My husband was going to be home late today and I wanted to make sure he got to see the kids at least a little bit, so this afternoon Barak, Iyyar and I went to stop in and say hi to him at kollel. He teaches in the morning and learns in the school's kollel in the afternoon; that way, he's available to kids who need help and can do school prep and his own learning. It's a good deal, and nobody minds if he sits and learns aleph-beis with his son for a few minutes now and then.
Today, we went, bringing along Barak's Gadi Pollock aleph-beis book and the shtender with his name on it we bought in Meah Shearim almost two years ago now. We got there just as mincha was starting--bad timing, but Barak sat in the beis medrash with his sefer very nicely as Iyyar and I rolled his ball around outside in the hall. Iyyar, as I may have mentioned, is obsessed with balls right now. Never has it been so easy to direct him in the way I want him to go--I just kick the ball wherever I want him to head, and off he goes.
After mincha, Barak and Abba learned for a little while, and then we all headed off to the mat room. The mat room is a room at the J where you can take little kids (under-fours, although not everyone reads the sign) to play. It's full of mats (duh) and big foam blocks and a very baby-friendly play structure, and when I'm not up for chasing everyone around the park we go there. Part of the play structure is two little houses connected by a crawling tunnel. At one point, Barak was in one, Iyyar was in the other, and Barak wanted Iyyar to come through the tunnel to his house. "Iyyar, c'mere! C'mere! C'mere and learn in my beis medrash!"
The original plan had been mat room, park, and home for dinner by five, but we'd been derailed by the sight of men laying brick on the way. Half an hour of bricklaying-watching later, the park was scrapped, and then we spent longer in the mat room than planned, so by the time we got home it was already almost six. Okay, maybe we're scrapping baths tonight too. I put Iyyar in his high chair and cut up some cucumbers for Barak while I started dinner. Barak took his bowl of cucumbers over to the table, sat down, and frowned.
"Imma, is dis fleishig?"
"The cucumbers? No, the cucumbers aren't fleishig."
"No, they're not fleishig or milchig. They're parve."
"Oh." Barak considers this. "Da tablecloth is milchig. Iss da green one. Iss da milchig tablecloth. I can't put it on dere."
"Yes, you can. It's okay."
"No!" he told me, with great conviction. "Iss not okay. Da kookumbers," (holding out bowl) "are parve and da tablecloth" (pointing emphatically at tablecloth) "iss milchig. I can't put it on dere. I gotta move da tablecloth like diss." And what did he do? He did exactly what his father does when he isn't feeling, ah, energetic enough to actually change to the appropriate tablecloth: he folded part of the tablecloth back to reveal the (treif) table underneath. "I just gonna put it on dere, okay Imma? Now it's okay. Now I can eat it."
"Okay, Barak. You can do that. That's fine."
"No, iss not fine. I hafta do it like dat cause iss parve." No, it is not merely muttar, it is absolutely necessary!
Then, of course, I finished making the spinach noodles--which, being hot, could not go on the treif table. "Barak, you need to put the tablecloth back now. The noodles are milchig, so they need to go on the green tablecloth." Barak looks horrified.
"No, Imma! I can't do dat! Da kookumbers are parve!"
"I know, sweetie, but the noodles are milchig."
"But da kookumbers are parve! I can't put it onna milchig one!"
"Yes, sweetie, you can, because now that you're having noodles, your whole meal is milchig. So you put everything on the milchig tablecloth."
Barak's eyebrows are literally crunched together in concentration. He thinks about this. It makes sense. It is good.
"Okay," he said, and put the tablecloth back.
Halachic man, age three and a half.
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As a postscript, I should mention that a couple of weeks ago I called Barak a toddler and Miriam said no, he's a preschooler. And I said no, he's still a toddler--I don't know when he'll stop being a toddler, but I'll know when it happens. And somehow or other, it seems to have happened. I'm not sure what it is, but it's something about the way he talks now--the way that most of the time, you can have an 85% rational conversation with him, and he mimics adult gestures and expressions, and gets himself dressed and undressed, and goes to the bathroom in public restrooms by himself (with me outside the stall, of course). He's not a toddler anymore. He's a little kid.