The wings on which my son truly soars

My three-year-old rides on hawks. He goes way way up in the air.

"I ... I flew on a hawk today," he begins. "We went up in the clouds, and it was foggy. And I held on tightly, and we were hunting for mice and we went to an eagle's house and...."

Jonas can go on and on about his flights. If he starts to run dry, his eyes wander around the room and take in, say, the tomatoes ripening on the windowsill, and he's off again with the hawk, dropping in on a garden to pick up some tomatoes.

My six-year-old doesn't believe his brother's stories, and wants me to set Jonas straight. Noah doesn't ride on hawks. He rides the school bus and already takes life too seriously. He doesn't tell stories. He keeps me informed about the first grade: that he got to play soccer with the third-graders, or that Daniel called on him at share time. And he plans ahead.

"I want you to teach me everything you learned in college," he says.

"Why?" I ask.

"So that when I grow up and go to college, I'll already know everything."

Noah has always been in a hurry to grow up. He mastered walking at nine months, progressed quickly to running, and hasn't stopped since. Everything came quickly and easily to him. But I worry that Noah is growing up too fast. He's so capable and willing to please that it's easy to expect too much from him. Especially since Jonas, who seldom tries to please, takes up so much time and energy.

I don't worry that Jonas is growing up too fast. I worry that he's going to drive us all crazy. He's so contrary that sometimes the only way to get him to do what you want is to pretend that you don't want him to do it - a strategy that horrifies my psychologically correct friends.

But I've learned that it's better to be diplomatic than dogmatic, and that with a 3-1/2-year-old it's important to choose my battles carefully - avoiding conflict over little things.

Jonas has the fierce spirit of a hawk and the destructive power of a bulldozer.

He's going to have to come down to earth sometime soon, though. He has to stop clobbering other children with the Wiffle-ball bat. He has to stop shutting the kitten in the toy box. And he has to learn that bedtime means bedtime. It's time to rein him in.

But he's so refreshingly defiant, so original in his devices, so funny and adorable, that I can't bring myself to do it. Not yet. Not quite yet.

So for now, when he slips downstairs after everyone is asleep and finds me reading on the couch, I let him in under the blanket and we tell each other hawk stories.

Sometimes Noah wakes up and joins us.

"Jonas," he says, "you don't really ride on hawks. He's lying. Right, Daddy?"

But I'm not so sure. Jonas's eyes take on a wild look when he talks about flying. And his stories are richly detailed and alive with imagery. He doesn't just ride around. He wraps his arms tightly around the feathery nape and soars through clouds like fog. He plunges for fish, scatters mice, and stops to pick vegetables.

"Jonas isn't lying," I say at last. "He really believes his stories."

"But a hawk couldn't even carry Jonas."

Not for much longer, I think. There aren't many years when we're light enough to fly. There's so much to carry around. Only the very young and, perhaps, the very old can visit with eagles. The rest of us just go about our business.

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