Monday, May 10, 2010


Most mornings I wake before sunrise and make a cup of coffee before sitting down here to write out my night, or the day before or the day before that. Sometimes it takes a while to process the events of a day or a week, the cumulative experience of living. It’s the time of day I reserve for sorting out the sometimes unsortable.
Then there comes that time, about 6:05AM to be precise, when I really start my day, when I wander back to the other end of the apartment I share with my son, starting his bath and turning on lights along the way, finding socks, a shirt, and a clean pair of jeans for him to wear to school. When I enter his room he is usually still sound asleep, warm from the night, hair tussled and his small, dirty bear pressed close to his chin. I try to wake him slowly, with a kiss and a rub on the back. Almost without fail he rolls up, checks that his bear is in his hand then reaches out to me to lift him from the his bunk bed and set him on the floor.
He’s a little unsteady at first as he pads down the hall to his bath, pin-balling his way to the bathroom with eyes half-opened, so I usually stay close behind in case he runs into a wall face-first. It’s happened before. He sits in his bath without saying a word while I wash his face then I leave him there while I get his breakfast ready. A few minutes later he’s dressed and sitting at the table, almost ready to talk. It’s usually not until after he’s eaten his pear or banana that he starts talking and even then, he’s not that chatty in the morning. It’s not until we’ve packed his school bag and started on our way to school that he opens up.
“Papa, I need to tell you something.” With those words, he launches on a ramble about whatever is on his mind that morning. Sometimes he wants me to clarify something I mentioned in passing the day before, or he may narrate the plot of the latest video he’s fallen in love with, or describe a new invention he’s been thinking about that will change the world. But every now and then, he’ll say something so out of the blue that it causes me to stop, lean down close to his face and ask him to repeat himself, so that I’m sure I’ve heard him correctly.
Once he told me about a conversation he’d had with his Grandfather, long deceased, about the nature of the planets, another time he told me he was happy I had a normal job now, because I was around in the evening to have dinner with him instead of taking off on long trips away from home. But one morning recently, he told me something I truly didn’t expect. He told me to smile. He looked up at me, stared directly into my eyes and told me to smile. I didn’t realize I wasn’t smiling, I was probably thinking about something else, something from the other side of my life, the side that doesn’t revolve around him and he caught it. I’m sure it wasn’t the first time he’d seen me with something other than a smile on my face but it was the first time he’d decided to do something about it, to confront me.
I conjured up a smile and told him that even when I wasn’t smiling I was smiling inside, at least regarding him. But that wasn’t entirely true and he knew it. He reminded me of a time when I had been angry with him and I acknowledged that, yes, at that time I wasn’t smiling inside or out. Maybe he thought that the scowl or frown or whatever it was I was expressing unconsciously that morning was directed at him, I’m sure he did. But the fact was, I wasn’t upset with him, I was thinking about something else entirely and the mistake I made was forgetting that HH doesn’t miss much and that the way I express my feelings, knowingly or unknowingly, affects him.
It was a humbling experience, that conversation, a reminder of how deeply a child experiences the world and how important it is to pay attention to everything I do and say, even to the way I smile, or fail to smile, on our way to school.