Not long ago, I took my three-year-old son to the doctor. I was reading to him in the waiting room when an old man and his wife sat on the couch directly opposite ours—the only seats that weren’t occupied on that busy morning. The man introduced himself, and we began chatting. As we spoke, I noticed Conner staring curiously at his wife, who was wearing a patch over her left eye.
I continued my conversation and Conner continued glaring at the woman. Finally, after what must have been two full minutes of examination, he spoke up.
“Are you a pirate?”
“What did he say?” the woman asked me.
I’m rarely without words, but I was not going to tell her that my son thought she was a pirate. So I said nothing.
Conner, however, heard her question and filled the awkward silence by loudly repeating his question.
“I saaaaid: Are you a pirate?”
This time she looked to her husband. “What’s he saying?”
His hearing was apparently only a little better. “He wants to know if you’re a parrot.”
These kinds of things happen all the time. Conner has no filter. He tells you what he sees and says exactly what comes to his little mind.
At a recent gathering with family friends, Conner engaged an elderly woman in conversation and at some point said something funny. The woman let out an ear-splitting cackle. Conner was clearly startled, and the expression on his face became serious.
“Are you a witch?”
Like the pirate, the witch was hard of hearing. But even if she’d heard him, I suspect she might have laughed along with us.
What’s more difficult is when Conner makes matter-of-fact observations that reflect exactly what I’m thinking but would never say aloud.
Two hours after his younger sister was born, I took Conner and his older sister, Grace, to the hospital cafeteria. We were soon joined at our long table by a gaggle of women in scrubs, the friendliest of whom was also the largest. She asked Conner what he was doing at the hospital.
“My mommy just had a baby,” he said. They chatted a bit about the baby’s name and the “Super Brother” cape he was wearing (a brilliant brainstorm of his mother’s). Suddenly, Conner seemed to stop paying attention to what she was saying. His eyes shifted from her face to her round stomach. I knew what was coming.
“When are you having your baby?”
Her colleagues looked down and started picking at their food. She looked to me for an explanation. Seriously, what do you say in that situation? I managed a sympathetic smile meant to remind her that kids really do say the darnedest things.
“He says that to everyone,” I told her, as if he would have made the same comment to Kate Moss.
He told our neighbor’s 30-year-old daughter that he likes her “nipples” (by which he means breasts). He told a man at the grocery meat counter: “You have a faaaat tummy!” At a crowded restaurant last week, he pointed to a young man wearing a tank top and yelled: “Why is that guy wearing a ladies’ shirt?”
Sister Grace tries to be helpful. “We need to read him the chapter on tact from E is for Ethics,” a book they were given by their grandparents.
My wife and I tell ourselves that all of this is innocent, not meant to make mischief. Conner is a sensitive soul. He just talks a lot. He doesn’t seem to understand when we explain that it’s impolite to say these things aloud. At his morning preschool, he serves as a one-man welcoming committee. In his year-end report card, Conner’s teacher noted that he “is very comfortable expressing himself verbally” and often makes “unique observations of the world.” (This is not always a bad thing. She also wrote: “Conner enjoys using the chalkboard and will often narrate what he is drawing, usually pictures of his dad and his strong muscles.”)
And, after all, any parents of young children can tell similar stories. One friend told me that his son, upon seeing a woman with a large belly, shouted: “She had a huuuuge lunch!”
But then the other day my wife pulled into a gas station and was helped by two attendants. One of them was losing his hair, something Conner pointed out. “You are very bald.” The non-bald attendant roared with laughter.
My wife, horrified, explained to Conner that it’s impolite to make such observations and told him to apologize. And so he did.
“I’m sorry, … bald sir!”
Stephen F. Hayes