My son is eight, but looking like he’s twelve. He’s grown four inches since April. He is lean and strong and already getting too old for things like piñatas at holiday parties. Last night, my wife and I watched as he lined up with the other kids—there must have been ten of them—and he took his turn swinging a wiffle ball bat at a Minion from Despicable Me that none of the other kids could crack. He was not the oldest or the biggest. He does not play baseball, but has a natural feel for all things athletic, so when he gripped that bat like Ty Cobb it took some parents by surprise. With two swats he freed the treats locked inside and for forty-five seconds, as the other kids crawled around on the garage floor snatching candy up and putting it in paper bags, my boy was King.
These are the things I remember. The moments I want to bottle, save, and sip during later days when S.B. and I have the house to ourselves, more padding in the nest, and we’re living a life without kids. I will be writing. She’ll be painting. We’ll travel, socialize, be active in the community, but nothing will replace being Mom and Dad. And even though the path of parenthood is not lined with accolades, roses, and opportunities for rest, I’ll miss it.
I will stand at the big front window one Christmas Day waiting in silent excitement because he and his wife and kids are coming home for the holidays. It will have been months since I’ve seen him, hugged him, heard him say, “Dad.” And the wait will almost be too much. I’ll pour wine or mix myself a drink and pace the long living room keeping my ear tuned to the quiet street so as soon as I hear tires crunching snow in the driveway and car doors slamming, I’ll shout to S.B., “They’re here!” And as he walks up the steps onto the porch I’ll remember.
Pushing him on the swings, teaching him how to move his little arms and feet. Back-and-forth. Back-and-forth. So he knew what it was like to be free. Just a boy in the world in mid-air. Smiling.
Training wheels off and holding the back of his bicycle seat as we travelled up and down the sidewalk in the hot sun. Sweat pouring out of me. Running and running alongside of him as he tried again and again to master the art of balancing on two wheels.
My unstoppable smile as I watched him cast and reel at the break wall of the boat harbor. His practice making perfect as the sun set and bass surfaced and he threw lures with confidence and accuracy and told me he never wanted to go home, that he wanted to just be there with me. Fishing.
The shot of warmth deep in my gut after he spent two hours trick or treating in blowing snow and cold only to come home, turn on our front porch light, and pass the candy he earned out to kids still brave enough to be making the rounds that night.
Every day, little surprises. Hope and faith. A building up of belief in the midst of all the hard work of raising a son in a world that I know will not be as kind to him as he deserves. And when it’s all said and done and he has gone off into the world to succeed and fail and do all those things I’ve done, as selfish as it seems, I just want him to remember me as his Dad. The guy sitting in a metal folding chair at the back of the crowd getting a little teary-eyed—filled with joy—as his boy takes a perfect swing at a piñata.