This year, the Swarners’ annual summer car trip took us past Smokey the Bear’s national museum and final resting place in Capitan, New Mexico.
We watched the half-hour documentary of the bear’s life and death. We walked through the museum. We even stopped by his grave site to pay our respects.
As we were leaving, my daughter faked a few tears as she lamented melodramatically on the famous bear’s demise - to which my son, stirring himself into reality, replied: "Smokey’s dead?"
How did he miss that?
I used to think I wasn’t communicating effectively with my boy, but I’ve come to learn that he is only a part-timer here on Earth. The rest of the time his mind is elsewhere -- maybe on Pluto.
Do you have a child like this? The son who sits in the room listening as you make dinner plans and then afterwards, asks: "So, what’s for dinner?"
The son who runs in the house to fetch you a flashlight and a half-hour later you find him on the couch watching TV?
The son who has a major book report the next day but can’t remember where he last saw his book… let alone that he had a book report to do?
The son, who by all academic measurements is fully capable and normal, yet accidentally takes his socks in the shower and then continues wearing them the rest of the day?
"My shoes are making a squishing sound?"
We’ve tried all sorts of ways to parent a child like this.
When my son was a toddler, we tied one of those doggie-leash-like things to his wrist so in the mall he wouldn’t absent-mindedly wander off. We stopped when he started barking like a poodle.
When his teacher called to say our son wasn’t doing his homework, we removed all of the toys and distractions from his room so he’d concentrate on his assignments. Instead, he lost track of time pretending his socks were hand grenades while tossing them out the window at his little sister, the paperboy, and our neighbor’s chow (who growled at the sock and then peed on it).
And when he forgot to take his lunch to school for the tenth time this year, we didn’t bring it to him -- so he’d learn a valuable, albeit hungry, lesson. It backfired when the school principal gave him half of her lunch and sent home a note home asking if we needed financial assistance.
Finally, we just gave up and decided to allow nature take its course -- we chose to accept our son for who he was -- no matter how many times we had to turn the car around and go home because he forgot his shoes.
Of course, we have to bite our lips, like Monday when my wife was scolding our daughter at the dinner table for constantly changing her clothes during the day.
"You only need to change your underwear once a day," she informed our little girl.
Suddenly, my son’s face snapped to attention as if he just landed back to Earth after a long absence. "EVERY DAY?!" He exclaimed. "You never told me that!"
I wonder if his parents on Pluto have the same trouble.