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?’
His head popped up. ‘Whaat!’
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!’
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.’
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!’
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.
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.’
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.’
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!
I leave work early on Fridays during the summer. Yesterday Ian and I grabbed a quick lunch, took the train downtown, and visted the City Museum. For five hours.
I ruminated on the way home, and realized several things:
- Ian has overcome much of his fear of heights, dark places, loud noises, and death.
- I am more flexible than I think.
- I am thirty-one years old, not twenty. Or six.
- The groin muscle I injured several years ago has not completely healed.
- I am now keeping up with Ian, not the other way ’round.
Ian’s always wanted a younger brother. Unless God, in his infinite humor, decides otherwise, it ain’t gonna happen. But we have a two-year-old godson, Timothy, who’s filling the role quite nicely.
We spent last week in Madeira Beach with friends and our godson, sharing a beach-front condo and sixteen-hour drive. Ian and Timothy spent the trip no more than six inches apart. They sat next to each other in the car, played together on the beach and in the bath, and shared a room.
When traveling with kids, you must always cater to the lowest common denominator. The difference, with this trip, was that Ian had always been that denominator. His feeding times, his nap schedule, his height restriction. In Madeira Beach, Timothy set the bar.
Ian was infinitely patient. When I use the word ‘infinite’, I’m being quite literal. When it came to Timothy, there was no end to Ian’s grace and good will. He shared his best toys, his favorite foods, his parents’ attention. During a rainy-day trip to the aquarium, Ian took Timothy by the hand and led him gently through the exhibits, pointing, explaining, and teaching.
On the morning of the penultimate day, Ian woke late. Timothy had woken an hour earlier. Ian stumbled from his room, and shuffled, frowning, to the bathroom. He walked back without having said a word. I followed.
He’d returned to bed, buried under the covers. I closed the door, lifted the blanket, and crawled next to Ian. He snuggled into my arm.
We lay still, the sounds of Elmo drifting from the living room.
‘Did you need a break from Timothy?’
‘It’s hard work, isn’t it?’
‘Being a big brother.’
‘It takes a lot of work, and a lot of patience. Kinda like being a daddy. I’m very proud of you. You’ve done a wonderful job taking care of Timothy. You’ve been very good to him.’
He shifted. ‘Daddy?’
‘Don’t you know how I wanted a little brother?’
‘I don’t need one anymore, because I got my wish. God gave me a brother, huh?’
‘He sure did.’ He nodded. ‘Do you want to get up now?’
So we didn’t.