“I think our Chazzie’s gifted,” Beryl said the other day.
We looked over to where he sat working on his homework.
“Charlie?” I asked. “He’s average, right? Middle of the Bell curve.”
“I don’t think so, Mae. He’s off the curve. In the very best way.”
“Whatcha working on, Charlie?” I asked him.
“It’s some kinda formula-thinger,” he said. “Like when you mix stuff, what do you get.”
And he dove right back into his work.
“He’s not,” I whispered to Beryl. “He just works hard. He knows how to apply himself.”
He closed his book when I joined him with my cup of tea.
“All done, sweetie?”
“I’m done with the first part. Now I get to do the extra part.”
“You want help?” I asked.
“Naw,” he said. “I like to do it myself. But can you hang out with me while I do it, and then after can I practice a joke on you?”
“Sure!” I said. “I’d love a joke!”
When Charlie finished his work, he said, “Ok. Joke time. So this goalie walks into a library. He goes up to the librarian and says ‘May I have a cheese burger and fries, please?’ The librarian scratches his head and says, ‘Sir, you are in a library.’ The goalie covers his mouth. ‘Oh, sorry. May I have a cheese burger and fries, please?’ whispers the goalie.”
While I was still chuckling, Charlie ran over to the old chemistry set that Mr. Fennis, the store owner, dropped off.
I watched him work. He maintained intense focus and concentration.
He pulled out a notebook and wrote down notes.
“What are you writing, Charlie?” I asked.
“The formula-thinger,” he said. “In case I want to make this tomorrow. Think it’ll explode?”
It didn’t explode, but it was combustible.
“What did you put in there?”
“Iron!” Charlie shouted.
I had to admit it was really cool.
“Be careful, spud,” I said.
“Yeah, we’re doing aqueous solutions next,” Charlie said. “Nothing combustible about those. You like blue? This is copper.”
“Where’d you learn that stuff?” I asked Charlie. “At school?”
“Sort of,” he replied. “I went to the library. First I asked for a cheeseburger,” he cracked up. “Then I said for reals, ‘Can I get a book about color stuff and chemistry?'”
It was hard for me to believe that this is the same little guy who insists on watching the Freezer Bunny Jump Show with breakfast every morning before school.
How much more is going on inside his mind that I haven’t a clue of?
It hit me then–how much of life happens outside of us. Here is my little boy, not so little anymore, growing up with his own interests, his own discoveries, his own adventures. They’re happening outside of me. There will be so much to him that I never know.
Before bed, Paolo called. “Can o menino come to visit before the bed?”
It was nearly nine.
“I will send him back before the half of the hour,” Paolo said. “He said he had the something to tell to me.”
“You could come here,” I said.
“No,” he replied. “I am making the supper for Jade and Eva. I have the caldo verde on the stove now.”
Charlie was eager to run over to his dad’s.
“Do you want me to come?” I asked.
“No!” said Charlie. “I mean, yeah, if you want to, but for me, no.”
I watched him run across the courtyard until he disappeared down the hill. I imagined him sharing news with his dad. Maybe he was telling him the goalie joke. Or maybe he was describing the color of iron sparks and copper solutions. Or maybe he had his own secrets that a boy wants to tell his father.
While he was gone I felt a pang. Oh, I understand my mother so much more now! When I was growing up, I always wondered why she felt she had a right to my thoughts and feelings. They were mine. What obligation was there to share them with her? Sometimes I would share, and when I did, she lapped up every word greedily. Her eagerness made me less inclined to share the next time. I needed something of my own.
I decided that I wouldn’t ask Charlie what he had wanted to share with his father.
When Charlie came home, he pulled out his violin.
“Can I play before bed?” he asked.
“Of course,” I said.
I sat outside and listened. He played a Mozart violin concerto, and he played it with ease. I knew he’d been studying with someone at school, and he’s been practicing hours every day.
It was as if I were hearing him for the first time. Charlie is no longer my baby: he is an individual, with a curious mind and a full range of talents, ideas, and explorations.
And maybe Beryl is right about him.