An odd thing happened the other day.
Referring to my son, I turned to his mama and asked “Where is he?”
You don’t understand.
I asked “where is he?” There was no panic in this question. No anxiety. I was merely curious.
No, you don’t understand.
Listen, the only circumstance in which a parent asks casually after the location of their 2.75 year-old is when they’re under the direct supervision of someone else. Like daycare, Grandma, or the NSA.
He was with none of the above. I knew he wasn’t being watched by anyone. He was somewhere in the apartment. Playing quietly by himself.
It took me a while to realize the stupefying profundity of this simple question. I wrote a few posts ago about this wild new world of sitting while he pursued his interests around the playground. The onset of which still has me giggling drunkenly whenever I think about it.
But now, but now, but NOW it’s changed again. He can, does, and will occasionally continue to play by himself quietly. In another room. That I’m not in.
All this and I’m still amazed he can freakin talk.
This, this is like discovering penicillin or Batman. This is like the introduction of literacy to human civilization. Everything is different after this, my identity as a father will change to its very foundation.
The repercussions for my lower body joints alone have me shuffling a gleeful tarantella of popping cartilage and ibuprofin.
Seriously, people, imagine you wake up one day and discover you’re Magneto. Yesterday you wore business casual and cared about office supplies, today, you can manipulate all metallic elements and the earth’s magnetic fields by thinking about it. And you’ve got a boss helmet.
Now you begin to understand how my day to day life shall be revolutionized. The new father is characterized by the constant and unrelenting demand for his attention. And stubble. And stains. But you’re on duty, or on call always, at all times, under all circumstances. Sleeping doesn’t count. Eating doesn’t count. Watching the last 20 minutes of the final episode of The Wire doesn’t count. You never clock out, you just go from bus boy to janitor.
But now, if he plays quietly by himself, I get coffee breaks.
With both hands.
This is the beginning, my sleepy brothers. I hoped and feared this day would come, where I crest the hill of “new fatherhood” and begin the long slow descent into the dim possibility of having a life again. When he can stand without falling, articulate clearly his needs to any number of trusted adults between whom is day is spent. When he doesn’t need to be constantly monitored, entertained, supported (physically).
Soon I could give him permission to go play in his room. Soon, we could spend rainy days not wracking our brains and worrying about the downstairs neighbors, but sitting and reading in the same room. Watching movies. Soon, he’ll go to other kids’ houses. Soon he’ll be in school, then have after-school activities, then have after-school activities he doesn’t want me hanging around for. Then he’ll be embarrassed by me. Then he’ll go to college.
Wait a second…
Excuse me while I go see what he’s doing. Just, you know, check in on him.