The idea was to get something down. One week of full-time Fatherhood in the books. Get it down, man.
We got down, I know that much. And up. And we stood with our eyes out the windows, the boy and I, lamenting the missing Spring between our curses to the rain.
“I wanna go outside, Papa.”
“I know you do, boss.”
“To dee park.”
“My God I’m sorry but we can’t.”
This can’t keep up. If you try to avoid the rain out here, the only thing that dries up is your heart. We eventually spurned the house and the walls and went to shoot our ways down wet slides. We wrapped our fingers around the frigid chains of the swings until our hands became a glazier’s work.
“Do an underdog, Papa!”
Our pants got wet, but we lived with it, because once they get wet back there all you’ve got left is to try to run away from them – You’re really moving now, boy, and outstripping the fever. His bulldozer pushes wet sand:
“It’s hebby, Papa, but my wo-dozer can do it.”
If he keeps insisting on giving all the credit to the tools, he’ll be just fine.
And we watched each other from new perspectives. I’ve never seen them disappearing into their classrooms, never seen them gulped up by a swarm of magicians like that. They must be magicians to cause my children to forget about me so easily. A quick giggled enchantment and I come to with my hands on the steering wheel, alone in the cockpit. The best magic is the kind that you think was done to someone else. Hang on, my windows are a little foggy.
The funny thing about a child’s independence is that you never know it’s there until – no, that’s it. You just never know it’s there. You’re holding her hand, then you’re reaching for it, then you’re waving goodbye to her ponytail. She’s in the middle of it, and on Thursday the conference verifies what we know from home:
“She’s very good at reading and writing, and showing a real interest in math.”
“It’s all she wants to do at home.”
“Good. She’s shy, though, and has a hard time joining groups that have already formed. She doesn’t advocate for herself well, and sometimes plays alone at recess, so that’s something to work on.”
“Well sure, but of course let’s not try to re-write her code just for the sake of belonging.”
There’s often a little unintended genius in staying out of the group. Papa knows a thing or two.
So sure, we did the things. The drop-offs and the pickups, the potty trainings and the nap times. We did the things. The puzzles and the games, the pictures, letters, cards, movies, apps, and meals. We got wet when we had to, because a stuck child is a tragedy. But suddenly Friday, in the middle of a sidewalk conversation about lawn feedings with the neighbor, the boy stopped stealing rocks from the gardens of friends to add to his collection. Something bigger was stirring. His role as Standard Bearer for All The Glorious Things snapped him to attention, and as he stood with his back to the sun and his arms outstretched he proclaimed to a couple of men who were almost too old to notice:
“Papa! I got my shadow back!”