Four In A Row

“The question is,” said a childish voice in the dark, “to save the ship, or to save the passengers.”

Last night. 9PM. I was cuddling Kiddo4 to help him get to sleep after a late nap left him wide-awake at bedtime, and out of the silence came those words.

This is one of those moments that would have truly freaked me out without context. Fortunately, I’d been watching my kids’ TV with them earlier in the afternoon, and this line is directly from Kiddo3’s library video about the sinking of the Andrea Doria: the captain had to ask himself whether to put into shallow water and save the ship (but complicate the rescue effort) or to keep the ship where it was and save the passengers.

Kiddo4 is an intriguing little man, with bits and pieces of his life floating to the surface at times you wouldn’t anticipate. He listens and processes, but you don’t realize he’s done it until afterward. The other kids did the same, but with him I notice it more. I get sentences at random from his preschool days (“Water is the healthiest thing to drink”) but as the youngest of four, very often it seems he feels comfortable operating in a world much older than he is.

Does he know what it means that ships sink? Or that fifteen hundred people died on the Titanic? Does he have the slightest clue what it means to save the passengers? When he’s talking on his own, it seems the most important thing to him is how many funnels a ship has. The Titanic had four; the Lusitania had four; the Andrea Doria had one; the Empress of Ireland had two. Momma, no ship has three funnels.

Four funnels in a row. Four kids in a row.

He pulled out the game of Connect Four and played it with me. He doesn’t want to take turns; he wants to get four in a row, a feat he can ensure if he places four checkers at the same time. (Momma, he scolds if I take a turn, I have to get four in a row.) He doesn’t mind if I get four in a row too, just as long as he’s got his own red swaths of checkers on the grid.

Given that his father is an avid board gamer, he’s seen us play hundreds of times. But this time, he took it up a notch. After playing for about five minutes, he said, “We have to check the ‘structions.” He picked up the instruction sheet, frowned as he studied it, then said, “Try to get four in a row.” He set it to the side and resumed playing.

Now where did he get that from? Why would he think that abruptly during the middle of game play you should pick up the game directions and say something like “Okay, so that card CAN be paired with the second card you laid down, but I’m not sure you can play it during setup mode if you’re the main player and you’ve already laid down an artifact. Now, does that count as an artifact…?”

Granted, the directions for Connect Four aren’t much more complicated than “Try to get four in a row.” But he certainly wasn’t reading the sheet. He’s just imitating what he sees us doing, things that seem very grown-up even though he doesn’t necessarily know why.  I checked the ‘structions. Let’s save four funnels in a row, and then we’ll save the passengers as long as it’s the setup phase.


  1. Cricket

    Any potential daughters-in-law who read this blog are circling even closer now.

  2. jameslebak

    Oh, that’s my boy. We have so many rulebooks to go through together…