I’ve got five-year-olds figured out. When they hit us with whining, histrionics, and petty stubbornness, it’s all a bluff to lower our expectations of their sophistication. Secretly, those little sponges of knowledge are picking up every tiny bit of data and storing it away to use to their advantage.
Sometimes, though, they get too full of information to keep the secret. Then, they have to let out some of what they know. The more these moments amaze us, the better the whining ploy has worked.
In the space of 24 hours, my son did great damage to his carefully-built façade.
We were in the car, listening to some of my old people music (not my super old people big bands; my moderately old people 1970s) when The Hustle came on. Hearing “Do the Hustle,” the boy wanted to know what that was.
“It’s a dance where everybody gets in a row and all do the same things, like spin around and clap their hands,” I told him.
“Oh! Is it like a conga line?”
Huh? What kind of birthday parties are these kids having? At least he hasn’t come home wearing a lamp shade on his head.
The next day, as he was puttering around the house, I heard him humming Pomp and Circumstance.
“Where did you learn that song?” I asked.
“At preschool graduation.”
Preschool graduation was 10 months ago. And it’s not like we’ve been watching the video of it all that time – or ever, since the day after graduation. Also, Pomp and Circumstance is not one of Daddy’s old people songs.
Recalling how he figured out the basic melody of Carol of the Bells on the keyboard, I told him, “You’re pretty good at music. Would you like to learn an instrument?”
“I don’t know.”
“What instrument would you play? Trumpet?”
“No. I hate woodwinds.”
Right. I didn’t know what a woodwind was until I was in ninth grade, and had already spent two years in the school band.
“What’s a woodwind?” I asked.
“An instrument that has a wood piece where you blow.”
“What’s the wood part called?
“I don’t know.”
“I’ll give you a hint. It sounds like the same word as what you do when you open a book.”
“It sounds like look at the pictures?”
Later, he asked, “Daddy, can we make a German flag that looks like the American flag?”
“That wouldn’t be much of a German flag.”
“Okay then, can we make the flag of Greece?”
“I’m busy right now, but you can make it.”
He got a blue crayon and made a paper flag of Greece. “Daddy, can you find me a stick to put my flag on?” he asked.
“I’ll have to look for one.”
He pointed through the window at the ravages of winter in the back yard. “You can get one from nature if you want.”
This kid just put a big dent in his cover story. He’ll have to demonstrate great petulance to repair it. In this too, he is equal to the task.