Turning away from a picturesque view of the Ikea across the highway and leading everyone down the long hotel hallway, Papa announces that Barack Obama has stayed here before.
F: Barack Obama lives here?
P: No, silly, he stays here.
D: When he’s visiting.
F: This is Barack Obama’s hotel?
D: Well, he doesn’t own it. He has just stayed here before. Apparently.
F: Does Uncle Tim live here?
D (laughing): No, goose. He lives in Kansas City. Hotels are just places people stay while they are traveling.
F: Oh. (Pause.) This is a really nice hotel. It smells good.
A few minutes later, Papa goes back down to the lobby to try to find a swimming pool torpedo thought to be left behind (but in reality hiding in plain sight in Fisher’s pocket), while Uncle Tim changes into a swimsuit. Cory is first looking out then leaning back against the third-floor window, sizing up the place. Fisher contemplates the Wall Street Journal laid out in front of him.
D: Cory, give me a look that says, “I’m in the hotel where the President of the United States stays when he’s in town.”
She produces a look somewhere between evil and side-eye, which ends up spot on, as she spends the next couple of hours splashing water on one half of the well-to-do patrons of the Four Seasons trying to sun themselves poolside while annoying the other half with her constant calls to Fisher to “throw another torpedo down”. Papa calls out whole-heartedly to curb the splashing and half-heartedly to bring the volume down.
Sorry, Buffy. Apologies, Biff. There is no policy against kids, and that’s what kids do, even at the Four Seasons.
“What if…what if heaven IS real, but only in moments? Like a glass of water on a hot day when you’re DYING of thirst, or when someone’s nice to you for no reason or…”
A group of friends is reading and discussing The Bone Clocks. This passage, in which one main character philosophizes about a fleeting, everyday theory of heaven, prompts one of them to pose a question to the group that the book had obviously had her pondering: do you ever wonder why we are here?
Every single day. Multiple times. Since I was like 10, maybe earlier. I remember lying in the dark at night, trying as hard as I could to separate some aspect of me, any aspect of me, from the bone clock of my body, desperately wanting to soar out into the night to zoom around superhuman and free. Who didn’t? After a few attempts, it would have been good enough just to lift off an inch, maybe turn around and look down at my body, to have just an imperfect shred of success.
Eventually, a personal peace with questions like that has to emerge, a peace effective enough to keep the gut from wrenching at a lack of answers. People find that peace in lots of places. Focusing too much on wanting things you don’t have (like an astral-projected version of yourself that flies through walls and haunts your perceived enemies) or on losing things that you do (nothing is permanent) wastes time and energy. If you can avoid wallowing around in those cesspools for too long, maybe, just maybe, you will enjoy, truly enjoy, a moment here or there.
“…S’pose heaven’s not like a painting that’s just hanging there forever but more like…like the best song anyone ever wrote, but a song you only catch in snatches, while you’re alive, from passing cars or…upstairs windows when you’re lost…”
I don’t know if I think about such things more often now that I am older and have kids, but I do know that my feelings surrounding the lack of clear answers are often much more acute. Before, I felt like the center of gravity for my life was inside me, whatever “me” is. Now, it is clearly not. Even though I knew that would be the case before I became a parent — old as I was and gay as I am, nature certainly didn’t trick me with a random fling into having children — it is unsettling nonetheless. Maybe the only real form of astral projection in life is to have your center tugged out of “you” by your children.
Before kids, it was much easier to minimize wanting the things that you don’t have and fearing the loss of the things that you do when the things that you wanted were only for yourself and when the things that you feared losing were not your own children. Most times, it’s not so easy any more. With parenthood, I would definitely say, come more intense moments of joy, yes, true, but, for me, there are also moments of incredibly sharp pain, moments of out-of-nowhere sudden panic. Maybe it’s a song on the radio that will hammer home that life is a wheel of change, unstoppably rolling along, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t reach out to slow it, much less stop it. Or maybe you listen to some beautifully innocent, childish banter in the other room, and your mind casts forward to all of the potentials of life, many of them hard only in your imagination, some of them really and truly hard, that will come along when you aren’t there for them, you can’t be there for them, you shouldn’t be there for them, in any way but spirit. Sometimes these moments, when the bottom suddenly drops out of my stomach, pass just as quickly as they appeared, but sometimes they just fade slowly into a deep, throbbing ache. There is no control to exert, little protection to lend, few definitive answers to impart, and any answers that you have that used to calm your own nerves in the past seem less brilliant than they once were. The fact of these beings’ existence has magnified it all somehow.
Why are we here? Among the many other things that it brings, parenthood definitely gives a sharp twist to that little knife of a question.
D: Guys, did you see the amaryllis blooming out back?
F: What’s a amryllis?
D: Come on, guys, come on, let me show you. You guys didn’t even tell me that the amaryllis was blooming out back.
C: What, Daddy?
D: You didn’t even tell me! So, how am I supposed to know!? Come on!
D (standing in front of it): See!
They smile from Daddy to the plant.
F: Wow, Daddy, that’s pretty.
C: Is the flower from Christmastime?
D: It is, Cory Bee, it is.
Their smiles last another heavenly moment before the morning throbs along.
The car thermometer reads 84 degrees at a bright and sunny pickup.
Daddy violates the rules by bringing two little green bowls filled cashews, not just in the car, but onto the grounds. Papa doesn’t want to clean nut scraps from the creases in the back seat of the new car, so the whole flight attendant thing is kaput. They settle on a cement wall for their snack. Daddy finds a bush to throw the nuts in on short notice should a teacher wander by before sitting down with them.
D (brushing the hair back from her face): Cory, you’ve got a flush on.
C (popping a cashew in her mouth): What does that mean?
D: It means you look red. Flushed. Like you’ve been running. Have you been running?
D: Did you have soccer today?
F: Yes, we did.
D: Did you have sunblock on?
D: What! Cory, you have to have sunblock on before you play in the sun. Every time. You don’t have a flush on. You’ve got a little sunburn. Listen, you have to put sunblock on before you play in the sun, Cory, especially in the middle of the day.
D: It’s important. The sun could burn you.
At home, Daddy and Cory sweat through some bounce-count as Fisher zooms up and down the street on his bike, chattering about the little pots with kale plants that some earth-crunchy organics organization left on each house’s doorsteps. He wants to collect them all and put the kale in one of Papa’s shakes. Daddy dissuades him from the project while working some balls toward Cory’s backhand.
After a tantrum, a timeout, and the rest of dinner, everyone settles on the backyard trampoline for some summertime bedtime reading. It’s still light. And warm.
C (heading in to draw their pictures about the chapter): You know, Daddy, I didn’t wear sunblock for that book.
D: What, Cory?
C: Mr. Sun was shining down, and I didn’t have sunblock on.
D (smiling): Oh, good point. When it’s this late in the day, it’s probably okay, but you’re right.
C: But, you said that I need to put sunblock on every time.
D: You are right. We should put some on every morning to make sure that you at least have some.
C (not looking thrilled to be right): But…
D: Yep, every morning, we are going to slather some on, at least on your nose and cheeks where your freckles live. Right after you brush your teeth.
C: Do we have to?
D: Yes. It’s another thing to add to the morning list…
D: I’m so glad you brought that up. I’m so glad you made that point.
That makes one of us. She looks a little miffed as they settle at their art table to draw. They chatter about drawing the picture of Rick stealing “that man’s candy knocker” from the Land of Goodies, while Daddy stares outside at the fading light.
F: Um, Cory, why is Moon-Face’s house a white circle?
A few nights a week, Daddy reads The Magic Faraway Tree to the twins. After a chapter, they sit together at their art table, each to draw a picture depicting something from the chapter they just heard. They must use at least five colors, and the picture must contain “lots of detail.”
F: Cory, do you think this is enough details for Daddy?
C: Um, let me see. (Seeing.) Fisher, I think you could do some more with this tree because the tree has all those ladders in it.
F: Oh! Thanks, Cory. I’ll put some ladders in.
They apply finishing touches. “Ready, Daddy!” Fisher sits with his picture next to Daddy, while Cory hangs hers up on the filing cabinet for her presentation. She explains that she drew Moon-Face’s house, the branches of the tree, the grass, the sky, and Saucepan Man’s sauce pans falling down through the hole. Oh, and there are two orange circles with black dots in the middle to indicate two owls nests. They weren’t in the story, but she knows Daddy likes owls.
C (picking her lip): So, does anyone have any questions about my picture?
D: Yes, Cory. What are the green wiggles along the branches of the tree?
C: Oh! So, those are leaves. I didn’t have time to draw each leaf, so…(pause)…Fisher, do you have a question?
F: Um, Cory, why is Moon-Face’s house a white circle?
C (more lip-picking): So, I drew it to be a circle because his house is in the shape of the circle. It’s round, so…
F: Oh, I see. But, why is it white?
C (looking a little put off, resuming to pick): Um, well, I just made it white.
F: Did Moon-Face paint it white?
C: Um, he might have.
F: Or was it always just white?
C: Um, I think that…
F: I think he did. I think Moon-Face painted it white. That’s a very good detail, Cory.
C (quietly through her hand): Thanks, Fisher.
D: Very nice presentation, Cory. Very nice!
She smiles as they switch places. Daddy elects to keep it all positive for now, resisting the urge to nip the nervous tic in the bud as Fisher stands up and starts explaining pink grass all around his tree, which, although it wasn’t in the story, was caused by some magic that came from…
It’s Parents Night Out (aka Parents Next Morning Sucks).
Daddy arrives at the playground to pick the twins up for a quick jaunt home to eat a vegetable before returning. A precocious classmate named Tracy comes over to Daddy and Fisher.
T (smiling big): Hi, Fisher!
F: Hi, Tracy.
T (to Daddy): Is Fisher going home?
D: Yes, but only for a few minutes. He’ll be back for Parents Night Out. Are you coming to Parents Night Out?
A switch suddenly flips, taking her from smiling to crying…and crying big.
T: No! I don’t ever get to go to Parents Night Out! (Sobs.) My mommy and daddy don’t ever let me go!
D (startled): I’m sorry, Tracy. I’m sure some time…
T: I don’t get to go Parents Night Out ever! It’s not fair.
Daddy looks around for Tracy’s mom or some other escape hatch.
D (looking back down): You know, I…
F (standing at Tracy’s side, lightly touching her back): Don’t cry, Tracy. Don’t cry. It’s okay. It’ll be okay.
T: But, I want to go, Fisher!
F (continued patting, lilting voice): But, it’s okay if you don’t go to Parents Night Out tonight because not everyone has to go to Parents Night Out. You could have fun anyway. And, you know I’ll bring you a dessert. I’ll just bring you a dessert from Parents Night Out. (She’s quieting down.) My papa makes very good cookies. They have chocolate chips in them…(patting away)…and you will really like them. They are even better than desserts at a Parents Night Out. You won’t miss something by not going.
Two feet above their heads, Daddy is smiling down at them. Tracy’s teary eyes are fixed on Fisher. She drops her shoulders, turns, throws her arms around Fisher, and lays her head down on his shoulder. He just stands there, arms at his side, fully (and a little awkwardly) hugged.