You can’t go back. It sucks, but you can’t. You can’t make up for lost time, missed chances, elusive love, or bad choices.
In other words, you can’t ever be three years old again.
But even knowing this, I’m like every other parent in the world and I want to get inside my kids’ heads; see the world through their little eyes. So I did the next best thing.
I pretended I was my three-year-old boy, Henry. And I did it all by myself, a 42-year-old man with a ramshackle plan.
And it was freaking epic.
I woke up in the morning and got myself nine microwave pancakes out of the freezer. (I had to make them myself, which Henry does not do, but there are technicalities in here and we might as well just get that out of the way right now.)
I made the pancakes complete with fake butter and syrup. Then I filled one of his battered, plastic sippy cups up with orange juice.
Henry always looks at me and smiles when I hand him his favorite drink after he has requested it, non-stop, in a machine-gun barrage of verbal requests. Then he has this thing he says that melts my heart because it’s just plain cool.
“All the way to the top?” he says as he takes the cup. He wants maximum OJ, every single time. I like that.
So I say it out loud, to no one: “All the way to the top?” It feels kind of good to say that, even though I know the answer.
I drink the OJ in one long gulp, not giving a damn about anything in the world except drinking some OJ. It’s cold and fruity and I feel a little rush hit my bloodstream.
Then I simply let the cup topple down onto the floor.
Henry doesn’t do that as a rule, but it does happen a few times a week and I want the whole Henry Experience. So I let the cup just slide out of my hand and it hits the ground with a small thud. It feels good to not give a crap about that cup or where it ends up.
I horse down two of the nine pancakes and I’m done. Henry always leaves massive amounts of food untouched. He wouldn’t have eaten two, he would eat one bite of pancake probably. So I used a ratio system, you see?
From there I put the side of my hand, the part where pen ink ends up when you’re writing something, and I touch it to the syrupy plate a few times, get it nice and gooey. Henry does this all the time. He gets syrup on all over his body in odd places. Anyway, I get up from Henry’s chair and I’m all charged up on syrup and OJ and so I make an Incredible Hulk power flex with my whole body and I run into the play room with frightening velocity.
I hit the playroom at full-tilt with a flying face-plant into the couch. It hurts my neck a little bit, which is totally un-Henry but whatever. I keep in character. I’m learning stuff.
Once I get up off the couch, I feel a burp coming on so I let that happen and I add the same quick giggle and ”scuse me!’ that Henry always tags on to his tiny mouse belches. I lift up the wooden toy box and toss every single stuffed animal out onto the floor.
In the midst of doing this I wonder to myself what the particular end game is here. Or if there even is an end game. Is he looking for a certain animal? Is he taking stock to make sure that no one broke in last night and stole one of the 3,247 milk-stained critters? Or is he throwing them all over the floor simply because he can?
I go with this last choice and it makes me feel electric. I throw a stuffed Spider-man with such zest that he bounces off the wall and hits the pirate ship on top of the bookcase and knocks that down. I laugh at that. Ha! That’s a nice feeling. I made the pirate ship fall. It feels lovely!
I stop myself as soon as every toy is scattered around the room. Then I stop on a dime. I must be bored with this, I simply MUST. Henry is quickly bored sometimes, and I need to know how that feels.
I feel strange. Incomplete. I need to substitute the former thrill with something else right now!
I’m on the right track here and I know it. I know it because my plan was to at least scrape the surface of Henry’s consciousness and view his world with passing glimpses. I knew I could never BE Henry, or get anywhere near being Henry, but what happened next brought me closer to that particular flame than I had even anticipated.
I brought out the crayons and the typing paper, same as my son does most mornings around this time. Instantly, I was transported. I hadn’t really held a crayon with the intention of using it in a long time. Henry loves to draw birds and his favorite bird is a flamingo, so I started on my own version.
Then it happened, without warning. I was contemplating what color a damn flamingo’s beak really is when my body began to feel tired.
I kept drawing my bird but pretty soon I was overcome by an edgy feeling. I dropped the crayon on the ground and flung the paper in the air. I understood where I was: I was at the gates of Meltdown City and there was no turning back. My two-hour rush of pancakes and OJ and cartoons and running and over-extended energy was coming back to bite me. Hard.
There was only one possible move for me to make, only one choice out of all the choices I could make in this world that could possibly mimic what Henry’s mind would guide him to do at this very instant.
To the ground I fell.
I let my face lay on the cheap Home Depot throw rug that lives under our coffee table. I’d walked across this thing for years now, but never had I felt it’s odd, soft scratch on the side of my cheek. It occurred to me at that moment that Henry knew so many things, so many feelings that I simply didn’t know anymore.
There was a great internal battle being waged and no matter how badly I wanted to keep drawing flamingos I knew that I was under the spell of a greater force. I was crashing a little. And if I had been 130 lbs lighter and 40 years younger, I’m damn sure I would have been crashing a lot more.
I thought about Henry’s many epic breakdowns, how he hurls his body to the ground and cries for seemingly no reason. I wanted to hold him right then and give him a kiss on his syrupy head and tell him that I just had a small breakthrough. He wouldn’t care of course. He could care less what kind of breakthroughs I might experience. And that seems right, when you think about it.
We’re so separate from our own children. Our bodies and minds and experiences are so vastly at odds with each other that at times it almost seems tragically insane that I am in charge of young children. How do I even get them through the day? How do they stay alive?!
Lying there on the rug, I could tell that I was never going to be able to do it. I was never going to climb into their minds the way I would kill to have a chance to do.
But that’s totally cool. I’m on the outside looking in. They’re on the inside looking out. But just as long as we keep locking eyes a few times a day, we’ll all be okay. Just as long as we keep eating microwave pancakes together once a week, we’ll be doing this whole thing about as right as we’re ever gonna get it.
Image: S. Bielanko Private
More on Babble:More On