We were in a local park the other day, and Hobbes was swinging on the big kids’ swing. He is very proud of himself for this graduation from the little kid swings, which consist of buckets that even toddlers can’t figure out how to fall out of. He is now responsible for staying in the swing by himself. This is accomplished by sheer force of will, as far as I can tell. His grip on the swing chains is erratic at best. I let him swing on it anyway, because how else is he going to learn? As I have taught him to say when prompted, “Gwavity is a witch.”1
A couple of swings away, a slightly older boy was driving his father mad.
There’s a sonic scream quality to a child’s whine that you can’t really appreciate until you have one living with you. I think that was the original inspiration for Doctor Who’s sonic screwdriver, to tell you the truth. Some clever writer noticed that whenever a kid whined, something happened — a door got opened, a stepstool got dragged over, a popsicle got unwrapped — and extrapolated it out further. What if the whine had magic powers? What if the whine was sciencey? What if you encapsulated the whine, and got rid of the enfant terrible — that role already being taken by the eponymous hero — and the intervening grown-up? What if you made it a device that you could turn off?
In my imagination, it’s that last idea that sold it to a room full of exhausted producers with little kids at home.
“Daddy, I want you to push it like running and you diiiiiiiiidn’t.”
“I did it just like that!”
“Daaaaaaadddddddyyyyyyyyyyyyy–!” The rest of his complaint was lost in the ear-scraping wail of whine hitting soft palate limitations.
They’d been going at it for the last five minutes, and the father was rapidly losing his mind. My teeth were starting to itch. Hobbes, less impressed, had been attending with great interest through the entire scene. Neither of us were able to figure out what the little boy wanted, which made four of us. 2
“Mommy,” Hobbes said with disapproval. “He should stop whining.”
“Honey,” I said. “You ever hear of the pot calling the kettle black?”
Pot, what? “No, the boy,” he said. “He is whining a lot.”
“So do you.”
“I don’t whine.”
“Yes you do. And you sound just like that.”
Hobbes listened intently to the other child, whose father was just hitting the hair-pulling stage.
“I whine too much,” he decided at last.
Hallelujah. I patted my son proudly on the head. “Truer words,” I said, “have never been spoken.”
Step 1. Admitting there is a problem.
Children’s Day — once known as Boys’ Day, but now rebranded as a gender-neutral holiday in these modern days, I don’t know why when there’s a perfectly good Girls’ Day on March 3, but okay, I’m all for equality of the sexes if it means getting an extra holiday in for mine — was this past weekend. May 5th is the specific date for the celebration. When I was growing up, it used to be about celebrating the presence of sons in a household. Nowadays, it celebrates the presence of any kids at all.
Someone in Japan is paying attention to the census.
I didn’t bother to explain to Hobbes about the new incarnation of the holiday. Boys’ Day was good enough for me as a kid, so it’s damn well good enough for him.3 He was excited enough by the idea of an entire day set aside just for boys, an explanation of the holiday’s evolution probably wouldn’t have penetrated anyway. He still retains only the loosest understanding of the difference between boys and girls. The other day, as I was undressing for a shower, he rediscovered some anatomical differences between us and commented loudly and inquisitively on them for a full minute.
I was all ready to explain to him some physiological realities, but the child has the attention span of a rabbit. He’d already moved on.
As part of the Boys’ Day celebrations, we finally put up the koinobori display — literal translation, “carp rising upward,” more or less — which my grandmother had sent from Japan during his first year. It was the first time we’d flown it outside, and Hobbes was very pleased with the effect, associating the carp correctly with each of the family members they were designed to represent. The black one at the top, the largest, is meant to represent the father. The orange one below that, the mother. The small blue one at the bottom stands for the first son. Any subsequent sons are added on below, with additional fish.
I don’t know what Catholic families do. I know someone who grew up in a family of 11 kids. This may be why displays like this didn’t really evolve in European countries.
“This is for Boys’ Day?” Hobbes asked, while I was putting them up.
“It’s a holiday just for boys?” he pursued.
“I’m a boy,” he confided.
“I have a willy.”
“I applaud your recognition of that distinction, though you do realize you’re not personally responsible for its generation.”
“No, thank you. –Put that away, Hobbes.”
“You’re not a boy,” he said with great satisfaction. “It’s for me.”
I’m hoping he was talking about the holiday.
Our HOA has a policy against outside displays like this, which I was willing to rebuff with outraged denunciations of cultural oppression and insensitivity. Sadly, no HOA official showed up to challenge me. We left it up all weekend and most of Monday, to the great interest of our neighbors. I took it down when I got back from work, and now — barring the dead potted plants I have been collecting; oddly, there is no HOA policy about that — the decrepit front of my townhouse looks the same as it ever did.
“Is Boys’ Day over?” Hobbes asked, watching as I detached the string of koi from its hook.
“I can’t wait for Boys’ Day again,” Hobbes said, waving his hands in the air. “I waited forever for it. I waited twenty days.”
What, you were expecting an essay about the rich tapestry of traditions from my motherland?
- I’ll teach him how to articulate that last word better when he hits high school. I’m a good mommy. ↩
- Hobbes, me, the dad, and — I’m pretty sure about this — the boy himself. ↩
- To be fair, as a girl growing up with a sister in a two-child household, Boys’ Day was more of an abstract concept for me when I was a child. We girls had our own thing going on. It involved dolls. With swords. ↩
- A Good Idea Followed by a Bad Idea
- Childrens’ Day and other things
- Stories on an afternoon drive
- Bring your kids to work day
- Tech support.
- A little daring
- I don’t know about you….
- A little bit of validation
- In which good intentions mean diddly-squat
- Things I need to remember not to forget
- Sometimes they will surprise you
- England and other errata