Issue # 26
September 22, 2000
The Fans Are
Spinning Like
Porcupines

By Rich Wilhelm

Our little boy is growing up. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

It’s amazing how much a child can grow in six months. When I started writing these columns back in March, Jimmy could still comfortably be called a toddler. Now, the word "toddler" just doesn’t seem to fit. Jimmy is a little boy now.

When you live with a young child, you might not notice the changes that are happening every day. However, there have been a couple of events that have happened this summer that made it quite clear to Donna and me just how much Jimmy is growing up.

In June, Donna, Jimmy and I spent a week in Ocean City, New Jersey. This was the first time the three of us took a weeklong vacation. It was great fun, despite the occasional moments of stress that are bound to happen when you take a two-year-old out of his or her familiar surroundings for a week.

Jimmy had been to the beach before, but not since the summer of ’98, so we weren’t sure what he’d think of the ocean. He loved it. He particularly liked splashing around in the surf and having Mom or Dad lift him up to "jump" over the high waves. At one point while jumping around in the surf, Jimmy looked around at us and the water and the sand and said, "This is the good stuff." That was a defining moment of my summer.

At night we’d head down to the boardwalk to visit, Castaway Cove, an amusement park. Although we knew Jimmy loved merry-go-rounds, we weren’t sure what else he’d want to ride. We quickly discovered that our son has no fear. He wanted to ride the kiddie roller coaster as soon as he saw it. Donna rode with him first. I was afraid he’d be wailing as soon as the coaster made its first big drop, and he was, but he was wailing with excitement, not fear. As soon as the ride ended, he wanted to get right back on, so I broke my 25-year streak of not riding any kind of roller coasters to ride with him. By the end of the week Donna and I had each ridden the coaster with him about five times.

Our vacation to Ocean City was wonderful because we saw Jimmy do so many things we’d never seen him do before. For that reason alone, I think the trip will always have a special place in our memory.

The other event might seem small in comparison to a weeklong vacation, but it was significant to me nonetheless. Sometime in July or August, we were in church on a Sunday morning. Jimmy was looking at the three revolving ceiling fans. After studying the fans awhile Jimmy said, "The fans are spinning like porcupines."

The fans are spinning like porcupines. I had absolutely no idea what he meant by that, but I was absolutely fascinated by it. I tried to do a mental inventory of all the movies he’s seen and books we’ve read to him to figure out where he would have gotten the image of a spinning porcupine in his head. Aside from a porcupine that has a brief, non-spinning appearance in his book Just Me and My Dad, I couldn’t come up with anything.

From there, I started thinking about what the line "The fans are spinning like porcupines" sounded like. It reminded me of the kind of line Bob Dylan was creating on a regular basis while recording Blonde on Blonde. Which is not to say that I think Jimmy is the "next Dylan" so much as it is to say that I wonder if Dylan was hanging around the studio with a two-year-old back in 1966. Later that same Sunday we were at my parents’ house and I put Dylan’s Nashville Skyline on the CD player. As he often does, Jimmy asked, "Who’s singing?" When I told him, "Bob Dylan," he replied, "Bob Dylan. He’s my favorite." Coincidence?

Jimmy’s description of the fans also reminds me of some cryptic piece of dialogue from Twin Peaks: "The owls are not what they seem…and the fans are spinning like porcupines."

I spent the next couple weeks just fascinated by Jimmy’s statement. It made me realize how much goes on in his brain now that not even his mom and dad totally know about. Obviously, he made some connection between porcupines and ceiling fans. There’s some kind of internal logic there that belongs entirely to Jimmy, and I think that’s incredibly cool.

Obviously Jimmy’s grown up and learned an immense amount in the last six months. But what have I learned during this latest stretch of parenting? I’ve learned that raising a child is fun, but tough. That it’s glorious, but mundane. That it’s immensely rewarding, but draining. Take any two contradictory notions at all, slam them together and that’s what parenting can be. Most of all, I’ve learned that, no matter how hard or frustrating or infuriating it can sometimes be, being Jimmy’s Dad is an experience I would never, ever trade for anything anybody would care to offer me.

And that, as I once heard someone say, is the dichotomy of the dog.

(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)

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