From Thursday through Monday, I got to take what has long been a dream trip: I went to the Dutchess County Sheep and Wool Festival, popularly known as Rhinebeck. (For the uninitiated, this is basically a state fair, but focused on fiber animals like sheep, goats, llamas, and alpacas. There’s also an enormous fiber market scattered across the barns, which makes it a mecca for knitters, crocheters, spinners, weavers, and the like. I was there selling knitting books with the publisher that I work for, Cooperative Press.)
When my son was younger, I used to crave these longer work trips; I used to crave the chance to not have parenting on my mind every waking minute (not to mention some of the sleeping ones). This time was different. While it would have been completely inappropriate to bring my son to the fair (I was working / he has school / he would have been bored a lot of the time), I found myself wishing a lot during the trip that I could have brought him. I missed him, and I wanted him to see the cool things I was getting to see — like the border collie vs. children relay races and the llama leaping contest. And the fall leaves on the rolling hills of New York. (Pictured above is the house where I stayed with seven friends. The photo doesn’t begin to capture how intensely orange those trees were in the fading afternoon light.)
Quite a few kids tagged along with parents who came as customers to Rhinebeck, and I found myself gravitating to those kids — and particularly to the little boys who were about my son’s age. While their parents were looking at our books, I would chat these little guys up about what were the hot Halloween costumes this year, how fast we could run, how super-strong our respective upper arm muscles were, what Lego sets were best, and what it takes to dispatch a zombie.
It reminded me all over again just how much I adore boys at this age. When I was eight myself, I suddenly found that most of my friends were boys instead of girls. I just liked what most boys were doing then, and liked less what most girls were doing at that age. Let me be very clear here: I know all boys aren’t alike, and neither are all girls — I was Exhibit A for that, after all — and I know that these behaviors are learned. All of that conceded, I found that with many girls there were now secrets and intrigue and all kinds of intricate social dynamics that personally I found both baffling and boring. With most boys, the play could be complex, but the rules tended to be stated outright. The play also sometimes got too rough for my tastes, but for me it was a small price to pay for forthrightness.
As an adult, I have found both women and men who appreciate this kind of straight-up interaction. But somehow eight-year-old boys seem to have that filter-free personality in its purest form. They can be rude and artless, but when I remember that this is all borne of naive honesty, I find it utterly charming.
As one eight-year-old boy at Rhinebeck this weekend mimed for me how to cut down a zombie with a battle ax (I played the role of Zombie), his mother apologized, rolling her eyes. “Sorry,” she says, “he just doesn’t know when to stop sometimes.”
“Oh, it’s quite all right,” I said. “It’s some of the most fun I’ve had all weekend.”
There are these moments where you realize that your kid is SO your kid — these funny moments when the distance between you and your child collapses like a long, collapsey-kind telescope.
Today, my son and I were talking about some funny stop-motion videos we were making with Playmobils, when he said, “It’s extremely hard to get all the guys to line up just right so the next frame looks like it came just after the first one.”
“Yeah,” I agreed.
After a few seconds’ silence as we keep editing the little movie, he said, “Two X’s.”
And, weirdly, I immediately knew what he meant. He meant there were two X’s in the sentence he had just said.
No, this is not a game we play. It’s just that he’s an obsessively weird language person just like I am, and he flips words around and around in his brain before, during, and after he says them. So he noticed, as he was saying it, that the sentence he was uttering, unusually, had two X’s in it.
Once, when I was in college, my parents and sister came to visit and as I got into their car that evening, my mom turned around, all faux-exasperated, and said, “Mull foon.”
I replied, “Yup, mull foon,” and looked out the window at the bright, full moon.
My mom breathed a sigh of relief, turned back around in her seat, and said, “I knew you’d understand.” She had been in the car for hours with two people who had no idea what she was talking about. My dad and sister and I share many things, but the flipping-the-words-around-in-the-brain thing isn’t one of them.
When you’re weird like us, it’s a delight to discover — and later reaffirm — all those bizarre little ways that you really are family.