“And how do you know about that?” the doctor asked.
The adults all looked at one another.
“How come people are so surprised when someone knows something?” Jonah asked. “Your generation had better get used to how completely unspecial it is that a kid can look up a medicine online and learn about the side effects. That’s not me being precocious. It’s just me using my stupid computer.”
Mr. Marcus talks about his story in the Page Turner column/blog/department of the New Yorker.
Dinner was brief, destroyed by the savage appetite of Lester, who engulfed his meal before Rachel had even taken a bite, and begged, begged to be excused so that he could return to the platoon of small plastic men he’d deployed on the rug. According to Lester, his men were waiting to be told what to do. “I need to tell my guys who to kill!” he shouted. “I’m in charge!”
At the height of this tantrum, Jonah, silent since they’d returned from the doctor’s office, leaned over to Lester, put a hand on his shoulder, and calmly told him not to whine.
“Don’t use that tone of voice,” he said. “Mom and Dad will excuse you when they’re ready.”
“O.K.,” Lester said, looking up at his brother with a kind of awe, and for the rest of their wordless dinner he sat there waiting, as patiently as a boy his age ever could, his hands folded in his lap.
“I’d rather not have to say anything about you and Mom. At school. To Mr. Fourenay.” Mr. Fourenay was what they called a “feelings doctor....”
“Jonah, what are you talking about?”
“About you touching me when I don’t want you to. I don’t want to have to mention that to anyone at school. I really don’t.”
“Please don’t do that,” he said, turning to face the wall.
They took it as teasing, flopped onto his bed to nuzzle and tickle him.
The boy turned rigid, endured the cuddle, then barked out at them, “I really don’t like that!”
“Jonah?” Martin said, sitting up.
“I don’t want your help at bedtime anymore,” he said. “I’m not a baby. You have Lester. Go cuddle with him.”
“Sweetheart,” Rachel said. “We’re not helping you. We’re just saying good night. You like kisses, right? Don’t you like kisses and cuddles? You big silly.”
Jonah hid under the blankets. A classic pout. Except that he wasn’t a pouter, he wasn’t a hider. He was a reserved boy who generally took a scientific interest in the tantrums and emotional extravagances of other children, marvelling at them as though they were some strange form of street theatre.
Martin tried to tickle the blanketed lump of person that was his son. He didn’t know what part of Jonah he was touching. He just dug at him with a stiff hand, thinking a laugh would come out, some sound of pleasure. It used to work. One stab of the finger and the kid exploded with giggles. But Jonah didn’t speak, didn’t move.
“We love you so much. You know?” Martin said. “So we like to show it. It feels good.”
Finally, Martin released him, and Jonah straightened his hair. He did not look happy.
“I know that you and Mom are in charge and you make the rules,” Jonah said. “But even though I’m only ten, don’t I have a right not to be touched?”
The boy sounded so reasonable.
“You do,” Martin said. “I apologize.”
“I keep asking, but you don’t listen.”
“You don’t. Because you keep doing it. So does Mom. You want to treat me like a stuffed animal, and I don’t want to be treated like that.”
“No, I don’t, buddy.”
“I don’t want to be called buddy. Or mister. Or champ. I don’t do that to you. You wouldn’t want me always inventing some new ridiculous name for you.”
“O.K.” Martin put up his hands in surrender. “No more nicknames. I promise. It’s just that you’re my son and I like to hug you. We like to hug you.”
“I don’t want you to anymore. And I’ve said that.”
“Well, too bad,” Martin said, laughing, and, as if to prove he was right, he grabbed Lester, and Lester squealed with delight, squirming in his father’s arms.
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