He’s flinging rice all over the place like he’s standing there outside some church as the bride and groom come smiling down the steps.
Except he’s not at some damn wedding. He’s 2, for God’s sake. No one in their right mind would ever invite him to their wedding. Hell, they’d need a circus trainer just to keep him from wrecking the whole day! He’d be all over the cake first chance he got. He’d destroy that thing, man. And over at the banquet hall? Forget about it. Charlie would be out there tripping old aunts and watching them fall backwards with the same big, sh*t-eating grin that he’s throwing my way right this very instant.
It’s a Monday evening, you see. And I am slow-motion soaring across my kitchen in a fruitless attempt to stem the storm of rice that my toddler is heaving by the fistful, making sure EVERYONE on Earth gets a chance to have some of this chicken fried rice I just set down in front of him not two minutes ago.
The worst part about it is that he’s a handsome criminal. All blue eyes and dimples as he laughs at me racing in to stop him. I’m 90 percent sure that I’m breathing fire as I come up on him, but he doesn’t care.
He throws a wad of lukewarm fried rice directly at my chest, where it ricochets off of my T-shirt and splatters back all over his own hair. This delights him to no end. He shows me this by rubbing 32 zillion grains of goo deep into his locks.
I stop mid-step, stare at the natural disaster my own flesh and blood has caused, and — I’m not gonna lie here — I start yanking my own graying hair in the same exact manner we usually associate with the truly and deeply deranged.
I’m beside myself with shattered nerves.
He’s either gonna be the death of me or the greatest accomplishment of my lifetime.
The jury is still very much out on which it’s going to be.
Surprisingly enough, I suspect that there’s a lot about this age difference between Charlie that works in my favor. There’s a part of me that knows he keeps me young. And how can that be bad? It’s osmosis mostly. Being a constant companion to a toddler just learning life’s ropes doesn’t necessarily marinate me in the Fountain of Youth, obviously. But it certainly feels as if our bond has shaved a bunch of mental years off my brain.
And by that, I mean that it would appear that all of these Curious George cartoons and Blippie videos have melted my brain in a slightly beautiful way.
I’m never far away from youth, you know? No matter how much life keeps shoving me forward, no amount of ticking time can prevent me from feeling the very distinct feeling you get when you’re always down on the rugs with the plastic firetrucks. Or when you’re still very much aware of what Goldfish crackers taste like.
Certain aspects of parenthood fade over time. People say it all goes by so fast and the truth is, they’re right. It does. Everybody alive realizes that eventually, especially people with kids.
Yet, Charlie keeps me young in a lot of ways. It’s sort of simple, really. He doesn’t understand age, or give a rat’s ass about it, so, to him, I’m not just Daddy, but I’m also a playmate. And a snack sharer. And a bath buddy. And a cartoon compadre.
Which means that I AM all those things. And more.
So, if you look at it like that, and kind of squint your eyes when you’re doing the math, I end up being younger than a lot of other guys who are exactly my age.
Is that just wishful thinking?
But don’t you dare answer that.
It’s just past 6 in the morning and I’ve got Charlie slung down on the bed so I can get him dressed. He wants some apple juice and I forgot to bring a cup of it up here with me so we’re trying to get this done without his morning refreshments.
“Good MORRRRRRRNING!” I sing out to him in this chippy-dippy voice I try to use in the morning that even pisses ME off.
He’s not having it. He stares at me and cries out,”APPLE CHOOCE!” His voice is a desperate shriek.
“Did you have any cool dreams last night, bud?” I ask him as I try to wrestle a sock onto his squirmy foot.
“NO!” he barks at me.
I smile at him but it’s all Fake Zen. I just want him to be quiet and keep still so I can get him downstairs with his older brother and sister. I’ve got lunches to pack and breakfasts to make and I just want him to go along with the freaking program.
“No dreams?” I say, all annoying-like.
He kicks me in the matching moons and I double over, dropping the socks, as he breaks out laughing hard and bright. His little face is so beautiful when he’s happy. And he seems happiest when he’s watching me work for everything I get.
In other words, these 42 years between us really don’t mean a thing.
We’re just two dudes messing around.
We’re just two dudes still kind of amazed that we found each other after all this time.More On