Last week we traveled to California to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family. As we loaded the car with luggage, snacks, and movies, I instructed all the children to take their backpacks to their rooms and fill them with activities for the road--books, crayons and paper, small toys, etc. We've been on two other road trips recently, so I felt confident that each child would be able to retrieve appropriate items. Soon the children reemerged with bulging backpacks. We tucked everyone into the car, and set off.
Ben (seven years old) immediately extracted his Nintendo DS from his backpack, and between that and the movies playing in the Suburban's tv/dvd machine, he was content for the first three hours of the drive. Then, as the dark of night crept over us, the car's interior was suddenly illuminated with a soft blue-white glow. My husband glanced at the seat behind me where Ben was sitting, chuckled, and whispered, "Oh--he's holding the moon."
From his backpack Ben had withdrawn the glowing moon that normally hangs on his wall. It's about 15-inches in diameter, concave, and filled with LED lights that illuminate intermittently to resemble the lunar phases.
Using the light of the moon, Ben reached into his backpack again and this time, in true Cat-in-the-Hat fashion, withdrew a full-sized dvd player and assorted cabling, and proceeded to connect his device to the car's existing dvd player--directing me as to the proper hookup of the cables into our vehicle's ceiling-mounted system while he handled the cabling in the back of his own machine. "Why?" I asked him? "Oh, in case the room I stay in doesn't have a dvd player," he said. "But why are we hooking this up to our car right now?" I continued. "Um...I just want to," he answered.
Still in a halo of artificial moonlight, Ben next withdrew a six-inch raw speaker woofer which he had recently extricated from an old karaoke machine. He explained that he needed this for the magnetic properties of the back plate. I asked him why, to which he replied, "Um...I don't know. I just do."
My daughter took Ben's backpack to investigate the remainder of its contents. All that remained were a laser-pen and two screwdrivers--a Phillips, and a flat head. "Why did you bring screwdrivers, Ben?" I asked? "Oh...just in case," he replied. A worried curiosity washed over me: Just in case what?
Turns out, those screwdrivers came in handy over the next week as Ben deftly removed all the hat hooks from his cousin's bedroom wall, disassembled a spin-art toy in order to examine the interior spinning mechanisms, and made an internal repair to one of his cousin's light-up vehicles. None of these things were done with permission or supervision, but none surprised us. Ben's favorite Christmas present last year was a carton of used, broken appliances that I picked up from the local thrift store, along with a new bag of tools. And whenever a replacement appliance or toy appears at our home, Ben's first request is that he be given the old one so that he can take it apart and examine the internal mechanisms. His room is littered with little screws, wires, cables, plastic and metal components of varying shapes and sizes...Sometimes I feel like a street performer who gingerly picks her way barefoot over a path of broken glass as I try to get to Ben's bed at night to tuck him in.
As I've reflected on Ben's choice of "good activities" for the trip, it occurs to me that he chose exactly the right things for himself--he brought the tools and supplies that helped him feel like he was in a comfortable, familiar environment. He doesn't love coloring or reading. He loves building and wiring, and figuring out how the world around him works. So he chose to pack things that allowed him to do exactly that.
As for the moon, I'm sure he had practical reasons for bringing it, too. Most likely he was anticipating needing a source of light once night had fallen, but there may have been an element of familiarity tied to it as well.
But I find myself reflecting on his lighting choice a little more philosophically than he might. Sometimes I think that Ben's mind, and his comprehension of things, is as mysterious as the universe itself. And yet, like a galaxy of stars, he brings a unique and gentle light to our lives. In his hands on the night that we drove to California, and in the center of his soul, Ben is holding the moon.