A Lesson on Igloos and Whales

“What is this?” I asked my four-year-old nephew, pointing to a whale on the rug of his bedroom carpet.

One of the first things I do when I come home from college is visit my eldest sister; her older son and daughter are usually at school when I swing by, so I find myself spending quality time with her two younger sons (although the baby doesn’t seem to like me… ah well).

He looked at the picture I was pointing at it briefly before going back to push his Batman car over the rest of the rug. “A whale.”

“A whale? That’s cool. Why is it in the water?”

“Because whales swim in water.”

“Can it go on the land?” I asked.

“Nope. Whales swim in water,” he repeated. He looked up, putting his hands in a circle shape. “Whales have a hole in their backs, and they spit water through it.” He then pointed to the water spouting out of the rug whale’s back. “See?”

I was incredibly surprised by all this little boy was telling me. Of course, I’m impressed when his older siblings tell me about the things they learn in school, but that’s the thing: they’re in school. My four-year-old nephew, on the other hand, isn’t.

“Do you know what a shark is?” my sister (his other aunt), who’d come in at my request to see him, asked.

He jumped up and put his hands in a triangle shape. “They have this thing on their back!” he said.

“What do sharks eat?” my sister asked. “Do they eat monkeys?”

“No, they eat fish.” He went back to playing with his toys. “They probably eat red fish, because red fish look like blood and sharks like blood.”

I decided to keep quizzing him. “What about this? What’s this?” I asked, pointing to an igloo.

He studied it, and his silence made me wonder if I’d stumped him. “It’s a house,” he said, “made of ice. You take the ice and you put it like this,” he said, making a stacking motion with his hands, “until it’s done.”

I was impressed; he hadn’t identified it as by its given term but had defined it well. “Who lives there?” I asked.

“Ice people.” Good, good. “And penguins.” Hmm. “And they breathe smoke!”

“Smoke?”

“But it’s ice! Because it’s cold out!”

Once again, impressed. “And finally, this?” I pointed to a cactus.

“It’s like… a beach,” he said. “But it’s not a beach. This is a beach,” he said, pointing to the shoreline near the swimming whale. “This is next to the water, so it’s a beach. That one isn’t, so it’s not… so it’s a desert!”

This little boy was born premature, and the doctors predicted that he’d develop more slowly than normal, falling behind the children of his age. As I watched this skinny, green-eyed toddler explaining basic geography to me, I couldn’t help but be utterly amazed, and ultimately proud that he was proving everyone wrong.

I think I’ll schedule a visit to the aquarium with this kid.

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