Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Earth to SuperSam

SuperSam's favorite toys of all time are his Celestial Buddies.

This is a photo of Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction, taken by SuperSam himself. He is especially fond of making his planets interact and asking us to guess what astronomical events we think he is representing. This never seems to get old for him.

I wouldn't have guessed there was a big market for stuffed planets with faces, arms and legs, but my son is truly the target for this product. He loves his Celestial Buddies more than anything and plays with them every day. He sleeps with them every night. He takes them in the car everywhere we go, and we always have to have a big discussion about why they can't come into the grocery store or into Mass with us when we get to church. He feeds them and talks with them about their feelings and drives them around in laundry baskets and helps them do chores. He's a huge fan, truly. I doubt there is a more devoted, more loving caretaker of celestial objects anywhere (other than the Architect of the Universe himself).

So, the other day, when he announced he wanted to buy a new buddy for his collection, I was not surprised.

Being only 4 years old (not even 4 1/2 yet, as he's fond of saying), SuperSam doesn't exactly have a stream of income. He sometimes gets money for his birthday or other holidays, which he stuffs into his green and blue piggy bank. When he finds change on the floor or in the couch cushions, he adds that to his stash. I had no idea how much money was in the piggy bank, but I knew it couldn't be much.

He was doggedly persistent in his argument that he be able to buy a new planet, listing out his reasons and building a case as the day went on. "I practically have half the solar system," he said, "and I think it's definitely time that I added someone new to my collection." I was sure he wouldn't have enough money, but he insisted repeatedly that we find out how much he had. "I think I have at least 42 in there," he said. I knew he meant 42 coins, and I dreaded having to explain to him that a coin was not the same as a dollar. It seemed so complicated, and he was so excited by the whole idea that he was literally bouncing off the walls (making crashing sounds as he did it). My mind kept saying, "He is too young for the money conversation. He won't understand if you try to explain it. He's too worked up right now to focus on anything. It's not even developmentally appropriate."

It's not developmentally appropriate. I know that. For better or worse, though, some children get to concepts before they are really "ready" to understand them. My child is one of those children. He's not "ready" to understand the solar system and the universe, either, and yet he's constantly spouting facts about nebulae and planets and constellations, quizzing us about which star is the biggest one known and whether we can be really sure that our entire solar system won't be sucked into a black hole somewhere near the Andromeda galaxy. He picks his nose while he talks about how many Earths can fit inside the Great Red Spot on Jupiter and how Neptune has the strongest storms in the solar system (even though Jupiter's best-known storm is more famous). He uses his chunky preschool crayons as he colors picture after picture of all the planets in order by size, or by distance from the Sun, complete with planetary symbols and moons. He depicts all the dwarf planets and loves to debate whether they ought to be included in the count and whether Pluto and Charon should be considered a binary system. He may only be four, but he believes he is a space scientist, and there's no stopping him when he wants to know something. Who am I to stand in his way?

I took a deep breath and told him to go get the piggy bank.

We emptied it out on the table, and I made some little signs to help him know how many of each type of coin made up a dollar. He sorted all the coins into piles, then began arranging them in groups to add up to a dollar.


After he had sorted all the coins and separated them into groups, I helped him count all the dollars. He then asked to go "to amazon-dot-com" to see how much a Celestial Buddy would cost. We wrote down the amount of money he had and the price of his top three choices for Celestial Buddies.

He planned at first to buy The Sun, but it was $24.00. He only had $20.88. He then planned to buy Mercury (super cute with his little running shoes on, by the way!), which was only $18...but he then found that Mercury was only available from a seller in England and would take weeks to arrive. ("I will wait and get Mercury the next time I'm in England," he said casually.) Finally, he made the decision to purchase Earth, which was $21.88. He was a dollar short.

I told him if he helped unload the dishwasher I would give him 50 cents. He helped fold some laundry to earn the other 50 cents, and then he was all set.

He handed over all the coins and bills to us, and we ordered his planet. The confirmation screen came up, and George showed it to him. The newest addition to the family, Planet Earth, would arrive on Tuesday.

SuperSam looked stunned. "Tuesday?? When is Tuesday?" he choked.

George looked surprised. "Well, it's on Tuesday." he said. He pointed at the days on the calendar, showing SuperSam where we were in the week. "Today is Friday. Earth will be mailed to us and will probably be delivered Tuesday. That's the day after Monday," he explained, patiently.

SuperSam was appalled. "There's no way I can wait until Tuesday, Daddy," he said, his voice rising. "I actually don't even really know when Tuesday is!"

And that, I guess, is the difficulty in having a child like SuperSam. He had no problem with the money sorting, counting, comparing amounts...but he still doesn't really understand when Tuesday is. He's four. He doesn't need to know any of this stuff yet. I'm never sure whether we are doing the right thing by explaining things as they come up with him, but I'm not sure what else we could do. He is full of curiosity, and he expects us to help him find ways to discover answers when he is looking for them. We try to keep it at an appropriate level, but it's hard to keep pace with his questions and inquiries and research and ideas and projects if we only "let" him do things that are "appropriate" for someone his age. In some ways, he's just different, so we have to handle things differently...and that often means thinking on our feet and processing things as they come up.

Happily for all involved, The Earth Truck (aka United Parcel Service) arrived a day early, bringing an adorable stuffed Earth to a very delighted little boy. He proclaimed, "Aw, he is just so cute!", then announced that Earth is his very favorite planetary object ever because it is a "comfy" planet and that he will be playing with Earth every day for as long as he lives. He also mentioned a plan to write to his babysitter Katie and tell her about Earth "so she can be expecting a new planet the next time she comes to play with me, so she won't be too surprised when she sees that I have added someone new," he said. "And when she asks me 'who gave you that planet?' I will tell her, "Katie, I bought this for my very own self and no one even helped me buy it except Mama and Daddy had to order it on amazon-dot-com because I do not have a credit card, anyway."

Earth is in for many exciting adventures here, I am certain...he has already been on a picnic with the gas giants and been for a stroller ride with Saturn pushing him (they were kind enough to pose for a photo, above, while SuperSam had snack). He has not yet been introduced to his moon, but I feel sure they will be fast friends.