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By John Addyman

   I’m learning more about little boys every day.
   This week my grandson Jaden, who’s 4, taught me a little about territoriality.  
   My experience with little boys is sparse. My dad was raised by an aunt. His mom had died, and when his dad remarried, no little boys were wanted around the house. I was the oldest in our house, with two sisters. The only lessons about growing up my dad could pass on to me were ones he’s learned from the Army Air Corps. I know he cared, but he didn’t know what to do with that caring.
   When Gayle and I started to build a family, we ran a string of three girls, all of whom wanted a brother – so we adopted. Mike was 9 when he arrived from Korea.
   So when it comes to knowing stuff about being a dad to a little boy, I have no experience.

   Jaden is teaching me at every opportunity.
   He was 2 when he came to live with us as my daughter struggled to get out from under a mountain of debt Jaden’s father had saddled her with before he left for a dewy-eyed teenager.
   Jaden lived with us for two years while his mom got back in school, got her degree, and entered the teaching profession at about the worst time imaginable. My daughter is doing some substitute teaching – that seems to be all that’s available. But she’s found enough work to move out of our house into an apartment.
   So I don’t see Jaden every day anymore. That means his lessons for me have to be more concentrated.
   Last Thursday, for instance, he wanted to go to our favorite store, Real Deals in Lyons. We we’re having fun figuring out to spend about $8 when he suddenly tugged on my jacket.
   “I have to go potty,” he said.
   Terrific. I asked the cashier if there were a bathroom, but I already knew the answer. Now what? I know enough about my grandson that when he says, “I have to go potty,” he’s had the urge to purge for the last 15 minutes and he’s only voicing it now because his back teeth are floating.
   I looked at the cashier for ideas.
   “Out back?” she suggested, admitting she, too, had a young son who, when inclined to hit the potty, needed to do it quickly.
   Laying down our little shopping basket, I took Jaden’s hand and out we went into the parking lot.
   “Where are we going, Granddad?” he asked.
   “To the potty,” I told him. He started looking all around the parking lot for a rest room.
   “Are we going to go outside?” he asked.
   “You are.”
   We walked to the end of the building, got out of sight, and found an appropriate mound of snow. Jaden did his thing almost as fast as he unzipped. In five seconds, it was all over.
   Jaden took awhile to get zipped back up while he admired his work.
   “That will be my place,” he said.
   “We’re not going to do this again, Jaden,” I said.
   He wasn’t listening. “Every time we drive by here, Granddad, I’ll point to the end of the building and say, ‘That’s my place.’” 
   We went back in the store, gathered up our purchases, and approached the cashier.
   “Everything okay?” she asked.
   “Just fine,” I said.
   “I peed…” Jaden started to say in proud, four-year-old fashion. He didn’t finish the sentence because I covered his mouth with my hand. Out the door we went and sure enough, as we walked across the parking lot, Jaden pointed his finger to the back of the building.
   “My place,” he said.
   I promised myself that we would never do that again, that I’d make sure he’d gone to the potty anytime I was thinking of taking him to Real Deals.
   But then I remembered his mom at Jaden’s age. We would make the drive from Altamont, NY (near Albany) to Scranton, PA several times a year to visit my mom and my wife’s parents. On the way back to Altamont, we’d drive I-81 to Binghamton, then pick up I-88.
   The first big turn on I-88 is on the side of a mountain and on that curve, just about every trip we made, my middle daughter Elisabeth – Jaden’s mom –would have to tinkle. Same spot on the highway every time – long past the last rest area and a long way before the next one. She’d ask me to stop the car, she’d get out and daintily sprinkle the weeds, and off we’d go.
   My wife and I covered the same route this summer – some 20 years after those days with Elisabeth – and as soon as we got going on I-88, Gayle asked me, “Is that where we used to stop for …?”
   “Yes, it is,” I said. We both paused to stare at the spot as we zoomed by at 65 mph.
   I don’t if Jaden will remember that he has marked a spot out behind Real Deals. I now his mom wishes we’d forget her spot.
   But isn’t it interesting that a little boy would want to leave something of his own making behind – even if it’s a little piece of discolored snow – and call it his own? Is this one of the first steps toward finding his own place in the world? Does this mean he’ll have an engineering career in irrigation projects or a misspent youth in graffiti? I don’t know.
   What I do know is that you have to pay a lot of attention to 4-year-olds. If you don’t, you miss something.
   Mark my words.  


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