Home Fiction Humor Essays Books

Cameron at four

by Greg Swann



















Cameron Alexander Swann, his face alight with the fire of mischief.

His name is Cameron and he's my friend.

His car seat is up in front with me, and it is a quiet pleasure of both our lives simply to drive around, singing along with the stereo and gawking at everything all at once.

I do as much as I can with him along, and I'd do everything with him if I could. We drive together and swim together and ride on the bike together and shoot hoops together, all that kid stuff. But when Cameron is with me, he goes where I go and he does what I do. To the garden store to buy seeds he'll help to plant. To a client's office to deliver the envelope he's carrying. To the computer store to order cabling he will yearn to install. He knows he's small and inexperienced and uninformed, but he's fearless, and he doesn't let ignorance impede the process of discovery. He knows I trust him to do everything he can, and he knows I delight in every new task he masters.

His name is Cameron and he's game.

He has a thirst for life I hope never to see quenched. He is delighted to try anything I suggest, and he charges gaily into any activity, even chores. He might think that adventure is where he finds it, but I suspect that adventure finds him. And, though he never says this, I know that underneath everything there is this admonition: if things become entirely too boring, stand on your head. Nothing is dull to Cameron when he looks at it upside down.

His name is Cameron and he's very, very smart.

Cameron has an amazing kinesthetic memory. He always knows where he is and he never gets lost. He knows nothing of distances or the points of the compass, but he can give accurate directions--"This way, that way"--to any place he's ever been.

He simply must know, and the nature of his mind is such that he learns by seeing and doing, rather than by hearing explanations. There is no button Cambo will not push, no switch he will not throw. A few weeks ago he found the secret switch that brings down the security door at the video store. The counter help panicked, but Cameron simply depressed the switch again to bring the door back up.

He's masterful on the computer and has been since the age of one. We speak of ourselves as surfing on this sea of data, and that's an appropriate metaphor: we are aliens here, and we congratulate ourselves for daring to frolic around at the surface. But Cameron was born immersed in the oceans of information, and I can't imagine what sort of brave submariner he will ultimately become.

His name is Cameron and he's beautiful.

He's tall for his age and thin and finely formed. His face and blue-grey eyes and fine brown hair render him lovely in repose. But when his face is lit with the fire of wonder and mischief, he approaches perfection. Stammering grannies have been thrusting money at him in tribute to his beauty since he was a baby. And there is more to his beauty than wonder and mischief. Cameron is alive with something that is tender and gentle and very generous, a virtue few would associate with childhood. He loves to hug and to snuggle or to sit tucked under my arm or to hold hands as we walk. He is not terribly patient, but he is not terribly impatient, either. He's happy enough to accept an explanation for a delay if the explanation is repeated frequently enough. He tolerates frustration imperfectly but better than any child I've ever seen, and he seems actually to delight in sharing his treasures with his playmates. He's nobody's pushover, quite the contrary. But there is within him a largeness of spirit that transcends the petty concerns of childhood.

His name is Cameron and he's my teammate.

We're on the River Team and the Penny Team and the Water Park Team and the Lizard Team and some others that I've forgotten. We signify our team membership by touching our thumbs together. Sometimes my daughter, Meredith, who is nearly seven, is on the teams, and sometimes other people, too. But mostly the teams are just me and Cam, and he came up with the names of all the teams. Cameron's mother and I are going through a hideous divorce, more hideous than I had ever imagined possible, and I think the teams are Cameron's way of creating a bond between us that is unaffected by the disintegration of our family. When he touches his thumb to mine, it's a relationship that starts and ends with him, not something that can be taken away by someone else.

His name is Cameron and he's four years old.

I wrote the essay "Cameron's legacy" on the day of his birth, so two things I prize beyond measuring were born on November 9th, 1991. The essay is about Cameron's birth and about the treasures of life that I hope to share with my children, so, in a sense, it stands as an evidence of its own argument. It sings with the music I strive to bring to everything I write, and it resounds with themes impossible to forget. I knew it was absurd to write it then, just as it is absurd to write this, but that's precisely the sort of attitude I seek always to convey to my children. Do what is right. Not what is useful. Not what is sensible. Certainly not what it easy. Do what you yearn to do, and laugh at absurdity.

And, of course, someday my children may read the things I've written about them. Meredith has already read "The Great Lizard Hunt," and she thinks it's a wonderful story. These essays will have to wait until they're older, but I think they're the kind of feast both of them are learning to hunger for. Despite the extravagant praise I heap upon them, my children show every sign that they will by far eclipse every expectation I have for them.

And that's as it should be. I am intelligent and thoughtful and wise--and extremely humble! I have worked for years to master an arcane branch of thought, and I have done well enough to make my own small contributions to philosophy. I have taught myself to write, and I have learned it well enough to enrapture a certain kind of person, to elevate that reader to the tears of a nearly unendurable splendor. I have not picked every sweet pear from the tree of my life, but I have made a good beginning, and I am confident I will glean the tree in due course. But I am confident, too, that someday my children will leave me hopelessly behind, their minds so much better honed than my own blunt instrument that all I will be able to do is beam with pride and brag about them to strangers.

And that is as it should be. I said it one way on the day of his birth, and I say it this way on the fourth anniversary of that date, and I look forward to saying it every glorious way I can find for every day of the rest of my life:

His name is Cameron and he's my son.

Home Fiction Humor Essays Books