his best friend moved in one direction and he in another. But I think (unfortunately) that his friend moved into a crowd that will end up getting in trouble later on, while SJ moved more toward the group of kids who won't. I know all of that will change as he makes new friends from new schools this year, but I hope that his judgment holds.
And in only a few short years he'll be going off to college. I already miss him.