May 26, 2003 - Monday
I think I screwed up at bedtime tonight explaining to Harry about houses. We visited Aunt Alison's house over the weekend to see the farm, the horses, and the new house she is having built directly her current one, which is in an increasingly obvious state of disrepair. Paint is badly chipped on the outside, the roof upstairs is leaking and the ceiling tiles falling in one place, and the process of packing boxes and belongings gives the interior a sense of disruption. While Harry loves the new house, especially running around in the vast open basement, he seems genuinely concerned about the old house. You'd think, given his love of backhoes and crashes (with trains), that he would love the idea of watching an excavator go at that old house once all Alison's things are moved out, but he has, for several months now, been quite adamant about not wanting to see it happen. In fact, he invariably says he doesn't want to go to Alison's house until we assure him that the backhow would not be wrecking the old house on that day.
So tonight at bedtime Harry started the cryptic line of questioning "What do houses do?" It's a familiar use of language that roughly translates to "let's talk about..." and it didn't take long for us to cut to the proverbial chase: why is Alison's old house falling down?
There are a lot of concepts to work through there, but I gave it a shot, always enjoying feeding Harry's inquisitive mind.
"Well, things wear out, Harry, and that's the same with houses," I started with confidence. Harry nodded with understand when I talked about the chipping paint and the leaky ceiling on Alison's old house and I should have left it there. But, for some reason I felt compelled to re-enforce this idea that anything can wear out, even newer things wear away over time through wear and tear. I think my motivation here was to encourage Harry to not crash his trains so much and to try to curb the three-year-old enthusiasm that is hitting our house, but I realized right away that asking Harry whether he'd ever noticed the small areas of paint chipping on our house was a mistake. I had in my head something about how it takes a long time for houses to get worn out and that even when it seems you're not hurting something, say by crashing a toy truck into it, things - cabinets, tables, chairs, and houses - wear out over time. Of course, the passage of time means very little to a person whose life has spanned less than four years and one who has proved that he remembers a great deal of it very clearly. The future scarcely goes beyond tomorrow. A long time is a season away. What's more, in my efforts to express the great length of time it would take for the few chips of paint on our house to cause harm I dug an even deeper hole by mentioning that the rain, tonight falling on our roof, and the snow from the winter could eventually wear down the roof. The concern was in Harry's eyes and I tried to back out of it gracefully, but no matter where I went with it I couldn't take it back. All I could do was push the idea that taking care of things, treating things well, repainting them when necessary, was the best way to keep things in good condition. It seems like I'll have some work to do over the next few days pointing out repair projects.