Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Don't Worry About Him

Bespectacled, gray-haired, and with a mother’s concerned expression from the right, I feel eyes watching. I crane my neck casually to exchange glances with the woman, who cannot help but focus on the child and show her dismay. She utters her question, then quickly looks away, making her posture more casual.
"Don't worry about him," I politely assure the well-intentioned lady sitting beside my wife and me, who has asked if my child is sick. From his fit of coughing, it's a logical conclusion. "It's a new thing he does."
            Ezra continues to cough, his face turning red from the forced expulsions, solicitations of parental attentions.
            The woman casts a semi-judgmental glance in my direction, a look filled with contempt for me passing off my son's "ailment" for anything less than the plague. His cheeks continue to redden from the forced labor of making himself cough. This child already knows how to work an audience.
            "When did he start doing that?" I turn to my wife, asking in a hushed whisper, not indicating my discomfort.
            "I don't know," she replies, "A couple of days ago?"
            "It's awful," I say, looking at Ezra, two of his fingers being chewed on, massaging his sore gums, angered by the intrusion of colonizer incisors or bicuspids which are attempting to surface and make his mouth home. He lifts his left eyebrow, the same one I lift. I know exactly what this means; I invented this move, the brow-raise. It is an act of betrayal of my face, a teller of tales and secrets that the rest of my face is complicit in withholding, a treason against my quiet contempt.  It’s my middle finger. The little shit is trying to tell me he knows that I know it is all part of his plan, a plan for attention, when he feels as though he is not receiving enough.
            Picking up my spoon, I turn to my cookie dough ice cream. I wrap my fingers around it, similar to the way I am now wrapped around his finger, small as it may be. Before I can lift the spoon to my mouth, I’m jolted by the hacking that ensues with an "Ack! Ack! Acka! Acka ack ack!"
            "Ezra!" My wife quips, half-concerned, half-amused, choking down a laugh. The woman to my right casts another disapproving glare. I wave my spoon dismissively in her direction, letting the ice cream slip downward onto my shirtfront.  
            Amazed at the development of my son, I am also half-terrified. If he is this master of mischief at five months, what does my future hold? Already I get the cold glare of women of children my age which are often endearing, or like today, overtly judging. I hear echoes of my father, his words like an icy blast to my face, prophetical in their Greek mythology way, "Your children will be your punishment." Perhaps Ezra will always have a way of embarrassing me in public. I can say, if following the profundity of my father's axiom, it would be just desserts.
            Grocery stores were my favorite place to wreak havoc. Otherwise an unassuming child, I made my mom parade on egg shells at grocery stores, a land of opportunity for my mischief. My agile fingers would peel the colorful wrappers of the candy in the bulk candy aisle, littering the floor with the carcasses of would-be-sold candies. My particular victims were usually the small treats that resembled strawberries, their plasticky shells discarded like fallen leave from a tree down the aisles as my reckless hands peeled them, one by one, just because I could. Down the canned goods aisle, I sought my next victim.
At seven, I had decided that no one should eat any meat from a can. I imagined the surface of the unrecognizable meat products, indistinguishable from one another, devoid of any real meat characteristics: gray in color with a slimy, gelatinous coating resembling, what I imagine, lines our sinus cavities. The Spam cans were my favorite. It is no conincidence that junk mail we do not want to open, messages that come from questionable and unknown origins, are named after a meat product so similarly sourced. No meat should ever take that shape, a rectangular prism of purported flesh, and I had decided to protect my fellow grocery shoppers from any exposure to such questionable products. Me, the seven-year-old processed meat vigilante.
            One by one, lifting the can quietly from the shelf, I'd hold them up, examining each one as though it were different from another. With diligence and precision, I would manage to get one tiny finger between the top lid of the can and the tab designed for its opening. Wedging my digit further, carefully, cautiously, stealthily, I would pry, ever so gently, the tab from the top of the can. Making sure not to puncture the lid not only out of fear of leaving evidence, but for allowing any of the foul odor out from the deceased meat's aluminum tomb, I pull upward. By the time my mother was ready for the next aisle, I had celebrated, quietly, the fact that at least ten cans of Spam would not be making it to the homes of shoppers who needed me to protect them.
It wasn't until laundry time came that my mother would realize the destruction I had caused, the acts of service, in my mind, which I had committed. In my pockets were the strangely hoarded artifacts, the evidence of the little crimes, silver and flat; I had so proudly severed from their purpose. My mother wouldn't know how to respond verbally. On my dresser, I’d find my casualties of war displayed when I got home from school that day, indicating that my mom knew what I had done, but carrying none of the severity of a verbal admonishment. My mother: the accomplice. Secretly, I think she found it funny, or she was too embarrassed to admit to the fact that my acts of derision were committed unbeknownst to her, right beneath her otherwise-watchful, mother hawk’s eyes.
            Ezra coughs again. The sound pierces my ears and wakes me joltingly from my momentary nostalgia. Looking up, I again meet eyes with the woman next to us who stands up and walks away, shooting daggers again in my direction. I know my eyebrow is deceiving me as our eyes meet. I look at my son who smirks at me, a mirror image of my younger self. I reach down in my pocket and almost feel the tabs of ghosts of Spam cans past.


I hated being alone as a child. I hated the nothingness that would envelop everything and the sound of silence that would settle over me like a heavy blanket, swirling around, pulling me inward. I hated the empty feeling deep inside of me as I would sit and stare out the window, my only vantage point to a world outside, waiting for someone to come home. I hated the hauntingly endless ticks of the second hand on the clock, their repeated ghostly rhythm mocking me, echoing the pattern of loneliness thumped by my aching heart. Being alone was as terrible for me in a sense that no other feeling was – a time when the world spun on without purpose, devoid of human interaction, when the colors and shapes bled into one another into seamless bewilderment. My thoughts were somehow transformed into meaningless preponderances of unimportant dribble, even more so than on ordinary days. But more than anything, I think, I hated that there was no one with whom I could share my laughter and joy, my excitement and zest for life, the desperation to be loved and paid attention which seemed distant and inaccessible, making my own home seem very un-home. I hated being alone for it made me feel the aching corners of my insecurities more deeply, even if it was only when my mother went to check the mail.

All Wet

There it is - all rectangular and wet, staring at me, prodding me. It's over 100 degrees in the midst of summer, I'm hot, I'm ten, and I still can't jump in. Frozen in my irrational terror, I stare back at the swimming pool. Everybody else is waiting and the added pressure isn't helping. "C'mon!" they jeer, "Just jump." Just jump? What kind of reckless child do they take me for? I hadn't even assessed the surrounding yet. Where were the steps to get out? How deep is the deep end and where does it start to drop off? What is the chlorine ratio? Is my sunscreen truly waterproof? I certainly couldn't let it wash off. My mind swimming like my friends in the pool, I casually look down at my feet, slowly burning on the sizzling concrete. Lifting my right foot, I carefully dip a toe, breaking the water's surface. Never mind, I decide, it's too cold.

I can swim, I just choose not to. Even as a child in swim lessons, I made it clear that the pool and I were not going to be friends. When friends would have pool parties, I would RSVP for three: me, and my left and right water wings, my flotation partners. None of my friends ever seemed to judge me, that is until I probably got to the age when wearing such flotation devices were frowned upon.

Fourth of July weekend was the last time I begrudgingly got in a pool. Before that, I don't recall how long it had been. The daunting, displeasing task of submerging myself in some communal watering hole appealed not to me. Aside from the fact that I hated swimming, sharing what seems a recreational bath tub of sorts with other people is not a hobby of mine. Bodies flail around like soggy macaroni in boiling soup, wet and with no particular direction. The only reason I got in recently is because it was Ezra's first time in water outside the bath tub - or the womb.

Clad in rash guard, swim diaper, and his soon-to-be-too-small crab swim trunks, I couldn't resist the thought of introducing something new to the chubby-cheeked face I love. I didn't want to be sidelined, a spectator viewing events from my own life passing me, blowing by like a breeze.  Placing his still-too-big hat on his head, careful not to cover his bug eyes, I take the first step into a new, pool-accepting life. I try not to think about how warm the water isn't, and avoid thinking of how cold it’s going to feel one the water creeps up past my waist. I close my eyes, and brace myself.

Louanne has been hell-bent on taking Ezra to swim lessons. Funny, I think. He spent close to ten months trying to liberate himself from his aqueous home. He can't speak and say, "Hey mom, you know, I'd really like to take some swim lessons." Secretly, she hopes that he doesn't wind up like me - severely handicapped by my dislike for swimming pools. "He can go to Davis on Mondays and Wednesdays from four to five o'clock," Louanne reads me. "That would be good. It's a four week course. It's 97 dollars. Do you think it's worth it?" He can't sit up and he doesn't crawl, I think to myself.

"Considering the fact that he isn't sitting up yet, I am not sure swimming seems like a good use of time." This isn't the response she wants.

"I want him to learn how to swim," she explains. My wife - making the implicit, explicit.  Clearly you do, I think. "You work on Wednesdays. Who is going to take him?" I ask, already knowing the response, a predetermined decision unbeknownst to me.


Me? She isn't asking or suggesting, she's telling. This is a perk of being married: getting to do things I  don't want to do. I'm sure that she assumes that I will not want to do this. Then, I look at the little flesh nugget rolling on the floor and think, this is a perk of being a parent: doing things for my child and not for me.  Taking Ezra to swim lessons is an opportunity to spend quality time, but also a chance for me to maybe relearn something. I wonder how deep the kiddie pool is, and consider bringing a Baby Ruth bar if I get too uncomfortable.

So I Was Thinking...

"So I was thinking," she says in a way that trails off at the end, audible ellipses that indicate there is more to come.

Shit, I think. She's thinking. Nothing good can come from that. Pretending as though I don't hear her, I reengage in what ever distracting task that frees me from the grasp of the impending doom of her idea.

"Babe?" Shit again. A term of endearment followed by a question mark, even more audible than the previous punctuation.

"What?" Maybe if I continue to pretend that I didn't hear the initial "so I was thinking" it will be like it never happened. I'm a deer caught in headlights, wide-eyed, rooted to the spot, not sure whether to run or brace myself for the unavoidable impact. She catches my buck eyes with a look of purpose, transfixed on my fear, awaiting the moment when her vehicular thoughts make brutal contact with my cervidae body.

"I was thinking…" Shit shit. Italics now, emphasizing the thinking, reiterating that some master plan is brewing inside her cauldron of a brain, a mixture of one part newt eye, three parts bat wing, and one soul of a thirty-year-old husband brought to a bubbling boil. The italics are again followed with the ellipses,  fangs protruding from a conceptual mouth, waiting to catch and latch onto some life source.

"Uh-huh…" I mutter in terror. This thought, I know, is not a thought at all - it's a decision, marked with all the underpinnings and implications of a thought, false politician-like diplomacy, a sword on which I will fall. This thought - the conjecture that will either, 1. Cost me money, 2. Take my time, 3. or make me go somewhere I know I already don't want to go. This idea, it has stalked me as its prey, smelled my fear, and whet its proverbial lips. Trapped, she goes to speak, inevitably ending this time with an exclamation point.

Child #2

When are you having another child?" I'm asked. My wife casts a disapproving glare in my direction. It's one of those questions on my growing list of "questions I have contempt for," joining the previous favorites of: 1. when are you getting married? and  2. when are you having children?  And an all-time favorite, what's wrong with your face? This annoyance, this pestilence of innocent curiosity, has made me realize that I need to be equipped with an artillery of responses.

"I think we’re a one-and-done family." I respond confidently and honestly. This is how I always start to respond, but I am not so good at hiding my feelings. I've been told I have a very expressive face. This single-child decision that my wife and I have made came after much discussion. Admittedly, we are open to the idea of a second and are not completely ruling it out, but it is unfathomable, at this time, to think of adding more chaos to the upheaved life we currently live.

"You can't just have one child. You need to have two." I am baited. Who the hell are you to give me this directive? I fume, I turn red, my eyebrow likely raises, signaling I am engaged; my ears flush red. Need. Someone else has determined for me that the addition of another child - all before my first son can even walk - is necessary. We have heard it argued that we need a second in case, morbidly and God forbid  "one doesn't make it" or because "only children have mental problems." Inclined as I was to ask that person if she were an only child, I did not. The best argument I can make advocated for kid number two is that when Louanne and I get old and crazy, Ezra should probably have someone to talk to, but we have a plan for that. My son has a college fund and a therapy fund - I wish I had had either.

I'll have a second child when you pay, I think to myself. Children are expensive. Before I can respond, my wife, always the kinder of we two, speaks up:

"We will have a second when Ezra goes to pick it out from the pound." Winning, I think. This is why I married her.