Tuesday, February 6, 2018

"Merry, Merry King of the Castle"



Darren was an only child, nine years old, and rarely quiet. He loved bright colours and loud noises; he loved chaos and excitement and fun. If Darren had been a bird instead of a boy, he would have made a wonderful macaw (which is a type of Brazilian parrot known for its vibrant feathers), or else he’d have been a fabulous kookaburra (which is an Australian kingfisher with a call that sounds like maniacal human laughter).

Darren loved being the center of attention, and often did things to try and make even more people turn their heads his way. He learned to walk on his hands like a circus clown; he learned to bark exactly like the neighbourhood dogs, and would have rough vocal contests with the animals behind their tall fences. He could ride his bike without using the handlebars, and climb up a telephone pole without a boost, and sing the alphabet backwards. He was a marvel and a wonder to everyone who knew him.

Darren was thoroughly enjoying his childhood. He had cousins in town, and spent time with them regularly, but he liked being the only kid in his house. Being an only child had never felt lonely to him, and it was a nice thing to have his own room and space to try new things. But things in Darren’s house were changing:

Darren’s mother was pregnant.

And not only pregnant, but thrilled. Little did Darren know how long his mother had prayed for another child to call her own, to fill their house with even more chaos and colour and noise. Now, at long last, her prayers had been answered.

Darren had noticed the shift a few weeks before he was officially told. He came home after school one day and ran to his mom for a bear-hug like he always did, and when he was a few feet away he heard his mom say, “Gently, boy. Gentle now.” He hugged her, but not quite as tight as he had the day before. Maybe she’s feeling a little sick, he thought.

Later that same week, Darren was crashing away at the bucket-based drum set in his bedroom when his mom came and knocked at the door. “Would you mind playing a little softer today? Just a little softer?” Darren used two large paint brushes for drumsticks. He turned them around in his hands so that the bristle-end would hit the drums instead of the handles. His mother had nodded her thanks and gone.

But this kept happening around his mom. Though she was usually encouraging of his ruckus and riotous ways, the phrases “Careful, son,” and “Quiet, please,” seemed to be all she could say. Eventually, he asked what was going on, and they told him. A baby on the way, due in September, just before his next year at school. Darren had smiled -- because that was polite, and courtesy was expected in his family -- but it took a while for the idea of a sibling to settle in his stomach.

Babies grow slowly, at first. It can be hard to see any change from the outside for quite some time, and Darren had been sworn to absolute secrecy by his parents. He couldn’t tell his cousins, or his friends at school, or his coaches at Running and Reading, or even the crossing guard. So, when he simply had to talk about it, Darren had a chat with his mom.

“I think I’m too loud for a baby,” said Darren. “Everything I like is so noisy.”

“Babies are noisy too,” said his mother. “Babies are surprisingly good at being loud. The baby will need some moments of quiet, like when it’s sleeping or feeding, but those are the times when you like things to be quieter too. You’ll just have to practice paying attention for when the baby needs things to be calm; you can be noisy all the rest of the time, just like now.”

“I think I’m too crazy for a baby,” sighed Darren. “Everything I do is a bit wild.”

Darren’s mother smiled and shook her head. “That’s not quite true,” she challenged him. “You’ve got a tender heart inside that boisterous body of yours. I’ve seen you be gentle and kind with your friends, and thoughtful and soft-spoken when you need to be. Maybe you spend more of your time practicing your silly skills, but I know you are capable of tenderness and compassion too. We’ve still got seven long months before this baby arrives. Shall we work on strengthening that tender heart of yours?”

He agreed. Darren practiced being gentle and calm. He was still very loud, most of the time, but he got much better at becoming suddenly tranquil and still when asked. By June, he could walk around the house with the stealth of a great jungle cat, hardly making a sound. By August, he had discovered a love of reading and could stay quiet for over an hour, all by himself.

Darren was still as colourful as a macaw and as gregarious as a kookaburra, but he had also learned the art of the dove: tenderness and fondness; affection and peace -- just what their nest would need.

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