A Story about Ben
When my kids were still very young, before Simon was even born, I went through a season where I was really into personality testing. My favorite ones followed the four temperaments (or humors) from Ancient Greek medicine.
Four temperaments is a proto-psychological theory that suggests that there are four fundamental personality types, sanguine (pleasure-seeking and sociable), choleric (ambitious and leader-like), melancholic (analytical and quiet), and phlegmatic (relaxed and peaceful). Most formulations include the possibility of mixtures of the types.
Most of us had melancholy as a first or second trait in the mix. We are all choleric melancholy or melancholy choleric, or maybe a little melancholy phlegmatic. Melancholy is the overwhelming tone of our household. However, Ben’s test showed that he does not have even a hint of melancholy. In fact, he fell smack dab in the middle of a category that the rest of us did not register in even a little bit.
While the rest of us apparently want to sit around and
think mope, Ben is all sanguine.
Bring on the party.
I’ve often recounted a tale of overhearing my two oldest boys in the same day educating some visiting cousins on the meaning of life.
Cole asked Grace why we should even bother trying when we’re all just going to grow old and die, while Ben on the other side of the playroom said to Emily,
“Did you know that all of life is really a party?”
I am not exaggerating. I think he was about four years old.
Ben is always looking for the party, and if there isn’t one, he is bringing it.
I remember holding the sets of personality tests in my hand and thinking that Ben was going to wake up one day, look around at the rest of us and be all, “Where did you people come from and why are you all so sad?”
Because of his constant happy-go-lucky state (coupled with a touch of forgetfulness), Ben has kind of gotten a bad rap. Like any sanguine worth his salt, he can usually charm his way out of a missed deadline or poor marks for illegibility, but we still give him a hard time for leaving his lunch at home or being broke because he spends all money within hours of receiving it.
In the last year or two, I have noticed a growing frustration in Ben when he feels we are labeling him as irresponsible. So I have been trying to take note when Ben shows some staying power. Some follow through.
Like when he spent weeks making his lunch instead of buying it in order to save up for something. Or when he wrote an entire futuristic sci-fi novel on his iPad, a gadget he bought with his own money and which he has managed to hold onto for almost a year now. Also, he was the only one of our kids to jump at the chance to go on a three day backpacking trek with Taido and his friend this spring.
But the best example this year of Ben’s defying his lack of staying power is that after going to see Les Miserables with some friends over a year ago, he decided to read the book.
He began really slowly, taking weeks to get through the first hundred pages or so. He kept saying, “I’m having a little trouble getting into it.” or “When does it start getting good?”
But after about a month, he made it to Marius and the revolution. Leave it to battles to make him invested a story.
Then summer and swimming arrived and he put it down for a while. He found it again when we were moving and the book made it into his backpack, one of only a few treasured tomes to come with us to Scotland.
He read it on the long plane ride over and in short term stays at various flats after we arrived. He brought it along on trains as we branched out last fall to see new places.
Then, at some point during the long Scottish winter nights, he finished it.
For a year he carried around 1500 dog-eared pages and managed to read every single one of them.
And believe me that if in conversation, Les Mis is mentioned, he will let you know that he has read it. He will point out where the book differs from the movie and the musical. He will tell you some small discrepancy about the battles.
Because you know, he has read the entire book.
The fact that Ben has learned to do things like Be Quiet and Read is a great relief to a house full of melancholics.
Sometimes I worry that the rest of us are in danger of squelching Ben’s love of all things fun, or that he will wish he could exchange us for a family of theme-park going, crowd loving thrill seekers. I hope not, because we desperately need him in our lives to make us laugh and to keep us from taking ourselves so seriously.