Another piece from a Write Here Write Now
workshop. There is no deeper meaning to my posting it on Fathers Day.
I don't like children. I was a child, and when I was a child, children made my life hell. Well, adults did, too, but that was expected. When I'm with children, I expect them to say something aloud that I always think everyone around me is too polite to say, and it isn't that I can't bear that they are -thinking- it, I just dread the awkwardness after it's released from their mouth, the mother shushing them and saying, "We don't say things like that out loud."
My friend Heather called one day, and after a few minutes of small talk, she said, "Well, I'm finally pregnant." I blurted out the first thing that came into my head, which would have been bad with pretty much anyone else I knew because it would have been "Oh God," but with heather it was "thank god."
When Tani was about 18 months old, she asked if I'd be interested in baby-sitting him one evening a week while she and her husband took a literature class together. It was about two years after I started the drug cocktail that calmed my PTSD and lifted my depression, and these days I felt like I did a pretty good job of passing as normal, but I was still passing. "You seriously trust me with your progeny?" She glared at me over her glasses, an "Oh please" look, but there was a split second before she rolled her eyes when I saw something. She did. She trusted me. She knew everything about me, about who I had been, and she's not a fool, and she trusted me with her child.
My "shifts" with him started after dinner was over, so it was pretty much just: play with him for a couple of hours, change him into pajamas, and gently bear-hug him on the couch for fifteen minutes until he went from wailing, "No no no" to rubbing his eyes to sleep. Playing with him turned out to be easy. Mostly, I built towers out of blocks, and he knocked them down. We could do that for an entire evening sometimes. Sometimes he'd reach out after the third level and shove, sometimes he'd wait patiently, his head cocked, perhaps curious about some pattern of blocks I was using.
One night, he wandered away while I was still constructing. He'd never done that before, and I felt a little pang, wondering if the last time had truly been the last time we'd play this game. But I kept adding levels, whether he cared or not, eventually using pretty much every block in a cantilevered marvel nearly four feet high. I turned around and watched him in the sun room, making truck noises with his Tonka bulldozer. "Ta-ni," I sing-songed. I had to repeat it before he looked up. And then he saw. His eyes and mouth formed perfect circles before the grin started, the cat-like glee at impending destruction. He ran in his drunken stagger past me, lurching to a stop a stubby arm's length from the tower. He drew in a breath, flung his arms forward —
But not all the way. His hands stopped a couple of inches from the tower, his eyes and mouth round again. Then the gleeful giggle, his hands back in mid-air, and he stopped again. He looked at me, flapped his hands while abject joy radiated from him. He stood there, laughing and dancing and anticipating, for probably two minutes. He was not yet two years old, so two minutes of delayed gratification was an eternity. Finally, he reached out, slowly, deliberately, placed both hands gently on the blocks, and slowly, deliberately, shoved. He stood stoically as the blocks collapsed with their wooden cacophony. In the silence, he turned to look at me again, gave a deep, satisfied sigh, and plopped down on the floor by the rubble.
That was the night I knew I loved that kid.