Fonticulus Fides

Monday, October 04, 2004

I'm the mommy. Having big dreams for my kids is part of the job description.

So Friday, Zooey brings home an "I Spy" book from the school library. He's looking at the pages contentedly, then brings the book to me. "Mom, can we build this?"

"Build what?"

"This balloon popper."

I turn to look at the book, and all I see is a dizzying arrangement of tinker toys, legos, Brio train pieces, and miscellaneous household objects. "How do you know that's a balloon popper?"

"See, you push the pencil here, and that makes the ball go down here, through the cup to this green thing (a chute), and down into the football helmet, which pulls on this thingy (spool+string pulley) and makes the other football helmet go up, and that makes the...." and step by step, he showed me how the structure would work in 3-D. At the very end, I saw a little slate that said "Balloon Popper" so I thought Zooey must have read that and figured out what the structure did. But when I asked him to read the slate, he had to sound it out. If he would have read it before (or if somebody would have read it to him), he wouldn't have forgotten what it said.

So I quizzed him -- who had told him how the structure worked? Zooey looked at me like I was crazy. "My brain," he said. "Can we build it?"

I told him we could someday, when we had all the parts available.

That was Friday. On Saturday, I realized he was adding and subtracting numbers in his head. The kid is five! On Sunday, my husband was trying to get Zooey to get ready for church instead of lollygagging, and Zooey told him, "I was just thinking about science. Motorcycle science." He wants us to build him a motorcycle laboratory so he can invent a toy motorcycle that kids can ride "which goes even faster."

Faster than what? I don't want to know.

So, my husband and I have come to realize that Zooey has probably inherited the engineering gene. Eeek! My brother is an engineer. My dad is an engineer. My husband's brother is an engineer -- not biologically related, since they're adopted, but still, we know how engineers are. All of them are really smart men. And pretty eccentric.

Part of me wants to thank God that my son might actually have a financially sound future. And do wonderful things for people -- my brother is currently designing water purification systems for Iraq, so folks will have clean drinking water all over that war-torn nation. My brother-in-law is working in automobile safety. My dad...well, in his career, he designed some of the first lightweight plastic telephone housing for AT&T so that if your bedside phone rang in the middle of the night, you didn't give yourself a concussion answering it. He also helped computers get smaller so they will fit on your desk instead of taking up a warehouse. And he fixed the condiment delivery system for McDonald's so that when the overly anxious first-day-on-the-job teen employee squirted ketchup and mustard on your burger, the portion would still be acceptably modest and the condiment "gun" wouldn't backfire into his/her face. Those are all great things to do, and we need the eccentric engineering types who get mesmerized by mechanics to figure them out for us.

Another part of me is thinking, maybe this kid can be balancing our checkbook, fixing our plumbing and changing the oil on our van by the time he's 12 or 13. Hey, I have no qualms that my kid is probably going to be a lot smarter than I am. Good for him.

But I must confess, a big part of me is ruefully wondering why I can't have a normal kid who just wants to be in a rock band or become an Oscar-winning actor or create a new form of modern art or win Pulitzer Prize or even just excel as a chef in a four-star restaurant. And then I slap myself on the forehead and say, "Sparki, you doofus, none of those are 'normal' jobs! Let him be an engineer, if that's what he wants."

I think there was a Saturday Night Live episode like this, wasn't there? The guy comes home and tells his parents he wants to be an accountant or construction worker or something, and they wonder where they've gone wrong that he can't write poetry like his old man.

Huh. It's not every day that you get to live in a sit-com.



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