Last Saturday afternoon, after my third book signing through the Central Rappahannock Library System, I decided to treat myself and go to see Independence Day: Resurgence. You might say that’s not much of a treat, but in truth the movie wasn’t as bad as critics have made it out to be, and it was nice to revisit some fond acquaintances after a twenty-year gap. Ah, the power of franchise. Anyway, when the movie got out around 8 PM, I stepped into the men’s room for a moment of relief, and on my way out heard the following reply uttered by a slightly frazzled father tailing his young son as they were entering the Gents:
“Okay, I’ll hold your dinosaur.”
I caught the hand-off (without stopping) between the 7 to 9-year-old and his dad and headed out of the movie theater. I made the 1,000 or so foot walk to my car, opened the car door, sat down, turned on the AC, and started weeping.
For the last several weeks, I’ve seen relatively little of my son, John Adams. It was agreed that after Nancy accepted her NEH Fellowship to go to Kalamazoo, MI for a month to study Beowulf and Viking Sagas, that her parents and I would split the time into four one week stays, alternating who was caring for the little guy, so that the pressures of managing a feisty two-year old wouldn’t become overwhelming. I was to have weeks 2 and 4, my in-laws 1 and 3. This would also allow me to get some writing and composition work done in their absence. It was the ideal plan, and now nearing the end of it I know was the right thing to do for us all.
In practice, however, the split didn’t work out as evenly as expected, and each time he went north to Philly he didn’t actually come home over the weekend, but rather – due to best available travel arrangements – on the Tuesday afterward. This meant that instead of me spending a week with him, we only spent four days together before he headed north again. And during Week 2, with our shortened period together, I pushed so hard to get in as many good times for he and I as possible that I made myself sick, and spent the following week alone, at home, and in bed with a cold.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining about the way things worked out. His grandparents love him dearly and are hungry for as much time with him as possible, and I, in turn, appreciated the extra time to write, compose, and recover from illness, but I guess, sitting in my car at that moment, after hearing those words from that exhausted dad, I realized that in a month I was only spending eight days around my little man, only getting eight days of playtime, and dirty diapers, and pounces, and chicken legs, and naps, and “no, don’t do that’s,” and it just made me sad. We all have to make sacrifices sometimes for our careers, and by far, Nancy’s is the greatest sacrifice of all – not seeing her family for a month – but the moment also made me hyper-aware that special moments with our families are fleeting and, once gone, can never be recovered. It’s easy to forget that when you’re on a schedule and your son blows out his diaper with the car running and the clock ticking.
I’m writing this on the morning of Weds. July 12, and John Adams is still sound asleep in bed. I picked him up last evening at Maryland House on I-95 from his loving grandparents. By the time we got home last night, he was tired and wired. He needed to play drums, watch Thomas the Train, eat fruit snacks, sit on “Mama’s bed,” pounce on Daddy, FaceTime Nancy, and then it was off to sleep at midnight no less. Nancy comes home Saturday evening, and today is Day Six of the total of eight days that John Adams and I will spend together this month before our entire family is reunited at last. I want it to be special, to be memorable, to be full of love between father and son. At the very least, I know that if he asks (and I hope he will) there’s at least one answer that I can give with all the love in my heart:
“Okay, I’ll hold your dinosaur.”
Submitted with Love,