The kids were up and playing and laughing long before usual. Maybe it was the sunshine streaming through their sheer window curtains. Maybe it was the temperature – perfect for a rolling around on beds that, like the air itself, feel warm and cool in turns. My oldest crept into my room, without knocking as always. ‘Good morning Daddy,’ he said, a broad smile on his face or so it appeared through the fog of sleep still hanging like a blanket over me. The clock on the wall said 6:40. ‘Good morning,’ I mumbled. ‘It’s not seven yet, is it…I’ll see you in a little while...’ My kid knows the rules. He also likes to ignore them, perhaps in hopes that I will too and we can enjoy ourselves a little, something I was much better at once upon a time.
Both my boys asked for cereal for breakfast. ‘Regular Cheerios and Honey Nut Cheerios, mixed!’ I’m only too happy to oblige – there aren’t many lower-maintenance ways to feed your kids. This is my oldest child’s last week of kindergarten; he has done extremely well, in both learning and making friends. I moved the family here last September, two days before the start of the school year, two days after they’d returned from Japan. Into a new town. Into a new home. A hectic transition, confusing at times for the little ones. I’m glad they like it here.
The neighbors across the street put a basketball hoop up recently, right there along the curb. It’s adjustable; the rim sits at eight feet for now. My son is getting pretty good at tossing his red kickball up and in. We used to have to rush out the door every morning to catch his bus; now he’s ready to go early. ‘Do we have time to play basketball?’ he asks with hope in his eyes. ‘You bet,’ I tell him. It feels good to get the blood moving on our own terms.
We had to get the other two moving early as well; my daughter had an 8:30 appointment with the neurologist. She’s been working with a physical therapist (perhaps ‘working’ is not the right word for a fifteen month old but for the rest of us it is) because she has not developed certain skills she should have by now. For the past three weeks we have done our best to stretch her legs as a runner would, to loosen up the muscles she has so far grossly underutilized. And she seems to be making progress; she can now sit up for a time without losing her balance, though we have to first help get her into a seated position. Her therapist has been pleasantly surprised by the quick improvement. The neurologist, however, has prescribed an MRI. His assessment this morning included the possibility of mild cerebral palsy.
My wife enjoys taking the kids to the library, for story times and the various activities they make available to moms (and dads) with young children. This morning my younger son got to paint, his new favorite thing. The kids all made suns with paper plate and some parchment. My son was the last one to finish – he didn’t mind one bit, he was only concerned with turning every triangular ray of his sun bright orange. My wife and I did our best not to rush him while wondering if we would make it to the bus stop on time to meet our proud little kindergartener. The year has gone so fast. His school is not giving his class a graduation ceremony. I doubt he has given this any thought but my wife and I are kind of disappointed. Tomorrow he’ll come home early, on Friday he’ll come home even earlier, and that will be that. No celebrating the culmination of their year as growing children; no moment for them to feel special. Or maybe it’s us parents who want to see our kids celebrated, so adorable in their little caps and gowns.
As my boys climb out of the car they both tell me that they are hungry. ‘You’re always hungry,’ I say right back, saddened somewhat by the lack of levity in my own voice. My three-year-old just got out of diapers and has begun going to sleep without needing mommy or daddy next to him. These things I should be ecstatic about; on the inside I am, but on the outside I keep finding other reasons to tell him he needs to grow up. Both of them decide, before they get to the door, that they want to stay outside and play soccer. Occasionally they’ll play with each other but mostly they want to play with me. Each of them, separately. And there’s no reliable solution to keep both of them happy.
I roll our blue rug out on the grass and sit my little girl down. I want her to watch. I want her to want to imitate her brothers playing, just as she likes to pretend to talk on the phone like mommy and daddy do. I hope to somehow encourage her, to make her feel motivated to be a regular kid, running through the grass in the warm sun, kicking a ball around. Who knows if a kid her age has the capacity to think in such terms, but I’d like to believe a few new neurons will start firing as she sits there awkwardly, taking things in with those big beautiful eyes. It can’t hurt; after all, this is Nature’s way, isn’t it?
Last night I threw together two short posts for this blog, which was once a series of writings on life and travel abroad but has morphed into a mishmash of thoughts, appropriately paralleling my presently unstructured life. They are both rather sharp-edged pieces, sarcastic of course, tinged with anger for the way some things work in this world. As I read them over at the library this afternoon my words came across as insignificant, my condemnations trivial. What kind of man spends his energy on things like this when his daughter needs physical therapy and an MRI?
I posted a picture on facebook, of my son’s reading chart for school. He’d been asked to color in one rectangle for each book he read. ‘Create rows of colors, or columns or patterns’ was the teacher’s gentle suggestion. After four or five rectangles he got bored and decided to turn the last ninety-five boxes into the flags of ninety-five different countries. I almost cried when I saw what he’d done. Later I’d yell at him because he couldn’t hold his little bug cage still so I could coax into it the housefly we’d just caught together.
On Twitter I traded messages with someone who reached out to me, asking if I’d like to write for the website he has been developing. ‘You seem like an interesting guy,’ he wrote. He’d seen the things I’d written regarding the 2011 earthquake – or he’d tweeted about it anyway. ‘We’re always looking for writing that adheres to at least semi-high standards.’ That a stranger would take the time to reach out with a kind word feels good. We all like to feel appreciated. I just wish the pay were better.
From another person’s feed I linked to an article written by a woman named Jennifer Miller who, along with her husband, decided life was for living, not merely making a living. They sold their things and set out with their four children on an eighteen-month round-the-world adventure on bicycles. Five years later they are still rolling. I read not about any specifics of their travels but of the woman’s philosophy about the path they have chosen, engrossed with one family’s passion that I would so love to infuse into mine. I’d pack us all up and leave tomorrow if I could. But there are logistics to consider. And the kids are much too young for bikes. But they are young enough to adapt if we went on such an extended journey, and I begin wondering if someday, long after they’ve gone down their own separate paths, if they’d feel they enjoyed their unorthodox childhood.
I received an email from an old friend today, about the death of a guy we both used to play Little League baseball with. Same age as us. One of the best in the league back then. Now gone. My friend didn’t mention how, and I didn’t ask, unsure why it really might matter anyway. Outside the library I saw a neighbor of mine, sitting on a bench in the gentle afternoon sun, watching his granddaughters play on the playground. He’s seventy years old, looks years younger, and has lived in this town all his life. He used to ride his bike along dirt roads to get to school, when he wasn’t riding his horse. There were once only 1,500 people in the community. ‘Everybody knew each other,’ he said. ‘You couldn’t do something wrong without seeing your father waiting on the front porch with his belt in his hands when you got home.’ Most of the land around here used to be farm; all summer they’d meet in front of the fire house to buy, sell and trade vegetables. ‘Now you can’t, it’s illegal,’ he says. I listen to him tell his stories and I can’t help but agree that life in those quieter, simpler times would be hard to beat.
I rode my bike home, thoughts of community and school and work and MRIs in my head. My family and I could probably travel for less than we are paying in rent each month. It would also be extremely taxing on all of our kids, to varying degrees in line with their ages. I’m not working right now – or rather, I’m working my tail off with a number of literary pursuits, I just haven’t created much income from it yet. But I believe in time I will. I have to. We are not starving by any means. But the present cannot go on forever.
My wife believes in me. My kids in all their young, misguided perceptions think I am worthy of their admiration. I love them like crazy, yet there are times I wish it were just me. Me and my bike and the never-ending road. Simpler. Quieter. And, I believe in my darker moments, better. What comes of feelings not acted upon?
It is now 2am. All these things are now yesterday. I sit here in the dark of another day, certain – hopeful – I can be what my family needs someday.
I just don’t know about today.