I spent the morning with Jon so Rachel could go and volunteer in Ella’s classroom. We intended to keep the day fairly simple: drop off a prescription, then head to the park for some well-deserved time on the playground equipment.
The prescription part was standard issue – walk in, hand over the piece of paper, make a quick tour down the toy aisle, drag Jon kicking and screaming out of the pharmacy because I won’t buy him a dog’s chew toy. Happens all the time.
At the park, however, things got wonderful.
When we pulled into the parking lot, Jon seemed less than enthused to be there, despite the fact that he had begged me to take him. “Park, peese? Peese, daddy?” was the phrase of the morning, and I was happy to oblige him; so when he seemed “meh” about the whole thing, I was a little confused.
Then I got scared; he’s been coughing a bit lately, and we’ve just attributed it to sinus drainage (which the boy has in gallons). My brain immediately went WebMD on me – has there been a spike in temperature? (No.) Has there been a change in dietary habits? (Other than wanting to eat five pounds of candy per day since Halloween, no.) Has there been any discoloring of a wart or mole? (No, with the exception of the one he made himself with purple marker.) Have his bowel movements been infrequent? (Unfortunately, no.) Has he recently been exposed to any of the following: toxic jungle water from a sub-Saharan country? (No.) The excrement of an irradiated mouse with two tails? (No.) Large doses of alternatively powered electromagnetic energy? (No.)
So, without any real symptoms of something wrong, I figured he was okay. (Actually, WebMD has taught me that even the absence of symptoms is a symptom of a rare and completely fatal Nepalese diarrhea virus that only small children with untrimmed toenails get every third Tuesday before the Winter Equinox; so, I guess I was just careless.) We went and took a seat in one of the bench swings near his favorite playground.
He didn’t want me to put him down. Instead, he buried his head on my shoulder and I felt the small sensation of his tiny breath puffing against the skin of my neck. The puffs were regular and slight, and they seemed to be expressions of great contentment. When I shifted him to my other shoulder, he looked at me and rubbed his eyes.
“I sit next to you?” he asked, gesturing to the swing’s slatted seat.
“Sure, if you want to,” I said.
He carefully pushed his way down to the seat and immediately snuggled up next to me. He put his little butt against the swing back (in an effort to sit as far back as I was) and let his head fall over onto my chest. Then, he nuzzled that little noggin up under my arm, and reached over and grabbed my left hand and draped it across his belly, so that I was essentially hugging him.
I propped my right foot up under my left knee and pushed off, sending the swing back into a semi-graceful arc and beginning a rhythm that we would carry through the next hour. Jon never moved.
Every once in a while I would see his little fingers flicker, as if involuntarily spasming, and I would wonder if he were asleep. But each time, he would either say something (“Ook daddy – a weef” or “We keep swinging now?”) or do something (picking up a fallen “weef” and tossing it to the ground) that told me he was not only awake, but very much observing the time, keeping an eye on the small changes in the world around us as the wind picked up and the leaves came down.
When I finally stopped the swing, he looked up at me and said, “Fank you, daddy. I have fun.” I pulled him close and kissed him square on the top of his fuzzy blonde head.
“I did too, buddy.”
He held his arms out for me to pick him up (“I want carry me”) and I grabbed him and pulled him close, hugging him as if tomorrow morning he’ll wake up and be 27 years old. But on a breezy fall day I got spend precious time with my son, enjoying the kind of affection and closeness that will fade before too long. I got to love him still as my baby, while knowing that one day soon he’ll be my little man.
A father only gets so many opportunities.