A piece of toast to Wallace is not just food, but a thing to explore with hands, eyes, and nose as well. Wallace touches all of his food, even clearly hot soup.
This makes teaching proper table manners an interesting challenge. Wallace knows how to set the table and fold napkins. As soon as we sit down however, he looks at everything as a giant finger bowl.
Food texture also trumps taste. Wallace spent an entire year refusing to eat mashed potatoes because of texture. Most kids look at mashed potatoes as both a building material and the best thing to eat. Wallace looked at mashed potatoes as something just shy of evil.
An edible product of Mother Nature also causes Wallace to test his senses. Jamestown receives on average about ninety-seven inches of snow per year. Wallace likes to put his hand in every inch of new snow and taste it. This exploration involves both touch and taste. The cleanliness of the snow is never an issue for Wallace but Elisabeth and I due steer him away from any yellow snow. Wallace’s exploration of snow started when he learned to walk and continues today. When I take Wallace sledding in the winter, he takes forever walking back up the hill because he must stop every three feet to taste the snow.
Blankets are another important part of Wallace’s life. He often needs to have a blanket on him at bed time, TV time, and meal times if we let him. Bed time seems obvious, but Wallace wants a blanket even on the warmest of evenings. He then asks Elisabeth or me to tuck the blanket under his mattress.
“Mom, will you please tuck me in?” asked Wallace.
“Sure, honey, but you do not need all these blankets.”
“Yes, I do. And the blue one goes first and then my Star Wars blanket.”
Whereupon Wallace proceeded to direct Elisabeth in the “Layering of the Blankets” ritual.
This is fine with us but again highlights Wallace’s need for a sensory input that goes beyond what you might normally expect. Additionally, it was about 70 F in Wallace’s room. The danger of hypothermia did not seem apparent to us. Wallace, however, focused more on the cocoon-like feeling that all the blankets combined to make.
Smell is also important to Wallace. He has discovered my cologne and Elisabeth’s perfume. I also have an ancient bottle of Old Spice that I have never thrown away due to inertia. It is now common for Wallace, and the entire upstairs, to reek of Old Spice. He is the manliest sixth grader in town. Part of this is experimentation, but Wallace clearly seeks out certain smells to keep around him.
“Ok, Wallace, time to go,” I barked.
“Just a minute! I need my cologne!” replied the best smelling kid on our block.
Wallace then took his personal bottle of spray (named after an axe) and doused himself in a haze of weird smelling stuff.
“Dad, I smell good and manly!”
“You certainly smell like a junior high school kid.”
Recently, Wallace and I ventured out on the evening of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. We stopped by our local mall to grab a sandwich at Wallace’s favorite nationally franchised submarine sandwich place. After our dining on hand crafted sandwiches, Wallace insisted on going to the mall’s smelly soap store. We stepped into the store and all of its smells and Wallace visibly relaxed. He took me by the hand to his favorite sample bottles. I should point out that we were the only males in the store, but Wallace did not let that slow down his march to smell every bottle possible.
Wallace had become enamored with the scent of lavender at this point in his life. Fearless, my eleven year old son approached an employee for directions to the lavender section of the store. I learned that day that this store had a lavender section. The number of lavender products certainly surprised me but not Wallace. I did consent to buying Wallace some lavender scented shower gel. Wallace spent the rest of the evening extoling the virtues of lavender.
As this book goes to press, Wallace has some of the best maintained hair in Jamestown. Why? Wallace has learned that Mom’s conditioner smells good. It is common now for Wallace to try each shampoo and conditioner he can find during bath time. There is no real harm in this olfactory exploration, but it brings about a most unusual demand: “Dad, smell my hair!”
This reminds of the time a few years ago when Wallace and I were left to ourselves while Elisabeth went to visit her brother in eastern Pennsylvania.
The Hand Lotion That Ate Jamestown
The Monday after the Super Bowl often means waking up early after a long night of wings, beer, and Spam. While Elisabeth was visiting her out-of-town brother, the stage was set for a little pandemonium with young Master Wallace. I prefer to call it “The Revenge of the Amish,” but that is another story. This little episode took place when Wallace was five or six.
Wallace usually woke up around 7:20 to 7:30, just after I finished my shower and donned my gray flannel uniform, errr, suit for the day. This particular Monday was Super-Let-Down Monday, the day after Phoenix lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl 43. Wallace arose early that morning at 6:45 AM loudly announcing his presence by calling out, “Daddy! Hello!” Wallace looked awfully cute in his Cars pajamas. Soon, however, the junior racing enthusiast would battle a very smelly foe.
Springing to life, I greeted Wallace at the threshold to the master suite. Our dog, Chip, and I had been conducting a post-game analysis on the Cardinals’ heartbreaking loss to the Steelers when Wallace decided that he wanted to expound on the virtues of Handy Manny, a cartoon philosopher employed by the Disney Channel.
I dutifully installed Wallace on “the Big Bed” and put on the aforementioned Handy Manny hoping that Wallace would take the hint and fix our leaky basement. With a stern warning about leaving the comfy confines of the Big Bed, I left Wallace to contemplate Handy Manny’s crisis du jour while I began my morning shower.
Ahhh, The Hot Shower of Happiness. Nothing could interfere with my twenty minutes of Nirvana.
The door then burst open: “Dad! Chippy is growling at me!” The cold hallway air griped my ankles. Wallace frequently forgot that Chip’s tail was not a baton for conducting music. [This was also when Wallace regularly watched Little Einsteins.]
“Ok, ok. Chip! Come here. Good boy.” I sent Wallace back to Not-So-Handy Manny and invited Chip into the inner sanctum (i.e. bathroom) to express his views on Kurt Warner’s throwing arm. Calm was briefly restored.
The door burst open again: “Dad, smell my hands!”
“Huh? Get back on the Big Bed!”
Something had caused Wallace’s hands to smell funny but I had failed to grasp the situation. Now, a more alert father would have instantly grasped the emergency and acted right away.
I was under the influence of Suave Shampoo and did not register the danger signal.
All good showers must come to an end. I was calmly drying my feet when another blast of arctic hallway air slammed into me.
“Dad, SMELL MY HANDS!” This expression should scare any parent but I could only muster a mildly coherent response.”
Then, I glanced at two small hands drenched in Elisabeth’s hand lotion. Drenched. It was as if Wallace had mixed up a bowl of the odious lavender goo by hand while boldly flouting the child labor laws of New York. I also noticed the runoff on Wallace’s favorite Cars pajamas.
I sprang into action as only a forty-two year old Dad wearing nothing but a bath towel can do. I guided the junior mad scientist by his shoulder and instructed him in no certain terms to sit on the toilet while I finished drying my not quite middle-aged torso. Chip went to a neutral corner and watched the action unfold.
All this lasted about thirty seconds when Wallace decided to parade around the increasingly small bathroom. He seemed interested in the subtleties of leading a marching bad. I seized control of the situation and placed Wallace on the bathroom counter with pointed instructions to now remain sitting until he was twenty-seven.
Finally adorned in boxer shorts and a terribly white t-shirt, I began the decontamination process. We still had some pre-moistened wipes around which I quickly persuaded to join the battle. A large pile of used wipes and a few choice “Daddy words” later, the first finger was clean. I then managed to get Wallace’s hands, wrists and forearms clean with an added bonus of expanding the young boy’s foreign word vocabulary. Times like this make me proud that I can curse in German, Spanish, French and Japanese.
I then seized the moment and had Wallace try to dress himself while still in a temporary state of cleanliness. As Wallace attempted to put his socks on his elbows, I quickly ran into the master suite to survey the damage. Thankfully the carnage was limited to the TV stand. Water may never again penetrate the lotioned area, but I was able to clean up the area without the assistance of the Environmental Protection Agency. Elisabeth’s bottle of lotion, however, had made the ultimate sacrifice.
Here now was the situation: one child who thought his socks should cover his forearms, one newly waterproofed TV stand, and one father setting a fine example for balding men across the nation. At least the dog and cat (Lulu) enjoyed the show.
Luckily Elisabeth had ironed a clean shirt for me. L.L. Bean called the fabric “luxuriously thick.” I called it a tarp with a button down collar. After dressing, I explained to Wallace the purpose of foot hosiery and helped him put his socks on the correct limbs. Wallace and I even managed to find matching socks that he most likely had not worn yet this week.
Sadly, Jamestown Public Schools had declared Super Bowl Monday to be a “teacher in-service” day giving the youth of Jamestown a day off from their studies. The timing of the Super Bowl and the in-service day seemed rather curious. Anyway, I and Wallace donned our woolen spacesuits and stepped into the “brisk” winter air. Wallace and I then alighted to his babysitter where I deposited one child with very supple hands.
I spent the remainder of the day trying to explain to my clients that assaulting your neighbor with a snow shovel is not the best way to resolve boundary disputes, even if the snow shovel is made from plastic and not metal.
This episode shows how Wallace’s sensory exploration comes up at the most surprising times. To every extent possible, Elisabeth and I let Wallace explore his world. I just hope this exploration does not involve any more pre-dawn lotion testing.
[To this day, our TV stand repels all liquids. Our dog, Chip, is elderly now but he still pines for the “glory days” of the Phoenix Cardinals.]
 Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse all compete for the Golden Snowball every year. The winner is the city with the most snowfall during the winter season. (www.goldensnowball.com) I think Jamestown could easily win this contest on any given year.
 I am Roman numeral impaired.