Friday, November 6, 2015

The Favorite Son Saga: The Devil You Know

Blue-Eyed Devil?
Photo credit: Buzz Robbins
I’d been told by more than one, more experienced parent, “Girls are easier when they are younger and more difficult as teenagers, while boys are challenging as toddlers and younger boys than they are when the reach adolescence.” There are exceptions to every rule, but at least in my case, this maxim has been absolutely accurate.

The Favorite Son striking both in is appearance and his personality. He has alabaster skin, straight blond hair, and piercing blue eyes. He is playful, social, funny, and, it seems, he was born to both amaze and perplex me. One of the many nicknames with which I’ve saddled him is “Blue Eyed Devil.” One of my favorite Blue Eyed Devil stories, mostly because it had a happy ending, occurred when my son was about not quite three years old.

I’d been frustrated that I hadn’t been able to find the time or the circumstances to work, either outside the home or inside. Having three small children, I learned  after a couple of ill-fated attempts to return to Corporate America that I just couldn’t give the same amount of dedication to my job as I’d done when I was married. I wanted to write, but my responsibilities as a stay-at-home dad were still overwhelming, especially with a young son. I wanted to make a go of writing, which I could do on my own time. Still, I needed to find my own time.

I’d set up a little office in what would otherwise have been a living room that had a huge window overlooking the front porch and yard at the center hall colonial where we lived. It had been my plan to get up every morning, get the girls dressed, fed, and on the bus, and then have a great, and strenuous, father-son morning. My plan was to eat, go to a park, go to playgroup, have a play date, or some other seasonally appropriate activity. Then, we’d come home, have lunch, and wind down the boy for an afternoon nap, during which time, I could write.

It was a brilliantly conceived plan, if I don’t say so myself, with one, rather significant catch: my son was not a napper. It seemed no matter what we did, from hiking up hills to playing in the snow to swinging through the jungle gym in the park, the boy would just not be tired enough to nap. I swear, I even tried running sprints in the back yard, which I’d let him win, just to tire him out. Nothing worked.

Well, one day, after our morning events, whatever they were, I did put him in his room for “quiet,” if not “nap” time. There was a locking safety gate on his door which prevented him, at least for a little while, from roaming the girls’ rooms when they were at school. It must have been a warm spring or early summer day because I had several windows in the house open, including the window in my son’s room.

The Favorite Son
Photo Credit: Wendy Neidich
I had only just sat down at my desk and started writing. I’d been eager to start a novel, but hadn’t made much progress. (I would eventually finish and publish that novel, The Dream Seeker, four years later.) As I sat, pecking away on the keyboard, something caught my eye and my ear through the large, open front windows in the living/office room. It appeared that something had fallen from the roof of the house or from the sky, but didn’t make much of a thud. For the moment, I didn’t think much of it and returned to my previous thought. Then, as if watching a slow sun rise on the east horizon, it dawned on me what had fallen. It was the screen for the window in my son’s room. At that moment, my stomach jumped into my throat!

As soon as all the pieces fit together in my mind, I jumped up from the desk and ran toward the staircase, which were only ten or fifteen feet in front of me. As I vaulted up the stairs, taking two or three in each step, I processed the facts in my head. All I’d seen from the corner of my eye was the screen fall. I didn’t see a child fall, but maybe he was on the roof. Maybe he did fall and I just didn’t see him.

In a millisecond, I was at his doorway. Briefly, I scanned the room as I opened the child safety gate. There was no screen in the window, and I didn’t see my son. As I darted around the bed, I glanced into the open closet. The Favorite Son wasn’t in there either. I quickened to the window, ready to climb out and grab my toddler as he, I imagined, was grasping the gutter for dear life. I looked out, and saw . . . nothing. He was not there.

“The man with the ball is responsible for what happens to the ball." –Branch Rickey

Now, I really was frantic. I couldn’t see the concrete walkway where I stood from the window’s perspective, but I envisioned a child on that walkway after rolling out a window, down the sloped roof, down another fifteen or so feet. It was not a very nice mental picture. As fast as I’d come up the stairs and into the room, I turned and sprinted back out of the room toward the stairs.

Just then, another thought leapt into my mind. Frankly, by then, any thought would have been preferable to that which I expected to find when I walked out the front door. I remembered that I was dealing with the Blue-Eyed Devil. What, if just by some chance, he was gaming me? His gate was locked and I looked everywhere for him in his bedroom, everywhere except under his bed. I thought the chance that he was hiding from me was pretty remote, but it certainly was far more appealing than the alternative.

Before I even reached the bottom step, I pivoted, climbed back up to the hallway landing, and back into his room. I knelt down, looked under the bed, and found him with a wide grin and those blue eyes looking back at me.

"Thinking about the devil is worse than seeing the devil." –Branch Rickey

I closed and locked the window. What my son witnessed for the next two or three minutes very likely the most profoundly animated and entertaining “daddy tantrums” in the history of parenthood. I’m sure, at some point, I retrieved the screen and replaced it in the window. Then, I collapsed on my bed and waited for the involuntary muscle tremors and eye twitching to stop. It probably took several hours, although I wasn’t aware of any of the physical laws of time and space.

For all I know, I am at this very moment still heavily sedated in a mental institution still imagining an alternate reality.