Before a program honoring the 7 year-olds at church, we were asked to submit three adjectives that sum up our 7 year-old, Rex. Our brainstorm included possibilities like “driven, focused, one-track, responsible, smart, task-oriented, competitive, busy, athletic, studious, attentive, hard working . . . ” You start to get a sense for Rex’s personality. I think on our final submission we went with two of the above and then threw in a ‘fun-loving’ just to mix it up.
In other words, Rex is an adult. Okay, not a normal adult– he’s one of those hyper-competent, always-in-motion adults. If life is a school, Rex is on scholarship, in the accelerated track. Which is kind of unexpected, given that his parents live more at an enjoyable half-speed than full throttle. As an adult, the high speed individual can be scary and intimidating. But we’ve got some time to figure that out before Rex ever gets to that point. When it’s a little kid though, it’s pretty fun to watch.
Rex doesn’t have a career to focus on, or exams to tear through, so he directs his considerable concentration on more childish endeavors. Two years ago, he took note of my ability to whistle, and he tried it himself. Couldn’t do it. The next day I came in on him practicing whistling.
That’s right, he whistles all during basketball games now.
He asked for a few pointers, which I gave him (having been a whistler of some note in my younger days). Two days later, Rex could whistle. I was pretty blown away. Later, he noticed that his cousin Nate could snap. Rex grilled me about technique and flexed his fingers against his thumbs over and over. It took him two weeks of constant effort, but pretty soon, Rex could snap as well as any adult. We found a sloppily written list of a bunch of his friends’ phone numbers by his bed one night, and he told us he was just trying to get them all memorized. They were memorized a few days later.
The obsessions took a turn for the unsavory when he discovered his friend’s gift for arm-pit flatulence. Rex spent the next week and a half with his arm up his shirt, just getting his reps. I bet he hit 1,000 attempts before liftoff on that one. But he did it, and instantly began teaching all of his cousins (for which my brother in law is still cursing me, for some reason). Now he’s on to advanced simulated stinkering, using the back of his knee as his instrument. It’s pretty amazing to watch.
When Rex was about two, we had a little storybook that told the story of the Three Little Pigs. When the pig with the brick house prevailed against the wolf, all of the pigs agreed together that “Hard Work Pays Off.” That’s been kind of a motto for us in raising our kids, especially Rex. If he ever whines about a project, I’ll say “Rex, hard work . . . ” and he’ll half-heartedly say “. . . pays off.” And now he’s living the motto.
We set up a basketball hoop in our driveway not too long ago. Rex and I go out and shoot hoops together pretty frequently, and usually end with a competitive game of HORSE. At age seven, he’s pushing me. So I usually pull out all the stops and start shooting from long distance, where I know he can’t compete with me. You may think this sounds a little cruel, but you’ve never known what it’s like to lose to Rex. It’s not like just throwing a game to some kid or something. Anyway, after a few easy victories, I noticed that Rex was spending more time on his own out in the driveway. A week or two later, for our next game of HORSE, Rex was ready. I got him on a few straightforward jumpers. Then Rex lined up at an angle behind the backboard and swished it. H for me. He stood behind the base of the standard, eight feet behind the board, threw it high up in the air . . . and swished it. O. He climbed up a slope under the neighbor’s cherry tree and tossed a shot through a fork in the branches. R.
He skunked me. With a new repertoire of trick shots from out of nowhere. He figured out that he couldn’t beat me straight up, so he just put in the work to master a bunch of shots he knew I couldn’t make. He must have worked on those shots every day. Since then, I’ve upped my game, found a few tricks of my own to stay competitive. But man he makes me work for it. Still, the extra hours shooting with my eyes closed, and through the aspen branches will be worth it. Hard work pays off, right? Rex taught me that.