January 2. I had made what passed for resolutions. They were more like Things to Focus On. One of them included running. I was to start this morning.
My office had closed on Christmas Eve for holiday break. I was relatively rested. I was READY. Ready to get serious about these things that I often find some excuse not to do.
My children sensed this. And they were having none of it.
Reid wakes up at 4:30 in the morning, crying. This is rare, but not uncommon. Lara and I lay in bed awhile, to see if he will settle down. After a couple of minutes, he does.
Now I’m awake, looking at the ceiling, thinking and not thinking about going back to work. It’s not that I’m anxious about it, exactly. But I’m not quite ready to return. One more day. One more day would be nice. I wasn’t going to go to the gym quite this early. But I could. Or I couldn’t. The silence is as nice as it is rare.
It also doesn’t last. Reid starts up again, crying the cry of the broken-hearted.
“Do you think his leg is caught?” Lara asks. Her voice is thick with sleep. And before you go calling DCFS, let me assure you, we’re from Illinois, not Wisconsin. We don’t have bear traps in his bed. Sometimes, his leg gets stuck in the slats of his crib.
“Maybe,” I say, getting up, reaching for glasses and my iPhone flashlight.
He’s sitting up, which is always disquieting for some reason, when your kid is sitting up in bed in the dark. It’s like a scene from a horror movie. I’m ready to start making changes. But I’m not ready to watch him start skittering across the ceiling.
He sees me and stands up, holding out his arms, and snugs his head against my chest. We rock in his chair. I sing a little. He falls asleep. I think I’m safe. I go to put him back in his crib.
Reid isn’t having it and he starts crying again. The thing about having two kids is that you’re always balancing things out in some way. Reid’s comfort needs to happen not just for Reid, but for Jack, who is still sleeping by some leftover Christmas miracle. I’d like to keep it that way because once he’s up, it’s game over. I pick Reid up. We try again. He falls asleep. I am safe. Back he goes.
I am so not safe. The crying starts, wails too loud to come from something so small.
“Bring him in here,” I hear from our bedroom.
We shuffle in. She holds him and as soon as I leave to make him a bottle — I’m convinced Reid will be the kid with sandwiches under his bed when he is in high school because he is always hungry — he starts crying again. I come back up and he beelines to me. He’s not interested in the bottle.
“He wanted you,” Lara says, trying to hold his ankle as he crawls across the bed. This is rare. He came out, bonded to his mom. It took him a while to warm up to me. I think he finally likes me. Despite the hour, I smile.
He cries and fusses for a while. In this way, we’re alike. When I wake up, I wake up. We go downstairs. I try to feed him but he’s not hungry. He just wants to hang out. We watch a Big Bang Theory. I think he found it disappointing.
By 6, it’s clear he’s not going back to bed. He’s walking around and squawking. That’s when I hear a door open upstairs. Heavy feet in the hall. “Dad!” Jack says in his version of a whisper. As a writer, I hate using exclamation points. But that’s how he talks.
As this hated mark of punctuation should tell you, Jack’s version of quiet is not quiet. His voice carries. He also likes to be acknowledged. He doesn’t want your opinion. Just your acknowledgement. He is my Boy Who Must Be Heard.
“Where’s Reid,” he asks, walking down the stairs.
“Here with me.”
The start to my Year of Focus is now officially delayed. I’m the last one to realize this, I think, stubborn dreamer that I am.
I make breakfasts. Put on some music. Clean the kitchen. Jack is on a kick right now, this one about The Incredibles, so we talk about Edna, costume designer to the superheroes, for a while. He thought she was a man. I don’t try overly hard to correct him because I know that Brad Bird did her voice and then I wonder how some random bit of information could float up so early and easily. Then I wonder what smartphones and search engines will do to memory and then I think I must be either high or drunk because this is the kind of thing I would have talked about late one night in college.
When I finally get upstairs, to start getting ready, I take Reid with me. By this point, he’s ready for a nap. So am I. Jack wants me to turn his movie on for him and I tell him that his mother will do this when she comes downstairs. This settles him until she gets downstairs and says no.
Another place where you balance as a parent. Lara and I hadn’t worked out our unified front. Jack and I negotiate. He’s crying about it and I tell him that we will talk about it like men. I don’t know where that comes from. Maybe it’s because I recently watched the Alec Baldwin speech from Glengarry Glen Ross on YouTube.
We agree that he can watch a show, which he can do in our bedroom while I’m getting ready.
“Can you watch it with me?”
“No, buddy. I have to get ready.”
“If you have a few minutes AFTER your shower, can you?”
This seems fair. I sit with him. LEGO cops have fooled LEGO crooks by building a LEGO bank that turns out to be a LEGO jail. A pretty clever plan, for a bunch of plastic bricks.
“Will you be home later?” This seems fair, too. I travel irreegularly and frequently. When it was really bad, he used to ask if I was “sleeping over tonight.” I hated that.
“Yes. buddy. I’ll be home for dinner.”
I leave him to his show and go downstairs to pack my bag. Lara has made me a lunch. I feel like I’m going back to school.
“Dad! Come up here a minute.”
“I can’t buddy. I’m putting my coat on.”
Those steps again, on the stairs, loud enough to wake the dead, much less his younger brother. At a certain point, you just kind of give up on correcting your kids and hope for the best.
He runs up to the gate that helps keep Reid corralled in the kitchen and living room. “Lift me up,” he says. I do.
He puts his hands on my face, leans in and gives me a kiss. Then a hug.
The day before, Lara and I watched Sleepless in Seattle. Even on Bravo, with their constant commercial interruptions to promote shows about horrible people, its a good movie. The men, talking about how The Dirty Dozen made them cry, still makes me laugh. We’re not prone to sudden bursts of sentiment.
I can feel my eyes fill, as I put my son back over the other side of the gate. He runs upstairs and tells me he will see me later.
Resolutions be damned. I wouldn’t change a thing.