Charlie is almost five months old now and his smile slams into your face like the first time you ever turned that corner into Times Square at night. He was born on a cold March morning in an inflatable pool I had set up in our living room. Outside, snowflakes were swirling around in the wind and I remember thinking that maybe this was the way things were meant to be. Maybe him landing in the middle of all that he landed in, into the middle of his mom and dad’s impending separation, maybe that was all meant to be somehow.
Time will tell, I guess.
But, oh what a kid.
I spent the month with him, with Charlie and my wife, Monica, and Violet, 5, and Henry, 3. I had to. I needed to be there with him and with everyone, all of us together in the same house, night after night, trying our best to act like a family even if most of the grown-up parts of the thing had faded away. The kids didn’t know any better. They had no idea really what was going on. But I knew and Monica knew and it made it tough, I think.
We showered Charlie with love and affection, just like any regular couple would with a new infant. Then, just before April came along, our adult blues had gotten the better of us again and there was no stopping them. On a dreary Saturday afternoon, a month into Charlie’s new life, I threw my stuff in a couple of bags and left. And no one tried to stop me.
We were way past that.
Truth is, my exit, on that last afternoon of all of us together, had only been put on hold to welcome Charlie in the way we had welcomed the other two kids. Sometimes all you can do is whatever you have done before. Every other option just seems too insane.
Strapped to my chest in the same worn-out yard sale Bjorn I’ve always used, Charlie never makes a damn peep when we walk. Not a chuckle or a groan or anything. It’s one small part of what makes him so charming, among many things. He’s my warrior. My tiny Elvis.
He’s magic in so many ways, I think. Like some ancient wise man living his 53rd lifetime in a row, some soul who has seen it all, Charlie seems to me to be some sort of watcher from the great beyond. A witness, if you will. And maybe a messenger, too.
How the hell did we get so lucky?
What did two people like me and Monica do to deserve this kid out all the kids we could have gotten?
That’s rhetorical, of course. No one cares what you think or what I think. Babies slide down into our lives on an interstellar slide made slick with stardust and space rain, and when they get here they are moving fast, man, faster than we ever expected. Charlie, was no different. He arrived long before I thought I was ready. Even when Monica told me to call the midwife late that night, just a few hours before he was born, I just rolled over and kept watching Saturday Night Live. He couldn’t possibly be coming here yet, I told myself. Not now. Not under these circumstances.
But he did alright.
He knew what he was doing.
I wonder a lot about if being born into a broken home will mess Charlie up somehow, but the more I think about that question and the more I hang out with him and wake up in the middle of the night with him, the more I think it’s a bunch of bull. Babies are tougher than we give them credit for. They just roll with the punches. Life doesn’t scare babies. It kind of bores them, actually. That’s why they sleep so much.
Some weekday mornings when I finally get Violet and Henry dressed and combed and reasonably cleaned-up, I put Charlie in the Bjorn and the four of us head out into the summer day with no particular place to go. We hit the Post Office, maybe the coffee shop. We take some old hot dog rolls over to the mill race and chuck wads of it at the ducks. And sometimes during the middle of it all my life seems to just close in all around me. I’ll be standing right there in the alley yapping at my kids to quit chasing the ducks or looking at other people’s yards, and suddenly it hits me that I love these freaking kids so much that I want to just King Kong it.
I want to step out onto the road and grab some moving vehicles and throw them up on top of the low mountains a mile off, just so they can’t ever hit my kids. I don’t want to ever let them get hurt, no matter what.
But then I wonder whether I already hurt them all by myself. You don’t always need a speeding car to do the job for you. There are times when you can get it done just by flying the coop.
That messes me up, that thought does.
But staying would have been worse, trust me.
Charlie Maximus Bielanko is a four-pointed star nailed to my heart, his eyes wide open as he dangles from the Bjorn, a small-fry taking in the sights of my small town, a place where he spends half his days and nights now. I want to call everything here his “hometown,” because it seems like it would be a cool town to be able say that about. Yet every time I do that, it’s followed a few seconds later by the reality that this can’t truly be his hometown if he doesn’t live here all the time, right? Or can it? I dunno. Maybe he can have two towns. I mean, why not? There are no rules in any of this. Look, maybe certain kids can handle that sort of thing.
Maybe, just maybe, there is something, some trillion-acre gelatinous power orb out there shifting around in the cosmos whose job it is to dial-in on certain little brothers and sisters, even if they aren’t born yet. And maybe it just knows that these are the strong ones and that these are the kids who can handle having two homes, two kingdoms, two bedrooms, and two towns to call their own, each as good as the other one, really. That’s what I tell myself anyways, that everything works itself out in the end.
Although, for what it’s worth, mine does have more ducks to chase around.
Image: Bielanko Private