Flash in the Pan
A Quarterly Posting at Tiny Lights
Six, Or Possibly Seven
by Dan Coshnear
My son, age six, rarely does what he is told, so when I said, "Repeat after me, 'Death is the mother of beauty,'" I was surprised he did. "What does it mean?" he said.
"You say it when you see the leaves of the maple and the persimmon, turning as they are, beside each other."
"You say it when someone says, "'Your face is changing with the new teeth coming in.'"
"You say it when no one hits you, yet you feel an ache." I pointed to his solar plexus. He put his hand there.
It surprised me when he said, "Death is the mother of beauty," to the yard duty and at his aunt's wedding. He said it upon meeting his piano instructor. Sure, it got a reaction, drop of jaw, arch of eyebrows; but he also said it every night before bed. I can't know what it really meant to him. Only weeks before he'd peppered his vocabulary with 'jackass' because I think he thought it was highly naughty. And because some words like a book of matches get people's attention quickly. Matches, however, I can take away. Matches I can hide. Unpleasant expressions, I've found, are best ignored.
At first I laughed when I heard him say "Death is the mother of beauty." Gradually my amusement turned to mild irritation. Now I'm troubled. He's taken it on like a prayer, or a battle cry, some strange kind of fortification.
Notably, at bed time, he no longer asks me to leave the light on. Nor does he squeeze my neck to prohibit my leaving after our story and good night kiss.
My daughter is thirteen. When she was six I tried to train her to say, "That's understandable," because it seemed a funny expression to come from a little girl with round cheeks. She, of course, couldn't see the humor in it and she wouldn't play along. But, it was at six, or possibly seven, she became morbidly preoccupied. That was my interpretation. My wife never agreed. We did agree she seemed frightened. She cried when I left for work at night and when her mother left for work in the morning. She wanted to know where we were at all times. Around the same time, she panicked whenever she was required to make a decision. It all lasted about two weeks.
I'm no intellectual, but I dabble in the great books. My mind, like a bird in heavy wind, occasionally finds a perch. Much of Wallace Stevens left me blank, but in the midst of "Sunday Morning," I thought, wow, I get it. When Wordsworth wrote, "The child is father of the man," I thought, okay, how's that supposed to work? Then, reading Freud, I came to understand that our personalities are largely formed by age six.
Could my son be mourning the loss of his possibility? Does he see in it some terrible beauty? Or, am I, once again, putting words in his mouth?
Dan Coshnear thoughtfully writes and cautiously parents in Geurneville, CA.
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