Rest.

By Richard Jones

It’s so late I could cut my lights
and drive the next fifty miles
of empty interstate
by starlight,
flying along in a dream,
countryside alive with shapes and shadows,
but exit ramps lined
with eighteen wheelers
and truckers sleeping in their cabs
make me consider pulling into a rest stop
and closing my eyes. I’ve done it before,
parking next to a family sleeping in a Chevy,
mom and dad up front, three kids in the back,
the windows slightly misted by the sleepers’ breath.
But instead of resting, I’d smoke a cigarette,
play the radio low, and keep watch over
the wayfarers in the car next to me,
a strange paternal concern
and compassion for their well being
rising up inside me.
This was before
I had children of my own,
and had felt the sharp edge of love
and anxiety whenever I tiptoed
into darkened rooms of sleep
to study the small, peaceful faces
of my beloved darlings. Now,
the fatherly feelings are so strong
the snoring truckers are lucky
I’m not standing on the running board,
tapping on the window,
asking, Is everything okay?
But it is. Everything’s fine.
The trucks are all together, sleeping
on the gravel shoulders of exit ramps,
and the crowded rest stop I’m driving by
is a perfect oasis in the moonlight.
The way I see it, I’ve got a second wind
and on the radio an all-night country station.
Nothing for me to do on this road
but drive and give thanks:
I’ll be home by dawn.

From The Correct Spelling and Exact Meaning.

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Coping

06 Jan 2014

They’re wedged in the backseat, grandfather and grandson, en route to theWay of Lights, because even after Christmas there is always the Way.

It’s a bring-your-book road trip, but magazines are okay, too. Scientific American this time, its cover a radiant brain floating in sapphire. Which is how I imagine the inside of his skull.

He flips the pages, squinting in the fading light. Grandpa exclaims, ‘What! But that’s an adult magazine!’ More from pride than skepticism: the subscription was a birthday present.

‘Well. I get by.’

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Doodle Parity

08 Mar 2011

Ian looked over my shoulder, hung his arms around my neck as I checked my e-mail. This is his way of telling me that his morning chores are finished.

He noticed the Google Doodle: three faceless women in red, green, and violet. One held a stethoscope, one wore a mortar board, and one possessed nothing more than long, flowing hair, because women are fabulous even without accessories.

He asked me what the drawing was for; ever since Pac-Man and Jules Verne, Ian pays special attention to the Doodles. ‘International Women’s Day.’

‘Oh,’ he said, and rested his head on my shoulder. ‘Is there an International Men’s Day?’

‘Nope.’

His head popped up. ‘Whaat!’

I shrugged.

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Chapter six is titled, ‘Out of the Frying Pan, into the Fire’. Seven-year-olds are intimately familiar with the concept, but I’m not sure if Ian’s ever heard the expression.

‘Do you know what that means?’ He shakes his head.

‘Well, imagine you’re a piece of meat, frying in a pan.’ He throws his eyes open and shudders. ‘Waaaaaah!’

‘Now you jump out of the frying pan, and land in the fire!’

‘Wooooah ahhhhh eeeeee!’

‘Where would you rather be: in the pan, or in the fire?’

He jerks his thumb over his shoulder. ‘I’m back in the pan with my old friend, Bacon!’

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Empathy

17 Sep 2010

Friday at the dollar theater. Boys’ night out. Mommy at home, not disapproving of the box of Raisenets or bag of M&Ms.

We’re snuggling in the arctic chill of a movie theater, and watch as the Love Interest trembles but takes the hand of our Hero as he leads her to the edge of the rooftop. Smiling to hide her fear, she nervously admits that she doesn’t care for heights.

Ian nods after a handful of candy finds his mouth in the dark. He swallows and whispers in my ear, ‘I’m afraid of heights myself.’

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Validation

30 Jun 2010

On the tailgate of the truck parked next to our car was a bright, yellow ‘#1 Dad’. I pointed and shook my head, ‘Well, that’s just incorrect.’

Ian looked at me and frowned, because it’s a foregone conclusion. ‘That’s right, Daddy. You’re one dad!’

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Lost Childhood

By: David Ignatow

How was it possible, I a father
yet a child of my father? I
grew panicky and thought
of running away but knew
I would be scorned for it
by my father. I stood
and listened to myself
being called Dad.

How ridiculous it sounded,
but in front of me, asking
for attention—how could I,
a child, ignore this child’s plea?
I lifted him into my arms
and hugged him as I would have
wanted my father to hug me,
and it was as though satisfying
my own lost childhood.

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A Thing

12 Jan 2010

Lasagna, left-over or otherwise, is a soothing balm unto my soul. It is comforting, restorative, and cheesy. It was dinner tonight, with warm, crusty, garlic bread. I was a happy man, and made it known.

‘Daddy,’ Ian said, ‘you’ve got a whole lasagna thing goin’ on in your life.’

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On One Condition

17 Dec 2009

The prayer had been a last-minute decision. As Ian sipped his hot chocolate and eyed the script sitting on the kitchen table, we discussed the speaking order: Ian, Mommy, Daddy, Grammie, Great-Grandpa. Ian’s line was, ‘Jesus is coming, shout for joy!’

Earlier that week, our family had been asked to light the advent candles on Sunday morning. Four generations together, in front of the congregation: Kelly’s grandparents, her parents, us, and Ian. The script was short and simple, and with so many people around the candles there was a good chance that I wouldn’t have to say anything. When my father-in-law forwarded the script, I knew Ian had to read the prayer.

He needed coaxing. There was a time when Ian had no pride, no shame, and no fear. Kelly’s mother teaches a high school improv class, and, before each performance, Ian used to rush to the stage and dance to DJ Grandpa’s prelude: Peanut-Butter Jelly Time, Numa Numa, the Muppet Show theme. But someone slipped him an apple, and now he hides in the back of the theater with the rest of us fig-leafers. I knew a prayer, more so than ever in front of God and everyone, was a lot to ask.

We didn’t want to force him, and wouldn’t, so we tried to lay the ground work. Monday: ‘Here, read this.’ Tuesday: ‘Can you try again? Good!’ Wednesday: ‘No, you don’t have to. But it would be very special.’ Thursday: ‘No one will be watching. Everyone will have their eyes closed.’ Friday: ‘That’s okay, kiddo. You don’t have to.’

In the end, Ian agreed to read the first sentence, with gusto. ‘Jesus is coming, shout for joy!’ Enthusiastic and unabashed joy, which is a lot to ask for seven o’clock on a Sunday morning.

Ian wiped his mouth and took a bite of his cereal bar. I took his jacket from his shoulders and hung it on the back of a chair, far from gravity and sticky fingers. ‘Daddy,’ he said softly, to my back, ‘I don’t want to read this.’ Nertz. Well, it’d been a good try, and even the thought had been an important step.

‘That’s okay, buddy. You don’t ha…’

‘I want to read the prayer.’

‘…ve to. Wait. What? Really? You’ll read the prayer?’

And he smiled into his chest. ‘Yes.’

We stood in a semi-circle around the candles, smartly dressed, which is rare for me and my son. Later, a friend told me he didn’t understand why I was wearing a coat and tie until he saw my name in the bulletin. Ian was wearing a suit, sweater, and tie that didn’t match the sweater. All three buttons on his jacket were fastened, because that’s the way he liked them.

The microphone passed from Kelly to me to my mother-in-law, and my unsteady hands lit the candles of hope, love, and joy. My eyes watched Ian for signs of flight as Great-Grandpa finished the reading from Luke 2. Then the microphone was at Ian’s lips.

We had backup plans. Grandpa was waiting on the side, hand on his ear-piece, waiting for the ‘go’ signal from the surveillance team in the balcony. If needed, he would swoop and pray.

Ian didn’t say anything. He took a breath, stopped, and looked at me with…not panic. Not fear. But there were questions. I prompted into his ear, ‘Go ahead, honey. “Dear God…”‘ He shook his head. ‘You can do it, kiddo. It’s okay.’ I felt Grandpa drawing closer.

Ian frowned and waved me down. He whispered fiercely into my ear, ‘Daddy, no one’s closing their eyes!’

I mentally kicked myself, hard, and leaned toward the microphone. ‘Let us pray.’ And he did.

‘Dear God, give us joy in our hearts now and forever. Help us to tell other people about this joy, too. Amen.’

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At dinner last night, in exchange for forcing him to eat barbecue chicken instead of (yet another) grilled cheese, I allowed Ian to choose any drink he wanted from the dispenser. Soda is usually reserved for vacations or special occasions, so this was a rare treat.

In retrospect, allowing a child with decision-making issues and a limited history of soda consumption to select from an array of colorful, enamel-eroding beverages may have been a little cruel.

He clutched the school-bus yellow cup to his chest, and bounced from the tips of one toe to the other: Charlie Bucket with a shiny pound. I could see his lips moving, ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…’ Just before his head popped, Ian rushed to the machine and choked, hastily choosing the Whammy of sody water: Caffeine-Free Diet Coke.

Oooh, sorry! But thanks for playing!

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