By: Ted Peterson
Getting older is a major point of discussion around our house. For a few months now, Mikey’s been asking everyone -family members, waiters, homeless people, other children, perfect strangers, “What’s your name?” Now, less delightfully, he’s been asking, “How old are you?”
He can only count up to 20, so any numbers outside that don’t compute. But Mikey asks anyhow.
Mikey understands that some things are for grown-ups and some things are for kids. He understands now more that some things are for kids of a certain age. A super soaker water gun he saw at Target for example is plainly marked “4 and Up.” He recognized that number, and now the toy is an even greater object of desire.
“Remember, I will have that toy when I am four?”
He throws out predictions: “I will swim better … when I am in kindergarten.”
“Maybe I will tie my shoe when I am five?”
He realizes that as he gets older, he gets bigger, and so one of his pronouncements was, “When I am one hundred, I will be so big!”
Our friend Robert Ell’s grandmother Raisa is turning 102 years old, and she joined other Pasadena area centenarians in a video project that debuted at the Pasadena Museum of Art. We were lucky enough to be invited to a private showing. Mikey sat on my lap while we listened to stories of life in the early years of the 20th century and words of wisdom.
“I have all my own teeth, and not in a jar by the side of my bed. And I don’t need glasses for reading,” Corrie Harris, one of the subjects of the project said, and then paused. “And I have given up complaining about my knees. I figure they have done a good enough job, carrying me around for 101 years so far.”
Raisa and her sister went to dinner with us after the party, and Mikey kept us all entertained. Then he attempted his famous Dizzy Gillespie with a mouthful of milk routine.
This has been a regular part of his boundary-pushing behavior for about eighteen months now. He will fill his mouth with milk (or water or juice) and stare at us with big eyes, while we issue dire warnings that he better swallow or face severe repercussions. Finally, he swallows it down and the game is over.
One time about a year ago, we were at a pub in England, and he decided to do it to amuse and delight the locals. As I wagged my finger and told him to be careful, I couldn’t help noticing that his cheeks were wider and more tremulous than usual. He had overfilled them and had not anticipated a cough. He spewed. The locals stared. We wiped up best we could and beat a retreat. Mikey didn’t need much punishment: he was plainly mortified.
He hasn’t had any accidents since then, but we warned him every time he played the game that he better be careful. The odds were that he would slip up again.
And that dinner, it happened for a second time. His eyes bulged, he tried to swallow, and then the milk sprayed.
Most good dads say they would take a bullet for their son. I would, and I probably would even take a shot of milk, but since Mikey was in my way, that wasn’t an option. I angled him to soak his own projectile midflight.
No one was hit but Mikey and the table. Everyone stared, including Mikey, and then Ian, just as silently, picked him up and carried him off.
Raisa chuckled and shook her head as I mopped up the mess. She’d seen it all before.