I wish I could see life through my son’s eyes.
In his infancy we placed him on a colorful playmat with overhead toys. I shoved my face inside to feel what it was like.
I’ve positioned my head at his level in the carseat to figure out how much he sees as we drive (more than I expected). I’ve checked the view of a ceiling fan from the floor below (a steady circular motion, not the swoop-swoop-swooping oval from adult height). I’ve crouched to look straight up into the lighted mobile above his swing (brighter, more colorful than apparent from anywhere but the seat).
I’ve even used the excuse of “retrieving my son” to crawl through the multi-storied plastic gym at Chick-Fil-A (hey, they didn’t have those things when I grew up).
Occasionally I find myself echoing my own father, and the weird role-reversal of generational reverb dizzies me.
In my son’s world, objects glow and talk and move, and let you interact by pushing buttons. He takes these for granted; they simply exist, as trees and rocks exist. I remember when my father brought home his first calculator, a gizmo the size of a paperback that plugged into the wall. It had stiff little buttons and a miniature display of red light, where the unlit strokes of all digits distracted in the background. I was in first grade and knew how to add and subtract, so when my father demonstrated that punching buttons on a box could tell you what had taken an entire unit to learn in school, it seemed nothing short of miraculous. Had this screen expanded into a full-color scene of Big Bird telling me to click on items that begin with the letter P, I might’ve fainted.
When I point out far-off curiosities – helicopters, moon, stars – I scrutinize the direction of my son’s gaze, the emotion on his face, to determine whether he actually spots them. Early in a child’s life, pointing is meaningless; a father might as well flap his wings like a chicken. Successfully indicating distant objects without the benefit of language is one of the first parent-child breakthroughs.
But when his Nonnie gifted him with a subscription to a 3D dinosaur magazine, my efforts to crawl into my son’s mind were stymied.
I fussed with the red and cyan glasses, too large for his face, attempting to align them just so. I held the magazine at what I estimated to be a good angle in what I estimated to be good lighting. He squirmed, fidgeted; the glasses slipped. Was he getting the effect? No way to tell. Even if he was, he lacked the vocabulary to let me know.
It reminded me of those Magic Eye stereograms everyone swore contained 3D images. No, I couldn’t see the grasshopper, because there was no grasshopper! No matter how my friends explained the effect, they couldn’t get into my head to make me see what they were seeing. How much harder to explain 3D to a two-year-old: “Now son, if you just keep looking, trust me, the picture will sort of pop out at you.” Fruitless.
By the fifth or sixth page he started waving an arm in front of him, at the magazine. Bored, I supposed. Brushing it aside.
Then I realized what his outstretched fingers were doing: exploring. Touching, retracting. Passing through the space of a dinosaur that somehow wasn’t there.
He was getting it.