Elan, September 2014
When Elan realized he left the stuffed penguin at home, his face fell. It was PJ-and-stuffed-animal day, and he was wearing his Avengers pajamas, the ones I had to buy specially for the last PJ day, since this kid who I could never get out of his sleepers just a few years ago no longer wears pajamas to bed, just clean clothes. If we hadn’t already been inside the schoolyard, he would have cried. Loudly, in fact. But we were at school, so no tears. Just the devastation written on his face. I teetered on the edge of anger, but chose compassion instead.
I saw that, absence his fuss and tears and my anger and scolding, he got it. He saw that his lack of responsibility in the morning could cause him pain. He saw what I’ve been seeing: that the mornings of me doing way too much and him doing way too little are exhausting, frustrating, unsustainable. For a moment, at least, he got it. Connection. Brief spark of our electric prongs meeting.
Teaching “stuffie elementary”
“You have to convince your brother,” I said, after he pleaded with me on the playground. “Because he’ll miss reading books in the library if we have to drive home to get your stuffie.”
“Please, Emry, please,” Elan begged.
Emry agreed, not realizing the full effects of the trade. I let him stay in the dark about that. I had made my decision.
So I trundled Emry back into the car and went home for the penguin. Pon is his name. I found him lying on his side on the dining table.
Then I drove back to the school and parked just outside the gate, telling Emry “no you don’t” when he insisted that he wanted to get out too.
I carried Pon quickly into the classroom. The kids were sitting on the rainbow-square rug, facing away from the door, listening to the teacher read a book. I saw the back of Elan’s head, the light-dark of his hair so familiar. Each of the other desks had a stuffed animal lying on it, except Elan’s. His was bare. I slid Pon into the gap, knowing that when Elan saw him, he would clutch him to his chest, tucked under his chin, and twist his body back and forth in excitement.
Channeling the mad, pumpkin-eating squirrels of Berkeley
And yes, when we drove away, Emry screamed that we didn’t have time to go to the school library and read books, our normal routine before we head off to his preschool. And yes, my blood pressure rose to the sound of his shrieks, but I turned the music up and stayed calm, and he calmed down, and then I told a really good story involving ninjas and penguins and global warming as we drove the red-tree-lined streets.
And yes, traffic was horrible – bikes and dogs and people darting everywhere. And I felt like I needed two small sticks to prop open my eyelids, after that late night fixing the damn character counts on the proposal again. And yes, I was hallucinating the coffee I was going to buy at Philz into existence. No messing around with low-dose caffeine. I was going straight for the good stuff.
But I got to be a hero, all before 9 a.m. I got to fix it, while I still can. Lay the stuffed penguin on the desk, slip back out the door.
Leading his brother on an adventure, Yosemite
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