Eli is sitting at his little table in the corner of our kitchen, eating Cheerios. This is never a pretty sight, especially when he's a little snuffly. He sees me watching him, and with much effort he scoots away from the table and toddles over to me. "Kiss?"
I survey, with no small amount of queasiness, the drool and snot and Cheerio debris on his face. "Kiss?" he asks a second time. It is a soft, insistent whisper. I lean over and kiss him on the cheek.
"No no no no no no. Kiss." He thrusts his lips out.
There are times in every parent's life when we must do things that defy our very nature. It crosses my mind to wipe his face first, but something tells me that doing so would damage the delicate innocence of this moment. So I kiss his wet, messy, expectant little lips.
My train was towing a different type of passenger car today. After we boarded, the conductor pointed out a very important detail: "There's a closet at the end of the first car, but it used to be a bathroom, and they haven't taken the toilet out yet. I must ask you not to use this toilet, because you'll basically just be going into a bucket. Thank you, and have a nice day."
I like his style. If my conductor were to deliver the nightly news, I might start watching again. Imagine that instead of the usual blah blah blah, you heard something like this instead:
"The President announced a plan today to spend money to make people forget he's a Republican. The Democrats attacked the plan because they think Republicans only want to poison the water, give children scurvy, and make old people buy their life-extending drugs in Costa Rica.
"So the Republicans are acting like Democrats, and the Democrats are acting like your crazy old Aunt Eunice who used to bury coffee cans filled with lard in her back yard to hide them from the CIA. Basically, folks, it's like I used to tell people on the train -- while that hole in the corner may look like a toilet, it's really just a bucket. That's the news, and have a good night."
"Justin Timberlake exposed Janet Jackson's breast on national television last night, and we're all supposed to act like the holy of holies has been violated. Basically, it's just a boob, and to be honest, there probably weren't that many people who hadn't seen it yet anyway, given the loose morals in Hollywood and New York and all. Basically it's like I always said on the train: what you may think is a nice fancy toilet is really just a plastic bucket once you lift the lid. That's the news. Thank you, and good night."
Forget all these blow-dried talking heads. I want the train guy.
The problem with little boys and their favorite clothes is that boys grow, clothes shrink, and seasons change. Caleb's favorite shirt is a thick yellow cotton one. If he were in charge of dressing and clothes washing in our house, he would wear it every day with his "comfy" pants, which used to live up to their moniker until they began to cut into his waist and ride up his calves. It's both pitiful and entertaining to watch him lie flat on the floor and squeeze himself into those pants, all the while muttering about how comfy they are.
Saturday started off well for Caleb, because his mama laid out his favorite yellow shirt (he hasn't figured it out yet, but the pants have been confiscated, set aside until Eli has sprouted another few inches). It occurred to me, however, as I got an initial feel for the weather, that the yellow shirt would be too warm, especially since Caleb was going to help me put flooring in our attic. (Actually, he mostly just whacks at random boards with his little hammer and occasionally flits close enough to the stairway opening to give me a heart attack. But in Caleb's world, that's helping.) I went into his room, where he was rolling around on the floor in tighty-whitey's as he struggled to pull his socks up.
"Hey, little man," I said, "I think it's going to be too warm for you to wear your yellow shirt today. Let me find you something better to wear." I stepped inside his closet to examine the array of little-boy shirts hanging there. I selected a thinner one, and stepped back out of the closet to find Caleb spread-eagled on the floor, his favorite yellow shirt firmly pinned beneath him. He looked up at me with a grim face. "It's not too warm."
I relented, and nature was kind enough to be cooler than I expected that day. It's hard to be in a bad mood when you observe the beautiful little happenstances of life that make it a wonderful experience for your children. How do we lose the ability to be satisfied with such small things? When was the last time you made up a cheerful little song about your favorite shirt and hummed it during breakfast?
Of course not all of childhood is filled with happiness. Eli, to take an example under my own roof, had a tougher Saturday morning than Caleb. First, he woke up wet. Then, after family snuggle time (that's what I call it -- it's really just a pathetic attempt to sleep a few extra minutes while the youngsters wallow all over the wife and me), he slid off my bed and got himself wedged between it and my side table. After that he stubbed his toe, and then Caleb took his favorite toy, and then the poor child stepped on a train that he had left out, and squealed in such pain that I didn't have the heart to tell him it that was about time he got hoist on his own little careless petard.
By ten or so that morning, Eli was done. He picked up his little blanket and tucked it under his arm, grabbed his baby doll, and headed for the steps. "Sleep now," he said, with as much positive energy as he could muster. We watched as he worked his way up the stairs, and then followed quietly to see what he would do.
"Where are you going, Eli?" I asked.
"Bed time." With that, he tottered into his room. We peeked around the edge of the door, and sure enough, he had wrestled himself up into his little bed. With an exasperated sigh he rested his head on his pillow and closed his eyes. It lasted that way for only a few minutes, and then he was up and ready to try again.
I have mornings like that, too, when I just need a do-over. I think we all do. In fact, the world would probably be a much better place if we could all get comfortable with the idea that sometimes it's better just to go back to bed. Don't you agree?
Happy made-up songs, naps, and do-overs. Why do we set these things aside so quickly?