Saturday, November 11, 2006

Article: A child's story

If pride comes before the fall, my niece Tiffany is in for a long plummet. Who can blame her? Her six-year-old son, Harlan, is an extraordinary kid. Oh, he’s a handful alright! That boy can run from dawn until dusk and not be winded. But he’s got moments that more than make up for it. A couple of weeks ago his face might have been framed by a halo. After reading Tiffany’s blog on Harlan’s recent angelic behavior, I decided to interview him for this column. At a family gathering, I dug out paper and pencil and sat down with Harlan.

I’d never interviewed a six-year-old before. It is quite an experience. Harlan’s energy level is through the roof. He couldn’t sit still--on the couch, on the floor, demonstrating the actions of his story by running across the room--it was hard just to follow him with my eyes. Luckily I knew most of the story from Tiffany’s blog...or did I? As the interview progressed, Harlan’s version differed from his mother’s on several counts.

The basic facts were consistent. Local firefighters visited Harlan’s school to teach fire safety. Impressed, Harlan came home to quiz his mother on various safety aspects, for example where their emergency meeting area was and when the batteries were replaced in their fire alarms. He remembered everything the firefighters told him with some help from a check list.

Along with the list, he had some crayons and a sheet of paper with a fire engine and a firefighter on it. The paper explained that it should be colored and entered in an art contest at Buda Fire Fest a couple of weeks later. Harlan set to work making his coloring the best ever. Since the original paper had writing on it related to the festival, Harlan cut out the relevant pieces and glued them to an identically sized white poster board. Using the crayons provided (and some markers of exactly the same colors) he filled the sheet with a dramatic scene illustrating fire safety.

“Why did you want to do such a good job coloring?” I asked Harlan. “I wanted to win a bike,” was the unabashed answer. Harlan did, in fact, win the coloring contest and a bike. I asked if he didn’t already have a bike and he said yes, but it had scratches on it. He wanted a new bike.

“But your mom told me you were giving the bike away,” I said. “Yeah, that was her idea,” Harlan replied. His halo seemed a bit tarnished. “No, no, no,” Tiffany interjected. She proceeded to have a long debate with Harlan about exactly whose idea it was to give the bike away. Finally Harlan said, “Yeah, it was my idea. I wanted to sell it...” The halo vanished. Tiffany jumped in. He didn’t mean sell, he meant donate. A silvery glow framed his face. Harlan, bouncing on the couch, added he’d rather have the video games anyway.

This was the first I’d heard of any video games. They became a major source of contention. Tiffany insisted Harlan’s dad brought them up after Harlan, on his own, decided to donate the bike. Harlan was vague on exactly when the games entered the picture but seemed sure it was his mother’s idea. Finally both agreed on Tiffany’s version of the truth.

The next issue was whether Harlan rode the bike. His first story was that he’d ridden around at the Fire Fest. Tiffany refuted this so he changed his story to he walked it around. But he also fell off. How could he fall off when he wasn’t riding? Thus began a long, confusing story. It didn’t help that Tiffany constantly interrupted in order to “clarify.” I could see why criminal investigators only talk to one person at a time. I asked my niece to just let her son talk. I was interviewing him after all. Realizing she couldn’t restrain herself, she graciously took her two-year-old outside to play.

After much questioning and many stories I determined Harlan did not know the difference between sell and donate. Money doesn’t mean much to most six year olds. His halo fit solidly back on his head when I realized he wanted to call the fire station to find the exact right person to give the bike to: it should go to a child who lost his bike in a fire. What a sweet kid! But then why does he have such a devilish grin?

Harlan with his drawing and prize bike.

Harlan's more devilish nature is exposed.

1 comment:

namacuix said...

This is a really cool story. It's really funny how erratic a child's movements and thoughts are and it's amazing how well you captured it in the story. It also gives us a glimpse into a person's inherent good nature, which you probably did accidentally.