Happy birthday buddy. (I’m saying buddy but I can’t really bring in the cute but grown-up way in which you say it…like “bUdd-eee!” You know…like you mean it).
I’m writing this post for me as much as it is for you. For those inevitable years when you’re doing your own thing and I’ll frequently feel the need to cling onto a time when I had meaning, I could guide, I was fulfilled and when I learned more than any other phase in my life. I’ve chronicled our progress as spike and tyke for four years now and I often ask myself the same question as I sit down to write one of these. What should I record for posterity? Something profound you said? A milestone? Increasingly, I’m beginning to lean towards the everyday. Because it’s in those everyday little things that you astonish me with perspective, curiosity and at times, utter madness.
You love trains, so let me describe most mornings in those terms. Think of a steam engine emitting loud hisses of steam as it leads its cantankerous coaches along.That’s pretty much what I do on school mornings. Herd you to the dining table emitting loud SHHHHHHHs because it’s super early in the morning and I don’t want your excited babbling and clanking paraphernalia of toys to wake up mom. You love your routine so I make it a point to ask you beforehand how you
like your egg, (usually omelet). You take to structure like a fish to water.
(Speaking of fish, I know Nemo died. I know you know what the word means now. Your reaction to the sight of a dead goldfish was sobering. It wasn’t like that fishing trip when you had the same questions but hadn’t had the time to develop a connection, or even a regular interaction with a pet. It hadn’t become a habit. Don’t worry, we’ll get another goldfish but I think the lesson of impermanence will stay with you, for better or worse. You’ve also discovered that you can care and form connections, even to beings that may not respond to you.)
I’ll spend the early morning getting you ready, but I’ll allow myself a retrogression of sorts. I’ll take away a few months off your age and then I’ll feel like using one of the three hundred thousand terms of endearment I have for you. By the way, they’re mostly derivatives of what your mom calls you. The reason they stick is because they’re genuine, heartfelt and H-O-N-E-S-T. Pretty much like every moment she allows in her life. And you see that, don’t you? Mom is your special sanctuary. Your go-to buddy for advice and consolation. Make no mistake, she doesn’t believe in mollycoddling you and knows exactly when you need silence, a soft ruffle on the head, tight hugs and kisses or a tempered and fair request to dust yourself off and get on with it. Your mom’s your habit, because although you don’t know what she’ll do, you know she’ll do what shes *supposed* to do.
What about me? I don’t know buddy. There’s a very flawed but eager guy who’s your dad. And being the perceptive, quick kid you are, you pick up on that. I’m sure there will be many moments of bonding and time enough for those father-son cliches of me teaching you a sport (ha!), tossing a ball or sharing quiet broments (did I just say that? now you know how uncool I really am!) when you awkwardly tell me about your crush. But I’m still in my own awkward phase of learning how to connect with the very stubborn, expressive, confident personality you are! Yeah, I’m a crotchety, short-tempered asshole at times but you know I don’t mean it, right? My anger’s like a Sivakasi cracker. Lots of sound and light for a few seconds and then a quick, hopeless fizzle.
You know what I hate? That instant expression of hurt and disappointment when I admonish you. OK, admonish is a very dignified, American word for what is essentially a brusque verbal jab. I don’t hate it because I’m affronted you’d demonstrate your displeasure to me. I hate it because you prove it’s a betrayal. Especially the way your eyes brim up, that angry scowl adorning your face and a vehement “BUT I JUST WANTED TO PLAY WIF YOU!” Way to go kid. Now I
feel like shit. I tell myself the bright side is making up. I’ll tiptoe into your room and then slowly start snuggling and tickling you. Doesn’t take you long to forget why you were angry with me and then we just dissolve into a giggling mass of tickles, shouts and mayhem.
As we drive to school, I’m thrilled you don’t judge my music. In fact you request songs and ask me what the song is. You even find a way to hum along to the strains of an electronic dance melody. No lyrics, but hey that doesn’t stop us right? Or how you try to hum the bars to Breakbot’s “Make You Mine”, keeping pace with the mellow tones of the piano. I’m desperately hoping music is an integral part of your life as it is in mine.
As I drop you off to school, I feel no anxiety. I’ve not felt it so far. Perhaps it’s because you’re eager to go. You have no idea how fucking reassuring that is. Because to be a parent is to have an extremely sensitive radar which you can’t turn off even if you want to. Subtle signs of discomfort register subconsciously and over time you might find my or mom’s behaviour reflecting that pent up concern. That reminds me, I absolutely ADORE that you tell mom everything with that earnest preamble, “Mom, I havsh to tell you shumthing.” Very polite. Keep telling us things, especially as you get older.
On the other hand, something that sends shivers down our spine is the preamble “I havsh to ask you shumthing”. Hoo boy. What terrorizes is the focused, deliberate ruthlessness with which you have the next question ready.
“Where were you?”
“Why were you in office?”
“Why did you have to work?”
“So we…er….it’s what grown ups do”
“Just like that”
“Why can’t you work from home?”
“I can’t. Stop asking me these questions”
“OK, will you help me make my train tracks?”
“No, I’m tired”
“Why are you tired?”
“Because I was working”
“Why were you working?”
I’m convulsing on the floor at this point.
Today, we decided to allot you five questions at a time. By the third we were laughing helplessly and had lost count. You went on, unperturbed. I like your spirit. Speaking of counting, do you know you’re incredibly smart and can count past a thousand, without the need for a linear progression of numbers? And yet, in your mind the pinnacle of numerical superiority remains one hundred. It’s not like you don’t know there are numbers beyond it. You just don’t give a damn. There is now a theoretical limit at which awesomeness begins and ends.
A few nights ago as we sat on the porch observing stars, I asked you to count them. “One, two, three, four, five, six, waitaminit, yes six, seven, eight, nine….(you gamely went on till twenty-eight)…twenty eight….THERE’S ONE HUNDWED STARS THERE!”
That was it. Stars had just officially passed into the Tyke-ese Book of Pure Awesomeness!
One hundwed. You’re like a little Tendulkar.
I need to stop writing sometime so I’ll wind it down. Plus, you’ll probably be rolling your eyes at this point when you’re reading this many years from now.
My son, this is your essence. And for what it’s worth, it’s our essence too. We’re thrilled to share every moment of your wonder, discovery and happiness and are relieved to be there for your moments of pain and consternation.
I’m not going to ask you to “always stay the same” because that’s just stupid. I want you to learn, evolve, even change if you need to, but try not to lose the essence I’ve described. That of being a curious, sensitive, loving person.
Happy fourth my beloved tyke.