Thump. Thump. Thump. Squeak. THUthump.
The large round balloon that I have tied off to the handle of my grocery cart keeps thumping me in the side of the head. I turn a corner and it bounces twice. Memory flows. Part of my brain is imagining a pink dinosaur puppet with a pan. “NOT THE MOMMA!” A bigger part remembers The Momma, Tara, making the same joke many years ago, as a baby Flint, perched on my shoulder, thumped his head sideways, repeatedly, against mine, refusing to sleep. A bundle of squealing flesh the size of a large cat, eating, pooping, and slowing learning about the world.
Ten years. Ten years ago right about now, I stood in a hospital room, holding my wife’s hand, as she screamed in pain and triumph and popped our son into this world. (Literally popped. The doctor turned to prep something, turned back around, and he had gone in seconds from crowning to arms waving, nipples out, cord barely visible, about to slide out and fall on the floor. ) A decade. Ten years.
It’s a birthday balloon, popping me in the face. Big round globe, Star Wars, Jedi on one side, Sith on the other. Different sides of the same globe. Hmm. Thought for another day. A stack of cupcakes sit in the cart, and a giant donut, for an early morning birthday cake. Still need to get candles. Sparkling candles. He’s TEN! Regular candles just won’t do. And I can’t stop GRINNING as this helium filled plastic bludgeon bounces off the side of my head. THUMP.
It seems unreal. Having a child, then two, was unreal. For someone who spent most of his life desperately afraid of sharing what stains may lie in my genetics, in my soul, this is not something I really ever thought I’d be saying. I have a ten year old child. Tara and I have spent 10 years, over a quarter of our lives, as parents. And I remember. Thump.
Late night fevers, sleeplessness for us both as I held him with a cool cloth on his back, trying to ease his pain and suffering. Bottles, warming cold milk, mixing formula. Trimming nails, rubbing goop on rashes. Spoons of colored paste purporting to be fruit and or meat. Cereal. Smiles and goos and gurgles and frowns and laughs. All the laughs.
A baby’s laugh of discovery, of joy, everything truly new. A laugh that tugs deep into your heart and soul, at something bright and primal that no darkness can cover. Healing laughs that make you smile, make you laughing, pulling humor out of your body like a magician pulling scarves from a pocket.
First steps. First falls. Bandaging cuts. Answering questions. Explaining why things are dangerous, and sometimes having to shut up and let Flint learn for himself what “hot, burny burny, don’t touch”, really meant. Showing him the hidden things that exist just out of sight, unless you know where to look. Bugs in corners. Shiny rocks in the grass. Birds in trees. The hidden world when you lift the flap of fabric hanging off a couch.
Reading him books. Listening to him read aloud, the joy of discovery and emotion in his voice. Leaving favorite books of mine on his shelves, and seeing him, months later, having found one, and being nose deep in it. Watching him watching me, always learning, always growing. Doing research to answer questions, because he came up with realizations I never had to this day myself. Just a few days ago, asking him a question from his math homework, rephrasing it since it seemed to be causing him confusion.
“Okay, so you divided by 100. You moved the decimal point two places down. How do you know how far to move it?”
His whispered voice, afraid of being wrong, afraid of not understanding the question. The question isn’t confusing him. It was simply wrong. That sure knowledge in his head that he was RIGHT, and the world wrong, I could see it in his face. I didn’t know what thoughts were swirling in that developing brain of his, but I knew that face. I’d seen that face in the mirror so often, defiance against something that was simply WRONG.
“You didn’t know how far? Then why did you move it?”
“No, I didn’t MOVE IT!” More confident now that he’s finally said it. “I didn’t move the decimal. Everyone says the decimal moves, but THEY’RE WRONG!” I was stunned. I was lost in memory, watching him suddenly snap, demand that the world make sense in the face of people repeating a falsehood that doesn’t. “I didn’t move the decimal, the decimal stays in the same place! The numbers moved around it!”
And he was right. It makes perfect sense seen that way. The decimal place is the rock solid foundation of a number. It doesn’t move. Add, subtract, divide, multiply. The decimal point doesn’t move. The numbers move around it. “I… you’re right.”
“You’re right. You’re absolutely right. That’s brilliant. Write it down.” I pointed at his paper. “Write that down, and if your teacher gives you a hard time, tell her to email me.”
You want to know what happiness is as a parent? The glow of delight when your kid is vindicated by you, when you say those magic words, “You’re right.” The victory they feel, and knowing that reaching that victory means they’ve moved past you, even in some tiny way. Thump.
Today is the decimal point. Today is always today. It never moves. Yesterday, tomorrow, they move. His birth, it’s moved. Today, it just moved from the tenths digit, to the hundredths digit. Tomorrow is in the ones digit, and the decimal point, it never moves. The numbers move around IT. The numbers of life move around Flint, my rock, the foundation of a world that I have been graced to be a major part of, but one that is not my world. One that I know I will slowly be less and less of.
I’m so proud. They say that the goal of the parent is to have a kid who’s better than you. And I do. He’s so far and above what I was at ten, and the sky’s the limit. I know that at a certain point, there will be less I can do for him, more and more he has to do for himself. And honestly? So many parents complain about how fast they grow up, how soon its out of their hands. Me? I’m looking forward to it. Watching as he becomes more and more self propelled. He’s going to get into trouble. So much trouble. With Tara and I as parents, there’s no helping that. But he’s going to get out of it as well. And get friends out of trouble. And learn things from the mistakes that no one else will ever learn, in quite the same way. He’s going to do some amazing things, and I can not wait to see what he chooses to become.
Ten years. Memories of that day, the whirl of activity around this crying babe. Testing, poking, prodding. Tara lying there, exhausted, stoned, beautiful, holding our child against her skin. Then finally sleeping, with a list of things for me to do. Thump.
His birth presaged a storm. The night she went into labor was the first time I was allowed to drive Tara’s Tracker. A new decimal point in a number that didn’t have one until that day. Heading home to get stuff for the next few days, clothes, supplies, I drove back through a blustery late August Monsoon that nearly threw me off the road. His tenth birthday seems calm. Hot, no clouds, no wind. Calm is deceiving. The next ten… its going to be something. But the decimal point won’t move. He’s going to make the numbers move around HIM.
Okay, but first, I REALLY need to get a better weight for this balloon.