Who is that little boy in the moon boots and elastic-waist camo pants, the unattractive neon Star Wars Lego tee and the ubiquitous hoodie? Who is he, and why is he shrieking on the sidewalk because he heard a fire engine's siren blaring far off in the distance?
Really, who is that kid who has one volume at the grocery store, and the volume is LOUD?
Who is this boy who attaches himself like a barnacle to the backs of my legs when we enter a social gathering and buries his face in my knees? Who hides under the chair at grandma's house? Who hesitates every time to walk into preschool without a gentle shove, even though he has been going there for two years?
Who is this boy, and why is he so afraid of using the bathroom at the pediatrician's office that he screams as he sprays his mother's purple sneaker and most of the floor while entirely missing the toilet?
This boy, the one hiding beneath the table, just exactly who is he?
I'll tell you.
His name is Charlie, and he is my son.
He is five. He has shaggy brown hair with a rat tail because he is afraid of haircuts. He is afraid of new clothes. He is a bear to put to bed at night because he is fearful of sundry nameless things, and prefers sneaking around the house to sleep.
His fears make him behave differently. Awkwardly. Socially strange.
I wish his anxiety were not the first thing that people could see about Charlie. It's not his defining characteristic, although sometimes it tries to be.
The traits which DO define Charlie? These are they: sweetness, empathy, concern for others, gentleness, love for his boys (as he calls his brothers), and tender-heartedness.
He loves books, especially 'Twas the Night Before Christmas. He loves Curious George and SpongeBob SquarePants. He loves swimming and riding his bike and going to the cabin. He loves the iPad. He loves blueberries and French toast and apples and noodles and "Dr. Pepperoni." He loves to built blanket forts and kiss baby with an "I love you, Baby."
He is completely adork-able.
He may be a fashion folly in his hoodie and stretchy-waist pants and light-up Jedi shoes. He may act bizarre and terrified and awkward at the drop of a hat.
But he is kind and loving and curious and helpful. He is a boy who is often scared, but who regularly faces his fears. He may be psycho-screaming, but with my prodding and encouragement, by gum, he is doing things.
I sometimes remind myself that Charlie wears on his sleeve what many of us bury beneath many layers: his struggles. They are right there on the surface for everyone to stare at, which we (meaning me) are working on ignoring (meaning the staring). Our issues may be just as weird and sting us just as much, but most of us have learned to hold them out of the public view to some degree.
He is a precious boy, so vastly different from his brothers in so many ways (like eating fruit voluntarily and not vomiting all over the table at the taste of a grape or watermelon slice). Sometimes I've thought of him as an enigma. My enigma wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in a hoodie. But really he's just Charlie, and I pretty much have him figured out.
He is an irreplaceable part of my quirky family of dudes.