The Observer took Junior to the first day of his summer program last Monday: UALR's Summer Laureate University for Youth — SLUFY — now in its 31st year. It's a two-week, half-day camp for the big-brains of elementary and junior high schools from all over, with courses this year on earthquakes, chemistry, Egyptology and more.
The opening ceremony was held in the gym at a local elementary school, each class clustered around the walls, teachers holding up signs to help gather their respective flocks. Junior found his class and stood with them, while The Observer retreated to the bleachers with the old folks.
The way the classes were ranked spread the whole of childhood around the border of the basketball court: kindergarteners to our right, all the way up to young men and women on the left. We sat and watched our own young man, his hands folded awkwardly together, clutching a reporter's notebook and pen we'd given him to take notes. He is, like his Old Man, too silent among strangers, and too loud among friends. At 11 years old, he's taller than his mother, a full three inches taller than his teacher, destined to be too big for a world built for smaller folk. Soon, he'll be bigger than even his father, if he keeps to the track he's on. In public, he stoops slightly, desperate to shrink into the crowd and be hidden by it, maybe — yet another way he is like his Old Man. It took The Observer a long time to realize that there's a lot more joy in being different than there ever was in being just like everyone else. We wish sometimes that we could pluck that thought from our head and put it into his, to keep him from spending years figuring it out and let him know it now, when he can use it most. As with all things, though, it is his to learn.
When the ceremony was dismissed and The Observer was heading out with the herd of other parents, Junior motioned us over and gave us a quick, shamefaced hug. He'll soon be too old for a public indignity like that, though blessedly not yet.
Across the sweltering parking lot and driving away from him, under the freeway, through the neighborhoods between our boy and downtown, we suddenly found our eyes full of big, stupid tears that made us cuss in embarrassment, even though we were alone. We missed him, we realized. Not just the him he is now, but all the people he has been since the first moment we saw him, just before Spouse's dumbass obstetrician kicked us out of the operating room for the infraction of weeping silently with joy at the sight of his face. We always see him as he is and was, and we miss them all: the infant, looking all around, hungry to know everything at once; the toddler, who lined up his toy trains so they could watch cartoons with him; the boy, too smart by half, who was so shocked when he found out the sun is actually a star that it left him quiet and contemplative for days; finally the young man he has become: old soul, writer, trickster, joker and gray-eyed philosopher, good with babies and dogs and computers and numbers; our dear friend, always ready to imagine the world as it should be, instead of how it is, he who has taught his father so much, even though The Observer believed a long time ago that we had learned and forgotten everything we ever could or would. We are all wading upstream, you see, time pressing against us for a moment before breaking and flowing around our mortal hearts like a stone. Only when The Observer got to be a father, though, did it make any sense.
Increasingly as the years roll on, we find ourselves so excited to meet who he will be next that we can hardly bear it.
Five hours later, while The Observer was whipping up dinner, Junior bounded in from SLUFY, all smiles, his unclutched notebook now brimming with flyers and handouts and notes from his class on earthquakes. Oh, the excitement of it all! The joy! What did our progeny learn? What earth-shattering knowledge of the universe was now at his command?
His first story, told in breathless, vivid detail: A new friend's friend-of-a-friend tale about how a kid he'd heard about once drilled a stealth peephole into the girl's restroom, but didn't see anything but a wall.
Yep, that's our boy. We have no idea why we worry about that child so much, because he's obviously gonna be OK. For now, chalk it up to the prerogative of a perpetually-nervous father.