Grey is now entering his second great age of firsts. The first, of course, is that period from birth to about two when you get first smiles, first steps, first solids, etc. Then you have the long steep curve of learning until, a scant four years after all the first milestones are met, you start with the second milestones. First day of school, first crush, first real secret, first overnight trip without a relative, etc.
Grey had two big firsts this week, from my point of view. Last night was my husband’s company’s annual summer outing to Fenway park. It transpired that – perhaps – an extra ticket was available. So with a babysitter lined up, we left him to Thane’s tender mercies and brought Grey to his first adventure in Fenway Park. We were in the right field roof, in a terrace. I’d never been up there, but on a very hot and humid solstice, it was breezy and open and lovely. I bought Grey a new t-shirt and he arrived – face-painted with serpents – and I showed him the park and the history and explained the game and the players to him. With intense concentration he learned how to say “Saltalamacchia”. His father, on the other hand, taught him “We want a pitcher, not a belly-itcher” and “We want a catcher, not a belly-scratcher.”
The Sox played the Marlins. Papi hit a grand slam into the bleachers. The Sox trounced the Marlins 15 to 5 with booming hits to all corners and long leisurely innings. The air was warm and fragranced with peanuts, beer, people and the softer fragrances from the not so distant fens.
We stayed through Sweet Caroline – sacred tradition – and turned tired feet home, only crossing our threshold around midnight to find a Wide-Awake Thane. It was a weary household this morning, I assure you.
But my church was hosting a concert this evening, and I wanted to go. The performer was Patrick Ball, a gracious and funny man. (If you ever have the chance to see him perform – go!) I wanted to go, and I wanted to take my son with me. So I wrested myself off a gossiping front porch and news of babies to head to my church on a sultry Thursday night. Grey picked our seats in the very front. The wise child had figured out where the fan blew hardest.
He had a notebook with him (our church provides them at the front door for kids), so I listened to the stories and the harp while I watched him draw. As an aside, he is already a far more accomplished artist than I am. Not than I was at that age – than I am now. Anyway, he would lay his pencil down for the stories and pick them back up for the songs. He would drape my arms around him like a scarf, still young enough to not be ashamed of my touch, or to lean his back against me as the night drew long.
The harper’s last story had the weight of bronze, of meaning, of power to it and settled heavy on us in the audience. Patrick turned his hand to the twinkling brass harp strings one last time. As he glid through an arpeggio, close to the end of the song, one of his harp-strings sprung and snapped in the heat of the night – springing up in curliques. With impeccable timing, he declared that he was now done. He stepped down and gave Grey his broken brass harp string.
There are moments that you hope are prophetic, that point to a future you would like to see. I watched my son, transfixed by words and music and meaning, take a glimmering bronze harp string from a bard directly under the cross – at the spot where my child had himself been baptized. Your breath catches and you wonder if, maybe, perhaps, there is still some magic left within the world after all.
Grey tugged at his shirt. Patrick leaned his head down kindly to listen. Then says, “Sure, go ahead.”
In a loud and ringing voice, my first-born announced, “I have a joke!”
I am caught between mortification and pride. I have no idea where this joke is going. To infinity and beyond? Terrible punch line? Actually funny? No clue. But standing in front of the unmoving audience that just paid to come listen to a professional storyteller, my son bravely stood, remembered his lines, lifted his voice and told a truly Kindergardeneresque joke. You really have to be under the age of 8 to think it’s funny. But with courage, conviction and timing, he delivers it to the (extremely patient) crowd.
So I don’t know? Portent? Talent? What does it all mean? On the way home, he discussed at length that final story, asking questions about it that showed he had thought about every word. He wondered if maybe he could try something different with music? (I will give him this – the guitar teacher is really tough. I struggle with the lessons – I don’t think someone learning how to learn was going to be successful in that context.) What does it all mean? Should I sign him up and help him pursue these interests? Should I step back and let him blaze his path, watching in fascination (and periodic mortification)?
What remarkable people they are, these children of ours. They come from our love, eat at our tables and judge the world based on a normal we define for them. But such paths they walk are mysteries to us all, and every winding step an adventure and a delight to watch.
Thank you, Patrick, for your brazen harp string and stories, and for firing the imagination of my son.