I don’t really like my son’s friends. Not at all. I don’t like their music or their lack of manners. Still, I relented when he asked if he could just take one more ride with them before coming in to dinner.
I definitely didn’t want him to give them rides. Yet, I sighed and stood there, watching my 5-year-old boy hold his friends tight in his lap, taking them one at a time down the slide. He laughed, and I was glad for his joy. One by one, they slid.
All 27 of his friends.
All 27 cicadas currently residing in his bug house.
And, for the record, I hate bugs.
But it’s not about me.
Let me back up.
In the final months of my wife’s pregnancy, my excitement began to grow. I was nervous to be a father — all right, make that terrified — and, at the time, had absolutely no plans to be a stay-at-home dad — my current profession. Yet, beyond the newness and the normal life-shattering “let’s flip the entire world upside down and never see the universe the same way again” stuff that everyone deals with, my growing excitement centered around another factor.
You see, this soon-to-be kid was going to be a “little me.” This was someone I could share my nerdiness with, right from the beginning of his life. I just knew my son was going to love everything I loved. I bottle fed him in front of anime shows. He took his first steps to the Star Wars soundtracks. And one of his earliest complete sentences was “You … shall not … pass!”
Where our interests part
However, as he grew, something funny began to happen. My son wasn’t a little me. He was a little “him.” He had a huge, almost stereotypical boy-interest in trucks. Why is he so interested in trucks? How can he go from an adorable Lord of the Rings sentence to walking around saying “What’s that truck?” — which, due to his developing vocal patterns sure sounded an awful lot like, um, something less age appropriate. I tried to encourage him, though. I don’t like trucks, but I started getting books about trucks, drawing pictures of trucks and learning with him.
When trucks went out, and dinosaurs came in, I learned more than I thought possible about the beasts. I swear, when I was a kid there were only five species of dinosaurs. (Yeah, I’m old. Pluto used to be a planet, too.) It wasn’t until we were eating with another family and my son took out his toys that I truly realized what I’d learned. “Nice triceratops,” said my friend. “Um, that’s clearly a styracosaurus,” I instantly replied. It was. My son smiled. And I smiled.
You see, it doesn’t matter what I like. Or what I’m interested in. Maybe he’ll get into that nerdy stuff later on, maybe not. It’s not about me, it’s about him.
We took a single vacation during the pandemic. Before vaccinations or re-openings or the world feeling close to sane, we traveled to Rehoboth Beach, Del., during the coldest week of winter. We stayed in a virtually abandoned vacation community, right on the water, and were the only people on the beach. After months of struggling through Zoom Pre-K, I saw a spark ignite. I saw my son become interested in things he had never cared about. We darted shell to shell, marveling at mussels and the washed-up bodies of horseshoe crabs. Thanks to my friend, Google, (note: Google Lens on the phone is a lifesaver) I learned that horseshoe crabs aren’t crabs at all. Who knew?
New interests, new knowledge
And did it work? Is he learning?
Well, here’s our bedtime conversation last night:
Me: I’m so proud of all the growth you’ve shown. You’re done with Pre-K, and you’ve learned so much. You’re growing up fast.
Kid: Well, you taught me a lot.
Me: I appreciate that, but I’m still very proud of you.
Kid: I am pretty grown up. I’ll be a daddy like you soon, and then I’ll have 15 kids … no, probably 9,000 kids.
Me: Nine thousand, huh?
Kid: Yup. I think I might need a wife first.
Me: Might help.
Kid: I grow up fast, though. I mean I don’t know everything like you. I don’t even know what’s in the deep.
Me: The deep?
Kid: You know … the deepest part of the ocean. The midnight zone. I don’t really know what’s there.
Me: Yeah, well, I think you already know more than me about that. You know, ever since the beach —
Kid: Oh, sure I know about hydrothermal vents, yeti crabs, gulper eels, anglerfish, [continues naming like a hundred other things for five minutes] … but I definitely don’t know everything. What am I gonna teach my 9,000 kids?
Me: I’m sure you’ll think of something.
And that brings me back to today. The truth is that dinos and the ocean were easy. I knew nothing about them, but it’s easy to encourage something you don’t mind. But bugs … bugs are gross. Here in the Mid-Atlantic there’s a perpetual scream, roughly 10 billion decibels loud. It’s the so-called Brood X cicadas. (I’m pretty sure Broodix is a planet from Star Trek. Or it should be.) I’m typing this with the windows closed. I can still hear them. And they’re swarming all over the window screen.
But it’s also a once-in-a-17-year event for my son to embrace. Did you know cicadas have five eyes (three ocelli between the two big red ones?) or that only the males “sing”? I didn’t know those things, but my son taught me. He taught me they’re harmless and ultimately, if he wants to take some extra slide trips with his friends, whether I like those friends or not …
It’s not about me. It’s about him.
About the author
Chris Mannino lives with his wife and two children. As a full-time stay-at-home dad, he considers himself a lion tamer, cat herder, sanitation manager, personal chef, private teacher and more. Somehow, he also manages to squeeze in a writing career: crafting fantasy stories from picture books through adult. Visit him at www.ChristopherMannino.com