June 24, 2018
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What he knows, he read in a book

By Sarah Smiley

My oldest son, Ford, almost 11, has been talking to me since the day he was born. It feels that way, at least. He said his first word (“God,” only he meant to say “dog”) at 11 months, and it’s been a steady verbal stream of consciousness ever since. The only thing Ford does more than talk is read.

I recognized Ford’s gift immediately. However, it wasn’t until Owen was born that Dustin knew something was different.

Dustin: “Have you noticed how Owen’s mouth is really small and his ears are big, but Ford is the opposite: big mouth, small ears?”

Of course, Dustin had been deployed for most of Ford’s infancy and toddlerhood. It would be another few years before he fully understood our situation.

Ford’s commentary has always been mostly informative (such as the time when he was 2 and said, “Mom, nobody can make you sad. Only you can make you sad”), but as he has gotten older, I feel like I’m living with a professor who still has some baby teeth and wears a Star Wars T-shirt.

Ford learns most of what he knows from the books he reads. He carries around two at a time because his biggest fear is finishing one book and not having another on hand. When he is citing book knowledge, it is obvious because he will use a word he has only read, not heard — words like “soliciting” — and he will emphasize the wrong syllable.

On a recent clear, starry night, Ford and I sat on the dock at my parents’ lake house and looked for satellites in the sky. “You’ll know it’s a satellite and not a star because it will move and not blink,” Ford said. I doubted him. Until I saw a tiny white dot glide across the night sky. Ford continued talking, but I tuned out to look for more satellites.

Tuning out is what you sometimes have to do. Unless you are Dustin. Dustin can listen to Ford’s lectures, if you will, for extraordinary lengths of time. On the way back from Bar Harbor this summer, Ford mused aloud about survival skills after getting lost on a trail at Cadillac mountain. I fell asleep in the front seat. When I woke up 45 minutes later, Ford was still talking. And Dustin was still listening.

Ford’s happiest moment was probably when he went with me last week to the dentist. While I was leaned back, on an incline in the chair — with suctions, scraping tools and a hygienist’s hand stuffed in my mouth — Ford, who had just finished getting a cavity filled, hovered over my face to talk. His numbed lip sagged and he sounded like he had cotton in his cheeks. Still, he could not pass up the opportunity to talk to me while I was hanging upside down and helpless.

Sometimes our other boys, Owen, 8, or Lindell, 4, add to these conversations with their characteristic flair, which usually prompts another lesson from Ford.

Me: “We’re going to have a meteorite shower tonight. We should go outside and watch it.”

Owen: “A meteorite is coming to Earth and you want to watch? That sounds like a horrible idea.”

Ford: “Meteoroids, meteors and meteorites are all particles floating around in space. It is a meteoroid while it is still orbiting the sun. When a meteoroid enters the earth’s atmosphere and burns up, it is called a meteor, or shooting star. If the meteoroid does not burn up in our atmosphere and hits the earth’s surface, it is called a meteorite.

Me: “Anyway! Let’s go see some stars.”

And during a different discussion about space, Lindell said, with visible, renewed enthusiasm for science, “You mean there are Milky Ways just floating around in space?”

But Ford’s lessons don’t always revolve around astronomy. Sometimes he talks about Star Wars, which is pretend space. There is a difference.

A fun game is to challenge even the most hardcore Star Wars enthusiasts to a battle of wits with Ford. Dustin’s standard warning: “What Ford knows about Star Wars, he didn’t learn from watching the movies.”

People usually laugh. They think we are kidding. Grown men wink as if they are about to let a child fake win. And then Ford will say something like, “There are two characters named ‘Owen’ in Star Wars, and they are not the same person. Who are they?”

Any takers?

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at sarah@sarahsmiley.com.

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