Friday, April 22, 2005

friendly fire

There was a bonfire on the beach yesterday evening and it was the first time the boy had ever seen fire. He determined to take a closer look and dragged me over until we were about twenty metres away. But then he stopped and did something he had never done before. He turned in fright, clung to my legs and started whimpering. I picked him up and comforted him and he peered anxiously over my shoulder at the huge strange creature which seemed to be both moving around and staying still. There were children just a little older than the boy standing around the fire with some adults. In their hands they held sticks and the ends of the sticks were in the creature's mouth. As the creature threw orange light around their faces, we saw that they were smiling and laughing. The boy could therefore see that the creature was benevolent, so I had to conclude that his initial reaction must have been some kind of primal instinct.
Later I wondered if perhaps he's now entering a so-called "clinging" phase. He has never shown any fear in the past, say towards the ocean, or other people*. But perhaps now he'll start behaving like one of his older playmates, who hides behind his mother's legs whenever he enters our house. My parents do claim that once, when they took my son to the beach, he had burst into tears after approaching another boy who turned around and stared back at him from behind black-rimmed, bottle-top glasses. But I contended that Harley had probably just trodden on a rock or was thirsty or exhausted rather than afraid, because after all he has seen plenty of strange-looking strangers in his life so far. People with bug-eyed or reflective sunglasses, people with neon-colored hair or shaved, tattooed heads, with pierced ears, tongues or eyebrows, or with bizarre facial hair. And he's never once shown any kind of fear towards anyone before*.
But then today, as I was standing in the kitchen doing the dishes, he suddenly clung to my legs and whimpered in the same way as when he had seen the fire. Though I did think it odd that he should be afraid of me washing dishes all of a sudden, I automatically scooped him up. And he stopped whimpering and craned his neck to check out the contents of the sink, and that's when I noticed a little smile of satisfaction appear on his face. The little trickster had obviously learnt from last night that I would immediately pick him up if he started acting in this way, and was putting this new trick to good use. Ah, he had me fooled alright.

(*Well, except for the Monster, and It had been chasing him with a hammer, so that's understandable.)