“You couldn’t smile for two seconds?” I teased my younger grandson. His junior year mug shot displays a young man with fine features, chin-length pinkish bush for hair, and the visage of someone who wants to look menacing but doesn’t quite know how.
Mowgli is the name that spontaneously came to mind years ago as I observed the energetic toddler stretch into the lanky young boy with long tousled locks. His drop of Cherokee blood bronzes his body quickly in the summer sun. The sun would bleach his hair sandy if he allowed it. He now chooses various colors depending on his mood. Rarely was he fully clothed, discarding items across the lawn when he returned from school, arriving at the door only in shorts.
Mowgli, I knew, was the infant raised by wolves in Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book.” Disney has several versions in book and movie forms. I had never read the story nor seen the Disney movies or books. Enough cultural cues had given me the idea to spontaneously dub him “Mowgli” and is used to identify him in my blogs.
Last week I read Kipling’s story. And yes, the name fits. In the story, Mowgli is Indian (as in east Indian) with long black hair, living freely among the wild animals of the jungle. Other than that, my Mowgli could have been a model. Never one to sit still, my Mowgli was difficult to manage as a young child if there were no physical boundaries. When I needed to corral my own kids, my walking away was enough to get them moving with me. Not Mowgli, he would run the other direction. Touring the Seattle Aquarium with friends, I learned to position them at each exhibit’s exit to prevent Mowgli running out ahead of me. Having no fear, he made a game of disappearing into crowds. Exhausted from chasing him at the Wildlife World Zoo, I hauled both boys onto the Sky Ride. Even so, I held tight, unsure that he might leap into the animal exhibits below. That was after I tried to restrict Mowgli in the bleachers, enticing him to watch a wild animal demonstration. Unfortunately for me, the wild animal turned out to be a snake. I sat with a tight grip on Mowgli, distracting my mind by texting my family at home. If he had run to the snake, I would have let him go.
He was lively, he was friendly, he was clever and headstrong. As he matured and the quirks of ADD detered classmates, he withdrew into home and his mother. I can’t say enough good things about ED and her maternal skills. She spends hours, even when on the road, talking him through life.
At 16 he continues to be lively. He can be friendly. And he is clever and headstrong. The boy I held tightly by the arm at the zoo is now a 6-foot man who could knock me over with a simple push. His school photo shows a boy who decided not to smile for the camera that day. But he and his mother laugh frequently.
Now responsible for getting himself to school in the morning and to tech school in the afternoon, he has stepped up, attending without complaint despite early mornings and long days. He shows an enthusiasm for the building trades in the afternoon sessions, excited that he can show off some skills gleaned from his grandpa. Thank you, West-MEC. And Grandpa. When both his mother and I are away overnight, he is careful to administer Luna’s meds twice a day to prevent frightening seizures. He shows up and converses during our infrequent family dinners, if only for a few minutes.
What will happen after high school? The future is less predictable with our Mowgli than with his meticulous brother Blue Boy. Kipling’s Mowgli grows up and marries, a statement meant to assure the reader.* My Mowgli’s steps toward responsibility assure me. I love him dearly.