My son is a boy. He has legs and feet and he moves them all by himself as though they belonged to him. He owns a set of arms and hands too. He’s mastered the art of holding just two or three fingers up at a time. He’s an anatomical engineer. He fights, he cries, he tells stories and jokes, he even sings songs and can carry short tunes. Who is this person?
He’s sitting behind me in the car. My wife and I are conversing. I pause mid sentence to the sound of a spittle explosion from the back seat. In the rearview mirror I can make out hands and fists weaving excitedly through the air. Explosion follows explosion. Spittle mists through the cabin of our Subaru. The backseat is engulfed in war.
“Whatcha doin, Riv?” I ask.
“Who are you fightin?”
“What bad guys?”
“Uuuummmm, I’m fightin’ draaagons aaand dinosaaaurs aaaand monsteeers.”
“Ok, good work.” Battle sounds resume. My wife and I pick our conversation up again. A couple of minutes later, the Doxology echoes out of the car seat, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…!” after the initial introit, the words and melody are not as clear, but the battle must have been over and apparently he was the victor.
Running down the hallway, my son is swinging a drum stick; he calls out, “you wanna fight, dad?” I agree and he runs away. Reemerging from his room he is lugging a lacrosse stick behind him. “Play dad, play. You wanna fight?” I take the lacrosse stick.
“On guard!” Swords clash.
“I wanna sing…, I wanna sing…, I wanna sing…” He sings some nursery rhymes with us, but usually when he suggests singing, he’s going to ask for “Our Father”, “Praise God”, or “Blessed the man.” Those are the classics. Those are the regulars, the ordinary service music of each day. The usual liturgy has “Our Father” after breakfast and prayers. “Praise God” is after our post-dinner singing of a psalm or hymn. And “Blessed the man” closes his day after a book or two in bed. “I wanna sing…, I wanna sing…Our Father!”
I tell my son it’s time for bed. He looks up with wondering eyes. He points one finger up by his face and squints slightly, “Just one book?” I nod, “Just one book. Go pick out a book and go wait for me on your bed.” He hurries out of the room, his two arms straight down and back, steering the thing. I walk in a minute later. He’s waiting on his bed with a book. I remember something. “I’ll be right back; hang on just a second.” He looks up blankly. A minute or so later, I return. He’s still sitting on his bed, but his book is gone. “Where’s my book, daddy?”
“I don’t know, what did you do with it?” He shrugs. I look around. Then I notice him patting his blanket. I pull at the blanket and the book emerges. I’m shocked. My son has just played his first practical joke. He’s beaming ear to ear. I lavish my highest praises and tickle him for his genius. My son has just turned two and he’s already playing practical jokes on me.
My son’s hair, if you were to ask him yourself, is “in the trash.” After two years of little trims and slight ‘touch-ups’ he’s had his first full-on haircut. And this was the first without tears. “I’m being tough, dad?”
“Yeah,” I tell him, “you’re being tough.”
“You buzz my hair, dad?”
“Yeah,” I nod, “I buzzed you’re hair.”
One of my proudest moments being dad was a few weeks ago when we were sitting on the porch of a friend’s house, an hour or two after bedtime, enjoying the thick summer air of upstate South Carolina. Looking out into the dark, my son looked up and asked, “What’s out there, dad? Are there monsters?” I told him I didn’t think so, but I asked him, “What do you say to a monster if you see one?” Without a second thought he growled and said, “On guard!”
My son thinks he is a person. He uses words that I don’t remember teaching him, phrases I’m sure he heard somewhere. But he throws them at me like he owns them. These are my words, dad, and I will use them.
“Who was Joshua?” I ask him.
“What did he do?”
“Adam and Eve, daddy?” Everything always comes back to Adam and Eve for him. I guess everything really does go back to Adam and Eve.
“Who did Joshua fight?”
“Bad kings. I not fight ladies, dad?”
“That’s right, you only fight bad guys and monsters, and you can play fight with daddy or other boys if they have swords.”
“I not fight momma?”
“No, you protect and defend your mom.”
“Adam and Eve, daddy?”
“Yes, Adam and Eve disobeyed. They did not obey God.”
“I obey daddy? I say daddy, yessir! and mommy, yesmam!”
Little feet are walking into my room. I turn around. He is wearing a red shirt and grey basketball shorts. He has some bit of fabric wrapped around his upper torso. He turns and says: “I’m King!” And if I was not yet sure, he grits his teethe and adds in his gruffest voice, “I’m King of the World!”
My wife and I are bustling around, getting ready for church. A blow dryer is hanging off the bathroom sink, as on a gallows, still humming, swaying slightly, rejected for a curling iron or eye liner. I’m tying, now retying my tie. That little back piece always comes out longer than the front on the first try. My son is standing in the middle of the room, in the middle of the world. He’s holding a piece of Styrofoam, an ancient treasure, a holy relic of weeks gone by. He holds it up and says, “This is my body.” And without looking at anyone in particular, he breaks the foam board in half.
My sons walks into my room, “Hi dad. Havin’ a good day?” I peer at him through squinted eyes, “Who are you?”
“I’m Rio, dad. Who are you?”
“I’m dad. Who are you?”
“I’m, I’m, I’m…. ummm, ummmm…” He knows this game so he’s trying to come up with something good, “I’m… mom!”
“No!” He smiles.
“Who are you?”
“I’m, I’m, I’m… grandma!” A grin stretches across his face.
My wife is tucking him into bed. He’s talking about what he accomplished for the day. Swimming, playing toys, eating dinner, and reading books are the usual highlights. My wife informs him that she will be going to the grocery store tomorrow and asks what he would like. “Um, um, mayonnaise, um, meeeat, um, chickennnn, and steeeeak, asparagus, and, um, juice!” My son is already making grocery lists. He’s telling my wife that he would like asparagus from the store.
Who is this person? Where did he come from? I know, I know… I know where he came from. And I know who he is. But golly. An entire new world, a vast universe it seems, has emerged in my apartment. There were just two us, a shared world, a fairly tame universe, and then this small man began asking for asparagus and fighting dragons and playing practical jokes on me.
My wife is due with our second child at the end of July, and my suspicion is that it’s another person, another world, another universe getting ready to emerge.