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Dear Son, Go Ahead & Spill The Milk

“Today you get your chocolate milk in a big boy cup,” I tell Henry as I hand him the half-full piece of pink plastic that has been through the washing machine so many times it could probably pass for leather.

“A big boy cup?” he says, grinning the grin of a proud young fella'. “I’m havin’ my chocwit milk in a big boy cup?”

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He stares down into it, probably to make sure that I didn’t cheat him (which, to be fair, I only do when we are really low on milk and I am in one of my funks, too lazy to hit the mini-market for like three days running), and then he looks at me and smiles and I smile at him and our eyes collide and we are father and son slipping into slow-motion, our hearts telegraphing each the messages of unspeakable love.

“Now, buddy,” I tell him, in drawn-out deep slow-motion talk, “Make sure you don’t spill it. You have to be careful not to...”

At the exact moment I am saying all this stuff, I am also watching like a helpless fool as Henry’s tiny elbow cuts through the morning ether a few inches away from his older sister who is gobbling her Honey Nut Cheerios as if she is seconds away from taking the crown at some insane Coney Island eating contest.

I step outside of myself, as I tend to do when I get lucky enough to think about doing it. It’s an amazing thing really, to be able to stand there in the middle of your own life and have a whole side conversation with yourself in your head as you watch some small stretch of your life play out like it’s on TV:

Hey, would ya’ look at that?! Old Hank is about to waffle that big boy cup of chocolate milk with his arm!”

“Oh boy, this is going to be a damn fine mess, huh!? Hahahaha! LOL!”

“...Wait! Wha? OH NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”

“Awwwwwww, man. WTF!?”

I want to spring into action and do something, but the truth is I am too floored by what has just happened.

My son’s 2-and-a-half-year-old smile doesn’t waver, either; his eyes never unhook from mine as I watch the birth of a reservoir on the kitchen island, the brown milk spreading itself out far and wide. It pools around the bottom of the vase of the dead-for-a-week-now flowers and curls up around the bottom of Fishley’s fishbowl.

It oozes over toward Violet’s area, but she never looks up from her cereal. It could be steaming lava and she wouldn’t give a crap.

I want to spring into action and do something, but the truth is I am too floored by what has just happened. It’s as if I have stepped onto some set, some movie being filmed, and just in time, too. Because Central Casting has sent over this little kid from Pennsylvania whom all of Hollywood is going bananas over because of the way that he can spill a cup of chocolate milk with the adorable menacing eyes of an Old West outlaw, and the knockout beaming smile of a real heartbreaker in the making.

So yeah, I just stand there in disbelief, staring at this freaking ridiculous disaster that is the last thing that anyone anywhere on the planet would feel like dealing with first thing on a stupid Tuesday morning.

Henry looks at me now, his smile a little shakier than it was 20 seconds ago. “Sorry, dad!” he says with his tiny voice that is all brittle backyard sparrow bones and Santa Claus letters and baby dinosaur growls.

Here I am 50/50. Half the time when something like this unfolds, something innocuous and goofy and totally expected even when it’s unexpected, I end up trying to react with some kind of weird disciplinary I-told-you-so crap that is, I know, my desperate attempt to use words to change the future of things that are already written in ancient stone.

And I lose that battle every single time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that, as parents, no matter how much we want to take little chunks of our knowledge and our common sense and smear it all over our kids' morning bedheads so that some of it—just a teeny tiny bit of it might seep into their brains, we’re still pretty much wasting our energy about nine times out of 10.

This time, for whatever reason, I catch myself before I can open my trap and tell Henry something so dumb, like he needs to be more careful when it comes to hanging around a cup of milk. I catch myself and I just stand there looking at the chocolate ocean down below me. I am on a high cliff over by the coffee maker and the winds of microwave oatmeal are blowing through my hair and I can see my two kids down there, one of them swimming through a swamp of Cheerios, the other one smiling at me because he just isn’t sure what the hell he is supposed to be doing right now.

I make the sound of a pirate, “Arrrrrrrgh!”

It is a sound we usually make when we are happy together. And it shatters the ice in the room like a hot hammer.

“Daddy?” Henry asks.

“Yeah, bud?” I say as I reach for the paper towels.

“Can I have some more chocwit milk, because ... because ... because I spilled the cup!”

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I turn around and look at him, and, in the spirit of things going right where they could have easily gone wrong, I consider the billions of cups of chocolate milk out there riding around on the winds of fate, just waiting for their chance to get tagged by the young and the clumsy and flow across the kitchen tables of our world, free at last.

And I tell him to his precious face, “You’re damn right you can have some more, my man. You’re damn right you can.”

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