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A Boy of Many Talents

My six-year-old son has a condition that is at once very strange and also very common among young boys: he can’t walk normal.

In fact, it is a rare sighting—like seeing a snow leopard—to watch my son take a bland, unoriginal step. And it’s quite obvious that he has no desire to engage in standard pedestrian locomotion.

Instead, he is a constant, tightly bound flow of energy that somehow transfers him from here to there. It’s like watching a Broadway show; sometimes you’re like, “What? What is he doing?”

Here are some of the ways he conveys from one place to the next:

  • He runs, then stumbles, then runs more
  • He leaps forward, over and over again
  • He skips, of course
  • He walks backwards
  • He runs backwards
  • He walks sideways
  • He runs sideways
  • He falls, gets up, falls again, gets up, and so on
  • He walks on his knees
  • He runs forward, but turns his torso backward to say something to his father, and then, shifting quickly, he turns his torso forward and starts running backward
  • He careens, bent at the waist, especially when climbing and descending stairs
  • He bursts forth at a sprint, and to stop himself he slides on his knees, like he is a performer who has come to the end of a vaudeville show—big finish! (This is usually how he ends up at our front door.)
  • He staggers and veers sharply left, then right, nearly toppling over the entire way. (He usually does this when walking close to traffic, so that his father spends his entire time planning to dive in front of an oncoming car to save him.)
  • He climbs anything, as long as he is not walking
  • He progresses forward through a series of movements and gestures outlined above that, when seen all at once, are quite challenging for the human mind to understand


And on those rare occasions when he walks normal, he complains that he is tired. He can’t simply walk for more than twenty paces without exhausting himself, which is scientifically remarkable, as he clearly expends more energy when he chooses one of the unusual ways listed above.

Like many boys, he is very gifted and unique.

Here’s another talent that he has, that even impresses his nine-year-old sister.

He can add any consonant whatsoever—preferably a different consonant than the original—to every single word in a song like, say, “Jingle Bells.” So, “Jingle Bells” becomes, with an “h” replacing the first consonants, “Hingle Hells, Hingle Hells, Hingle hall huh hay.”

For the entire song, he does not miss a word or a beat. Sure, easy, you say. Well, try it. The whole song. Without missing a word or beat.

His sister tried it in the car the other day, and she missed a couple of words. “How do you do that?” she asked her brother.

He said, in response, “Guess what else I can do that no one else can do?”

And before we could ask what it might be, he hissed at us. But it was not just any hiss—it was The Hiss!

The Hiss is frightening and comical all at once. And it is impossible to reproduce, unless you have my son’s specific physical attributes—mouth, throat, cranium size, etc.

The Hiss sounds like this: Say you come across an old, abandoned mansion. It’s dark, but you walk inside. Cobwebs everywhere. You walk around, feeling a bit unsure in the quiet, dusty air. You wander upstairs. And then, for reasons that are unclear, you decide a trip to the attic would be interesting. Pulling out your flashlight in that spooky, dark attic space, you shine the light around, looking for something, anything.

There’s a rustling over in the corner—an animal of some sort. You flash the light in that direction, and you catch sight of a dozen feral cats, backs arched. And in the middle of the feline mass, you see a wild boy—hair a mess, wearing only a torn and dirty cloth.

It is apparent that he has been raised by the cats, that he doesn’t know a word of English. You know this because when you say, “Hello,” he hisses at you.

That’s the kind of sound my son can make: like a hiss from a boy who has been raised by feral cats.

After performing The Hiss, my son said, after a brief, dramatic pause, “Why can I do all these things?”

It was a good question. I wanted to say, “Because you are a boy.” But I chose to use a synonym. “Because you are an original,” I said. “You are one of a kind.”

“Oh,” he said. And then he went back to singing “Hingle Hells.”

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