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Bars and Blisters

Daddy approaches the playground where the twins are playing with their YMCA after-care compatriots.  Fisher spies Daddy first and runs to fence…

F:  Daddy!  Daddy! Cory did the monkey bars!  Cory did…
C (running behind):  I did the monkey bars, Daddy!
D:  You did?  You…
F:  She did them two times, Daddy!
C:  I did them the whole way!
D:  The whole way?  No way!  All the way across?
F:  And she got a uh, er, eh, show him, Cory!
D:  You went all the…
C (holding up her right hand):  See, I got this, Daddy.
D (moving toward their side of the fence):  Let me come around there and see, Cory Bee.

Daddy touches a blister’s aftermath on her hand.

C: Ouch, Daddy!  Don’t press it!
D:  That was a blister, Cory.  Wow.  You must have working hard at those monkey bars.
F: Cory got that boo boo on the monkey bars, ‘cuz she just went…
C: I did it twice, Daddy!  I kept my eyes up like this…  (Facing upward.)
F: Yah, because you can’t do the monkey bars if you don’t look up at the bars, and I held her two times, but then…
C: …then I did it on my own two times.  But, then I got this, so…
F (as the group walks to gather backpacks and head to the car):  Cory, can I make you a paper airplane when we get home because you did the monkey bars?
C:  Yes.
F:  And, Cory can I make you a card because you got that boo boo?
C:  Yes, Fisher.
F:  Thanks, Cory.  Daddy, I’m going to make Cory an airplane and a card.  So, here, Cory, let me carry your lunchbox, because your hand has a, er, uh, eh…
C:  Blister.  Here, Fisher.  Thank you.

Later, after Fisher “helps” Cory exit the car and navigate the front lawn, which, you know, can be very tricky with a blister, the group walks in the door, and Cory, endangering the health of her hand by risking paper cuts, immediately pulls paper after paper out of her backpack…

C:  So, Daddy, we need to go through each of these.  (Arranging pages devoted to the letters E, P, D, and F on the dinner table, together with other worksheets.)  So, I have to decide which is my favorite, so we know where to start.  Okay, so this is the letter E, Daddy, see…
D:  I do.
C (pointing to eight capital E’s scrawled on lines on the page below a diagram demonstrating how to form one):  Which one is your best one?
D (eying the two that Mrs. Powell clearly marked with red stars):  Which one do I like the best?
C (very official sounding):  Yes, which one is your best?
D (pointing to one of the starred E’s):  This one.
C:  Okay, so that one is a good one, yes, Daddy, but…(pointing to the other starred E)…this one is also good.
F (running in from the office):  Here, Cory, here is your airplane.  Thank you for doing such a good job on the monkey bars today, Cory.
C:  Thank you, Fisher.  (Setting aside the paper airplane and returning to her worksheets.)  Now, which one of these E’s is your best Fisher?
F:  This one!  You really did a job on this one, Cory.  Very good job.  (Pointing to one and then rushing off.)  I need to go make you a card for your boo boo!
C (turning back to Daddy, still sounding official):  So, Daddy, this F has a line that is too long, but this one is hanging upside down like an American flag, so…

…on and on and on…until bed.  It’s good to know that a threat from outside the home, that monkey bars blister, ends the typical bickering, circles the wagons, and kicks Fisher’s brotherly instincts into high gear.  If Cory runs into any real trouble out there, she won’t face it alone.  And, if that one night is any judge, they really like school.

Booster Shot

Daddy doing something to upset Fisher or Cory triggers a quick cry for “Papa!? I want Papa!” If either is upset with something Papa has done, it’s, “Daddy!? Daddy, Papa just…and I didn’t…so…Daddy!?”

But, if either is upset with both Papa and Daddy, it’s definitely, “Emma!? I want Emma! Emma!?” The kids got a booster shot of that kind of comfort this past weekend.

Crooked Lines

C:  Daddy, college comes after grade school, right?
D:  Well, yes, college comes after grade school, Cory, but much later and not right away. Middle school comes right after elementary school.
C:  Then comes college, right, Daddy?
D:  Well, no, after middle school comes high school.
C:  Then comes college?
D:  Yes, then comes college.
F:  And after college comes work, right, Daddy?
D:  For most people, yes, it goes like that:  grade school, middle school, high school, college, and then work.
F:  Some work can be fun, like Papa’s work, and some work can be just boring, right, Daddy?
D:  Right.
C:  I’m going to go to college, Daddy, and then it’s going to be work. (Pause.) Daddy, what comes after work?

Daddy starts singing another makeshift lullaby: “There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing me in a crooked line…” Some odd strain of sadness has run just beneath the surface excitement of the twins’ first days in kindergarten. On Daddy’s drop-off day, they explain on the walk to school exactly what the morning procedures are, where they are expected to put their lunch boxes, where to hang their backpacks, how to line up when the 8:15 a.m. bell rings, how each of their teachers handles arrival. It all goes down without a hitch, no tears, no apparent stress, heads up, shoulders squared, faces forward.  “Bye, Daddy!”

The playground on the way back home fills up with older grade-schoolers, whose bell doesn’t ring until 8:30, pushing bikes into designated areas, unloading backpacks of their own, calling out to each other, moving to join a group of raucous boys lining up for some game at the monkey bars that is clearly so much more than monkey bars or greeting a group of girls engaged in something somewhat quieter but no less complicated. Here and there a lone child stands on the edge, his or her posse yet to arrive, maybe more of a loner by nature, or just not feeling it today. There’s nothing obviously mean or necessarily sad about any of it, just kids gathering for a school day, and yet, it feels sad somehow.

A loss of control? The twins’ Aunt Lori was a stay-at-home mom and talked nearly two decades ago about what a sucker punch the first days of school were for her because they forced a realization, as she stood there every day to watch her older daughter get on the bus, that other people, new peers, older kids, teachers, random adults in the school would all have a strong influence on who they would become from that point on — all influences on their development that she would not even fully understand and certainly could not control.  So many steps ahead along a very crooked line.

Bad memories dredged up from childhood? Images do flash: four years old, standing at some preschool that still seems strange today, with its black and white striped over-sized cardboard blocks, crying as Mom headed off to work and not stopping until she came back all of a half a day later; rolling out a blue mat in Mrs. Hixson’s kindergarten class for nap time, walking home alone around noon to hurriedly grab a bowl and the morning cereal box, with all the sugar in the world to pour on top in an empty house, before anyone else came home, washing the bowl and spoon to hide the evidence, of course; a playground that seemed endless at the time, from the bank to the left across the parking lot leading up the hill toward Andy’s house all the way down to the creek’s edge an entire world away at the far right, where only the bigger kids dared to go; dying in sympathy with a female classmate, as she wet her pants during the simplest of presentations in front of Mrs. Wade’s first grade class, a puddle forming on the floor; passing notes with Kelly Boettcher in Mrs. Cheely’s class (what could they possibly have said?); holding two sticks during those endless multiplication table contests with Mrs. Hallemeyer, everyone gunning to take one of them away, and on and on and on.  Nothing particularly traumatic in those first few years, but, so many steps ahead, along a crooked, crooked line.

Just plain change? Those older kids will influence them. Their peers will nudge them here and there. Other adults will love them, inspire them, reprimand them, hurt them. But, they would change regardless. Even locked away, “safe” at home, they would change.  Yes, they’re fantastic right now, but change could mean even more fantastic or just as fantastic, only in some other way.

D: Did you like your first day at school, Fisher?
F: Yes, Daddy, I loved it! (Pause in the dark.) Actually, Daddy, I didn’t love it.
D: You didn’t?
F: No.
D: Why not?
F: Because two girls, they uh, er, eh, they made faces at me, so I didn’t like that.
D: Why did they make faces at you?
F: Because I was a new friend. They made faces at Cory, too, but she didn’t see, so, eh, er, uh, she didn’t see. I didn’t like that. That wasn’t nice of those two girls, right, Daddy?
D (squelching the urge to learn their names, stalk them, make them pay, becoming some kind of “Cutter in the Rye”): I don’t know, Fisher. I wasn’t there. I didn’t see their faces. But, if their faces weren’t nice, let’s just say that those two girls didn’t know, Fisher. They didn’t know. And, in time, you won’t be a new friend anymore, they will know, and they won’t be making faces at you anymore.

Birth, home, grade school, junior high, high school, college, work, marriage, kids, retirement… It has the making of a circle, rolling slowly but constantly forward, but sometimes it does feel very much like a crooked line stretched out before them, like many of the pictures their small shaky hands still “scrabble” on paper, random, crumpled little treasure maps, beautiful in their quirkiness and sad because…any treasure hunter following that path to its end passes out of view, at least for stretches, hopefully just for stretches, from where it all began.

When the Dog Bites

When the giant schnauzer and two Harrier hounds get to barking, they definitely draw attention. But, thankfully, a neighbor’s new Doberman puppy, Dante, when left alone, barks loud and incessantly, so much so that they, and not we, are “that house” on the street. All muscle and teeth, Dante is a lot to handle. Almost immediately upon arriving home from a trip, Papa and the twins head out to the middle of the street to chat with Dante’s family about the house (which they had watched) and the trip (which was great). Dante is running around with no leash.

The jealous barking of Kohl, Boston, and Quincy is interrupted by a scream from Fisher. Fisher keeps screaming. Daddy jumps up from his computer to head toward the front, where Papa is carrying a screaming Fisher into the house, announcing, “Dante bit Fisher!” Daddy takes Fisher and, seeing the bloody arm, prepares for Papa to faint.

Flashback six or seven years…Daddy (not then a daddy) typically wakes Kohl, Boston, and Quincy up around 5:15 a.m. for their morning walk. The wake up routine involves a cuddle in the dark before the whole pack moves downstairs for the leashes. One morning, as Daddy kneels down to apply Boston’s morning treatment, Boston wakes suddenly..and violently…from sleep. He jerks his head back toward Daddy, biting Daddy’s face full on. Daddy reels back: “Ouch! Boston bit me!” The dogs know something awful has happened and quickly scatter. Papa (not then a papa) wakes groggily: “What happened?”

Daddy heads to the bathroom, where he pushes a quarter-sized chunk of flesh and skin back up against his cheek, holding it there, applying pressure, face definitely bloody. Papa comes into the lighted bathroom, draws a quick breath, and blanches very white.

D (still pressing the flesh to stop the bleeding): Boston bit me in the face just now.
P: Boston did? What did you do?
D: Woke him up as usual…he…

Papa turns and walks out of the room. Daddy continues to talk as he finds a bandage to place firmly over the wound, to keep it in all in place. That done, he walks into the bedroom to find Papa lying on the bed, white as a ghost, trying to avoid fainting. “I have to go to the emergency room…are you going to be able to drive?” Before leaving the house, Daddy finds Boston hiding in the guest bedroom, sitting in a corner shaking. Sadly, Daddy is too angry not to smack him. Hard. “You bit me, Boston!” Boston just squeals. Papa manages to drive to the hospital, but just barely manages, principally by not looking at Daddy’s face and by swerving around so badly that at least three accidents are avoided by an inch here and an inch there. At the intake desk, Papa retreats immediately to a chair in the waiting room, green and hyperventilating. Daddy provides all of the requested information. When the woman behind the desk asks for an emergency contact, Daddy gives her Papa’s cell phone number, but tells her, “But, don’t call that number.” She gives a quizzical look. Daddy explains, “It’s that guy’s number right over there, the one about to faint in the waiting room. He doesn’t like blood and won’t be of much use in this kind of emergency.” Some careful cleaning and a dab or two of medical glue later, and Daddy’s face is on its way to healing under a big white patch.  Papa’s color slowly returning, Daddy asks, “What are you going to do when one of the twins has an accident?  They are going to have accidents, you know…”

Flash forward…Fisher cries into Daddy’s shoulder, his shirt torn, his arm bleeding, repeating, “I don’t like Dante, Daddy!”  “I know, Fisher, I know, that Dante, he doesn’t know, does he?  They have to teach him better.”  All the while, a very tanned Papa has been swinging into action, finding the first aid kit, wiping the blood away, cleaning the wound, antibiotic creams slathered on, picture taken to send to doctor before a bandage is in place.  No blanching.  No lying on the bed, taking deep breaths to avoid passing out.  No swerving around, woozy from flesh and blood.  Definitely a Papa by then.

Fisher already has three dogs, so the incident doesn’t seem to leave him with a fear of canines, as it probably would for some.  He repeats to Daddy occasionally, “Daddy, that Dante he just doesn’t know, right?  He just bit me because he doesn’t know better, right?  I don’t like Dante.”

Any scar will fade over time for Fisher, Daddy’s own scar having faded from quarter-sized to dime-sized through the years.  Daddy and Boston are besties, but morning treatments are doled out with much greater care, as even the best dog, your own dog, can, under the “wrong” circumstance, bite.