noun – 1. a brief period of time 2. importance
“Hey, hi big guy.”
“Hi, Dad” he warily replied as I playfully stepped in front of him.
“Wha-haa-hhaat?” he bleated.
“Let me see you!”
A reluctant “uuuhhh” rolled into “ooookaayyy” as he surrendered.
“You’re getting so big.”
“Can I go now?”
“Ok, bud. Do you need anything?”
“Naw. I’m good”
“Alright. Let me know if I can help you.”
– Alrighty then. Sometimes, that’s all I get. It wasn’t even an ‘O-K’, just ‘-k’ and barely audible at that. A random encounter in the hallway lets me know they’re still alive and let’s them know they can’t get away with cookies and soda for breakfast again. If they didn’t need food or money or a ride to anywhere that I am not, I might never find them outside of their room. That’s ok though, because I tell myself that raising them to be good, thoughtful, independent people that will inevitably leave me is the goal here after all, isn’t it? So I settle for little victories. Somewhere between digging out from under the relentless piles of laundry and surviving another showdown over the uneaten vegetables in another healthy meal I just friggin cooked for those little fuuuhhh…errr… PEOPLE.. I find satisfaction. Once in a while though, I stumble onto something magical that makes me wonder if they aren’t the ones raising me.
It happened again tonight. As I deftly negotiated the hallway between dinner and laundry my mind wandered in the details of our hallway encounter…
“Hey, hi big guy.”
“Hi, Dad” he warily replied, turning into the hallway at the top of the stairs. He sensed his predicament before I noticed my opportunity. There was no pretense to the brief encounter, but his shy grin caught my eye and stalled an otherwise quiet attempt to slip past me, undetected. It was like watching a mouse trying to sneak past an alley cat… and enormous mouse with poor judgement and slow reflexes. His evasive maneuver had unwittingly drawn my attention and I seize the moment. He steps left. I step with him – Check. He steps right and I playfully step in front of him – Check Mate. He sighed and a submissive “Wha-haa-hhaat?” wobbled out leaning on a nervous laugh that pleaded for whatever was happening to please be over quickly as I took hold of him by the shoulders.
“Let me see you”…
His uncertain “uuuhhh” rolled reluctantly into “ooookay” as he surrendered.
“You’re getting so big” Only twelve and my boy already stands as tall as me. He’s sure to surpass his older brother and I within the year. I gripped him firmly and gave a bristling shake as if to lend some strength to his slouching posture. He flinched after an intolerable few seconds of my silent smiling attention.
“Can I go now”? he pleaded.
“Ok, bud.” I relented and relaxed my grip. “Do you need anything?”
“Naw. I’m good”
“Alright”, my hands fell away from their hold. “Let me know if I can help you.”
“-k.” He slipped around the corner and out of sight before I might catch him again.
Just now I am struck by the difference between the two versions of the story. He has no idea that the detail of my perspective exists. What’s more, *I* hadn’t noticed it until just now – See? Magic! But wait! It gets better – Thirty years ago I was that boy and it was my grandfather that would catch me unawares…
“David! Let me look at you.” His voice unsteady but direct. Well worn vocal cords had lost their supple youthful tenor and crackled against each word as he summoned you near for inspection.
“Hi Grampa” I’d yield.
“Let me see ya”, he’d say again as he squared up to look you over. He was not a big man. I have a handful of old Army photos from the 1940’s when he stood confidently amongst the taller enlisted men his age. But what he may have lacked in stature, he seemed to make up for in character. My uncle would reverently say he was one tough son-of-a-bitch which likely took on different meaning for a kid growing up under his roof. Even in his later years he’d muckle right onto you with a solid grip and hold you at arms length to peer through old lenses at how well your were shaping up.
“Boy… look atcha!”, he’d beam with a grin that revealed the toll the years had taken on what was left of his teeth. “You’re getting big.”
“Yah… ” I’d say looking down to him. An awkward ‘aww shucks’ would have been more deservedly eloquent, but three decades ago I didn’t appreciate what was happening either.
Now, so many years later with sons of my own, I am suddenly aware. He beamed with pride and hope, optimism and uncertainty. Like a humble farmer at a county fair, he gazed upon you as if you were his magnificent prize-winning pumpkin. You weren’t just some barnyard curiosity. No blue ribbon pony or ’terrific’ pig ever garnered such proud attention. His eyes twinkled in excited anticipation that the whole world would see what had been cultivated. That uncommon gourd he prized held the promise of so much more.
Amazed by astute insightful self-discovery and wistfully nostalgic for the depth of that small moment I missed as a boy, I quit my chores to find junior brushing his teeth. Healthy and tall for a boy his age, I’ve tended to him and watched him grow. He’s been fed and held, comforted and cheered. I’ve talked to him when he obviously wasn’t listening and worried about him when he couldn’t imagine why. I gripped his arms to sense their strength. I held him firmly as if to lend him mine. Hell, I’d thump his chest like a ripening mellon at the market if I thought I could divine his readiness for the world and proudly wheel him out for display and boastful discussion among the other proud farmers. “Yep, this one will do well”, I think as he shuffles past me down the hall toward bedtime.