In Michael Chabon’s latest book, “Manhood for Amateurs,” two of the essays made me instantly smile with recognition. The first “To the Legoland Station” is quite obvious. Anyone who knows us has an idea of the number of LEGOs that reside here in bins, baskets and occasionally find their way to the floor to be discovered by an unsuspecting foot in the middle of the night. And though T is not as passionate about them as he used to be, he is in there scraping through drawers as I write; that familiar scratching sound of hands-moving-bricks-in-search-of-the-exact-right-piece making its way to my ears. The second essay, “The Amateur Family,” deals with my son’s latest obsession: Dr. Who. Chabon writes of his family’s intense love for this British sci-fi TV show, despite that fact that no one else really knows anything about it. This, he states, makes them geeks or nerds, though he doesn’t feel that either is quite the right moniker. Instead he feels an affinity with the term amateur: ‘someone who a lover, a devotee, a person driven by passion and obsession to do it--to explore the imaginary world-oneself.’
That certainly describes T, he somehow stumbled onto the show and has been in love ever since. He makes his allegiance known with tshirts, books and two sonic screwdrivers. (I guess it’s always good to have a spare.) I can only chuckle as I remember sitting with my own dad humoring his passion for cheesy effects and intriguing storylines as we watched the Doctor. If you’re not familiar with the show I won’t go into any details here, but urge you to do your own research. We as a family haven’t embraced the Doctor as one of our own, rather T has found himself a community of like- minded friends. He alternates between watching an episode with a group of kids from school one week, then spending a Saturday evening with an older British couple who are every bit as enthusiastic about plot twists as T himself. Collectively they all express outrage and sadness at the cliffhanger endings then as we reluctantly start the excruciating wait until the next season. Yet this down time affords the opportunity for poring over Who-related magazines and speculating about what will happen next. At times like this we hear so much about the Doctor and his companions that I start to wonder if I should set a place for them at dinner. What does one serve a regenerated time lord? I guess I’ll have to consult Martha and my own magazines for the proper etiquette.
Thinking about this intense love of characters both on screen and on the page reminded me of the read alouds we have done over the years as a family. What I love most is how certain phrases and words then work their way into our family vernacular. One of us will often hug a dog fiercely while exclaiming “He’s so fluffy!” in the style of “Despicable Me,” or sit down to eat pantomiming the fantastic movements of Mr. Fox as he devours his breakfast. In times of trouble we often are heard murmuring ‘Oh waily, waily, waily…’ as if the Wee Free Men were right here with us. These words, phrases, short hand if you will, make me happy to be a part of the very thing Chabon was addressing, the amateur family. As he puts it, ‘…maybe all along part of my desire to have so many children was the longing for a fan club to belong to, for imaginative fellowship, for the society of passionate amateurs like me.’
In an essay Noel Perrin wrote several years ago, he details his family’s love for “Watership Down.” It was a read aloud which was beloved by many family members. They even went so far as to choose one
of the rabbit words for their car’s license plate. Some days they would be driving along and would be greeted by a series of intense honks and waves. Knowing that they had met up with some kindred spirits who shared their love of Adams’s book, they eagerly honked in reply. I too loved “Watership Down” and when my bunny Dickens had a litter they were immediately named after the rabbits in the book. It was years ago, but I still remember that Pipkin was the runt and the sweetest one of all. On the back of our car we now proudly display a Dr. Who bumper sticker, it seemed an obvious choice given that we drive a big blue box. If you happen to see us scooting down the highway or tootling down a dirt road in your neighborhood, be sure to give us a honk or an enthusiastic wave; we’ll just assume you’re another one of those Whovians eager to meet up with a fellow fan.
My older boy is the opposite. T carries band-aids in his school bag. He is always reminding us to stay hydrated. Last week we ventured to the public swimming pool for the first time and the first thing he said was - after he made it verbally clear that he was not going in the water - "Oh good, they have a defibrillator on site." Future doctor? Nurse? EMT? I can see him going into health care not out of a sense of altruism but because dammit, the world is a dangerous place and someone's got to be able to fix this constant mess. I'd be rather grateful if he learned how to stitch, staunch, and splint the broken bones his younger brother flirts with on an hourly basis. Then I'd feel less guilty when L comes to me in tears and blood and the best I can do is apply a boo-boo kitty.
Same genes, same environment. Vastly different boys.
Next Week's Word: Loud