My nephews were over at our house on Friday night, waiting for their grandma to come and pick them up for the weekend. You might remember them from a previous post; their names are Isaiah (9 years old, as of Wednesday) and Isaac (6).
Isaac is a free spirit. I already know he’s going to grow up being one of those guys who gets dreadlocks and tries his hand at everything from playing djembe to Muay Thai. He walks into our house and immediately takes off his shoes and socks. And then – this is where it gets weird – he walks into my living room and announces the following:
“I haven’t changed my socks for two weeks.”
Then he stares up at me with his adorable brown eyes, smiling angelically. And all I can see are his toes digging into my carpet.
Isaiah yells from the bathroom, “It’s true! He never changes his socks!”
My husband and I proceed to react as he probably predicted, screaming disgustedly at the idea of his little feet stewing in the same germ pond for who knows how long. Isaac, being Isaac, plops down happily on my couch, laughing at our disgusted faces.
“Isaac, you have to change your socks every day!” I told him, gathering whatever adult, auntie authority I have in my bones (there isn’t much).
“No way!!!” he exclaims, laughing even more, rubbing his feet on my sofa. Great. Now the ecosystem of foot muck is spread like peanut butter on my couch. Ray and I like to watch movies on that couch. Sometimes we take naps there. It will never be the same.
I can’t exactly judge him, though. I remember being around 6 or 7, and one summer break I had discovered that showering just took up precious time that could otherwise be spent playing. One morning I walked up to my mom to try and see what she was doing, and she looked up at me – her darling little girl – and said, “You need a bath. You smell.” I learned to bathe regularly since then, but for a few weeks, I probably smelled so stinky, you could see the body odor emanating from my skin. It’s a good thing I was a cute kid.
This is why kids Isaac’s age are simultaneously awesome and frightening. It’s fascinating because they start to form ideas in their own minds. They make decisions, they figure out what they like and what they don’t like. But sometimes – actually, many times – their decisions are completely maniacal, like refusing the change socks, or surviving solely on ice cream and mac n’ cheese. It’s awesome because they are so often the living manifestation of everything we adults wish we could be: completely unfettered, absolutely carefree. Eating only the stuff they like, doing only the stuff they like. Excused and even expected to imagine crazy things and be totally random and exploratory. It’s fascinating.
Yet they also remind us of everything we adults have to be. Wise. Honest. Firm. Smart. They need structure, and whether they ask for it or not, they expect that structure to come from us. They have questions, and they expect us to have answers. Last week within a 10-minute stretch of our drive home, Isaiah asked us why it rains in one part of town and not the other, and why trees shed all their leaves in the winter and grow them back in the spring, and why kindergarten kids get to play outside during recess even when it’s raining. We went from being meteorologists to biologists to child psychologists. It was unnerving. Sure, it was rewarding to even have answers to his questions at all, especially since I’m personally a closet know-it-all (okay, maybe a half-open closet know-it-all). Still, it’s unnerving because you never know what they’re going to ask next.
Or what they’re going to announce next. Or what item of clothing they’re going to refuse to change next. Or which smelly dexterity they’re going to rub into your carpets next. I guess you can’t get much worse than feet, but still. Isaac is 6. You just never know.
It’s a little frightening to think about, but for now I’m just focusing on trying to teach Isaac to change his socks regularly. We’ll leave whatever’s next as a surprise for the next weekend.