"Thank you for offering to walk yourself across the parking lot,"
I told him.
"I appreciate your spirit of initiative. But you're two. Two years old. You need to wait for me."
This was a point we were not in total agreement on, but in the end my speed and physical strength won out and he was forced to accompany me, by hand, across the school's rainy parking lot as he lugged his lunch backpack in a free hand. Why did I not offer to carry his lunch backpack?
The question is not that. It is this: why would I? And the answer to the first question is this: because there are times in history where people know they are ordained to do a certain thing, such as lead Scotland to victory against England, or invent a printing press, or in this case, carry their own lunch pack across a parking lot without any help.
Across the universe we sailed, which means "walked more slowly across the parking lot than I would have walked if I hadn't been walking with a young man who was dragging a giant lunch backpack and loudly bragging about how much his older siblings love him.
We strode in confidently to the school, one of us with more of a jaunty swagger than a humble confidence. He announced his presence quickly and quietly, using his six-foot voice as he raced around the corner to greet one of his great friends at her station, the patient and personable administrative secretary, Ms. D. After shoving his lunch backpack at her to ensure she knew he had one, he yanked it back and informed her of his fave Sesame Street character:
he said matter-of-factly.
"How about we just stick with 'Elmo," I said.
Ms. D said sweetly to him.
"Sometimes that is the way things go."
"Elmo toots," he said, eyeing me carefully as backed away from her desk and raced around her, me, and sixty students en route to find his next friend. I caught him in time to force him to take a spot at the back of the queue, a decision that was popular with less than two of us. Finally, it was his turn to see Mrs. V.
"Hello," he whispered inexplicably quietly before thrusting a sheet of paper into her hands, then grabbing it back quickly before she got the wrong idea and tried to look at it, or Odin forbid, keep it.
"What do you have here?" she asked kindly, crouching down.
"Tookie Monker," he stumbled out.
"Is that a drawing of...Cookie Monster?" she accurately queried.
He nodded vigorously.
"That is very nice!" she said. "Would you like a sticker?"
He nodded firmly, and then turned around to run out, sans sticker. "Bye bye!" he shrilled through a dimpled smile.
"Bye bye!" she waved. "You take good care of Dad, okay!"
"I gotta run by the bathroom," I said, pulling him down the hall.
He ripped himself free as I stepped inside the bathroom, planting himself against the wall just outside as I held the door open.
"What are you doing? I yelled at him quietly.
"I wait." he said.
"You're going to wait for me while I go to the bathroom?" I said, glaring at him. "I don't know about that. But I guess we can give it a shot."
He pulled out his pen and a piece of paper, laid on his stomach in the hallway, and began drawing a picture of what appeared to be a broccoli-eating blue monster, and I shrugged and went inside to pee; this task was something preceded by my closing and locking of the door, a total process that soaked up sixty seconds, but was filled with thoughts of what I might find when I opened the door up again...
...after washing my hands, I opened the door with my pinky and peered out; what I saw was this:
a two-year old boy lying in the hallway with a pen and piece of paper, drawing what appeared to be a broccoli-eating blue monster. His lunch bag sat mostly unopened next to him.
"Hi." I said.
"Hi." he said, not looking up.
He sat on the side of the classroom at a table as the teacher walked through a worksheet on descriptive writing and he continued his monster drawing, pausing only to look up and observe in his six-foot whisper the fact that his older brother was sitting twelve feet away; a reality that he verified every three minutes by walking over to him to tap his chair, look up, and pronounce his brother's name before returning to his throne on the side of the room.
"Let's go," I said. "One of us needs coffee and one of us needs a nap."
"Coffee," he said as we held hands through the rainy lot. "Dada's coffee. I have coffee."
"No." I said. "You have nap."
We drove in the drench, his bedraggled blond caked over his forehead and stomach rising as his wet cheeks breathed in sleep oxygen. You might be wondering the time it took him to fall asleep after after getting in the car, and the answer is I don't know exactly. It might have taken thirty-five seconds, or it might have taken forty-seconds, or it might have been somewhere in between. I really don't know and it's not a fair question to ask because I didn't have a stopwatch going, and plus I was driving and concentrating on doing that super well and super safe.
I loudly unclicked him from the carseat and dragged him out, ordering him to stay asleep, which he did, because I told him to, though he did it with a deep and disgruntled sigh. I slung my backpack over one shoulder, grabbed his book bag, and an old coat, and a soft blanket, and tried to hold him over my head so I wouldn't get overly wet as we made the cold dash to the coffee shop.
Inside, I carefully through down my old coat, inside-part facing up, and laid him down, face down, and then gently snuggled him on the floor, next to the window, by the table, ignoring the stares of those who would not find normal to lie your toddler down on a coffeeshop floor for a nap.
He took a deep breath to acclimate himself to his new - yet familiar - surrounding, cracked his eye open for a sec, and then grunted himself back to slumber. I went to order coffee, briefly considering the notion of splurging for a big huge fat sugary whip cream drink, but forgoing that in favor of black coffee, for one reason and really one reason only: so I could go back for refills.
I worked on some important things that will likely change the world someday, and sent two emails, and angrily paid several bills, and gave myself 15 minutes to finish up a story I was working on, and then the boy woke up, and I grabbed him into my lap where he snuggled and smiled for five minutes while rejoining the fully-sentient world.
"What did you dream about?" I whispered.
"Elmo," he said.
We sat for a short while longer; for a length of time that allowed him to turn a quarter muffin into six thousand crumbs, half of which made it to his mouth. The remainder spilled onto the paper in front of him that was filled with his furious and intricate drawings of flowers and Sesame Street characters.
I got my refill, and a refill, and headed to the bathroom before leaving.
"I wait," he said, trying to plop himself down outside the bathroom door.
"No," I said.
We headed out to go for a quick shop at a septic supply store; a location I had never been to and navigated to easily; easily being defined as requiring less than a half dozen U-turns. We found it, and I successfully paid the ridiculous sum of $70 for a riser lid, and left the cramped office without him noticing they had free popcorn, and we headed back to school, and nothing happened en route.
In driver's ed a quarter century ago, I remember something about the number of times you're supposed to check your mirrors. Every six seconds or so? I don't know what length of time I went without checking my rearview mirror, but it felt like it couldn't have been more than thirty seconds or so. But finally, I did look back.
An event, a major event had taken place in the span between looking in the rearview mirror when last had, at which point nothing had been happening aside from a contemplative boy looking out the rainy window, and between my next mirror check, at which gastronomic Armageddon was in the early stages of occurring.
In this brief span of time, he had pulled up his backpack, opened it up, dug up a certain container from the bottom of it, pried open the lock-tight lid, and began helping himself to lunch.
He quietly, gracefully ran his hands through the cold spaghetti, gently rubbing the marinara into each strand of noodle, and then carefully setting it aside to savor for down the road a few seconds. A neat little row of red sauce-covered noodles lay spread out on the side of the carseat, and then several dozen other neat rows of noodles lay spread out across his pants, shirt, face, head, shoes, adjacent seat, and floor. And back of hand.
"Noodle." he said, as he carefully wrapped a piece around his fist and then stuck the whole thing in; a scene that reminded me of a nature documentary in which an anaconda stretches its mouth wide open, hinging it open to an impossible size in order to engorge a baby goat, or some such delicacy.
This is what happened.
There is nothing interesting about happened next. I screamed in horror, and did not get into an accident, and did not eat any of the spaghetti strewn throughout the vehicle, though I was perhaps the only one who did not do so.
"Noodle," he said casually, grabbing a short strand off his chubby little shoe and powerslamming it into his mouth.
There is simply nothing interesting about what happened next. I cleaned up, to the extent that things could be cleaned up, and briefly considering surprising Becca and trading in the car for a brand new one, but then realized I had just gassed up and didn't want to waste a tank, so decided to hold off. I scrubbed seventy percent of the sauce off his face and removed all but a dozen or so noodles from his hair, and we headed back into school so we could be of assistance in the formal education process.
"Hi!" he shouted as he tripped through the hallway, waving to his friend Dini at the front and bypassing the looks of parents standing in line to talk with her.
"Hi!" she said with a big smile as he zipped around the corner and headed to his brother's classroom.
I will briefly pause to back up three minutes: as I was cleaning up the car, he assertively grabbed a different backpack from one of the many secret hidden places in our car where things can be hidden. He grabbed this, and clutched it tight, and this is what he had carried in, and I thought nothing of it. A backpack. He usually has a bag or a backpack with him, and this is just another one, likely filled with drawing supplies, books, and possibly a special toy or item of his brother's he's trying to sneak in. The usual.
He stopped short of his brother's classroom and sat himself down by a friend. This time, a friend his own age; technically older by a year or less. We'll call her "Alexis."
Alexis, a sweet young girl, was playing outside her siblings' classroom with her mother; busying herself with a little fairy tale popup playset. Our son joined her, uninvited, on the floor, and set his backpack down between them. Alexis' mother asked me question about something, and I was responding, and our son continued working on getting the backpack open; a task I knew he would and could successfully complete at some point, and would therefore not disrespect him by offering my assistance.
Alexis' mother looked down, and smiled, and said, "What do we have here?"
What we have here, is what he pulled out of his backpack, and what he had in his backpack, and was carefully pulling out, one colourful pair at a time to show and share with his friend, was underwear.
Seven pairs of underwear. His underwear. New underwear, "...clean, unworn, underwear, I think," I explained as he handed each one to Alexis to examine.
This underwear had been given to him by his grandma several days previous, and was special and important to him, but not in the sense of comprehending what underwear is intended to be used as. That is still a theoretical construct. Underwear, to him, is a type of hat. The coolest type of hat. What other use could there be?
So he had his little show-and-tell with his bud, trying on one after the other, and proffering different styles for her to try; though making sure at every turn that she returned them and did not attempt to abscond with them; a crime for which he would have been grievously offended.
Finally they were all back in, and we headed to the classroom.
There is little to say about the classroom, aside from envy I had over the sixty-seven books he was able to read in a short time while I attempted to help third graders with mathematics.
Finally, on the road again. Noisy tales of relational malfeasance and playground intrigue filled the car as we shared anecdotes and juicy bits from the day; the boy soaked it all in and interjected commentary wherever necessary; necessary being on a schedule of every six seconds.
Much transpired, but it is late. Music lessons happened, a trip thereafter to the grocery store, whereupon he helped reorganize the shelves and thoughtfully offer ideas for what we could purchase.
"Jam," he said, reaching above him to haul down a giant glass jar."
"No," I said, "I will get that."
But it was too late. His cerebrum and cerebellum were already tangoing and sending the message down his brainstem to immediately pull the entire jar down with one hand, which he did, and he did it quite well, in the sense that somebody falling off a hundred-foot building is completely fine for the first ninety-nine feet.
Crack splat! The jar shattered upon its untimely demise on the tile floor. He stepped back. "Uh-oh."
"Yeah, uh-oh," I said. "You are cleaning that up."
For liability reasons or some such nonsense, toddlers are not permitted in this particular grocery to clean up their own messes involving broken glass and blueberry jelly, so sadly he learned nothing about responsibility or personal accountability on this particular trip. Sad.
But I angrily bought him no jam.
At home, he immediately made himself at home, borrowing his brother's bed to read three more books, then dropping that activity immediately when he heard a trigger word.
"I bake! I bake!" he shrieked, wobble-running down the hall to the kitchen, where he hoisted his bench over to the oven and began pressing buttons, an activity we have been working to constrain, if not restrain.
So we prepared supper, a task which, thanks to his invaluable and incalculable assistance, went from being a 20-minute task to a 45-minute one. Nothing was broken, though much was spilled.
And then his mother arrived home.
"Hi!" he muttered, as he ran over and threw his meaty little messy arms around her, accompanied by a python-wide grin.
"Are we eating at the table?" a child asked.
"No," I said. "Of course not. It's the NCAA championship game. We're eating in front of the television like a good all-American sports family."
"We're watching baseball again?" his older brother grumbled.
"It's basketball." I said. "And it is the only college basketball game we watch all year long."
We all got our picks in and the boy chose Virginia over Texas Tech by a score of 9-3, which is possibly one of the worst predictions ever in the history of sports betting, and in the end he was actually correct on the winning team, but way off on the score. 85-77 in a thrilling overtime match.
Finally, off to bed. He crawled in with the two books he demands to have at every sleep, and pulled up the covers around himself and his brother and his books, and started singing a song about Sesame Street or backpacks or something.
"Good night boys," I murmured in the dark as I left them. "I love you."
And I do.
And tomorrow will be another day exactly like that, and totally different.