Sometimes while it’s happening you’re not even aware of it until it is almost over. That somehow by recognizing the moment you are hastening it’s decline. That moment when you realize that children are playing nicely in the living room while you make dinner in the kitchen. There is a fire, and rain on the windows. The hiss and pop of wood and Vinyl as music and warmth fills the air. This very scene played out in our house recently and a long time had passed before I knew we were in sweet spot. Beautiful was well into making dinner and I had been picking up the house while the boys played. There was no fighting over toys or even questions of fastest, strongest, or best. There was a cooperative scene fueled by story instead of competition. The moment dawned on me slowly and I was even slower to mention it to Beautiful because I knew that naming it was the first nail in the coffin. She had noticed it too, some time before and had kept it to her self. We slow danced in the kitchen to the quiet and the hiss and the pop and for a moment fully inhabited that sweet spot. It was magical to be fully aware that we were in the good old days right here in this warm kitchen as the rain tapped on the windows. Soon there was a disagreement over story, and the competition came back and the boys were soon fighting over which toy was the best. We smiled at each other, Beautiful and I, and went back to our cleaning and preparation. While that moment had passed we were happy in the knowledge that we had fully seized, examined, and enjoyed it before it fluttered away. There were more moments to come and we would be on the lookout for them as well, but the fire needed tending and the record flipped.
My 6 year old is easily swayed towards sickness by words. Well maybe not towards sickness per say but there are a few phrases that immediately bring symptoms on for him. Today after school he was feeling a little low and I asked if anything was wrong, how his day was, yada yada yada. I felt his head and thought he felt warm and he went from a little down and chatty to full on sick kid mode. He laid on the couch and whimpered, at one point telling me he couldn’t move his body he was so sick. I accidentally said the word fever and it had a devastating effect on his health.
A similar thing happens around throwing up. Primo is terrified of throwing up and if he burps wrong he will have to carry a bucket with him for the rest of the night, in case he has to throw up, and might even start limping for good measure. There have been a few time I’ve joked about hurling and sent him into a panic just for my own amusement. I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. This is a frustration of mine, seeing my sons symptoms radically change based on the language I use to describe them. Somehow naming it gives power to the feelings.
Segundo treats sickness as a minor speed bump, the ones with cutouts so you can drive through without even slowing down. Words have no effect on his health just as his health has little to no effect on how he goes about his day. It is often hard to tell when Segundo is sick, though he is almost always suffering from some bug. The dangers of pre-school I’m afraid. I often wonder why the difference between the two. Why do I need to be so careful with Primo, walking a thin line between finding out what is bothering him without creating new maladies by giving them names. I don’t want to raise a hypochondriac but I also don’t think telling him to sack up will do the trick. How would you handle this situation?
I pick the boys up from school and hang out at the school while the kids play tether ball and run around. I play tag on the playground before gather all the lunch boxes, coats, and school work to head home. At home I play Angry birds and Mouse Trap, both high setup games before making breakfast for dinner. We chat about school and soccer and goofy faces over bacon, eggs, and hash browns. After dinner I sit down with Primo and help him read a book before reading another book that Segundo picked out. Needing to get back to some work I put on hold to spend some quality time with my kids I told them that I needed to finish up work. Immediately both kids started whining and complaining that I ALWAYS work and that I never PLAY with them. I stood there slack jawed just staring at them. Really? Really? I mean Seriously?
This makes me question the idea of playing and engaging with my kids at all. I’m not sure it’s as important as everyone makes out to be if they forget about it seconds after you stop playing. I mean if kids have such short term memories then maybe I’m wasting my time playing with them. This might be a better time to teach them to find their own way by ignoring them completely. If I focus on what I need to do instead of spending so much learning the animals of each Power Ranger or perfecting fort construction in the living room than I might be more successful at work. I could be moving my way up the corporate ladder with the extra time I would have to focus on finding the right silly voice for Skippy John Jones. I’m doing them a disservice by not teaching them that people will really disappoint you and you need to look out for yourself.
All this research on parent engagement is a crock. Kids don’t remember the times you played, only the times you did not. So I think that by never playing with the kids I will help them learn at an early age how to take care of themselves. I will be preparing them better for the world as it is instead of wasting their time with frivolity. I might be on to something here, I’ll need some more time to suss it out.
I’m not a car guy. You might not have guessed that about me but it’s true. I appreciate cars and admire restored classics but I couldn’t tell you what year it was based on the shape of the head lights. My brother is a car guy. We took Autoshop together in school, me as a Senior and him as a Freshman. He did all the work and scored me my first non-Gym class “A” in all of High School. So when it came time for us to get a car that would be primarily mine the choice was easy. I want a minivan. I want to drive half the soccer team and all of the gear in one car. I want stow and go seats and make a bed for snuggling at the drive-in. I want automatic doors and captains chairs and a DVD player for long trips.
In Dan Zevin’s great book Dan Gets a Minivan he talks about how his life went from economy size with only one passenger and a radar detector to family size with wireless headsets for the built-in DVD player. This is me and I love it. I love this car in a way that I have never loved any other. I didn’t care what kind of car I had from my two-tone tan Toyota Celica from the 70′s to the Honda Prelude that we sold to a teenager that was definitely going to race it on the streets. Cars were just utilitarian not definitive. But I’m cool with this minivan being definitive. I like that picture of me as a dad. When Beautiful and I talk about dreams and where we want to be in X amount of years I come across as cheesy and boring when I say that this is it for me. This family, my wife and boys. this is what I have been dreaming about and striving towards for years.
So I have my dorky dream car with one kid in the far back row and another in the middle row with their headsets on watching to the latest Chugginton DVD while Beautiful and I listen to Spilled Milk podcasts on the way up to Gig harbor. You can laugh at me all you want but I’m happy and living my dream.
We are three weeks into the school year and our schedule is beginning to flesh out. Breakfast and lunch packing duties alternate morning to morning and Beautiful brings the boys to school in the morning while I get started with work. The house is quiet until I pick the boys up after school and they stretch back out, filling the space they had abandoned earlier. There are soccer practices, school meetings, community task forces, and church events all with different color boxes in our online calendar. A glance at the week shows a colorful array of scheduled time, with plenty of free range white space for each of us to explore. A busy and chaotic summer has turned into a scheduled and orderly Fall. We are intentional about being read to and reading to the boys. We make time for homework and board games and discovering who can do the goofiest dance. Fall has more structure than Summer, more colors on the calendar but a slower pace that has time for all four of us in the bed on cooler mornings. It’s a big part of why I love the fall, the rhythm syncs with my own.
I will spare you the details, they went back to school, it was cute and sad and made us proud, the end.
I watched the path of the plane online all day while I worked Tuesday. Waiting for it to get close enough for me to head to the airport to meet them without getting there too early to afford the parking. It was so great to see the boys and to have them come running and jump on me when they saw me across the way. They had a great time with family and friends for three weeks and we made the most of our time alone here but it was long enough and so great to be together again. The boys told me about watching The Avengers on the flight and all the great snacks they had in the airport. Beautiful told me how great they were on the plane and I marveled at how big they suddenly seemed. Two weeks isn’t long enough for any major growth spurt but they were different now. They made it without us, only really talking to us twice during the whole trip. There is something between pride and sadness in that realization that our boys at six and four can thrive apart from us.