While my 17-year-old son bops to the beat of rap, my 6-year-old boy has taken a different tack, one that has nothing to do with music.
It started just before Christmas. I was sitting at the kitchen table, doing something I am only middling at: wrapping gifts. The products of my handiwork offend the eye. I can never achieve anything resembling symmetry, and the tight, skinlike fits that are the hallmark of a job well done are utterly lacking. I could do just as well throwing the gifts into potato sacks.
But what represents failure in the eye of an adult is often a thing to behold in the child's estimation. As my son Anton watched me cut and fold and tape, his interest waxed apace. It wasn't long before I heard his clarion cry: "I want to help!"
I took momentary pause from my exertions. "So," I said, "you want to be a wrapper, eh?"
Anton nodded enthusiastically. In the interest of not wasting good paper, I gave him a page from the comics section of the newspaper, along with the last of the gifts to be wrapped, a small box containing a snow dome.
Anton seized the task with alacrity. Whenever I tried to insert a finger to help with the tape or a fold he pushed me away. Within a few minutes he had wrapped the little gift, in exactly the way one would expect of a 6-year-old: He used more tape than wrapping paper and two of the corners were torn, exposing the box within. But it was a start, and I gave him ample praise.
Little did I know what I had instigated.
A short while later a suspicious calm descended on the house. I crept up to my son's room and found him there, sitting on the floor amid a pile of newspapers, wrapping away with the concentration of a scribe. Toy cars, books, action figures, stuffed animals. He had swept all of these from their assigned places and was enveloping them in paper, the tape whizzing merrily from its roll. I quietly retreated from the scene, wondering what would come of such an offbeat passion.
It is fascinating when something captures the interest of a child. When I was around 8 years old, there was a brief but intense period when I collected bottlecaps from the street for reasons still unknown to me. But I remember roaming the curbsides, my head down, my eagle eyes on the lookout for those small, crimped, circular glimmers of metal. The longer I walked, the more my pants pockets jingled. When I returned home, I emptied my gleanings into a shoebox that I kept under my bed, lest someone covet my treasure.
Likewise, I had a childhood friend who had widened a crack in the brick wall of his basement. Day after summer day he would screen his yard for pillbugs, which he lovingly delivered to this subterranean redoubt. He fed them pieces of potato and generally looked after their welfare. His parents never knew what he was up to, and I still wonder what it was about the pillbugs that caught his eye. Perhaps he is wondering the same about my bottlecaps.
It has been well over a month since my son took to wrapping all his worldly possessions. I have, for the most part, given him free rein. I took him to task only once, on a bitterly cold day when he was about to board the school bus and we couldn't find his mittens. When I asked him where they were, he threw up his hands and averted his eyes.
Aha, I thought.
I hurried to his room and rummaged through the hillock of wrapped items. The mittens were among them, wrapped bulkily in the used car ads.
I have come to regard my son in a new light. He seems to be transcending the mechanical act of wrapping and is now headed in the direction of true art. He ornaments his wraps with ribbons, pieces of string, Scooby-Doo stickers, and original crayon scribblings reminiscent of the work of Jackson Pollock.
If I stumble upon a wrapped item and try to undo it to see what lies within, he cries out, "Dad! What are you doing?"
Clearly, I am an unappreciative boor, standing on the outside of his craft.
This came home to me in spades this morning when I arose and went into the kitchen to find the refrigerator door wrapped shut. Anton had used all of yesterday's newspaper, which he then had adorned with red ribbons and studded with Pikachu pogs. In the very center of the work my son had taped the spent tape dispenser itself - perhaps a postmodern flourish symbolizing his repletion.
This, then, was Anton's masterpiece. So what could I do?
I ate my cereal sans milk, for the artist asks not that we like his work, but only that we understand it.