Henry hears the front door shut and somehow he knows it’s me.
Well either that, or he’s willing to chance it.
He comes charging around the corner, his scratchy little voice a hail of ‘Daddeee!-Daddeee!-Daddeees!,” and slams right into my knees, his arms swooping out and wrapping around maybe half my legs as he buries his face in my jeans.
If it wasn’t me after all, there isn’t much he could do.
The dude, my dude, he is committed to these welcome home receptions that he throws for me. If he ends up wasting a couple on someone else, someone who isn’t daddy but sounds just like me when I open the front storm door, so be it.
These are the easy parts lately, though. Coming back has a nice subtle tinge of relief pinned to it’s lapel. “Phew,” we can both say, “Together again, at last.”
It’s the leaving bits that have become the hardest and the worst.
I never saw it coming, to be honest.
Okay sure, I’d heard plenty of stories about kids about as old as Henry (going on 2) who’d entered phases that made the term ‘separation anxiety’ seem almost relaxing by comparison, but I’d never paid it much attention. That’s the nature of the parenting beast, really. You just don’t have the time or energy to be reading about or contemplating what behaviors children are seriously capable of and what spells they can fall under until it’s almost too late.
As parents, we have these certain defining moments, fairly early on, when we begin to whisper to ourselves,”Oh Hot Damn!!!! I was afraid to admit it before, but I can’t hold back any longer!!! I really think that little Dakota has just totally skipped the Terrible Twos!”
These are almost always the famous last words of a relatively peaceful home. I mean, we jinx ourselves, right. And shortly after you say or think something like that: your kid turns into The Exorcist. Then fate has the last laugh once again.
With Henry, he was fine. My wife and I would get lucky here and there and score a babysitter and head out for a few hours, to a movie or to grab some dinner. There was never a problem. There was never any tears. There was never even any sign at all that he was upset when we were going or that he missed us while we were gone. We’d come home to a yawning twenty-something watching TV alone and whose reports were of perfectly behaved kiddos.
But, that was then.
Annnnnnnnnnnd: this is now.
Nowadays, even if I walk out of the room for a date with a few slices of cheese or a cold bottle of beer, Henry will flop himself down on the ground and begin to weep a Victorian Death Weep that more than likely could bring him half-decent pay on at least a few Off-Broadway stage.
And if he happens,( God-Help-Us-All!), to catch an eyeful of me backing the car out of the driveway to head out to the gym or something, it is not uncommon for the old boy to spin himself in ten or fifteen viciously fast circles before he stops in his tracks, screaming and crying, and lets mean gravity take him down for the count, slammed to the mat by his own sense of frantic betrayal or despair or whatever it is.
I honestly don’t know who is more messed up by all of this parting-is-such-sweet-sorrow stuff either, him or me?
A few weeks ago, this damn two-year old little outlaw almost broke my heart.
I had just hopped in the Honda to drive down the road to my buddy’s house for maybe an hour when I noticed that Henry was coming out the front door with my wife, Monica.
Oh no!, I thought.
He looked me directly in the eyes, his piercing Hershey Kiss eyes bulging out of their tender sockets and shooting across the front lawn to rub up against the panes of my contact lenses in utter disbelief.
I was leaving.
Daddy was going.
In between gears, paused in the road/hung out there in a silent moment, I recognized the precise instant that my son realized that I was taking off in the car. His sweet lips quivered. Then they formed their little ‘O’. His small hands balled into even smaller fists. I put the car in ‘D’ and began to ease forward, hoping against hope that he would smile at me or wave at me or just somehow give me his blessing.
Wink at me, dammit. “Tell me it’s okay to leave, buddy!” I wanted to holler his way.
Just before the front porch rolled on by and I couldn’t see them any more, I saw his young face go crimson and the tears begin to fall; his crying filled the warm evening like the rising first fire whistles. Not knowing what to do, or how to feel even, I turned the radio up and hit the gas.
But it sucked, knowing that he was back there, wanting me now more than ever.
And it was awesome in it’s own way, too.
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