The Greysonian Museum: Walking Tour of a Mind Untethered

The 8th wonder of the world, in my arguably not-so-humble opinion, is my son. Greyson Francis Wingert. (Incidentally, the 9th wonder, which emerged in the world 2 years later, is Violet Skye Marie. But I’ll save that fatherly soliloquy for another day.)

The Taj Mahal? Machu Picchu? The Great Wall of China? They’re all wonder-inducing, sure. Wonderful, even.

But have you ever met a 5-year-old who can identify a wide majority of the world’s birds, along with some of their scientific names? A kindergartener who is an expert on most animals, both extant and extinct, and their habitats? A human being who has been alive for only half a decade, but can sometimes, somehow, run the table on a creature-themed ‘Jeopardy!’ category?

And that’s just the animal side of Greyson’s wonder-ousness.

For the sake of posterity, and as a monument to a moment in time, below is a collection of some of my favorite Greysonisms from this spring and summer.

The span of time in which my sweet boy uttered these words was an emotionally intense span for me. Half of it was marked by relative clarity (relative to the psychologically grueling pandemic in which that clarity existed). And the other half of it was afflicted by an agonizing bout of depression. As such, many of these utterances were an oasis of sorts for me. A brief flash of sweetness and light, hope and clarity, in the midst of my roiling mental anguish.

So drink deep of Greyson’s offbeat wonder. His goofy wordplay. His unvarnished innocence.

All 3 of which are among my favorite intoxicants on earth.

“This [book] says that elephants can be domesticated! But how could an elephant even fit through a door?”

Greyson has a fascinating way of processing information that is somehow both exactingly literal and wildly imaginative. Watching his mind work is pure delight.

Below is another example of this literal-but-imaginative tendency, a quote which he uttered while we were playing near a creek. I had mentioned the term “creek bed” and the mental gears of my then-4-year-old kicked in immediately.

“Creek bed, stream bed, river bed…” 

*thinks for a bit* 

“Does a sink or a bathtub have a bed?”

Have you ever even considered the oddness of the word “bed” in that context? Or did your mind, like mine, pass over this linguistic quirk because “river bed” is just a phrase you’ve heard a thousand times?

Well, Greyson doesn’t pass over anything lightly. And that’s just one kind of light that radiates from the vast, open sky of his mind.

Another kind of light is his glistening connection to nature, as seen below.

“I love rocks and gravel and dirt and trees and animals and birds and sticks and flowers and everything in nature!”

My boy has reveled in the great outdoors ever since he was a baby, when I would take him out into the yard every day to sit in the “papa chair” (i.e. my lap, which he fit in comfortably, as if it had been designed for that very purpose) during the warm, hazy, and exhaustingly election-focused days of summer 2016. Resting comfortably in his own personal chair, Greyson would stare up at the trees and the sky, reverent and riveted, for as long as I would leave him there.

As Calvin (he of the Hobbesian school of thought) once said about being outdoors in the summertime:

The days are just packed.

Greyson was transfixed by the wonders of the natural world then, and he still is today, albeit in a more goofy and kinetic way. Taking him on a hike is an exercise in pure delight, and it allows me to notice things I wouldn’t have noticed on my own. Without fail, either he or Violet will point something out along the trail that eludes my adult gaze.

Then there was the time I showed Greyson an album called Everything and Nothing by Hammock, who happens to be one of my favorite bands on earth. Without missing a beat, he submitted this query:

“How can there be everything but also nothing? That couldn’t happen. If there’s lots of things, there can’t be nothing.”

I opted not to delve too deep into dualism or the history of paradoxical philosophy (mostly because, um, I’m not acquainted with it). But I gave him the best example I could summon of an everything-but-also-nothing concept. And I smiled warmly to myself that my little boy is so inquisitive and so engaged by language that his brow was furrowed by this odd turn of phrase.

Greyson sometimes says things that instantly explode my heart, either with joy or with that unique brand of heartbreak that only parents and those who care deeply for children can know. That beautiful, bittersweet ache that comes from being entrusted with the ultimate well-being of a tiny, innocent body and soul. Here is one of those heart-exploding utterances.

“I do not call myself a sad part of the world.”

I wish I could remember what prompted this one. But my gosh. How perfect.

I too would not dream of calling my sweet buddy boy a sad part of the world. Not by a long shot. But he may be afflicted by sadness someday, since half of his genes come from someone who was fully torpedoed by the worst kind of blistering sadness last summer. It’s agonizing to imagine that my kids might someday be waylaid by the depression that knocked me sideways. I would do anything to protect them from such a fate.

But all I can really do is raise Greyson and Violet with an honest understanding of the complexity of the world (eventually, when they get a bit older) and an honest understanding of the complexity of human emotion (right now, any chance I can get).

And I’m doing my best. I’ve even tried to, in a rudimentary way, explain to both Greyson and Violet that I was very sad and very tired last summer, that I didn’t feel well, and that as a result I didn’t act like myself at all.

I don’t know how much they’ve been able to understand this when I bring it up, or how much they may have picked up on it while it was actually happening. But I think it’s vital that I level with them about sadness. So that they don’t panic when they feel their first hint of that shadowy gloom, whenever that might be.

Also, someday I need to show them Inside Out. That one’s in my parenting cinematic canon.

“Do you like the world?”… “Do you like everything?”

What a great interviewer this boy can be! It was fun to summon a thoughtful response to this one, another of his heart-exploders. What would you say to this question right now? What would you have said to this question in 1990? In 2000? In 2010? Are those answers different? Ask yourself why.

I could write a whole blog post just about my response to these two Greysonian questions. But instead, I’ll just leave this reflection here, which popped into my mind a few days ago.

 “What a messed-up world we live in,” he said mournfully to his wife.

And it was the truth.

“What a beautiful world we live in!”, he said ecstastically to his kids.

And it was the truth.

“Is there any houses in the moon? Is there any buildings in the moon? Is there any trees in the moon? Is there any grass in the moon? What if you walked in the moon? Is there any walking sticks in the moon? Is there any animals in the moon?”

This series of questions, most of which were punctuated by my increasingly bemused “well, no” answers, illustrates how thorough Greyson is in interrogating a subject that piques his interest. I love how questions like this, from either him or Violet, reveal to me how many things I take for granted. Things that I simply know (or assume) to be true, and forget that I only know them because I learned those things at some unspecified point in my childhood.

Things like the fact that the moon, and the other planets, are barren of organic life. (I’m no scientist, so I might be technically wrong about that. Please let me know so I can correct both myself and Greyson ASAP.)

Violet [looking out the window at the bird feeder]: “Blue-bird, hum-bird, fly, coat, shoes!”

Greyson: ”Birds don’t wear coats or shoes! Or hats or pants or shirts or anything at all!”

This one is pretty self-explanatory. But it’s a sterling example of the kind of goofy repartee that Greyson and Violet share, in which one of them saying something offbeat and the other one laughs or playfully corrects them. Sometimes it can feel like a free improv show in our own house! Now there’s a bonus side benefit of parenting that I didn’t necessarily anticipate.

Speaking of bird-themed quotes, here’s another one. For more than a year, and maybe closer to two, Greyson was singularly obsessed with birds. (He still likes them, but he’s moved on to big cats.) Combine that with his love of wordplay, inherited directly from his pops, and you get this exchange:

Me: “Greyson, do your Velcro.”

Greyson: *thinks for a few seconds* “What if there was a Vel-raven? Or a Vel-jackdaw!”

Just a Greysonian classic. Nothing more needs to be said.

Finally, here is a quote that he uttered on a recurring basis during spring and summer whenever I told him that I would only be able to work from home for a few more months. I was depressed during most of this time frame, and the prospect of going back to work on the Widener campus was daunting for a half-dozen different reasons. The primary one being that I couldn’t bear the thought of suddenly losing hours upon hours of time each day when I was adjacent to the kids, able to take them out for walks or just read them a random book in the middle of the day.

I worked at home for 17 consecutive months, and this was both the greatest blessing (given the kids’ ages) and the most arduous burden (given the claustrophobia of quarantine life) that I could have asked for. But it twisted my heart in knots to count down the days to when I would re-embark on my 40-minute commute and my in-person 9-to-5 job.

I pictured the kids maybe being traumatized, and I pictured myself definitely being even more traumatized. So imagine the intensity of my fatherly ache when Greyson responded, with a furrowed brow and a quivery firmness in his voice:

“You can *never* go back to work every day at Widener. I will *not* let you.”

He loves me. My little boy loves me.

That’s it. That’s the takeaway.

And that, ultimately, is one of the main things that got me through the transition away from remote working. (Which ended up being far smoother than I could have expected.)

Greyson loves me.

And I love Greyson.

To Neptune and back.

2 thoughts on “The Greysonian Museum: Walking Tour of a Mind Untethered

  1. Jeremy, this is so beautiful! I hope that many others will read this. A father’s love and your vulnerability is refreshing. It made me smile. Even through pain, there is light. Love to the family.


    • Thank you so much, Lora! It’s wild to me that people I don’t know can find my blog. I’m so grateful you found some resonance. Even through pain, there is indeed light. Beautifully said. Much love to you as well!


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