Thursday, October 29, 2009

Miguel the Magnificent

I bought a discarded picture book from the library a few years ago entitled My Dad the Magnificent, which is about a boy discovering that his ordinary father is truly magnificent. Miguel and I haven’t read it yet, and he may be too old now, but I think about it from time to time.

I am not magnificent at all, but children, certainly until they become adolescents, often see their parents as heroic or close to perfect. One time I made some typically self-deprecating comments but Miguel quickly interjected something about how I was really, really good at whatever I was bashing myself over.

On Tuesday, at his teacher conferences, we were talking with the art teacher and I said, “Miguel does come from an art-challenged household.” Miguel looked at the teacher and then at me and said, “But you’re a very good artist.”

I had to stifle a laugh. I’ve progressed beyond stick figures and I can draw better than Verna, but, trust me, I couldn’t even win a drawing contest on the back of a matchbook. But Miguel doesn’t see me that way. He thinks I have talent, in several areas. He still brags how I tossed a football to him 30 yards after an Oregon football game in Eugene last year.

The danger with being self-deprecating in front of our children is that we prematurely burst the bubble of our self-image in front of them. And since this happens before they come to the realization of our ultimate imperfection on their own, it is often confusing and scary. Children need their parents to be role models for as long as possible.

I have realized over the past few days that even though Miguel may not be magnificent, he is pretty darn close to being wonderful.

The first thing his core (or homeroom) teacher said to me at the beginning of the conferences was, “I adore Miguel. He’s amazing. Is he in the GATE (for gifted students) program?”

“No, should he be?” I asked.

Ms. Rogers said, “No. I’m not sure there are any advantages to being in the GATE program.”

Later Miguel told Verna and me that he thought Ms. Rogers had asked if he was in the gay program. “I thought,” he said, “what’s a gay program?”

I am not writing about Miguel being superb or extraordinarily talented. I don’t want to put that pressure on him. He’s a normal 11-year-old kid who is very good in school and loves sports. But as he edges towards being a teenager, I am more and more impressed with how he handles himself in life.

Last night he and I watched the World Series, the only time we allow him to watch TV with Maya around. Verna and I even let Miguel sit on the couch with his plate of pasta during the game. Maya, Verna, and I sat at the kitchen table. But, even as his beloved Yankees were losing, he couldn’t stop talking about the amazing play by Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, a backhanded grab of a sharp hit ball that he deftly tossed to first base for an out.

“You’ve got to watch the replay. I hope they show it again. He caught it behind his back,” Miguel said.

Miguel’s team was losing and headed toward defeat, but he was still excited about a great moment from an opposing player. Miguel didn’t mope or appear upset that the Yankees lost. By the end of the 8th inning, Miguel had grabbed a football and was running from the kitchen into the living room, diving without using his hands onto the couch. He wasn’t distracted by the Yankees loss or giving up as a fan, but he seemed to need to expend some energy. And he kept saying, “Dad, are you watching?”

Miguel was more impressed with his ability to hurtle over the end of the couch or straddle it as if he were running the hurdles. And why not? It was just a game, which is easy for me to say since I am a life-long Red Sox fan giddy beyond belief when the Yankees fail mightily on the grandest of baseball stages.

But it was Miguel’s attitude that caught my attention. Because Verna is feeling drained by her radiation treatments and I sometimes don’t get home until 5:30, Miguel takes Maya to the park before dinner. This morning he said to Verna and me at the breakfast table, “Maya and I played hide and seek at the park yesterday.”

“Just the two of you?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“Did she understand the game?” Verna asked.

“Yes,” Miguel replied.

Maya adores Miguel, too. She wears a pink Yankees hat an always wants to follow him to the park or the basketball court. I walked into the living room last night and the three of them were watching the game. I asked Verna who she was rooting for. “The Yankees,” she said as Miguel smiled. Maya walked right up to me and said, “I’m rooting for the Yankees, too.”

Yes, she wants to be just like her big brother. In fact, if we asked her she’d probably say he was magnificent. And she’d probably be right.

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