C: Daddy, do you remember when we were at that house? D: What house? C: That house with Uncle Glenn and Uncle Pierce. (Pause.) And the pool? D (knowing what’s coming): Yes.
C: And you were watching Fisher on that boat with those two guns?
C: And I dived down under the water.
D (ignoring “dived”): Yes.
C: And you didn’t see me.
D: No, I didn’t see you right away, Cory. I was paying attention to Fisher.
C: And I just drowneded in that pool, Daddy.
D (trying to tickle her): You were under the water for a couple seconds too long, Cory. But, thankfully, Bee Girl, you did not actually drown.
C (resisting the tickle): That was really scary, Daddy.
D (pulling her closer): I know, Cory. I know.
C: I saw you because I was wearing my goggles. But, you didn’t see me.
D: I’m sorry that it took me a couple seconds too long to see you, Cory. I was paying too much attention to Fisher and didn’t realize that you were going to go under the water again. But, I was right there and I pulled you right out. (Pause. Nothing, but Fisher’s breathing to the left and Cory’s to the right.) I’m going to try not to let that happen again, Cory Bee.
C (snuggling): Okay.
Cory has related this story twenty times if twice, always in quiet moments. She definitely has a healthy respect for the perils of pools. But, objectively, not as a matter of guilt, if ten-ish seconds could be taken back, done differently if somehow given the chance, those ten seconds in the Sonoma pool would be top contenders.
F (mouth full of cereal): Daddy, how do you make a baby? D: Equal parts love, science, and mystery. F: Do you put flour in there to make a baby?
Cory’s head shoots up and turns to look at Daddy.
D (laughing): No, silly. You don’t use flour to make a baby!
F: Why not?
D: Because you need to make the baby first before the flour can be any use.
F (through another bite): Do you put paper in?
C (as if she knew all along): Fisher, you don’t use flour to make a baby!
D: No, babies aren’t made of paper, silly goose. Babies are flesh and blood.
F: Eeeew! You er, eh, uh mix blood in to make a baby?
D: Well, no, not exactly. A baby makes its own blood.
C: A baby makes blood!?
F: But, Daddy, how do you make a baby then?
D: There are two main ingredients: an egg and a sperm. The sperm gets inside the egg to start making the baby, and you mix the two of those together with some science and mystery, a lot of science and mystery, always have to have those two, let it bounce around in some science and mystery for a good while to make sure. Oh, and, do you know what the secret ingredient is?
D (selling it): Love. Oh yah, you can never add too much love. You let the egg and sperm combine together in a good mixture of science, mystery, and love, and you’ll get a really good baby!
The two of them chomp on Cheerios, contemplating that answer.
D: But, don’t put any flour or paper in there. That’ll mess things right up!
F: Daddy, what did you say?
D: Which part?
F (baffled face): Did you just say that you put eggs in there to er, eh, uh make a baby?
C: I don’t like eggs.
Before their cereal, they had eaten scrambled eggs.
D (laughing): Not chicken eggs! A special kind of egg.
F (apparently moving on): Daddy, do you put flour in cereal?
The discussion that follows tops the baby recipe for baffling. No one can quite get that flour comes from a tall grass grown in Kansas called wheat, that the grass is not green, that it is ground up into flour, that it is processed into unrecognizable shapes, textures, sizes, that…on and on.
F: Is today a weekend? D: Not exactly, no. The weekend starts tonight when I pick you up from camp. F: Oh. C: Daddy, what are we going to do this weekend? D: Oooooh, we have a surprise for you this weekend, but I’m not even going to tell you, no, no. It’s a surprise.
F (smiling): Daddy, can we show Papa that we can ride our bikes? He said that he was going to come home early so that he er, eh, uh could see us doing that.
C: I want to show Papa that I can ride my bike! Daddy, can you pick us up early from Y camp so we can show Papa?
D: Yes, guys, tonight we’ll show Papa that you can ride.
In the car after pickup…
F: Daddy, is today a weekend?
D: Now, it is.
C: I want to show Papa that I can ride my bike! Is he coming…
F: He said he was going to come home early so that he could see us ride our bikes!
C (voice rising): Fisher, I was going to say that!
F: Are we going to show him at Almond School or eh, uh, er, in front…
C: Fisher, I was talking! Why do you have to…
F: …of our house?
D: Guys, let’s not argue. Arguing on the weekend is no fun. We can show Papa our bike-riding skills in front of the house.
Papa is suitably impressed, as are neighbors. There are falls and a tantrum or two, but the week’s work is borne out. Between the kids’ passes in front of the house…
D (to Papa): Who taught you how to ride a bike?
P: I don’t know.
D: You don’t remember?
P: No. I have older brothers and sisters. Probably they or one of the other kids around did.
D: But, you don’t remember?
D: I remember. My dad taught me out in front of our house.
Papa shakes his head, as if to say, “I’ve got nothin’.”
D: Well, how old were you?
P: I don’t know.
D: Four? Four would have been the earliest that you would have learned.
D: Where were you living at four?
P: In a two-bedroom apartment with my mom.
D: So, you were in Houston?
D: Do you remember riding a bike in Houston?
P: I don’t remember anyone riding a bike in Houston.
D (looking away): I learned on some bike with a banana seat. We had one of those bikes with the really tall back rack on it, the thing that went up high above your head. But I don’t think I learned on that bike. I just remember careening down the street, scared of falling, knowing that all my older brothers and sisters could do it. So, I needed to learn, too…
None of this talk seems to jog a memory. Daddy ends the deposition, bewildered that learning to ride a bike could have happened without leaving even the tiniest blip in Papa’s memory. Reaching for the speed required to achieve the right balance to ride a bike is scary. It was scary. The thought of falling was scary. Being told that falls were inevitable, that everyone falls when learning, just made it even scarier. “You mean, no matter what, I’m going to fall?!” Establishing enough control to avoid hitting parked cars or falling over was harrowing. None of it scary at 45, but all of it was all scary at five. That’s why learning to do it, beating that fear, and afterward, feeling the natural ease, is all so exhilarating. The whole process instills an early confidence that many things, while seeming difficult and daunting at first, will eventually be easy and natural. No? And, riding a bike does that especially well becomes that shift happens through an actual physical feeling. It isn’t just some thought. You feel it. Right?
Perhaps people just remember things differently. Or remember different things. Or maybe it is only when the rest of life is simple and easy, free of need and fear and hurt, that things like learning to ride a bike can make an impression. Both Fisher and Cory are now zipping back and forth, laughing and carrying on. A pizza has been ordered but hasn’t arrived yet. Papa places his beer on the open lid of the mailbox. He takes the orange flag out of the hand of the “children at play” green turtle, using it to start faux races and to swat them on their behinds as they pass to and fro. The dogs occasionally bark from the house. A car or two passes by. The kids keep laughing and carrying on.
Daddy looks on, thankful that the rest of life is simple and easy enough to give their “achievement” over the past few days a chance to stick.