By Nita Lelyveld, Los Angeles Times
4:05 PM PDT, May 4, 2013
Arden Hayes is 5. He loves Legos and running so fast across the living room to flip onto the couch that his feet end up pointing at the ceiling.
He also loves the presidents — especially 11 and 33.
Arden knows all 44 U.S. presidents. In order. Ask him who was 29 and right away he'll say Warren G. Harding.
As for 11 (James K. Polk) and 33 (Harry S. Truman), they're his favorites, he says, because "they're dark-horse candidates."
Also, Polk got us California, which happens to be Arden's home.
Arden lives in a South Pasadena apartment with his parents, Casey and Lynn, and his 18-month-old sister, Miranda. Arden calls Miranda "Baby" and says he likes to do things she can't.
He also enjoys sorting through the box of his mom's costume jewelry that he keeps tucked under his bed.
He's into the solar system. Planets hang from the foot of his bed — although some of the labels are missing and it may be that Baby has eaten them.
A beach-ball Earth dangles from the ceiling.
"I look up at Antarctica," Arden says.
For months now, though, his sights mostly have been set on finding out about our nation's chief executives.
It all started with the calendar on his bedroom wall.
Arden's mom (who's great at digging up facts) has written names of famous people's birthdays in nearly every square.
Arden was born Jan. 30, as was Franklin Delano Roosevelt — 126 years before him.
He was so excited when he found out who shared his birthday that he wanted to know more immediately.
But why stop at one president when there are 43 more?
Arden likes saying the presidents' full names and their middle initials.
William Jefferson Clinton, George H.W. Bush.
Sometimes he says that he and Franklin Delano Roosevelt are related.
As it happens, says his dad, 19 (Rutherford B. Hayes) actually was a third cousin four or five times removed.
"He was the first to use a telephone," Arden says of his distant relative.
Arden knows many such presidential facts.
That Grover Cleveland (22 and 24) paid a Polish immigrant $150 to fight in his place during the Civil War. That Chester A. Arthur (21) didn't like "Hail to the Chief" and asked for a new song to replace it. That George H.W. Bush (41) hated broccoli and his wife joked she'd make him a broccoli dinner with broccoli ice cream for dessert. (Bananas, by the way, are Arden's broccoli.)
Arden knows a lot because he reads a lot of books. He's been reading since before he turned 2. His parents didn't realize he was doing it at first, just as it took them a bit by surprise this year when he recited the Gettysburg Address.
Arden and his mom often go to the public library and come home with mountains of books. At the table, when Arden's eating and can't turn pages himself, his mom reads aloud.
Earlier this year, he prepared a presentation about presidents for his pre-K class. The children sat on the floor as still as they could while he read poems about James Madison, Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Harrison. When he was done, two friends raised their hands. But when Arden called on them, they'd forgotten what they wanted to say.
"Do you remember what a question is?" their teacher gently prodded them.
Arden has lots of questions — as well as ways to find answers.
He owns two sets of presidential flash cards and a big box of wooden presidential blocks.
Each block features a presidential portrait. One of them was on Arden's mind the day his mom got a haircut and he told her: "You look like Franklin Pierce!" (If you've seen 14's hair, you might think that's an insult. But, remember, Arden really loves the presidents.)
The blocks also list each president's political party. Arden says he knows where he stands.
"I'm a Republican and a Democrat," he announces, "because my first president, George W. Bush, was a Republican and my next president was a Democrat."
But enough serious stuff. He turns on the boombox in his bedroom to the thumping rock of one of his favorite songs, "Hail to the Chiefs," by Childsplay.
"There's George Washington, who led the revolution.
Then John Adams made his own contribution.
Thomas Jefferson, Jameses Madison and Monroe.
John Quincy Adams, the first father-son duo..."
Arden sings along as he jumps up and down on his bed.
On the floor by his side, Baby wiggles and wobbles, bobbing her head to the beat.
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