asleep in his car seat. I watch it happen in the rear view. He fights it the
way all 3-year-olds fight it, his chin dipping down toward his tiny bird
chest, bumping it for just a moment before he regains enough consciousness to
pull his head back into the world.
His eyes open
wide for a split second before the tired squint takes over again. And then, as
the satellite radio jazz plays low, lulling him, messing with his little boy
mind, his chin takes the dive once more.
It’s fascinating to watch, really. I
love how hard kids will battle exhaustion. All that playing and running around
like a maniac and screaming and non-stop talking about anything that pops into
their brain, it burns up gas quick and hard. But still the dude will not go
drools, but not this afternoon. This afternoon, I race down through these
cornfields and one-horse towns that line the valley on the way to my daughter’s
elementary school and I watch my boy lose out to what has to happen. After the
seventh or eighth time, his head stays down. Thelonious Monk is on the radio; I
make a mental note of that, you know, for my future parenting needs and all.
And so it
They cry at dusk some nights for their mom. But I make sure I stop what I’m doing and stand there beside them when that happens.
parking lot of the school, I replay yesterday and the day before. I slide the
Honda into one of the short-term spots they set aside for parents picking up
kids and I put it in park then shut her down. I drag the stroller thing out of the
back and move around to unclick Charlie’s whole baby seat from its base. He is now 6 months old. His face is all tucked up under the swarm of
blankets I have covering his fat possum body. They’re not for warmth; it’s not
even all that cool, to be honest. They’re there to prop his bottle of formula
up when we’re traveling.
I reach in
and unclick Henry’s seat belt and I lift him awkwardly but as gently as I can from
his slump. I haven’t washed his hair in a few days and for a quick second I
smell his mom all tangled up in his blonde. Her perfume is unmistakable. She
must have been kissing his head yesterday when she was with him. Lucky bastard.
It’s an unexpected heart punch here in the school lot.
I carry Henry
in my arms and he’s not light but what else can you do, you know? I use my one
arm to hold him tight, his head resting on my shoulder, and with my free hand I
steer Charlie’s stroller. Sometimes when I do this, I sense other parents clocking me, watching me out of
the corner of their married eyes. I can feel them peeling back the meaning from
the scene of us trucking up the sidewalk past the buses sitting there waiting
in the afternoon sun.
Widow? Unemployed uncle?
feel pretty good managing my small army train. I feel a little proud. I’m proud of us, of me and of my kids. We’re together
when they’re with me and we’re apart when they’re staying at their mom’s. I thought that that might destroy some part of their souls or something,
but I was wrong.
They have been rolling with so many punches now with such youthful grace and courage.
Kids are tougher than hell, I’m finding out, and I should
know, I suppose. I’ve got three—5, 3 and 6 months—and they’re so young to
have been jammed into this whole marriage implosion thing. But that’s the way
shit goes. They cry at dusk some nights for their mom. They say they miss her. But I make sure I stop what I’m doing and stand there beside them when
We talk a
bit. I usually say I miss Mom too and that does the trick mostly. Back to the
cartoon or the popsicle. I never push the issue. Some experts might say you
have to draw it out of kids, all the sadness of a mom and dad that aren’t
together anymore, but I don’t buy it. They have been rolling with
so many punches now with such youthful grace and courage that I wish I could
suck some of whatever it is they’re made of out of their garter snake spines
with a long-ass needle. I could make a mint if I could market that kind of
beautiful strength and spirit. Everyone would get hooked on it. I’d be the
pusher of sparkling eyeballs to a world full of beat-up zombies.
pouring out of the school. They shoot by me and my sleeping son like I’m just another raft trying to fight the current. Somehow we always make it through though. We bust into the
lobby by the main office where the torrent subsides a little.
against a wall. The other teachers or the helpers or whoever all of these
adults are moving around, directing kids toward doors and buses and the
nurse’s office or wherever, they look right through me. I jam us up against the wall and I wait for one of my
favorite parts of my day. It happens if I get there by 2:48 p.m., within seconds
really. It’s a double-sided line, tall fifth graders on one side and the squat
kindergartners on the other. There’s typically about eight or 10 of each and
they all hold hands, every big kid helping guide one of the little kids to the
library to wait for whoever picks them up.
The sight of
it melts my guts. I am smitten with my daughter as she rounds the corner, her
hand in a young guy’s hand, her eyes taking in the whole lobby spectacle but
never spotting me.
Today it’s just me and them.
I let them
hit the library and then I wait another minute or so, boosting Henry’s body up
a little as he slides down my frame. We are all here now. Well, most of us are.
The three kids I helped create in this world, they’re all here, though two of
them are out cold. And I’m here, the daddy dude. One half of the creation
force. Mom isn’t here, of course. She’s working and it’s not her day today so
she doesn’t need to be here. She probably would be if she could be though, I
know that much; we’re the same when it comes to that, believe me. She’d be here
to gather up her baby Violet from her third Tuesday of Kindergarten, and then we’d all be here, together, the five of us moving upstream
through all of these waist-deep rapids of afternoon happiness.
though. Today, it’s just me and them. And I feel that weirdo
pride shoot out through my veins again while I’m standing there waiting to
fetch my girl. Is that a strange thing to feel at a time
Maybe I have
this thing inside of me, some kind of soul engine that regenerates itself with
this whole kindergarten pick-up or something. Maybe it’s all meant to be in a
way: the nap fighter and the pre-crawler under a heap of blankets and the
little girl with a glint in her eye moving slowly down the hall, her hand
safely tucked up in her trusted escort’s hand, and these primo parking spots
right out front the building.
freakin’ parking spots reserved just for me, the guy with the sleepy kid in his
arms. The guy with barely perceptible smile coming into the cool shady lobby on
a mission that cannot be denied.