They are coming in faster now. Where once there were gentle lobs now the questions come firing across the net with a speed that has me spinning. HH is going through another growth spurt, a mental one, in which his awareness of the world around him is expanding rapidly. The curious thing, however, is that his emerging consciousness is coupled with an imagination that is still quite fantastical, where the living and the dead inhabit the same space, where the real and the imagined carry equal weight and where delight and fear grapple with each other for dominance.
A few days ago HH and I were walking to kindergarten. We had both risen early that day, made a pot of oatmeal with raisins and gotten dressed with plenty of time to spare for a leisurely walk through the park on our way to school. More often it’s the case that we just make it out of the house in time for him to get to school and for me to arrive at my German classes before the bells ring in our respective classrooms. But that day our pace was slow and we walked together holding hands and taking in the sights, the dog walkers and neighbors and other children and parents doing just what we were doing. As we passed the swing-set, between two huge trees, a large patch of sky opened above us and HH looked up and said,” Papa, you know the world is a ball, but we don’t know it, because we can’t see far enough. And we are spinning too, but we don’t know that either, because everything is spinning.” I tried not to act too shocked at what he had said, I was shocked, but I didn’t want to make it seem like he was saying something odd or that I was surprised that he understood this fundamental cosmic truth. So I kept walking, and with as measured a voice as I could muster, I asked him how he came to know these things about the earth. He replied, “Opa Heinrich told me.” I didn’t press the subject any further and we made our way to school, kissed each other goodbye, and I set off for my German lessons.
For the rest of the day and for the days that followed I’ve tried to figure out how these two thoughts happened to coalesce into his revelation about the universe: the shape and movement of the earth and his long deceased Opa. He met his grandfather only once, when he was six months old. It will remain a mystery to me because I can’t imagine that any amount of questioning will ever reveal the connection.
Yesterday morning I slept late, something I rarely do, and when I finally got up HH was sitting on his stool in the kitchen waiting for breakfast, and he seemed troubled. When I asked him what was wrong he told me, “Papa, when you are on Opa and die, how will I ever get to Smallwood?” Smallwood is the tiny Hamlet in Upstate New York where we spend our vacation each summer; it’s a place he loves to visit, with a mountain lake and massive oak trees and bears – full of life and mystery. He had tears in his eyes when he asked me and I told him that once he learned to read he would be able to find Smallwood all by himself, that reading would unlock all the secrets of the world for him, and anyway, I wasn’t an Opa yet, he had to have children first before I could be an Opa, so not to worry. But he was still concerned about something so he probed a little deeper. “How will I ever find a Mama?” he asked, and then he rattled off the names of some of the little girls he knew in kindergarten as well as some of the older girls who live in the neighborhood as possible candidates. This was a more complicated question, one of the more complicated questions he has asked me to date. I told him that when he was a bit older he would meet women, and that one day, he would find someone he loved and wanted to have children with and then he could become a Papa and I would be an Opa, but that he had plenty of time to think about that. He seemed satisfied with my answer and we moved on to the more pressing concerns of what to eat for breakfast.
What goes on in that head of his? Where do these questions come from? And how do the themes connect: Life, death, children, love and the cosmos? I’ll keep returning the lobs as best I can but they are coming faster and faster every day. I hope I can keep up.