As toddlers grow, and stirrings within prompt them to share their inner worlds with those they trust and love, they reach for language, sometimes inventing a syntax and vocabulary to circumscribe their wild feelings. The more Cathy Tea listened to her son Rocket’s tales, the more she wondered at him. He was so different from her other children, Sparkroot and Florinda. They talked of flowers and monsters and space and trees and pirates and princes and faraway lands and tigers.
Rocket talked of love and monsters.
While the older kids were at school, she often took a book outside to be near him while he played. Every morning after snack and milky-tea with honey, he found his way to the dollhouse.
“You break my heart,” he said. “I love you–You don’t love me–I do. You break my heart–You mine. You hero. Marry me, Rose. Ring. Take ring.”
“What are you playing?” she asked him
“True love,” he said. “Ama and Ada. Hate you. Love me. Love heart. Kiss-kiss.”
“Is it fun?” she asked him.
“Yes. Much,” he said. “She loves him. He loves her. He leaves. He cries. She happy.”
Later that day, while they sat inside for afternoon story, she asked him, “Do you think all mommies and daddies live separately?”
“No,” he said. “Only when love break heart.”
“Do you think my heart is broken?” she asked him.
“No,” he said. “Ada.”
“Mmm,” she replied. “I don’t think your ada’s heart is broken.”
“Is,” he said. “He like it. He break it. Read story.”
She read about a cat and a bunny.
“He love her,” Rocket said. “Bunny ask cat, ‘Marry me?’ Cat say, ‘Meow, poo-poo.’ That mean no. Bunny break heart. True love.”
“Sometimes, true love means being together,” Cathy said. “Like Semperviren’s parents. Or her uncles. Like me living with you and Sparkie and Flor!”
“Ada break heart,” Rocket said. “That true love.”
For such a young child, he loved to talk. Sparkroot and Florinda spent hours chatting with him about their interests and his. When they brought friends home from school, Rocket hopped over to chat with them, too.
“Tell me monsters,” Cathy overheard him ask Mario Behr one day while she was watering the plants in the upstairs den where the boys sat together on the sofa.
“I can’t,” Mario said. “You’re too little.”
“Not,” said Rocket. “I Monster Master.”
“Ok,” said Mario. “In that case, you must remember the time when all the zombies came out of the ground, and it was all foggy, like weird spooky cold, and they were saying all together, ‘Errrr, gahhhh, braiiins….'”
“And then you jumped out and you said, ‘Back in the ground, zombie-doo-doos!’ And they all went back to the ground!”
“Yay!” shouted Rocket. “Zombie ground, doo-doo!”
“Did you like that story?” Mario asked.
“Very much,” said Rocket. “I told you I not scared. I Zombie Master. I know kung fu.”
Cathy guessed that Mario would tell all the kids at school about Sparkroot and Florinda’s baby brother and his mysterious monster-taming martial arts. He was that impressed.
A few days later, when Pierce Carey stopped by after school, Cathy heard him say to Florinda, “I don’t believe it. Not for a second. In the first place, there’s no such thing as monsters or zombies. Mud dragons, maybe. But even with them, kung fu doesn’t work. And even if it did, you’d have to be big. Like at least a fourth-grader. Otherwise. Squish. You’re mud dirt.”
Florinda looked at him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.
“Do I have to spell it out for you?” Pierce asked. “Your brother is not a monster killer. He’s a baby.”
Cathy thought she might ask her youngest son about monsters, taming them, and martial arts. She hadn’t even realized that he knew what kung fu was. What kind of movies did his ada let him watch?
While she was paying bills at the computer in the foyer outside the parlor, she heard Sparkroot laugh.
“You got them all scared now, Rocky!” he said.
“Who scared?” asked Rocket.
“The kids at school! They believed Mario about your super zombie-fighting powers!”
“That good,” said Rocket. “Zombie first. Then tigey-tooths.”
Sparkroot laughed. ” I guess we’re safe then!”
“That right,” said Rocket.