Henry takes the orange and palms it for a moment or two, his eyes meeting mine and locking. I don’t know if it’s a three-going-on-four thing or what, but lately I’ve been noticing that Henry doesn’t really look away all that much. He meets my eyes and holds them. It’s unnerving in a charming kind of way. It’s almost as if he’s challenging me to be honest with him.
“You see this orange?,” his eyes are saying? “Well, Daddy, I’m getting ready to stuff it down the legs of my footie pajamas along with the apple and the five stuffed animals I have down in there.”
At some fairly recent point with Henry, as the wires up in his head all began to heat up with the notions and thoughts of a little boy who is beginning to recognize life for what it is, (a stage upon which to live), I began to recognize that my son is one hell of a person. Not just one hell of a kid, but he’s actually one hell of a human being, period.
Isn’t that a cool thing to start to feel and believe about your own child? And yeah, of course everyone feels that way about their sons or daughters, but that’s pretty much my point, you see? Every parent who gets it — we all hang in there through the slobbering/dirty diaper years with tons of love in our heart, always telling ourselves that we shouldn’t ever stop digging these infant days or these first crawling around days because each stage of a kid’s life has to be magical and treasured by us. Otherwise, what? We’re shi**y parents? We’re not nourishing enough? We’re selfish bastards who only wanted kids we could fast forward to the good parts? I don’t know what it is.
I only know this much: Henry turns four here in a few weeks. And right now, right this second, exactly where he is in time, this kid/this moment/this fleeting pin dot in the grand scheme of history and future, it’s about as incredible and unfathomably-wonderful as any moment I have ever known. The same thing happened with my six-year-old-daughter a couple years ago.
And I can’t seem to wrap my head around it, around any of it, as much as I want to. Or need to. I’m falling wildly in love with my boy, all over again, but in new ways. Even unexpected ones. What the hell do we call that? Is there a name for it?
There ought to be.
There ought to be a name for that time when a newly-divorced, 43-year-old dad of begins to stare up at the skyscraper looming over him. Because I’m here now, neck tilted back, standing on the sidewalk of my life, my eyes rolling up the endless expanse of steel and glass and glisten and shadow rising up out of the Earth and it’s making me scared.
I don’t know how to love a kid this much. I don’t know how to do this all over again and fall in love with a walking talking free-thinking spirit animal who is addicted to OJ and evening Popsicles and still needs a pull-up at night because he’s addicted to OJ and that’s my fault and I don’t give a sh*t.
I don’t know how to love this kid with everything I’ve got.
I’m asking you, seriously.
At night in my bed, it’s me and Violet, my little girl, and Henry. And Charlie over in his crib. Henry sleeps last usually. The other two feel their weary bones talking to them and they call it a day; Charlie gets his bottle and he’s toast; Violet walks away from the cartoon she was watching and surrenders to the blankets that I’ve piled up on the bed.
Henry wants nothing to do with any of that crap. Henry will fight sleep off with a five-foot broad sword made out of the hardest steel imaginable. It’s called desire. And he’s pretty much made of the stuff. His desire to remain alert and alive, to participate and witness whatever is coming down the pike next in our tiny corner of this conscious world is something I’ve only just started to understand.
I tuck kids in, I kiss three cheeks, I head downstairs. I try and exercise on the ratty fake Persian rug down in my living room, some music on my laptop, the TV on Guy Fieri with the sound muted.
It’s my thing. It’s my little attempt to free myself from the world that keeps sucking me back into it’s pain-in-the-ass vortex. Long days don’t allow for long nights. Not anymore, anyway; not for me at this point. I want to listen to some Cure, do some push-ups, squats, some ab stuff, and lose myself in an hour or two of something that makes me feel good that isn’t booze or dope or whatever, you know?
I listen to the first song start. I do some stretches.
I keep doing my push-ups but I know what’s happening. My moment is gone. The sanctity of my pipe dream is nothing but a stack of horse crap to Henry.
He’s sliding his tiny butt down the cold stairs. I know it. And he knows I know it. We’ve battled about this. I’ve carried him up over and over again a thousand times or more.
But I don’t care anymore. Henry, I’m figuring out, isn’t just some kid I’m supposed to take care of and discipline and set up for his life of systematic cooperation with society and The Man.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.
(Door creaks open/I keep doing push-ups).
“Daaaaad?” He talks to me in the middle of push-ups as if I’m not doing push-ups at all but sitting there drinking a milkshake and waiting for him. I don’t answer.
“Daaaaad, I just came down here cuz I’m a wittle bit scarewed”
He’s not scared. He says the same thing every night. He just wants to be down here in the middle of life and not upstairs in the middle of nothing. I smile but I don’t let him see it. Even his voice, his lisp and his tone, it all kills me with grenades of joy. His brown eyes and his bowl cut are staring at me and I can feel the heat of his uncertainty drilling into my skull.
I kick back to my knees and my eyes seek him out and there he is, waiting. He doesn’t look away. He stares deep deep deep into the guts of my eyeball. I see the tiny smile flick across his face. He’s trying to hold it back until he’s absolutely certain.
“Hey man,” I tell him. “You need to be in bed.”
The smile can’t hold itself back anymore and it shreds the damn of his beautiful mug and spills a trillion gallons of everything I care about all over that damn downstairs. Whatever. Who am I to fight with spirits I can’t even see?
“You want some OJ?”
Some people swear that you should never be buddies with your kids. They say it’ll mess everything up. But you wanna know something, man? I think those people are really wrong about that. Because the only thing it really messes up is your push-ups. Remember that, okay?
Image: Serge Bielanko Private