Jul 24, 2015

"Oh the times, they are a-changing"

My 8 year old was ensconced in my lap (I was trying to help him with 'bar models') when I caught a faint but unmistakable whiff from the region of his shoulder.

He doesn't usually suffer my lap but his eyes were swollen with tears of frustration at his math worksheet and he'd accepted some comfort while trying to master himself. I'll dwell on my conflicted thoughts about Common Core 'Singapore' math another time, and only say this: I had to corral my (limited) patience to try and explain why this poorly planned worksheet was important. His logic - that he had done the math perfectly and obviously didn't need the diagramming was sound enough from his position. Trying to get him to see past the Now and explaining that this new math strategy was intended for the more complex problems in his future, was not easy. Mom assigned 'summer homework' carries a hefty weight of resentment all of its own so perhaps this downward mood spiral was inevitable.

Anyway, a little yelling (his), hair-pulling (mine) and deep-breathing (his and mine) later, he'd calmed down enough to see the logic behind 'bar models'. He just hadn't been paying attention to the examples and once focused, could parse even the unclear instructions. He gleefully solved a few more problems I threw at him for practice, thrilling with increasingly intensity at each success. By the time he'd hopped off my lap to go play, I was exhaling with relief that the angst-y 10 minutes hadn't permanently soured him on math or 'summer homework'....when I caught that whiff again.

Anyone wearing so much sunscreen and bug spray (for nature camp) the entire humid day in the woods would brew up a mean sweat. If odor is new to him, it's because little mister of the ringlet curls and button nose might still flash toddler grins but inside his blood chemistry appears to be altering and 'the times...they are a-changing'.

That night I supervised shower and carefully showed him some more rigorous techniques involving bath scrunchie and soap. I also introduced him to the 'sniff test' and that the decision to re-wear a shirt would hinge on its results. Then, because no weighty moment may emerge unscathed by 8 year old humor, he enacted a few scenarios illustrating the effects of BO. A  tolerable impression of a bear dropping in a faint as a sweaty bunny passed by, was followed by the enactment of an overwhelmed bee crashing into a tree thanks to an unwashed dragonfly. Much chatter followed about odor causing bacteria, their colonies, growth patterns and the mechanics of surfactants.

It also led to some decidely Oyon-ish conjectures:
O (towelling his hair dry): Mummum, what happens to the bacteria that my soap kills?
Me: Your soap doesn't necessarily kill them.....it loosens their grip on your skin. I think.
O: But it COULD kill them! And my scrubbing could smush them!
Me: Maybe. Antibacterial soap certainly has poison that can kill bacteria though we don't use it because......
O (interrupting my treatise impatiently): Yeah, but so....what HAPPENS when the bacteria die on my skin?
Me: They fall off your body when you rinse off the soap.
O (walking tight circles on the bathmat as his argument approaches climax): But what if they don't and the alive bacteria eat the dead ones?!! That happens in nature. Ants do it!
Me: Hmm. Not sure if that's how it works with odor causing bacteria.
O (throwing down his towel with a triumphant grin): Yeah but if they do, then washing under my arms actually FEEDS the colony and makes it grow!
Me (suppressing an eye-roll at yet another anti-shower argument): Well then just make sure you rinse well and get rid of them, ok?
O (still stuck in the apparently fascinating world of armpit bacteria): Can we ask Amy if bacteria eat their dead? She grows them in her lab!
Me (giving up and handing over parental responsibilities to Amy...again): Go for it!

Because my Fates couldn't leave me teetering on the verge of feeling over-whelmed without administrating a decisive shove, another momentous exchange followed.
The 'facts of life'.
I'd offered partial explanations the previous 532 times he'd asked but wimped out of the key details, sticking to science (or my garbled understanding of it). This night, refreshed from a shower and inspired by the science of armpit bacteria, he read my online magazine over my shoulder then promptly demanded to know what 'artificial insemination' was.

The pseudo-scientific article I was reading was on preventing congenital disease by genetically combining 3 sets of DNA. There seemed o be no escape from Puberty for me that night so I took a deep breath and asked him what he knew. His version of events, related with casual, confident ease:
"There's an egg in a tube inside the body. When it hatches, the baby swims into a swimming pool and grows big. Then it comes out from the 'Pagina' but sometimes it gets stuck and they need to use a toilet brush to get it out. The kind with a sucker thingie."

Apparently I'd told him all this. It was only fair I should set him straight, so I did.

He took my bare-bones explanation as much in stride as my recent answer about 'where DO babies come out?' Better actually....when I'd told him where exactly babies exit their moms he'd cringed then said matter of factly:  "Thats got to hurt! But hey...at least it's worth it!"

No delusions of grandeur this time butt probably because he had moved right onto the article (which he now kinda understood) and was expounding on the potential for making super-babies by picking the best qualities of each person...leading me to a touch upon Eugenics and the Ethics in science.

Chatting with this child carries the perpetual risk of getting whiplash as well as being humbling...it never ceases to remind me of how little I really know. Once again, I wished he'd brought all this up when his father was nearby to help me field (he was travelling for work).

We both slept soundly that night though heads and hearts were abuzz.

He bounced out of bed in the morning as usual, half-brushed his teeth then gave himself away with a guilty smile when I asked (and went up to re-brush) then proceeded to munch on a peach with morning cartoons. I did a discreet sniff test when hugging him goodbye for another sweaty day at camp.

My boy was still as sweet as ever.

Oyon-isms (8+):
An article I'm reading on genetically engineering babies to prevent congenital disease leads to questions about congenital traits and the role of DNA. I barely understand this stuff but explain its  just that traits pass down to people from their biological parents/ancestors.
O: Like what?
Me: Well, your eyes are shaped just like Baba's and HIS are shaped just like his mothers.
O: Wait, so I got Thammi's DNA too?
Me: Yup. And her ancestors and their ancestors and so on going back, back, back.
O: And I have yours too?
Me: Sure you do.
O: Like?
Me: Like....your fingers are long just like mine though it might not be all mine....you know, fingers are just fingers after all. Did you know though that genetic traits aren't just physical? They affect your personality too. Like how you like to make up stories for instance....
O (excitedly): Oh, I KNOW that's Dadu's DNA!
Oyon's paternal grandfather - his Dadu - was an immensely talented litterateur
Me: Quite possibly. But not everything is from DNA, you know. Plenty of kids who don't have famous writer-grandpas tell wonderful stories too. The cool thing is, some parts of you are from my gene pool and some parts are from your Baba's but there are other huge chunks that are all YOU. You are uniquely yourself too.
O (silently lost in thought for a little while): Mummum, when you went to school, when you were a kid...did you have a bookbag with shoulder straps?
Me (a bit thrown at the topic change): Um, yes.
O (demonstrating): And did you like to hold the straps and push them out like this?
Me: Probably. Many kids do that.
O (triumphantly): Bet I get that from you!

That night when his understandably crowded head wouldn't let him fall asleep, I lay down next to him and counted softly in his ear. I whispered predictable, familiar, gently swelling numbers to him until he gave in to the rhythm and let it carry him away.

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