Jackson’s obsession with trains got us through the fall and most of the winter. We got him his first set of tracks and a few toy subway trains for his birthday back in early October, and then for the holidays he added a few more trains, a cool tunnel, and some more tracks to his collection. It was a very cold, very long, very snowy winter, and on some of the worst days, when we couldn’t go out to play and it was even too difficult to get to a friend’s house for some company, the trains saved us all.
But winter finally (!) gave way to spring and Jack’s focus began to shift from trains to… letters. It started so slowly that I didn’t even recognize the shift. I think Drew was paying more attention than I was because he was the one who suggested we get more letter-related toys and books. My parents had given Jack this alphabet book for Christmas, which Jackson quickly became obsessed with (it remains his “bible” several months later), and, when Drew brought home this book one day, I couldn’t believe it when, the next evening, Jackson started turning the pages, “reading” it out loud with perfect memorization.
“Can you do that again?” I asked when he finished, holding my iPhone up. “I want to record it for Grandma and Grandpa.”
“A is for awesome, B is for bounce, C is for catch, D is for dog…” he said, turning each page as I recorded him.
Soon, Jackson was watching this phonics video on YouTube over and over and over (asking for it immediately when he woke up in the morning and throughout the day). He kept asking for more letters. “More letters!” I quickly ordered him some wooden blocks with letters on them. I showed him how we could line the letters up to spell “Mommy” and “Jackson,” sounding out the letters as we went. One afternoon, I noticed that the name “Gia,” which happens to be the name of one of his friends, was spelled out in blocks on the floor. The next day I asked his babysitter, Mavis, if she was responsible for that, and she said no. Drew said he didn’t do it and I knew I didn’t do it, so I said, “Huh, that’s a funny coincidence,” thinking the letters happened to be organized that way by chance. But Mavis had a different idea. She turned to Jackson and said, “How do you spell Gia?” And he looked at her and said, proudly, “G-I-A!”
There have been lots of moments like that since, where Jackson stuns us with stuff he seems to know out of nowhere or things he asks us about. Where does he pick this up? I wonder. “Did you teach him this?” I ask Drew and Mavis. Sometimes they have. Sometimes it’s just a mystery. I think ahead to when his world is much bigger than what it is now — when he’s in school and has friends whose names I don’t always know. Like most parents, I am both excited and terrified about the things he’ll pick up — the topics he’ll discuss without our supervision, the questions other people will answer because we won’t be there to ask (not that he would necessarily want to ask us), and the things he’ll learn, all the things he’ll learn.
Right now, he is learning the sounds each letter makes and how those sounds go together to make words, and it is one of the coolest, most exciting things I’ve ever experienced. And I know every parent experiences this, but it’s especially thrilling to see your child take interest in something that is interesting to you. Like, trains were fine. But words? Letters? Writing and reading? What will ever compare to experiencing Jackson’s obsession with these things and watching how very proud he is when he sounds out T-A-P and says “Tap!” (He did this on the subway the other day while looking at a poster, and it was all I could do not to jump up and down and start tap dancing and hollering to everyone on that car that my kid just read a word. He read a word! He read it! I mean, he had no idea what “tap” meant, but he read it. The whole world will open for him now).
I can’t wait to see what’s next. What other interests will he have over the course of these formative years? Which ones will stick? Which ones will fade away or become a memory he won’t even recollect?
One of the things I am conscious of as a parent is how easy it is to get carried away in the daydreams I have for and about Jackson or to feel tempted to define him in some way. This has surprised me about myself, but it’s there. Jackson is into letters right now so maybe he’ll be a writer. Jackson is a teeny bit tall for his age, so maybe he’ll be tall like my father. Jackson is this, so maybe he’ll grow up to be that. I have to remind myself that Jackson is going to spend the next many, many years figuring out what he likes and what his passions are and who he is. And these things will likely change a lot. And my job — our job as parents — is simply to support him along the way and to introduce him to new things and nurture interests and curiosities we notice or he expresses, and to try not to get too invested in any particular obsession or trajectory we imagine for him.
And also to refrain from tap dancing on subway cars in front of him. No matter how tempted we might be.