Tuesday, November 18, 2008
So beautiful it hurts
He'd promised to do his homework in exchange for an evening stroll. I happily agreed. We needed a walk. He then proceeded to stall doing his homework, to whine about his homework, to get generally snotty about his homework. The sunset outside was amazing. It went from gentle melons and pinks, while he SWORE I was making it up when I gently corrected his spelling; to richer oranges and reds as I received the death glare for reminding him there was a back side to the worksheet; to blues and finally totally dark as he staged a small protest when I tried to point out his name looked like "Pavid" when he was petulantly, deliberately lazy with his handwriting. His homework got done, but we missed our walk, our moment.
And this evening, it was the boogers that did it.
I'd worked hard on my own stuff. I'd tried to catch up in both my personal and professional dealings. I'd taken a break to pick up my son from school, played a board game with him, served a snack, nagged him to do his homework, answered about ten million MomcanIhaves, MomcanIdos and MomMomMomlookitMomlookitMoms, and then rushed back again to the phone and computer. He'd call me back to the living room about every thirty seconds -- if he'd just give me ten freaking consecutive minutes, I'd grumble to myself -- but I was managing, slowly, to hack away at the day's tasks.
He called me out, a-freakin'-GAIN, and proceeded to ignore me once I got to the room. He was watching a commercial wherein the announcer apparently aimed to drill the product name into kids' -- and by extension parents' -- heads through sheer obnoxiousness: "So get ZEROGRAVITYMICRO!!!! Only ZEROGRAVITYMICRO can zoom on the floor, walls, or upside-down! It may even be able to violate the time space continuum! Really! So ask your parents for ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! Again, that's ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! Right now, ask for ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! Seriously, go ask! Now! ZEROGRAVITYMICRO!! Go ask your parents! ZEROGRAVITYMICRO! That's ZEROGRAVITYMICRO!!"
Finally, I asked what was up.
"I just wanted you in the room."
"Five minutes, David. Just five. Please."
Five seconds later, he called me back in. He said his hands felt funny and presented gunked-up fingernails. And even though I had about ten minutes to finish what I had been trying to do before various deadlines whooshed by, and even though cleaning my son's nails is about as easy as bathing a cat, I tried to clean out what seemed to be glue. To accommodate his nails-being-touched phobia, I was trapping one hand at a time and facing away from him, using my body to block his view as I scraped the glue out. About a minute in, however, with the glue now all over my fingers, he stopped me.
"Mom? I think my nose is bleeding."
I looked up. He'd quietly used his free hand to try to wipe it -- resulting in a sort of bloody handlebar mustache look. "What happened?"
"Well, before when I was scratching my nose ... I think I scratched too hard."
Realization struck. "David, what's under your nails?"
"Probably nose stuff."
"David! You weren't SCRATCHING your nose. You were PICKING your nose!"
"Yes huh! Did you put your fingernails into your nose? Did you dig?"
"But I wasn't!" (He was really whining now.) "I was scratching itches on the inside!"
"YOU. WERE. PICKING!"
"Waaaahaaaaa! I'm sorry, Mom!" His feet pounded the hallway to the bathroom. Slam. Muffled sniffling.
Ten minutes later he emerged from the bathroom, sans blood mustache and fingernail boogers. He asked if we had time to go out somewhere. I told him I wasn't sure; the day was almost over now. The sun was just about down.
"But I was waiting for you all day! I would have used a tissue if you were out here! And you said we could go out!"
He was laying it on a bit thick, but he was right. And really, what did I have to show for the day? What had I done? I'd e-mailed and written and blogged and Flickred. I'd worked a bunch and rested just a few minutes. I'd packed and called and cleaned and fixed. I'd even made a start in the Christmas lists. (Actually, one list: "1: Art kit; 2: Butterfly raising kit; 3: Transformers action figures; 4: EyeClops Bionic Eye; 5: NO Zero Gravity Micro...") I'd nagged.
And now I'd made my kid cry.
I really could have been out there.
Seen one way, parenting will always leave you guilt-ridden. No matter how much you play, take care, clean up after, tolerate, sing, laugh, sympathize, admonish, teach or help there's always something you're not doing. There's always something you're leaving out. There's always something you're missing. If you really, truly love your child, then every minute missed (especially if it's because of you) feels like a sin. Like sunsets. In a state with 360 clear days a year and spectacular sunsets nearly as often, if you truly love the planet, how can capturing only a few dozen sunsets -- either in photos or through sheer experience -- be anything but a sin? In either case, it seems the moments consciously treasured will forever be dwarfed by the moments missed.
But we decided to try to go out anyway. We yanked on our shoes (playground sand still rattling in his), grabbed a water bottle each, swiped some dry cat food (to feed the geese and ducks) and dashed out the door. I caught every green light on the way there. The sky was burning orange and yellow. Things were looking up. Still, I didn't figure we'd make it. And sure enough, we pulled up as the sun was dipping completely below the scrub and trees that lined our view over the east end of the water. The sky had turned a dull, darkish shade of faded violet. Crap.
Again, we'd missed our moment.
But he smiled. He dug his hands in the cat food and flung it into the pond. A couple dozen ducks and geese hastened over, casting Vs in their wakes in the darkening water. The geese honked and barked. The ducks chattered. A squadron of egrets flew overhead, impossibly long legs trailing behind them. One duck had taken to flying up as David threw the food, snapping and missing each time. He cracked up.
And we had our moment.
Some moments of parenthood are like blazing sunsets, vivid and Hallmarky and just oozing with overt awesomeness. But others are less noticeable -- and go totally unnoticed, if you're not careful. Sometimes the moments just creep up on you. He'll befriend a friendless girl at school, and you'll just about explode seeing him walk her out one afternoon. Or you'll catch his smile refracted dozens of times through raindrops on a window. Or he's sitting in a cardboard box that he's christened "David's club," and you're the only one allowed to join, and the passwords are "I love David," "We love playing" and "Magic Tree House." Or you'll watch as he coaxes a cat out of hiding or gently holds an insect. Sometimes, he's not even doing anything: just standing, in a baggy shirt, grasping his teddy bear and watching the last rays of light hit the parking lot pavement. And you'll think: Damn. This is My Kid.
And sometimes, mundane moments blossom into vivid Moment moments. He'll be pawing through your books, say, and he starts to sound out the lines in a book of poetry. You abruptly notice the way he holds the hand of an elderly person he's only just met, his fragile fingers resting over the delicate blue branches of the man's veins. You'll be rushing like mad to clean up for dinner and he presents you with a fistful of slightly stuck-together Christmas M&Ms, plopping the mass into your hand and withdrawing his own hand, covered in green and red polka-dots, and declaring that "You deserved a treat." Or you'll be packing, full of worry and preoccupation, and he'll push play on the CD player and dance with you to "Thunder Road," jumping and spinning and grinning just for you at "Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair." And you wonder how does he do that, how does he know, how can he bowl me over so completely? How is life so damn beautiful it hurts, and I only just now noticed?
The sunset unexpectedly turned into a Sunset sunset that night. It put on a second act of sorts, and the rest of the day -- the bills and the deadlines and the forms to sign and folks who won't call me back, the e-mail and mail mail and articles, the boxes packed and not yet packed, the stuff not yet fixed or cleaned or even considered, the homework and boogers -- just ... well, didn't melt away, really. This is reality, after all. But for a moment, they were hidden behind a curtain of deep blue and vivid pink, of bold streaks of orange and yellow, and of the silhouette of my son, his Casper-the-Ghost head and rounded cheek backlit by the surprise encore.
We sat and rode the evening into night. Carpe noctem, apparently. Seize the night.
The next day, we drew each other pictures about it. Carpe parvulus, maybe. Carpe occasus. Seize the child. Seize the sunset. Because the horrible truth is you'll miss out on so many moments. But the cool thing is, for a while, you get a perpetual fresh start, another chance every day.
Also, boogers are harder and less fun to clean out from under nails than caked-in cat food dust, but not as bad as poop or dried blood. Just in case you were wondering.