One of the wonderful things about this two-kid thing is the opportunity to see how unique we all are, how very much we bring into the world to begin with. Â A common roof and the same caregivers can confer many similarities, but only to a point. Â We are who we are. Â Or maybe were. Â Or maybe, always have been. Â If one’s own sibling relationships don’t clarify this, one’s kids will. Â If one has a pair or more.
Our boychild is now over three years old, and with each passing month his personality shimmers forth with greater and greater brilliance. He adores his sister, plays into her humor, apes — for now — many of her tastes, eagerly looks to master/co-opt what she’s up to. Â But I don’t think I am jumping the gun here when I say that he is following in his mother’s family’s grand tradition in one particular trait demonstrated Â only modestly by his older sister. Â By this I mean that he is, like his mother and her mother and father before him, an A#1, top-of-the-line, dyed-in-the-wool, unreconstructed drama queen.
When I say my in-laws are drama queens I mean that quite literally. Â Regular readers of this blog will know that the mother of my children is a youth musical theater director (among many other things); she began her professional theater life right around the time she was getting her first permanent teeth. Â Both her parents have spent their entire working lives in the theater: mother a grande dame playwright/director, father an actor/composer who came out as an even grander dame when the beloved was in about second grade. Â I like to think of them as the Barrymores of the Great Upper Midwest. Only with a lot more pot, many more beaded curtains, and a Bertolt Brecht-meets-Valerie Solanas urge to Ã©pater le bourgeois.
By the time I met him, twenty some-odd years later, the beloved’s dad was ascot-wearing, murse-toting, and proud. Â I believe he is constitutionally incapable of delivering any line, even the most quotidien — “Pass the butter?” “Did you get the phone message?” — with anything less than Shakespearean, stentorian flair. Â Goddess love him. The kids eat him up like candy whenever he comes for an extended stay.
So, back to the lil’ peanut. Setting aside for the moment the moderating effects of environment (ahem), his gene pool endows him with all sorts of potential, both physiological and psychological, from both sides. Â I’ve had the pleasure of knowing the man we call our kids’ Special Uncle — their paternal gene pool guy — since the mid- 1990s, and feel well enough acquainted with his talents and temperament to say that “drama queen” would not be the first descriptor that would spring to mind when one thinks of him. Â Nor the twentieth. “Soft spoken, gentle, good-humored geek” more like. Â “Understated braniac,” certainly. Â “Irrepressible imp” under the right circumstances, maybe. Just not, perhaps not even ever, “drama queen.”
So what makes me think the boy child is tilting toward the storied familial tradition of his ma? Â It’s not just that our boy memorizes and belts every line from every musical he hears — and he hears a lot — or that he sits, rapt, in any theater, for lengths of time that often exceed the capacities of the grown-ups around him. Â This goes double for rehearsals. With his sister, he puts on shows almost nightly, either before or after dinner or both. Â Their weekly care from their playwright/director grandma may be abetting this.
But the other day he turned a corner. Showed us what he really has. Â Gave us a sneak preview of what will keep the audiences coming back, night after night, to watch to him read from the phone book, the IRS code, you name it. Â It took us both by surprise.
He had asked me earlier in the day whether some day we could visit Miguel and Zeca (yes! that Miguel and Zeca!), and I said “I hope so, honey! Might not be for a while, but I’d love to!” Â Their mamas are old chums of mine, and next we haul our family unit out to the Twin Cities, an extended stay in their home is on the docket. With or without warning to them, by the way. Â The boychild’s request didn’t come totally out of the blue. Â Periodically we review one of Miguel and Zeca’s greatest vids, to the point where I think every time my kids see the state of Oklahoma on a map, they begin to hear Miguel’s sonorous boy soprano.
Earlier that day the lil’ peanut had been playing with a puzzle of the United States, dispatching all the states (including OK) with zeal. Â Multiple times. Later in the afternoon, when his ma came home from work, he said to her, “Mama! We’re going to visit Miguel and Zeca!” To which she said, “Oh, honey, I don’t think so. Certainly not today.” She may as well have throttled to death his favorite stuffed animal directly in front of his face.
His reaction was immediate. Â He yelled, “No, no, no, no!” and faux-swatted at her. She engaged him and — as I was hastily explaining the discrepancy between what he might have expected and what she had just shared — Â she encouraged him to continue to express his feelings, but without being physical with her. Â He stared in her face, wrinkled up his mouth into a pout, teared up, and thrust his arms forward, which she caught and held. Â They went back and forth for a little while, like they were on a see-saw. Â She, filled with gentle compassion, he, mute from the bitter sting of betrayal and brimming with pint-sized umbrage.
He continued to well up, but not burst into tears. “It’s okay if you need to cry, honey,” she said. “It’s alright to cry.” Fortunately she checked what I’m sure was the urge to launch into the Free to Be You and Me tune of the same name. Â But he said, “No! No talking!” And then he pushed away from her, flopped face down, and prostrated himself on the kitchen floor. Â Thereafter he proceeded to scootch himself, forhead plastered the whole time, backwards about five feet, and then forwards another ten. Tiny grunts accompanying each scootch. Â Really, it was no mean feat. Â I mean, he kept his body pinned the whole time.
The beloved and I met eyes mid-scootch, and valiantly stuffed the mirth back. Â Nary a snicker. Maybe a twinkle, though.
When he reached the door of the room he shares with his sister, he drew himself up somberly, opened the door, entered, and slammed it behind him. After some minutes, the beloved checked to see that he was okay. Â He looked up at her and said, “No! I want to be alone! I’m reading!” Which he was. Those last two preferences he does share with his sister (alone! reading!). Â I just think his sister is not likely to be found behindÂ Stanislavski for the Tot Set.
Margo Channing gets the last word.