Litterally

by jkatejohnston

11 August 2013

Dear Max,

This morning on the phone Teresa told me that Enzo made some remark about Duncan and then added, “—literally.” He looked at her expectantly. “Get it?” She didn’t. “Litter!” And then she did. Kitty litter! Litter-ally! He is now litter-ally wittier than we are.

This whole play on words thing is big with him right now. It seems significant, like he’s crossed to the other side of something. Like I remember when he first learned to be embarrassed. Babies aren’t embarrassed. Kids have to learn it. If they don’t, they become terrifying and dangerous grownups. But almost all of them do learn it. And I remember Enzo lying on his back in the bath, crying silently and sort of intently, tear after tear slipping into the water, and whispering over and over, “I’m embarrassed. I’m so embarrassed.” It had to do with his Wee One’s arm being ripped off at school in some way that we still don’t understand.

Anyway, the play on words thing seems like a late stage of learning to talk. He’s finally adept enough to play with it. It’s another reason I’m glad his school doesn’t teach reading and writing until the kids are at least seven and not even much then. (It’s a public school too. They just brazen out the bad test score in the younger grades.) When Enzo starts writing I want him to be able to play with it. By play I don’t mean make jokes or dorky puns, though that’s wonderful when it happens. I mean enough slack in the line that surprising things can happen. You can move this way or that. Do a good back flip.

The whole problem of writing is how do you make it into something someone can read—how do you tighten it up—without taking the play out of it? And how do you keep it close to ordinary talk? Because that’s where all the life is.

*

Because Teresa and Enzo have the car, I’m pretty sure the rock stars think we’re all on vacation, so they’ve been practicing louder than usual. They practice every night, and they’re good, and we hear them all the time and don’t mind. So it’s familiar, but a bit louder. They play for a while, stop, work on something, go on. I like being around that steady work. It keeps me company when I’m here alone.

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