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Jack Smith

He's doing a re-Spocktable job in bringing up his 2-year-old grandson

April 07, 1985|JACK SMITH

We had the care of our 2-year-old grandson over the weekend, and I was reminded of what it was like to have a small boy.

We had raised two, and it shouldn't have been much trouble for me.

He was supposed to be toilet trained, but there was always the chance of an accident. I told my wife I didn't remember much about what one did.

"Why should you?" she said. "You never did it."

I guess I was a lot like that character in Doonesbury. I did a lot of writing about what it was like to be a good father, and how it changed your life, but I never did much of the actual work.

I don't believe I even read Dr. Spock. But my wife did, and, in general, I agreed with his idea of not intimidating a child. I expected my boys to be prompt and literate and honest, but I didn't try to intimidate them, and I got two out of three. They aren't always perfectly prompt, but they do what they have to do, and that's what matters.

And they are literate and honest.

When my wife brought Trevor home Friday evening after work I was reading. The house had been utterly quiet. Everything in it deferred to the page before my eyes.

Suddenly there was a new presence. He is not a crybaby, or noisy, yet it was as if a chimpanzee had been let loose in the house. He demanded my attention. I had to watch him while my wife cooked dinner.

When he wanted to go out into the backyard to see the dog, I had to go with him. It would be too easy for him to run down to the pool. I had read too many stories, and written a few, about children drowning in backyard pools while their parents, or more often, their baby sitters, turned their backs "for just a minute."

I don't take much interest in children until they can talk well enough to ask intelligent questions; but I know that's short-sighted of me. At 2, of course, they are actually monsters, but, from a psychological point of view, quite interesting.

Trevor is clearly intelligent. He pronounces words very precisely, and speaks in sentences. When he tried to go outside by himself he came back to me and reported, "The door is locked."

What a miracle, I thought. Starting at zero, in two years he had learned to put an English sentence together--complete with noun, predicate and predicate adjective. An intellectual accomplishment of no small proportion. I wondered how long it had taken our species to develop language to that degree of complexity.

On the other hand, at the table he ate like a brute, slamming down his fork and spoon and picking his rice up in his hand and squeezing it into his mouth--what didn't fall on the floor.

If I remember correctly it took our sons years to learn proper table manners, and even today they aren't exquisite.

Sunday we drove to Bakersfield. My wife's brother and his wife were being given a surprise party on their 35th wedding anniversary by their son and daughter-in-law. It seems miraculous today not only that a husband and wife would stay together 35 years but also that their son and daughter-in-law would like them enough to want to help them celebrate.

It was a family reunion, and fortunately there were other small children. Trevor was dressed like a boulevardier in a striped T-shirt with tan jacket and tan short pants and a tan bow tie (already the women in his life were teaching him to wear one). He is definitely a social animal and definitely, it gratified me to notice, heterosexual. He fastened onto a pretty little distant cousin of his in a pink dress and never gave her a moment's rest.

Well, there was one interruption in his amorous pursuit; when he forgot himself and wet his pants, which required my wife to come to the rescue. Fortunately, she had foreseen this contingency and had come equipped with an entirely new outfit that made him look like a railroad engineer. The little girl did not seem to be put off by his momentary embarrassment, and they were soon hard at their play again.

A relative of my wife's young niece had had some experience with children and big parties and had brought along a large trash bag full of toys, which soon were scattered all over the patio. I happened to be watching through a window while Trevor and his inamorata attacked a box that contained large plastic letters of the alphabet. Trevor started throwing them out of the box onto the patio deck with sweeping motions of his hand. The girl watched this vandalism for a moment, then joined in, picking up the remaining letters one by one and tossing them out. It was an all too prophetic scene, I thought. The innocent girl led into a wanton life by the boy she loves.

Trevor was so excited by this chance encounter that he stayed wide awake all the way back over the ridge to Los Angeles, while I had a hard time staying awake at the wheel.

My wife had decided to keep him another night, though he clearly told her, "I want to go home." Another perfect sentence. He cried, for the first time, when she tried to make him lie down. But he was exhausted, and soon fell asleep in spite of himself.

I think Dr. Spock would have been proud of me.

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