Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Sixth Sense

My daughter asked me the other day if I have eyes in the back of my head. Of course, I answered in the affirmative. Why allow her to think otherwise? Then I sat and thought about it and realized the obvious truth, she really does have no idea how easy it is to use my basic senses (we’ll leave out taste since I have no intention of eating my young anytime soon) to be a good (or at least moderately successful) parent.

Sound It is a mystery to my child that I can tell when she has not flushed the toilet or washed her hands. She is amazed when I tell her to sit back down at the kitchen table when I am in another room. My ability to suss out when her brother hasn’t taken his shoes off, or when he has stopped eating his dinner, or when she has left her bedroom without permission is practically epic in her eyes. And they are all such easy tricks. Bathroom fixtures and moving chairs make noise. The boys’ shoes have bells on them - he’s practically a walking musical instrument. He sings when he should be eating (as does she), so the only time the dinner hour is actually silent is when they are stuffing their faces. I have a chain of bells on her bedroom room (DYI motion detectors), plus the door itself sticks a bit, so she has to heave-ho her little body into the frame to get it open. This is not a quiet procedure. And yet, she is always amazed when I yell up the stairs for her to flush, wash, and get back into bed. She’s not deaf. I assure you, the child will pick out the one word in a sentence that you don’t want her to hear – from two rooms away, with the TV on – even if you say it under your breath and/or using sign language. But the average every day sounds of daily living are not pertinent to her, so they become just so much background static.

Sight My children seem to think they have the gift of invisibility. Hide under the covers, and no matter how big the lump, how loud the giggling, and how often this hiding place is chosen, they will shriek with surprise when they are found. My daughter once sent her brother on a top secret mission to get Goldfish from the kitchen. To do so, he had to walk past me in the dining room. He waved. He also, as noted above, jingled. Plan thwarted. However, she really did think that if he just walked quietly enough, I wouldn’t notice. My children are also terrible liars (a skill upon which I do not want them to improve). Ask my daughter a question and she either tells the truth or umms herself into trouble. No imagination equals a complete inability to manufacture a lie. Thus, my ability to simply look at her and tell what she is planning to do or what she just did is no harder than glancing at ESPN for a sports score.

Smell My son has a habit of denying his bowel movements. No amount of sewage smell emanating from his general direction like a real-life Pigpen will convince him that I can tell when he’s pooped. I have often walked into his room after nap to find that the air has a toxic quality comparable to a low-grade fertilizer factory – and yet there he is, breathing it all in and entirely bewildered by my retching noises. It must be some sort of built-in survival mechanism.

Touch I can heal the sick with just the touch of my hands. Didn’t know I possessed that little trick, eh? It’s magic! In reality, it is simply the strong belief by the little people in my life that if I kiss it, it will get better. No matter what the ailment, real or imaginary, I can heal it instantly. It’s a pretty neat skill and probably the most fun one to have.

Umami I have always understood this sense to mean sort of the distillation of all the senses. It is essence of what you are experiencing. For example, when eating a mushroom, you would be able to smell the forest and the earth in which it was grown while simultaneously enjoying the sight of the food and the texture of it. I could be wrong. I watch a lot of cooking shows, but until they come in Smell-O-Vision, I am taking my best guess. With kids, I think this occurs in the exact moment before the crying starts, before something falls, before something burns, and before the fever actually starts. It is the whisper in the air that wakes us up to tell us something is wrong just moments the shit really hits the fan. Everyone has it – but with parents, we can focus it with pinpoint precision on our children’s daily existence.

One day in the far, far, far distant future (after they have achieved college degrees, matrimony, and financial, emotional, and personal stability of course), my kids will have kids. And they will learn all the little tricks of the trade that come with that duty. But until then, I much prefer for my kids to think that I can see through walls and read their souls in a glance. It keeps them on their toes. Learning right from wrong is important, but learning how not to get caught, well, that is something else entirely.

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