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The Kid Who Grew Smiles

In the evening as the bumblebees begin to do their last laps around the yard, landing on dandelions for one final swig of sweet nectar, I stand there in the slow-burning twilight and sigh my end-of-the-day sigh and peer out over the onions and the jalapeños and the zucchini, and I know that somehow, magically, as soon as I squeeze the trigger on this nozzle to water these things, he will appear.

It never fails; somehow he just knows.

I glance up at the propped-open back screen door; no one there. The kid will come.

Slowly, I squeeze.

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The water hisses to life and burps out in a shatter of warmth before it cools down slightly with new water from the pipes.

The squash plants throw their leafy arms up in the air like tired broken peasants who’d almost given up on ever tasting water again. "Hallelujah!" they cry as I give them a good soak.

Less than a minute has gone by when I hear the sound of small feet on the distant deck. I turn to look and I see my son scanning the yard, his little head turning this way and that way as he looks for me. Then, boom. He spots me ... at the garden, no less! His excitement cuts across the air between us like heat lightning and before I can even holler out to him, “Hey bud!" he is fumbling down the high wooden steps and pattering across the short stone path and hauling ass across the lawn toward me.

“Daddeeeee!” he shouts as he runs, ”can I help water the plants!?”

I watch him come closer, closer, closer; watch him stumble on his shaky feet and crash down into the dirt. I watch him pick himself back up and look at me and smile as he shakes the dust off and starts booking toward me again.

When he gets to my side, I just hand him the hose. It’s our drill now. There is no resisting it, no matter how much I know that Henry is about to take a 2-year-old's haphazard approach to watering the garden.

The first thing he does as I hand him the object of his desire is look up at me with a stern face and tells me, “You stand over dare, dad!”

I try and ignore him, like I did last night and the night before, just so I can enjoy what comes next.

“Dad, you stand over dare so I can do it all by moi-self!”

He says it just like that too, moi-self; like Elemer Fudd would say it! My heart does a belly-flop off the high dive into my guts. I love it so much. I love his "moi-self" more than anything in this world right now.

He wants me to see that he can hold that hose in his plum fist and spray the entire world at once.

So, yeah, I stand back where he wants me against the fence, as if some cigar-butthead cop was the one barking orders at me.

I watch Henry as he sprays a vegetable for a few seconds, but then his thing is to move the hose to new and better places. He points it at the sky; he lets the water create a small puddle on the grass; he turns to look at me so that he knows that I am staying in my assigned spot and that I am watching his major spraying skills unfold before my very own eyes and, in the process, he lets the shooting stream whizz me in the face and soak my shirt.

This is not just tonight, either. Like I said, this is the drill, now, every night.

This is how we do it, you see.

My dander rises, of course. I need to get these goofy helpless green onions their drinks but I already know that there is no way to get Henry and the hose to part ways.

Need proof? Here, check this:

Me: Henry, man you are doing an awesome job watering those cherry tomatoes! Say, can I have a turn watering the plants now, please?

Henry: OK, daddy! Here you go! You take a turn and water now!

Me: Thanks, dude!

He hands me the hose and I turn it toward a parched onion plant. Three, maybe four seconds go by, the ground surrounding the plant is about as wet as if I had just sneezed on it.

Henry: OK, my turn! (He grabs at the hose. I’m serious. My turn is over in his eyes.)

To resist him is futile, I’ve picked up on that much. I could manhandle the situation, I guess. I could tell him I’m the boss and show him I mean business by commandeering the stupid hose and getting the work done and all of that old school shit but, what’s the use?

The little dude would just cry. And what’s the point?

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You know something? It struck me hard the other evening, as I stood there watching him spray his water on everything that didn’t need a drink while he avoided the veggies like a plague: Henry’s whole deal here, his entire reason for racing outside on these warm summer evenings as soon as he senses that I am out here is that he wants me to be proud of him. He wants me to see that he can hold that hose in his plum fist and spray the entire world at once. He doesn’t want to be the guy that grows vegetables; he could care less about vegetables; they mostly make him gag.

But he wants to be the guy that grows smiles; my smiles. He wants to be the little dude that grows big fat juicy smiles from his daddy’s face.

And I’ll be damned if he isn’t one hell of a farmer when it comes to that stuff.

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