One night a year or slightly more ago I asked Ben, then five, if he did multiplication in school.

Ben: What’s multiplication?

Me: Like adding 2 twos, or 3 threes.

Ben: No, we don’t do multiplication.

Me: Want to?

Ben: Sure.

Within the hour he was doing, in his head, problems like “What’s 3 times 7 plus 12 times 3?” Within two hours he was doing, in his head, problems like “What’s 7 times 12 times 3 subtract 4?” After going silent, putting his head face down in the pillow and wiggling his body this way and that, he would look up and give me the answer. Correctly. Each time.

He asked me not to call them “problems” because they weren’t problems. I told him it was past his bedtime.

A year later he says things like,”If 1 wasn’t a number, there’d be no prime numbers, right?” Think about it.

Or “Look! When I add 1 and 3, I get 4, which is 2 times 2. And then when I add 5 to that, I get 9, which is 3 times 3. And then I add 7 and I get 16, which is 4 times 4. And it keeps going all the way up to 100!” That is, when you add up the odd numbers sequentially you get answers that are square numbers. Who knew?

Recently he counted by 17s up to 3000, then by 18s, then by 19s, and on up while walking, dancing, eating, and taking breaks to do normal kid things. He made up songs and dances for the two of us of his growing totals.

Last night he was multiplying 99 by 99, then 98 by 98, then 97 by 97, as entertainment, silently, while eating pizza, four cheese.

Several months ago he was doubling numbers and when he got somewhere over thirty million, the going got rough. I thought it was a time to learn how to write this stuff down.

Now, if you have a child who is fluent in French and takes exquisite joy in sounds, puns, rhythms, and rhymes in a perfectly calibrated language, and you abruptly tell them it might be better if they did it in Chinese, of which they knew not a word, what would you expect them to do? What Ben did was scream – shriek actually – and run out of the room. Not immediately but after five minutes of valiantly trying to speak in Chinese. Nothing about it made sense to him. It was horrendous. An identity crisis, a disaster, a massive failure by grandma.

Nonetheless, he recovered and a couple weeks later he figured out the number of seconds in a year. It took awhile and a little guidance from his dad, but he did it, and he did it in his head.

So he does it all in his head, and he can explain his process to you later, though you might not understand. I seldom do. (However, if you happen to want to multiply 97 x 97, I recommend his method, which I do understand. Multiply 97 x 100 and subtract 97 x 3 from that.)

Recently, he referred to a computer in his head. Last night we talked about that. I asked if the computer was his whole brain or only a part of it?

Ben: Well, if the whole solar system were in my head, and the sun was in the middle, the computer would be about where Mars is. (He indicated a place behind the “sun,” which was in the middle of his head, and, yes, he is also absorbed with the universe as big and quarks as little. It’s all quantitative scale.)

Me: Does it move?

Ben, *with a puzzled look like how could I be so dumb*: Noooo, of course not.

Me: So that is where the things you know are?

Ben: Sorta.

Me: Is that where your imagination is?

Ben,* with a look that I was even more uninformed about brains than he realized*: No!

Me: So where is your imagination?

Ben, *short thoughtful pause*: It’s like a big bubble . . . (tracing a large circle in front of himself that includes his head and body.) . . . and it’s filled with words floating everywhere and there’s a sentence in it, and then that sentence disappears and suddenly there’s a new sentence in it. (His face lit up when he said “new sentence” like it was a gift written in light.)

Me: The sentence is like a new idea?

Ben: Yes.

And with that he got on his little sister’s mini-scooter and rode from the dining room to the kitchen while his aunt and I looked at each other in amazement until we heard the crash and wail of the scooter against the cabinet and the boy against the floor. Ice packs on his back, kisses from his aunt, and some tears in gramma’s arms. He really is only six, which is a small number after all.

*More “Ben-isms” on Facebook at whatbenwonders, posted by his mom.*

Words beyond my imagination.