My daughter went to see the nurse at school yesterday, not feeling well, and she came home early. I wish I could have been there for her. Not because she needed me – her mother was there for her – but because it was a moment that I missed. I would have loved that hug.
Even though my wife teases me that I wouldn’t be able to manage all the day-to-day muck work that she does – and I think she’s right – I’m jealous of what she gets to witness. I would love to be there for the game of crazy eights with our five year old after his older siblings have gone off to school, for the trip to the library after school to see all three of them pore over books, for the trips to the pediatrician to watch them have their reflexes tested.
Monday morning, a holiday, I took the boys to Home Depot to buy concrete for a basement project. I bought new filter masks for them so they could help without filling their lungs with fine portland cement, and we came home and poured concrete. They poured the water and acrylic fortifier, talking eagerly about which one they liked best. Look at the concrete dust, they said, fully aware, fully present. Meanwhile, not wanting the concrete to set, I spoke too quickly to them as I moved in the tight spaces.
We went outside to finish mowing the lawn, working slowly so each of them could have a turn to push the mower. We played wiffle ball, with the game ending in frustration when they didn’t each record the same number of outs (three being a number that persistently does not divide evenly). A game of football followed lunch, and began with so much joyful laughter in chasing each other down. It ended though, like wiffle ball, with grievances. First theirs, then mine, as I wished things would be other than what they were. I was desperate for them to focus on the time we had just had, the time we had been together, instead of complaining about who had scored more touchdowns.
And I let them know it.
I wasn’t thinking at that moment about how wanting to witness these moments means witnessing all of them, including the ones that exasperate me. I wasn’t thinking about my vow to graciously accept what each moment has to offer. I was thinking about spending some time by myself.
My youngest son had other plans as he shadowed me around the kitchen with the sun going down outside. He tugged on my shirt as I stood at the sink watching the shadows. Dad, he asked so quietly I almost didn’t hear him over the stream of warming water, can we play big trucks?
I could only look at him.
He’s got these trucks under his bed – dump trucks, cranes, and loaders, all bigger than the ones in his collection of matchbox cars. He loves them all, from the newest to the oldest, the metal, the wooden, and the plastic. And I love that he loves them with such purity. I had promised him we would have time, certainly in the three-day weekend. Here was a moment I had waited for. My son, my love, asking me to be with him, to share in his joy. Nothing more and nothing less than I had been looking for, what I had waited for all week.
But I only looked at him. He held my gaze hopefully before I turned.
It’s almost the whole weekend, he said.
I just wanted to sit, and couldn’t respond. He asked again.
I don’t know, I mustered. I just don’t know.
I won’t complain, he said.
I don’t know, I said.
I won’t complain after we’re done, Dad, he repeated.
No honey, that’s not what I meant, I wanted to say. I know you won’t. I know you’re a good boy. I love you, I wanted to say.
I hated myself in that moment.
Let me finish getting my coffee, I sighed.
He looked at me for another half second, momentarily unsure what me getting coffee might mean to the time he wanted to spend together. And then my son clapped his hands as only a just-turned-five-year-old can do, half spinning and half bouncing towards the stairs.
So we played big trucks, long enough for my knees to grow sore. We built a road and a bridge. Nobody complained at all.