I guess I should have been surprised when my 11-year-old son asked to end his summer vacation with a slice of pumpkin pie, but I hardly raised an eyebrow when Will requested a treat that, for most folks, is strictly a Thanksgiving Day indulgence. My son has always marched to the beat of his own drummer, so I’m constantly reminding him why his choices might seem odd to everyone else.
But Will remained unconvinced as he paddled aimlessly in the blaring sun, suggesting that there was no real reason not to enjoy a good pumpkin pie any day of the year.
“Pumpkins are out of season,” I answered decisively. “We eat pumpkin pie in the fall because that’s the time when pumpkins grow.”
But Will already knew that thanks to the strange ingenuities of food science, we still had a can of unexpired pumpkin in the pantry from last year’s holidays, poised for pie anytime we wanted it.
“We should try to eat pies only at special times of the year,” I offered as a fresh line of argument. “If we eat treats like that on any old day, it’s not really good for us.”
Then Will reminded me that in spite of our family’s general goal of dietary restraint, we routinely fire up the oven on weekends for a batch of brownies or chocolate chip cookies. In the scheme of things, how would pumpkin pie break the nutritional bank?
Seeing no good reason to deny Will’s request, I found myself in our kitchen the following weekend, blending eggs, milk, and pumpkin while the thermometer outside once again approached triple digits.
As the scent of cinnamon and cloves slowly filled the house with a holiday aroma in August instead of autumn, I thought about something that a cleric had told me before my wife and I exchanged our wedding vows. What we love the most about someone, he said, is usually the very thing that we find most challenging in a relationship.
That’s certainly been true for my wife and I as we parent Will, a boy whose free spirit has gotten him far in life and earned our admiration, although his willingness to swim against the mainstream can often take us out of our own comfort levels, perhaps more often than we would like.
When Will saw an opportunity to learn more in a gifted program that required him to change schools, he bravely made the move, although it meant making new friends in a strange place. When he wanted to brush up on his computer skills, and the only technology class in our neighborhood was aimed at senior citizens, Will enrolled without hesitation, undaunted by the prospect of being the sole youngster in a room full of retirees. The other students embraced him as a surrogate grandchild, and he thrived. And when he decided to learn robotics, and that meant joining a club in which he would be the only small child in a group of high schoolers, Will didn’t blink. The teens welcomed Will as a peer, and we marveled at the rewards that can come to a child who defies convention.
“I don’t mind being different,” Will often says in explaining his preferences.
There are times, though, when we’d find it much easier if Will simply stopped questioning the status quo and just quietly fit in.
Like the morning when he reported to Favorite Hat Day at his school wearing a tire-size sombrero rather than a customary cap, a move that almost guaranteed hours of teasing from his classmates.
Or the season that Will decided to invent his own language from scratch, a pastime that could not help but exasperate his adolescent big sister.
Or the searing summer day, not long ago, when my boy politely but persistently petitioned for pumpkin pie, throwing years of family tradition out the window.
Will beamed, of course, as I sliced still-warm slices of pie for both of us, son and father sitting at a kitchen counter, previewing Thanksgiving before September had even arrived on the calendar.
I bowed my head for a moment, silently offering gratitude for a son who meets the world on his own terms – and inspires his father to do the same.