He likes to be the lead. He was not happy he only had a few small lines in his Sunday School play at Christmas. He raises his hand, even when he doesn't have an answer. He believes his opinion is just as important as every adult's words in the conversation.
I love this about my boy. I am raising him that way.
I recall a conversation about cancer research at the kitchen table one night when I was about nine. My parents were discussing some article or study or something that seemed heady and important when my dad stopped abruptly and turned to me and asked me what I made of all of it. I remember the yellowish light from the aged fixture that hung over our hand-me-down table and the clank of the forks on unbreakable china plates and the swell inside that made me physically feel what I always knew, "What I think matters in this family. I have a voice."
I wanted my child to grow up feeling that. He does. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. Once he cried when I made a unilateral decision about something tragic like where to go out to dinner or what time to leave for the park, sobbing, "I thought we were a team! I thought we made every decision together!"
Obviously we don't. But I also realize I make many solo decisions behind the scenes and rarely skip asking his opinion, even when it's in no way a deciding factor. It's not that I want to un-do all the space and voice and judgment I've given him at our own second-hand kitchen table. But maybe loosening the knot a bit would serve him well, too.
I thought of that when my dad texted me this photo he snapped with his phone last week on a day off from school. Lil E is bathed in the light shining through skylights at the Art Institute, carefully sketching a Picasso painting.
It was my mom's idea to take sketchbooks to the art museum, in part because she is an artist who has recently re-lit her love of drawing. And in part because she loves to do projects with Lil E and he loves that time back.
There is something about seeing your child that still. And not just a quiet body, a calmed mind. That was my intention when I created the home where we now live together, for it to be safe and bright and happy and also a place where minds could ease. When I see this, though, I wonder if there could be more room for the stillness in our place, piled high with recycleables and books to review and high heels and plastic crap dug from little boy pockets.
It wasn't all romantic at the museum. He was not shy about telling me many times about the "nakey guy statues" and "boob statues" he saw there.
He also had a mission from me to find his favorite detail in Chagall's blue stained glass panels, my long-time favorite installation there.
In the early '60s, Chagall said of his stained glass window art, "For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating. It has to live through the perception of light."
But here and probably only for minutes at a time at other stops in front of other paintings, he is sitting, observing, interpreting -- just quietly.
His body tells me how hard he is concentrating -- he scrunches up like that when he is most focused. And as an only child, he certainly has many moments of reading, drawing, and building Lego in that state.
Here, though, there is a silence and stillness and a peace that I always associate as being within him but often don't hear coming out of him as he talks and talks and talks details of Wii game levels and movies and shows and crazy-kid stuffs. The balance is good.
It's on me now, to bring some of that basking-in-light, blue-glassed sweet stillness and calm into our home, to fit the museum into through our tight doors and packed schedules and excitement to get our words out.
The reminder and the balance is here, though, in this photo. If only for one little moment. If only until it's time for dinner again.