“My cat died today and she’s in the ground turning into dirt!” Lachlan announced proudly at the cafe. He knelt on the chair; his green-grey eyes wide, rimmed with long dark lashes.
“Really?” The barista arched her eyebrows and she attempted to control her lips in a tight line, but her mouth was flickering at the corners. Her eyes flashed playfully. We smiled.
A few hours earlier, we buried our pet. Lachlan was in his gumboots helping compact the loose soil. “Why are you crying?” he asked. “Why did she die?” He overflowed with questions.
I tried to explain it simply and truthfully: “Her body wore out and stopped working. Yes, we all will die someday.”
He accepted it, matter-of-factly. He was three years old, but his mind seemed older.
When he was a newborn, I visited the osteopath to correct my twisted tailbone after birth. Lachlan sat in his baby capsule wearing his soft cotton hat with an embroidered bee. He scanned the room, bright and alert. The osteopath commented, “He looks like a wise old man, observing the world. It’s like he knows everything already.”
I decided to teach him baby sign language. A critical relative scoffed, insisting he would not learn to talk. But I think it helped him talk earlier. He recognised early on that he could signal to us what he needed, without us having to guess, saving us all frustration. Once when he was around six months old, he was distressed and we couldn’t settle him. We realised he was signing ‘milk’. He wanted more milk. We found a way to communicate and he was keen to learn more signs.
Even the dog started learning the signs. While teaching the signs for ‘eat’ and ‘car’, the dog pricked up his ears and sat up straight and attentive. I found it amusing, that at that point in time, my son had roughly the same intelligence as the dog.
Words and sentences soon flowed clearly and articulately. Sophisticated language for a child so young. He expressed his opinion openly. When he was two, his father took him to the supermarket. He announced in a loud voice: “Daddy, that man has a smelly bum!”
Another time, he proclaimed: “That man is rude! He has a bare bum!” pointing to the Greek statue perched on the cheese stand. Customers stifled giggles with their hands over their mouths.
Sometimes his direct honesty nearly got him into trouble. We were watching an overweight boy practising his boxing. “That boy is so FAT!” he exclaimed. I took him aside and pointed out, yes that is true, but it is probably not a good idea to say it out loud, especially seeing the boy is wearing boxing gloves and could pack a good punch.
He sees the world through honest and innocent eyes and state things as he sees them. He is not yet contaminated by political correctness gone mad and deception of adults. Adults are complicated beings. Adults have so much to learn from children.
Lachlan has a boldness that I didn’t possess at his age. He was four when we visited Sydney. He thrived on the stimulation of the big city, and was fascinated with the fast trains and swarms of people buzzing around. Lachlan’s dad and I were discussing if we should ask directions to the monorail. Lachlan stepped in front of two women and commanded their attention.
“Excuse me? Can you please tell us which way to the monorail?” The women seemed impressed at this confident young man, and proceeded to give him directions. Lachlan thanked the women and we went on our way.
Lachlan is developing his own logic. We saw the rare sight of a rainbow lorikeet flattened on the road. “That lori should have used his head to push the button at the crossing, and then he wouldn’t have got squashed”. Another time, we took some peas out to thaw for his pet blue-tongued lizard. “When a pea is frozen, it’s called a snow pea,” he said seriously.
Lachlan loves being read to. He also loves telling stories, often regurgitating dialogues he has heard from books or children’s DVDs. He is fascinated with trains and likes Thomas the Tank Engine. We visited the railway museum. The tour-guide pointed to the front of a stream train and asked if anyone knew what the plough-like protrusion was called.
“That’s a cow-catcher.”
“Correct. How did you know that? Did your mum tell you?”
“Toby has side-plates and cow-catchers.”
We took Lachlan for a ride on a real steam train. Sweet smelling smoke wafted inside the carriage with black flecks of incompletely combusted coal. “The smoke smells sweet because the coal has juice in it,” Lachlan stated scientifically.
Lachlan was helping Dad put up the tent. “Real men don’t need instructions.” The tent started taking shape. “Now we’re cooking with gas.” Phrases he’s heard his dad say on occasion in a different setting. Soon, Lachlan and his friend Jordan were chasing bush turkeys. They stopped to pee on a tree by the tent.
“You’ve got a big willy,” said Jordan.
“Yeah, my diddle is bigger than yours,” agreed Lachlan. I didn’t know four-year olds compared penis size.
My darling boy with the long skinny legs and long narrow feet is now five. Today, we sat down at a table at Muffin Break.
“Don’t let mum see inside that bag,” his dad instructed him and went to fetch food.
“Dad bought something for you and something for himself.”
“He’s not good at keeping secrets,” I informed his dad when he returned.
“But I didn’t tell her that we bought her a DVD!”
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem