I walked into backyard with my son, Samuel. He was urging me to come out in to the backyard and play swords with him. I wasn’t sure that I wanted to play swords with my son. Not that I didn’t like my son; it was the swords that I didn’t like. He was under the red hammock by the time I got out on the lawn. He pointed his sword at something and started running around. He stopped suddenly and looked at me and asked me where my sword was. I claimed that I didn’t have one. He quickly remedied this by handing me the nearest object; anything will do for him. I look at his offering and kept my hands at my side. I don’t like swords. He begged and cried. I asked if I couldn’t be the dragon instead. He wanted me to take the sword; he wanted me to be on his side, to be his companion, to be his dad, not a snarling dragon. He finally gave up and sulked off with his head down. I looked at the bees hovering over the lavender, jumping from flower to flower. The smell of peaches rotting on the lawn wafted to my nose, and the next thing I see is my son hiding underneath one of the low hanging trees. I faked ignorance. I asked where would my son be, and he popped out and acted like a dragon with a sword in his hand, growling at me like we were best friends and worst enemies at the same time.
I walked outside. My son wanted to play. I didn’t like swords. He was getting violent with them. I worried about my daughter, his sister, an infant. Under the red hammock, he flashed his sword and eyes. He asked, “where’s your sword”? “I don’t have one,” I shrugged. He insisted, cried. I consented to be a dragon. He sulked away, head down, sword down, shoulders down, countenance fallen. There were bees on the lavender, on the mint. I smelled rotten peaches in the grass. The sun was hot, the lawn was swampy, the gate was closed. Sam was hiding. I pretended he was lost, like it was funny that he was gone. He popped out: a dragon with a sword, a friend and an enemy, a reflection of myself. We laughed.
I’m standing right here in front of you. “Where’s your sword?” Sword, dad, sword. This thing in my hand, right here. You just had a hook on your hand and I had a sword and you were Captain Hook and I was John with a sword and mom was Wendy and we were fighting with swords. You keep dropping your sword. I just gave you a sword. Where is your sword? Why don’t you have your sword? Look, like this sword, this sword. See? It’s long and you can swing it and cut people. You can play with it and me. Hold a sword in your hands, in both hands. Take the sword. Take the sword. Take the sword, the sword, the sword, the sword. I have a sword in my hand, but where is the sword in your hand?
There are swords everywhere. Anything can be a sword. Take this stick, the chap stick, this screw, this grass. I really want to play with swords. I want swords, but you don’t want swords with me. I want swords. No, I don’t want you to be a dragon. I don’t want dragons. I just want swords. Swords are fun. I can fight with them. There’s so much fighting to fight. And then you can play with me. You see my sword when you have a sword and play with swords. I love swords. I’m behind this tree. I’ve got a sword in my hand. I’m going to kill you, cut you and your sword and play with you. I’m a dragon with a sword. Roar! You’re scared.
He stood at the threshold of the door wondering whether he ought to go back inside and just ignore his son, pretend as though he were an apparition or schizophrenic voice. Not that he wanted to, but his wife had just given the breath of life to a small girl, and they both worried that the sword playing would increase the boy’s animus. “I’m going to kill baby ‘Liza. I’m going to cut her,” the two year old said the other day, with eyes squinted and a sword squeezed tight in his fist. His parents talked to him about listening to the Holy Ghost, but he was probably more interested in making ghosts, than listening to them.
Right now he was saying to his Dad in the doorway “come on daddio, come play swords with me.”
“I don’t want to play swords.”
“No, dad, come play swords with me,” he said trying to hand his father a stick.
“No, I don’t like holding swords. Can I be a dragon?”
Upon hearing this and being refused, the child wailed like a banshee and ran off, almost falling or fainting along the way. The neighbor’s dogs started barking.
The father felt terrible and he finally left the threshold of the doorway, haunting the backyard and wringing his hands like a spirit in limbo. There were the corpses of rotting peaches in the grass, cobwebs glittering in the wind. The heads of lavendars were now dead and gray, like skulls. He wasn’t worried about the swords as much as he was worried about death, something that the child, who was hiding under a weeping willow, who was waiting to scare his dad, who was old enough to know pain but not death, knew nothing about.
He stopped on the threshold of the door to avoid his son’s sword games. He and his wife worried that it would hurt their newborn girl.
“I’m going to kill baby Gabby. I’m going to cut her,” the animated two year old silently said the other night, with his toddler eyes squinted and a sword squeezed tight in his fist, the white of his flesh glowing from the absence of blood.
His parents talked to him about good choices.
Right now, he was tossing his little insistent and yellow words up into his dad’s dulled ears. “Come on dad, come play swords with me.”
“I don’t want to play swords.”
“No, dad, come play swords with me,” he said trying to forcefully hand his father an old, dead pruned sprig from the backyard’s purple plum tree.
“No, I don’t like holding swords.”
Upon hearing this awfully unfortunate news and upon being blatantly refused, the child wailed like a suffering banshee and sporadically ran and walked off into some corner of the yard, almost falling or slightly fainting along the way. The neighbor’s two small white dogs started blindly barking behind the fence.
The father silently stepped into the backyard.
There, where the boy was now unhappily sulking with red, soaked cheeks, there in the backyard were the corpses of rotting peaches in the grass, cobwebs glittering in the wind; this year the plums never came in; the grass hadn’t been cut for weeks. With autumn approaching, the heads of the lavender were now dead and gray, like skulls. Having quickly forgotten how offended he was, perhaps never letting it even puncture him, the having-just-cried child hid under a small weeping willow, waiting with small wisps of breath to scare his wandering dad, waiting to simply play with and kill him.
The other day I went into the backyard and placed my infant daughter on a blanket on the grass, which was green, under the blue sky, and the weather was pleasant, to say the least, because I could barely feel it, because it wasn’t even there, because all the weather had been sucked into the trees, now manifesting itself as color, as autumn, and underneath a nearby tree my toddler son was mumbling something to himself about swords, watermelon, bugs and men, and I saw my daughter laugh out loud and smile under my gaze for the first time, while my son was placing his teddy grahams, in a cup, next to her head, running off barefoot in the grass, holding a stick that was pruned from a fruitless plum tree planted nearby, and he didn’t care that the lawn needed mowing or his next meal needed cooking or his teddy grahams needed moving, because they weren’t even there, and I watched him, noting how his mind was so empty from any kind of future except the offing, and the empty space in his head was filled up with something of the order of dreams of children, which—if the sky were white—would condensate above us into something flying and fluffy, which would get heavy and gray, which would let out torrents of drops of water of dreams of something, which was putting all those dreams in the sky in the first place, while I wondered what would do that, what would be so massive and carefree at the same time, what would get so many things wet at once, what would quench so many of the thirsts of life of living things, what would not know that it was unmistakably young and smiling, on a blanket, under a massive, carefree sky.
The other day I went into the backyard, and I placed my infant daughter on a blanket, and the blanket was on the grass, and the grass was green, and the grass was under the blue sky, and the weather was pleasant, and saying the weather was pleasant was to say the least, and I could barely feel the weather, and the weather wasn’t really even there, and all the weather had been sucked into the trees, and the weather was now manifesting as color, and the weather was now manifesting as autumn, and underneath a nearby tree my toddler son was mumbling something to my toddler son about swords, and my toddler son was mumbling something to my toddler son about watermelon, and my toddler son was mumbling something to my toddler son about bugs, and my toddler son was mumbling something to my toddler son about men, and I saw my infant daughter laugh for the first time, and I saw my infant daughter smile for the first time, and my toddler son was placing teddy grahams next to the head of my infant daughter, and the teddy grahams of my toddler son were in a cup, and my toddler son was running barefoot in the grass, and my toddler son was holding a stick, and the stick was pruned, and the stick was from a fruitless plum tree planted nearby, and my toddler son was not caring about the lawn, and the lawn needed mowing, and my son was not caring about meals, and the meals needed cooking, and my son was not caring about teddy grahams, and the teddy grahams needed moving, and I watched my toddler son, and I noted how the mind of my toddler son was so empty from any kind of future except the offing, and the empty space in the head of my toddler son was filled up with something of the order of dreams of children, and if the sky were white, then the sky would condensate above me, then the sky would condensate above my toddler son, then the sky would condensate above my infant daughter, then the sky would condensate into something flying and fluffy, and then the sky would get heavy and gray, and then the sky would let out torrents of drops of water of dreams of something that was putting something of the order of dreams of children in the sky in the first place, and I would not know what would do that, and I would not know what would be so massive and carefree at the same time, and I would not know what would get so many things wet at once, and I would not know what would quench so many of the thirsts of life of living things, and I would not know what would not know that my infant daughter was unmistakably young and smiling, and I would not know what would not know that my infant daughter was unmistakably on a blanket, and I would not know what would not know that my infant daughter was unmistakably under a massive and carefree sky, and I would not know how I do not know my infant daughter even a smidgeon.
I suppose that spending time with your children is quite delightful. I suppose spending time with children is delightful because children are delightful. I wouldn’t say that I know how delightful spending time with children is because children are not always delightful. So I am not really saying anything about children at all, it appears, but rather am revealing myself, when I say that I suppose that spending time with children is quite delightful.
Just the other day I came home to my lovely and exhausted wife, who smiled at me and must have asked if I couldn’t hold our baby girl while she went to use the bathroom. I’ve never tried to hold a child and use the bathroom at the same time, but I imagined myself sitting on the toilet with a very delicate watermelon on my lap, and so I consented to take the child.
When I did I was suddenly seized with the desire to do homework. My body or mind or whatever creates urges decided that this was not something that it wanted. In truth I wasn’t used to holding a delicate watermelon, and I found the sensation so unnerving that I drifted outside into the backyard with my stick-wielding toddler on my heels and my other child in my arms.
I set the infant on the grass and unfolded the blanket constricting her. Perhaps I was trying to relieve the suffocating feelings I was having by some sort of proxy in opening her blanket and exposing her to the warm autumn air. I worried that she might spit up on my shirt, that she might decide, as if one could decide, to release all that was contained in her bowels at once. I worried that she might cry out of hunger and that my flat chest was not even lactating, let alone comforting. I found that I was in no way capable of taking care of this child, besides holding her, and here I found myself not even doing that but standing next to her, looking down at her on her blanket on the lawn, while my toddler son ran around the yard, warding of some species of dragon with his stick.
As I looked down at her, feeling somewhat relieved, much like I had gone to the bathroom and not my wife, I saw that she was wiggling and smiling. It was endearing and the next thing I know I am speaking in some high pitched foreign language on my hands and knees making faces and gestures as if I were on broadway. There I was, looking down on my child in fear, and within seconds she had reduced me to a pantomiming toddler.
It may be hard to distinguish which is the more delightful part about spending time with children: was it the rush of emotions that came upon me, or was it the ability to fall on my knees and make a fool of myself. To say the least, it afforded me the opportunity to become something that my colleagues at school would never understand or admire. And yet I think the most delightful thing was that I could be admired as a fool more than as an academic. My daughter would never accept my chit-chat about Thoreau and Emerson, but she could delight in the subtle insanity and loose rigidity that I felt when I spent time with my children.
I held my infant in my arms while I was waiting. I stood there with that girl in the crook of my arms. I was holding her, just like I would hold any other baby. I was standing, just like I would stand holding any other stance. Don’t think of anything else except stances. There were just feet on the ground and knees that were locked and a spine that was erect and stiff, but there were also arms that were stiff, holding a spine that was relaxed and feet that weren’t on the ground with knees unlocked. Only half of the feet were on the ground. The other half were on nothing. She wasn’t doing anything but sleeping in my arms. Don’t think of anything else except sleeping. She was in my arms just like she would be in anyone else’s arms. My arms were no different than anyone else’s. Her relaxation was no different than any other child’s. She lay in my arms, and my arms lay on her back, and that wasn’t any different than any other laying, than any other holding. Don’t think about holding. She wasn’t supported by anything else other than my arms. My arms were holding nothing besides her. Nothing happened except that I held her, being held by me. It was just that holding and being held. It was just my arms and her spine. It was just the two of us. It was just sleeping and standing, nothing more and nothing less. It was nothing, nothing at all except holding, relaxation, support, feet, standing, knees, crook, arms, sleeping, stiff, spine, stances, girl, dad, outside, waiting, and you, reader, who thought of nothing except a father and his orange streak of love on a white page.
I, having just returned home from school, being tired and frustrated and stressed from all my assignments at school, observing how he was ready for bed with his pajamas on, hearing him ask me if I could wrestle with him on the bed, refused. I, looking at him crying, feeling that I hate to see him cry, recalling all the times that I had cried, knowing how much he looked forward to me coming home, loving the gleam in his eye that betrayed me, understanding that this sacrifice was worth more than every essay that I needed to write, consented. I, doing as he said, getting under the blanket, swallowing him underneath the blanket with me, pretending to be a giant mouth with a viciously ticklish tongue and a poor appetite for two-year-old boys, spit him out. I, thinking about the walk I took with my dad around the block, remembering the ultimatum that he said he would love me when I was ready to love him, seeing him in my mind’s eye spit into the gutter, stopped. I, undergoing a stupor of thought and heart, wondering if I have done the same to this morsel that I was wrestling with, regretting each time that my wife texted me to say that he misses me, becoming caught up in the moment, realizing the fun that I was having, forgot. He, smiling with each swallow and tickle and toss, asking me to do it again and again and again, getting closer to exhaustion with each round, enjoying each moment with his dad, laughed. We, spending the night with each other wrestling on the bed, stopping to read a book with a blanket, reading about imagination and dreams, slept.
I played with my son on the bed, the bed that my wife and I bought after my son was conceived, the bed that we bought for her poor pregnant hips, the bed that we brought home in a truck one winter, the frozen solid bed that I tap danced on while my wife and I laughed and worried that we had bought a rock instead, the bed that finally softened when our warm bodies melted into the foam that night, the bed that we brought our son home to sleep on, the bed that I often saw my son sleeping on when I came home at night, the bed that he kept sleeping on each morning I kissed him goodbye, the bed that I was now slamming him into, the now soft and forgiving mattress under the soft and forgiving toddler laugh, the rough and tumble laugh, the tackle and tussle play, the playing that frizzed my hair, that drew his breath, that exhausted us both, that we occasionally shared, that he had been waiting for all day, that I had been waiting for all day, that made my wife laugh while she nursed our daughter in a nearby chair, that my son could endure with joy all night, the night the we occasionally, learning to love each other without epiphanies or revelations, the kind of love that was subtle and slow, the kind of love that swelled back up from where he was slammed, from where I had fallen, from where he had rolled, from where I had kneeled, from where we had tackled, where we were playing, where we soon would sleep, where the foam was softened by the daily heat, softened by play, softened by sleep, softened by love. That’s what I mean by saying that I played with my son on the bed.
Roughly estimate the many ways that I’ve loved you: take your pre-mature birth and add a week of sleepless nights and hand-holding whispers, add all the nights you shared the bed with mom and me, add to that the clothes, shoes, popsicles, chickens, noodles, fries, blocks and bottles and bottles of coconut water you drink at nap and bed times, add that video mom has of me making you laugh—knocking myself in the head with a pillow—and the video of you making us laugh—comically squinting, take the time your throat started to close off, subtract the fear, add the drive to the hospital, add the hand-holding whispers again, add the times we go for walks down to the river, add the time we got caught in the rain, add the time I carried you home asleep in my arms, subtract the time that you didn’t want to go home, add the excitement I have when I come home, add the excitement you have when I come home, add the fact that I come home, subtract the times that I don’t come home, subtract the things I’m too ashamed to mention, multiply by the number of times I prayed, thought, cried, laughed, watched, sacrificed for you, divide this with your sister, and you’ll find a rough estimate of all the neurons/thoughts/heart/blood cells/tears/whatever the physical manifestations of joy are devoted to you.
Either I keep doing homework, or I come home and play with you, my son. Either I keep doing homework, or I put my laptop away with my pen and books. Either I keep doing homework, or I run right out this library into the cold November night. Either I keep doing homework, or I walk to the car half a mile away, while mentally budgeting money. Either I keep doing homework, or I drive home thinking about you, your mother, your sister. Either I keep doing homework, or I hope—I hope that you are awake. Either I keep doing homework, or I park the car carelessly. Either I keep doing homework, or I unlock the front door, or I knock on the door, or I hide in the wings when you open the door, or I jump out and scare you at the door, or you smile, or we run downstairs into the basement, or we wrestle on the bed, or you climb on my back, or I fill your bottle, or I light the candle, or I blow the flame out when you’re asleep, or I kiss your forehead in the dark, or I fall asleep myself, or I wake up the next morning and go to school, or I do my homework again. Either I keep doing homework, or I start doing homework. Either I love you, or I love you. Either there’s something else, something more, between every either and or, or there’s no conflict between either and or. Either way, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Tomorrow, I will wake up early, pulling back the blanket no matter how tired I will be, and, as I sit on the couch in the cold morning air before the heat turns on, before class starts, I will do my homework. I will butter my toast and eat it fast with honey on top. Lunch will also be quick, and I’ll use the extra time to finish my homework. After class, I will not watch any videos on youtube, nor play any video games, nor will I find myself taking any sort of break, but I will be sitting at a desk focused intently with a small homework checklist and a pen that will check the list into oblivion. I will get done at a quarter to five and smile at the pile of finished homework, and then I will walk out of the library with a smile on, with a skip in my step, as I walk and drive home to play with my son. I will play with my son, even though, at this moment, I am not playing with my son. Even though I am at the library doing homework. There is no list of homework, no pile, no smile nor skip. I am watching a youtube video about some bishop who had dressed up as a homeless man. Before that, I read about a man who lost his children in a tsunami. Before that I ate lunch, and was late to class because I was catching up on the New York Times and looking at stock values that I don’t have. I slept in, missed breakfast and last night went to bed late because I was up playing with my son, slamming him into the mattress, relieved to see him laugh so much.
I was doing homework (something that I have spent nearly one total year of my life, if I calculate in the 12 years of elementary education with my near 4 years of undergraduate studies) when I decided that I had enough (I had been struggling, over the past three months, over my relationship with my son, who would constantly ask his mother “Where is my dad?” and she would say that he was at school doing homework, and then she would message me: “Sam is wondering where his dad is,” and I would feel the pang of regret hit me in the stomach. In fact at this moment of decision my son had asked such a question, and my wife had sent me such a message, and I had been studying psychology journals on the topic of neglectful fathers, something that I was researching for contextual understanding of my memoirs research paper on Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life). I stood up, and I packed my things (which consisted of a MacBook Air and charger, a black Moleskine notebook, my Uniball Vision Roller Ball Stick Waterproof Pen [this is the only pen that I use, and I only ever have one of them on me at a time] a red leather folder that was given to me by my brother-in-law [whom I just, as I was typing this, received an email from] and a 24 oz. Contigo Autoseal Madison water bottle [which I also inherited from my brother-in-law]). I walked out of the library past all of my studious peers (and sometimes I look at them and their computer screens and recognize the all too familiar website pages of facebook and youtube, etc. and I think that perhaps one of the best campaigns that student services could promote is one that I would title “The ‘You know you should be doing homework’ Campaign,” which would focus on helping students avoid the plague of getting distracted on the internet [something that I have asked peers about and was given the response that “every gets distracted on the internet” and that I shouldn’t feel guilty as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. But this is the very reason why I am leaving the library right this moment, without having any homework finished; it’s because I was distracted by the internet, and I did let it get out of hand]), and I walked to my car (which I bought from the mechanic we always go to) and I drove home the same way I always do, and I walked down (because I live with my in-laws) into the basement (which is torn to pieces at the moment, in the middle of a remodel [because there was a flood nearly two months ago]), and I said “My Son!” and he said “Dad!” (which doesn’t need any footnote to explain the joy that such a dialogue can create) and we hugged and then began our ritual of occasional wrestling on the bed.
- What time will I be home?
- Can I call you back later?
- Do I have to stay late today?
- Will I ever finish my homework?
- Why won’t our son eat his food?
- Am I studying dietetics?
- Did I drive the car to school today?
- Do you need the car?
- What time are you going to be home?
- Have you started dinner yet?
- Can you come home and help me get the kids to bed?
- What did you make for dinner?
- Hello? Are you there?
True or False:
- I am here.
- I finished my homework.
- I wish I had studied dietetics.
- I stay late every weekday.
- I called her back later.
- It doesn’t matter that he didn’t eat today.
- It doesn’t matter that you didn’t make dinner.
- You asked me multiple times each day when will I be home.
- I cannot come home and help you put the kids down.
- What would you like for dinner?
A. Left overs
B. The same thing you had for lunch
D. None of the above
- What do you wish you had studied?
A. What your stepfather suggested
B. What your father hints at
C. What your mother thinks you prefer
D. Buy an organic farm in Maine or Seattle
E. Don’t let your dream die
F. Get better sleep in order to have dreams
G. I still don’t know
- What is your favorite part of the day?
A. Never having to do Latin ever again
B. When I get to sit down and write
C. Wrestling with my son on the bed
D. Hearing my wife ask me when I will be home
E. All of the above.
The tussle and bussle of boys on a bed as they bounce between the billows of pillows and blankets as rascals ramshackle tackle each other, another and another time and again, and the movement is motion in mid-air with a mini mind mimicking the mentoring mind as memories melt into the middle chambers of the heart, and laughter is lightened loosely from lips lick-cracked on the left of the leader’s mouth which lingered longly for little more than five months now, and the feelings of fevers that frighten the father who fumbles with son frantically on the frames of the bed and fears for his family of four’s future and finds himself often frozen from frame after frame of fiction after fiction until falling fastidiously into frozen frames of his own, his son somehow suddenly asleep and snoring silent sounds and songs of separations and swiftly swinging swunging swangs while his senior is swimming in swellings and sadly stressing over silly minutiae, silently singing to himself songs of tussled and busstled minutiae under his breath in the dark.
Let the morning come and ring out with such yellow light that the body will itch beneath the comforter, itch to be out among the day. Let the homework come with it’s requirements to translate Sallust and Cicero, directives to discover the beauties of Montaigne, assignments to meander in multiple memoirs. Let the morning light and weight of homework mingle into something inspired, something worth the effort, something that can be used later in a resumé or application to grad school. Let the days end slowly and the mornings be long. Let my son’s tongue loose with words he’s made up, with ideas that he is teasing out, with all the foibles of toddlerhood. Let those words linger alive in my skull. Let them play like the two-year-old from whence they came, let them dance, let them wield their youth and simplicity, let them rear back in childishness and wildness. Let the result spill out on the page, let it spill out in images, narratives, weights and measures to explore the tangents and glimmers of life. Let that be the result, the blessing, the mess of fatherhood.
I live in a simple room in my in laws’ basement: a small green chair and writing desk with one drawer that opens by a tough and taut string, a small white lamp that clicks at the switch and another taller half-finished lamp with beads, paintings of a forest and of Christ in red robes reaching down and of Mary the mother of Christ in purple with infant Christ peering over her shoulder, a low to the ground bed with the legs taken off, a small crib mattress on the floor nearby, a bookshelf with political and maternal and historical and farm animal and piratical and lupine-ical and any kind-ical books a boy or girl could read, a bedside stand that isn’t bedside where I keep my under-clothes, a rocking chair and stool with a small brown magazine side-table nearby, one laundry sack and another laundry basket, and an armoire of sorts stuffed with blank burp clothes and herbs in boxes and diapers and wipes, and another bookshelf with doors that doesn’t have anything in it except feminine infant clothes and fixings, and a crib that stands differently depending the day; not to mention the blankets, pillows, sheets, mirrored jewelry box, brass candle holder and box of candles and lighter, the green spider plant, white cables and cords, drapes and the window between the two closets. It’s only five steps by six and sometimes I’m surprised that I can take any steps at all. But the bed is clear and it often is the only stage that my son and I can interact: wrestling, reading, chatting, sleeping, laughing, living, being.
At the center of the stage is a mattress on the ground. On the left hand side there is a mother in a rocking chair nursing a baby girl. On the right side is a toddler boy at a bookshelf rummaging through all the books. The father enters from the right
Toddler: Dad (runs to his father).
Father: (picks up his son and sings:) My son, my son, my country’s son (stops singing). How are you?
Mother: You’re home.
Father: I decided that I’ve had enough of homework (sets toddler down), so I came home early. And how’s the little one (sits on the bed and takes his shoes off)?
Mother: She’s been screaming all afternoon. I just barely calmed her down. Didn’t you get my text?
Toddler: Dad, dad, here’s my sword.
Father: (checks his phone) No, I didn’t.
Toddler: (starts hitting Father with his sword).
Father: (blocking the toddler’s awkward swings) Is she alright?
Toddler: Dad, dad, here’s your sword (he continues to interrupt).
Mother: I don’t know. She never screams like that. What do think is the matter?
Father: Well, do we need to take her to the Doctor?
Mother: I don’t know, what do you think is the matter?
Toddler: Dad, can you read this book to me?
Father: I don’t—hold on, son—I don’t know. I’m not a Doctor (lays down on the bed).
Toddler: Dad, dad, can you read this book?
Mother: He’s trying to talk to you.
Father: (sits up and lowers the toddler’s book) I can’t I’ve got loads of homework. Did you make dinner (stands up and walks to bookshelf looking at books)?
Toddler: (throws the book, throws himself on the ground and cries)
Mother: I didn’t. I couldn’t. She was crying all afternoon, just screaming.
Father: Did he take a nap (father points at wailing child) or eat anything?
Mother: (now standing and rocking screaming baby) No, I was taking care of her.
Father: (now sitting in the rocking chair with a book) Well, why didn’t you call me (yelling over screaming children)?
Mother: (not yelling) You said you never got my text.
Father: What? (reading the book)
Mother: (now yelling) Can you please help him? or take her?
Scene closes with father still sitting in rocking chair and reading while mother is holding the screaming infant and is on her haunches trying to console the toddler.
Am I my brother’s keeper? My son’s keeper? What is a keeper, anyway? Does he keep promises, people, memories, apples, pinecones, laughing, Gentiles? Keep working, writing, worrying, wondering? Keep coming home and wrestling with my son on the bed? And how? Adverbially—swiftly, kindly, often, always, faithfully, obediently, casually? Are keepers for keeps, for friends, for families, for everyone, no one, good times, bad times, always, often, never? And how long does the keeper keep whatever he is keeping? Always, often, never? How do I keep going back to adverbs? Will I keep what I break or break what I keep? Simultaneously? When I say to my son that I will keep wrestling with him, am I keeping my promise, or my childhood, or my son, my duty, my self? How many things can I keep at once—life, breath, blood, bowels, brains, bones, brightly colored dreams, both mine and his? What kind of keeper is God? Do keepers have keepers? Are all keepers people? Could it be that I’m kept by breathing, eating, writing, clothes, sleep, sins, God? What is keeping me from being flung into space? from swerving the car? from dying right now? from living those brightly colored dreams, from wondering, writhing, laughing, eating, jumping, killing, healing, creating, destroying, stopping, going, breathing, being? Am I even my own keeper? How long will I keep?