Archive for the ‘kids’ Category
“I don’t want to throw it away,” he said.
“I’m using that,” added his brother.
The two of them stood amid a pile of items gathered by their mother and me for immediate disposal. The items consisted largely of broken toys, bits of paper, random balls of pet hair, and the occasional paperclip, penny, or well-used band-aid. Their eyes glistened above the dust-laden shine of the freshly swept treasure trove, and they voiced their concerns often and loudly.
“That isn’t garbage!” they squealed in disbelief as they dove into the dumpster of their bedroom floor.
“What if I find the toy?” he said. “I’ll need this!”
“And what about that?” I asked while nodding toward a small bouncing ball that had been chewed in half by one of the dogs. “Why do you need half a bouncing ball?”
“Because I like it!” and this was the answer that became their mantra and applied to everything, for everything was exactly what they liked.
“Do you know what that is?” I asked about whatever this was or that, but they didn’t believe in labels and living life by the definitions of a society that required they part with the occasional thing that they may have once loved, if even for a moment.
“It’s a memory,” one said.
“It’s something to remember,” added the other.
And then we watched an episode of Hoarders.
“Do you want to live like that?” asked their mother.
They did not, and they agreed to part with the pet hair, band-aids, and anything a consensus deemed broken.
“Can’t we give the stuff that works to charity?” asked one.
“Other kids might like it,” added the other.
“Of course,” said their mother. And so we did.
They collected a new layer of clothes too small, toys lacking for attention, and the assorted stuffs of a well-lived childhood. The charity bag doubled the size of the one marked “trash” and we delivered each accordingly.
Something caught my eye as we drove away from the donation center, the lone plastic hand on a broken plastic arm, reaching through the knot of a tied plastic bag. It looked like the last grasp of a drowning man.
“Shouldn’t that arm have been in the trash bag,” I asked.
“No,” replied one son from somewhere in the backseat.
“We found the rest of him,” said the other.
I looked at the bag of treasure my boys had packed for another, the arm poking through just as they had left it, and for one split second between the light and breeze, I thought I saw it waving.
I waved back, just in case.
The house is in disarray. More so than usual. We had a water leak that led to walls torn down and floors ripped up. The furniture is stacked in the corner covered in dog hair and medical bills. I am at my desk and all I see is inbox.
There is family coming. They will be here in a couple of hours. There are sheets to wash, shelves to dust, and a bathroom turned inside out beneath the rapid misfires of two little boys.
Not long ago this would have bothered me. I would have tried to fix everything. It needed to be spotless. It needed to be perfect.
Now I am in no hurry.
The last time that family was due they never came, and everything was ready. There was nothing to do but wait.
There was nothing to do but cross clean floors to an uncluttered desk and answer the phone.
There was nothing to do but fall down upon fresh linens and know that you may very well die there. And parts of you do. For death is contagious and when a loved one goes there is little between your heart and the nearest exit, but for those around you and the grieving yet to dance with.
Then nothing became everything, or it may have been the opposite. And the house fell apart around us.
Today my father and my stepdad are flying here together. They are coming for a birthday, bound by grandsons and a lifetime lost to memory.
Now I care little for clutter or open walls, missing carpet, and a home undone. Life is not spotless, and perfect is in the moments that we are making.
There is everything to do, and I am in no hurry.
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, —and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of –Wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air…
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.
- John Gillespie Magee, Jr
The sound was low and it carried lightly across the aisle. It was the echo of children laughing and the flow of one boy splashing behind the waves of his brother. The video played across the glass screen, a small window held warm in loving hands beneath tired eyes and the gentle roar of engines, peering into mirth now past and the moments left to linger.
There were no awards or milestones, no unexpected need to clinch the gut from fear of laughter ripping it apart. It was just a video of two small kids jumping into cool, clean waters, over and over, a loop of innocence still playing despite the boys now dry and jumping through the elsewhere. The woman watched it with the patience of a saint and the love of a grandmother. And when it ended she watched another video marked different only by the season.
To those behind me it may have seemed that I had far too great an interest in the montage of her lifework, but in truth the images were lost to me aside from the casual glance given when pitches of glee kicked against my eardrum or the sudden flick of her wrist drew me there. Instead, I observed her like a time machine—a white-haired apparition of what should be. She watched video after video of her grandchildren, and I watched her soak it all in to be squeezed and cherished like a sponge saving memories for those days grown dry and far from smiles.
It was as close to my mother as I will ever be, and when the woman finished her viewing I shifted mine, floating through the heavens some 30,000 feet above the ground with thoughts to think and a ticket for my baggage—a loop of love bated on my breath, alive, and always playing.
“Look at that dumb fuck, Daddy,” said my 3-year-old from his car seat.
“Where?” I asked. There were quite a few around us, he could have been talking about any of them.
“The white one,” he continued.
That narrowed it down. There was only one that fit that description.
“That dumb fuck sure is dirty,” he said. “Why is that dumb fuck so dirty?”
I considered my options. Carefully.
“Some are dirtier than others,” I replied. “It comes with the territory.”
We were sitting outside Starbucks waiting for my wife. We were passing the time the way men tend to do, talking about our feelings, scratching what itches, and cursing a little—some of us more than others.
“Do you like dumb fucks, Daddy?” he asked. It had an added air of the rhetorical.
“I don’t like being too close to them,” I answered. “They are pretty fun to watch, though.”
My wife returned with our coffee and took a seat in the car.
“Mommy, did you see all the dumb fucks?” he asked.
I knew that she had.
“Honey,” she said with a straight face. “They are called dump trucks.”
“Dumb fucks,” he repeated.
“Exactly,” I told him, and we sipped our coffee as he watched the last one rumble past.
Do you like parenting with humor and the talking with the kids? Then check out The Parents’ Phrase Book and have some fun for a change.
About this post: With the closure of DadCentric I have been moving some of my favorite posts to Honea Express. This post was first published in 2009 and has the honor of being DadCentric’s most read article of all time, which is saying something. Also, I read it at Dad 2.0 in 2013 while “opening” for Brené Brown. So there’s that.
Photo: Todd Huffman via Flickr
My boys know things about loss and love. Over the last four years we have lost my grandparents, my stepmother, Tricia’s dad, and my mom—the last two in just the past few months. In the time between we have lost three cats and a dog, all of which were years older than the children—all of which they had always known. The boys have experienced sadness in quantity and quality, something that many of us don’t need face until we are somewhat older, and now, through experiences I rather they never had, they know the things that I have mentioned. And they know so much more.
Atticus came home from school yesterday to say that his teacher’s father had died over the weekend, and that she had taken the day off.
“Of course,” I said. “I am sorry to hear that.”
I am still taking days off.
“The substitute teacher said we should write her a note,” he added. “We should write whatever we want.”
And then, armed with pencil and understanding, he disappeared into the kitchen to offer his condolences. This is what he wrote: