Last night, my 3-year-old son kept screaming out in the night. Most nights he sleeps really well, but as any parent can testify, he has those occasional nights when peaceful rest is nothing more than an elusive dream. This was clearly going to be one of those nights that my wife, Leann, and I would rise to the challenge (literally) many times before morning.
Some doctors and physiologists would argue that we should let him be. They might say that these are the "witching hours," and that we should allow him to cry it out. The problem with that theory, however, is that we also have a 1-year-old just down the hall, and if we fail to avoid the potential sobbing chain-reaction, we end up with screaming in stereo. Besides, I am not best at processing long-term behavioral strategy at 3 a.m. Couple that with the fact that it is already late into the week, adding to my sleep deficit, and the net result is that I crawl under the Thomas the Train cover and try to go to sleep in my son's bed with him.
It seems that my childhood and my son's childhood collided last night because I remember dreaming that the General Lee, from "The Dukes of Hazard," was racing Percy the tank engine from "Thomas and Friends."
Of course, he wakes up refreshed, energized and with a sweet disposition, as I'm running behind, groggy, with a stiff back.
I try to remember what it's like to be his age. Some of my earliest memories are from when I was 3 years old, so I try to reach back in the archives of my consciousness in an attempt to relate to his 36-inch-high perspective.
What I've come to realize is that the perspective of a small child simply doesn't have the depth that comes with age. The relationship between cause and effect has not matured to the point that they fully understand the consequences of their mistakes. And even if they do, it will be at least another 30 minutes (eternity in toddler years) before they are caught.
Everything is a new experience—an adventure—and mistakes are just part of the equation of knowledge.
Fast forward some 35 years, and it seems that I know all too well the consequences of my mistakes. I've even developed a mechanism for blocking said mistakes from my memory. Blocking mistakes from your past is not a healthy approach because, as someone once said, "He who covers up his mistakes intends to make some more."
I recently read "Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter" by Tom Franklin, and a couple of sentences in that fictional Mississippi-based novel really stood out:
"Time packs new years over the old ones but how those old years are still in there, like the earliest, tightest rings centering a tree, the most hidden, enclosed in darkness and shielded from weather. But then a saw screams in and the tree topples and the circles are stricken by the sun and the sap glistens and the stump is laid open for the world to see."
How poetic and true that is. No matter how much time goes by, at the core of each of our lives exist the set of experiences that have helped define us.
Mississippi is a prime example. Why not forget about the troubled race relations? People ask. Why not forget about slavery, oppression or civil injustice? Those were all dirty deeds of the prior generations, right?
The reason that you don't forget is that it is part of our core existence, and no matter how many years or decades go by, it always will be. If we forget, then we are destined to oppress a minority culture again—such as trying to discriminate against the Hispanic population—or distance ourselves from continued inequalities.
I hope my son will continue to learn from his mistakes. I hope that I remember the lessons that I have learned from my own mistakes. I hope we both continue to dream, and to dream big. Sometimes in your dreams, the slow-starting but strong tank engine even wins the race against the rebel-flag-clad muscle car.
Scott Dennis is a Morton native who lives in Pearl. Dennis earned a computer-science degree from Mississippi College and works as an IT specialist with the U.S. Geological Survey. He is blessed with a wonderful wife and a small but growing family.