In Which Charlie and I Each Solve a Mystery (#194)

It was some days ago that Charlie said something I could not figure out:

“Zero eight.” This was followed by “zero eight stairs” and “I want! zero eight.”

“Can you show Mom? Can you bring it for Mom to see?” Charlie kept asking, face a bit befuddled, and I kept looking around the room until his shoulders twisted into the merest shrug and he clomped down the stairs.
This week as Charlie, following his “hot showah,” pulled the covers of our bed around him, I thought I heard an “eight” or a “nine, nine.” Eureka! “Zero eight” meant “alarm clock” or rather the digital alarm clock I used to have on the nightstand. Charlie learned his numbers at 2 1/2 and has ever after often become obsessed looking at 3’s and 8’s and 6’s and 9’s and 5’s.

I repeat, looking at numbers. It is only in the past month that Charlie has been learning number concepts–that 3 on a flashcard is the same as three objects. When he was 6, he still struggled to call 20 “twenty,” not “two, zero.” He did figure out how to work the buttons on my alarm clock so he could see 12:00, 1:00, 2:00, 3:00, 4:00…….8:00. That is, “zero eight”: Charlie must have been reading the numbers from right to left.

Last year I got rid of the clock. It had become increasingly hard for Charlie to stop looking at the clock when we requested and, when he did, he would often repeat numbers and humming sounds and beeps with unshakeable concentration, and compulsion.

What Charlie likes, can quickly freeze into an obsession. His daddy bue bankett is another favorite thing bordering on fixation. For the past two years, whenever we have gone away overnight or even on a long car trip, Charlie has made it clear, bringing the blanket is essential. So today, after he had strewn two books, his down coat, and “Buhd’ny” on the black car’s back seat, I said, “What about the blue blanket?”

“No,” said Charlie.

Of course, it was “fries yes” at a rest stop on the Turnpike and, as Jim and I were setting down our bags in a hotel room, Charlie was already under the covers on one of the beds, saying “zero eight three nine” and poking at the digital alarm clock. He smiled; he laughed; in ten minutes, he was starting a low moan that became crying and knocking and kicking the sheets all over. I turned the clock’s face away from Charlie. “Charlie, we’re going to see Hal soon,” Jim called.

The moaning ebbed as Charlie donned vest, coat, hat, and gloves, and changed to a quiet smile when Hal appeared. Charlie held his hand as we walked in Philadelphia’s Center City to a real restaurant–with an interesting menu, couples sharing dessert, loudish music on the sound system. Charlie was a gentleman as he ate a burger and fries and shared a bit of my salad (and tapped and manded for Jim’s fries); the only water glass that got knocked over was by accident. Charlie trotted back holding Jim’s hand and positioned himself in the elevator to go up 27 floors. Hal stayed for some more talk and Charlie got last-minute silly and, calling “Nooooo!”, tried to pull Hal back into our hotel room after he had said good-bye.

The clock still called and kept Charlie up past his usual bedtime, until I unplugged it and put it away. He didn’t object.

I think Charlie may be starting to learn what is bad for him and what is good, and how much he really likes what matters.

2 Responses to “In Which Charlie and I Each Solve a Mystery (#194)”
  1. Eileen says:

    Great detective skills! Andrew also loves to “look at” digital clocks. He always goes up stairs to a certain room in my in-laws house that has a digital clock to stare at it.

    Hope you enjoyed your visit with your friend in Philly!

  2. kyra says:

    so wonderful that charlie is learning what is bad and good for him. that’s huge! oh my god, fluffy was mad for the digital clock when i first put one in his room when he was two. he was riveted, watching one number change to the next and then waiting for the BIG cHANGE on the new hour. phew. numbers are so fascinating for so many of our kids.i wonder if it’s their constant nature? the static system? a two is a two is a two is a two?

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