What lies beneath

In matters of the heart, our boys are all boy. When it comes to demonstrating emotions toward each other, that demonstration usually takes the form of a punch or a blind-side tackle. Sure, they play and joke together, but when one inspires a deep feeling within another, that feeling is generally somewhere between annoyance and anger.

That’s what makes it so much extra soft and fuzzy when the moon turns blue and they show some genuine warmth for each other.

Last weekend was Big Brother’s league basketball tournament. This was the biggest tournament of the year, and he had been looking forward to it. The Thursday before the tournament, Big Brother got sick. We thought he’d be better in time, but when he woke Saturday morning it became clear he wouldn’t be able to play.

He and I were both disappointed. As he sat in his pajamas, coming to terms with disappointment and his physical discomforts, Buster took me by the arm and whispered into my ear. “Can you make him stay upstairs and you come downstairs with me?”

Big Brother didn’t look like he was going downstairs in the next few minutes, so I just went down with Buster. “Can you get me paper and a pencil?” Buster asked, leading me toward the drawing paper the boys use to make birthday cards for their friends’ parties.

I got him a piece of paper and a crayon, because crayons are better than pencils for Hallmark occasions. He sat at the dining room table and folded the paper into card form. Looking up at me, he said, “I need help with the words.”

I nodded. “What do you want to say?”

He told me his thoughts and I spelled the words for him. He wrote the letters as I dictated.


The best cards are made of crayon on paper.

All the words were his. Only the spelling was mine, except for the word “BAeTter” where he kind of got ahead of me. It didn’t matter. The meaning was clear.

A mouthful for a boy to say to his brother.

Big Brother came downstairs. Buster made me stand guard so Big Brother wouldn’t come into the dining room. When Buster was finally done with the illustrations, he handed the card to Big Brother with the understated, brotherly tenderness that comes with the single word: “Here.” “Here” is the most caring word in a boy’s lexicon when it accompanies a hand bearing a heartfelt gift.

Big Brother read the card. He didn’t know how to react. At last, the brotherly instinct took over. His face brightened just a bit. “That’s really nice,” he told Buster. He put the card down on the coffee table and life went back to normal.

Everything that needed to be done or said was done and said. The exchange lasted a brief instant, and that was exactly the right length for it. If it had gone longer, it would have turned fake.

This was real, and it had to be allowed to sink down underneath, where brothers keep it.



Daddy’s just a big faker

Daddies aren’t supposed to get sick. That must be a rule among little kids because they never believe that Daddy feels like crap and needs to be left alone for a while.

It’s funny how little respect my five-year-old has for my illnesses considering how much attention he demands on his own sick days. When he’s sick, the house is his palace and the other people who live there are his servants. Before the sundry whims which may require action from Mommy and Daddy, there are certain base-line needs that should be met without him having to ask. He needs the entire couch commandeered for his reclining wants, and the TV tuned to cartoons for the duration of his infirmity. Beyond this, he needs a ready attendant to keep the blanket covering his feet should it slip when he changes position. And juice. There must always be juice at hand.

Dangerously exposed feet of an ailing boy

“Um, does somebody want to get on this?”

When I am sick, I mostly need the people in my house to leave me alone. I can get my own juice and fluff my own pillows; I just don’t want people climbing all over me or demanding that I supply juice to maintain them in the pink of health. I want to be left to myself. Apparently, this is a burdensome request.

If I am home from work when my son gets home from school, it likely means I’m ill. To him, it means play time starts early. He greets me with his favorite question, “Daddy, what can we play?” When I tell him I’m too sick to play, it’s a disappointment to him. But he’s a resilient lad, and he sloughs off the disappointment with everything else I’ve told him, so that within five minutes, he sees the world fresh and asks with renewed enthusiasm, “Daddy, what can we play?”

He is not the only one who easily forgets why I am at home at this unusual time. My wife does not think I make a very good patient either. She says I don’t complain enough when I’m sick; therefore I appear to be little more than a slacker playing hooky from work. If I moaned and groaned a bit more, she would perhaps be reminded that I do not need to be whipped up out my laziness with a steady course of housework.

Keep your snot at home

Besides, your family has chores for you to do. (Image: Ontario Medical Association)

There is always laundry to be done, and since I am neither comatose nor moaning, as a truly ill person would be, I might as well use this down time to lend a hand to operational needs of the household. She has this look she gives when the dryer finishes its cycle that says, “If you didn’t want to work today, you should have gone into the office.”

Stay home, do laundry

“Are you guys home sick from work too?”

I was taught to suffer quietly, so I can only blame my parents. If they had raised a squeakier wheel, maybe that wheel could get a sufficient break from playing games and folding towels to get a little rest when it was sick.

Whose turn is it to run away?

“I’m running away from home. I don’t know where I’m going, but I can’t stay here and let everybody be mean to me, so I’m running away.”

Did you ever feel like saying that to your kids?

I felt like that over the Martin Luther King Day long weekend.

The five-year-old had been home from school with the pukes on Thursday and Friday, so he was just a little stir crazy.

The one-year-old had inherited the bug from his brother. He wasn’t sure his fever was enough to let me know this, so he cemented my understanding by puking all over me. That was fun. It gave me another opportunity to bathe him, and if there’s one thing fathers love to do, it’s give toddlers baths – stinky, sick toddlers most of all. The best part was that I had to defer showering the puke off myself until he was clean. Society frowns upon letting a baby marinate in his own juices.

If I’d been smarter, I would have left the smell on me longer. This would have deterred the big boy from climbing on top of me, every time I sat down, with his One Hit Wonder, “Daddy, what game can we play?” Kindergarteners who have been away from their friends too long suffer a play deficit. The deficit deepens every minute, and it begins at crisis levels.

“How about we play that game where Daddy puts everybody to bed and opens a bottle of scotch at 11 a.m.?”

“No? Then sit quietly and think up other games and I’ll tell you when you hit one that’s better.”

Much crying and whining later, Mommy came home, upset over trouble with a sponsor for a school fund-raiser she’d volunteered to coordinate. She was so upset she didn’t even respond to all the crying and whining I was doing. The toddler was feeling well enough to fight with his brother, which took an iota of pressure off me to supply the latter with a marathon of fun.

Boys will be boys

“Break it up, boys. And don’t nobody puke on me anymore today.” (Image: Stanley Kubrick/Look Magazine)

When the boys quit trying to break each other, the big boy jumped on me, demanding that I assume the roles of his missed schoolmates. The little boy cried his I’m beyond comforting, but keep trying to comfort me anyway cry to remind me that, when he wasn’t hitting somebody, he was at leisure to remember his hurting tummy.

After dinner, I snuck away to the bedroom and turned on sports. I don’t remember what game was on, but peace was the prize. I couldn’t relax though. I kept thinking about poor Mommy, down there alone with those demons. I felt guilty about abandoning her. Finally, my conscience made me go back down into the vortex. The boys flew to my suddenly magnetic personality. Tumult ensued.

A while later, I realized Mommy was gone. I quieted the boys enough to listen for the upstairs TV. It was on, but it was no longer tuned to sports.

And it was still only Saturday.

Puking with a quiet dignity

“Daddy, I had to puke in the night,” he told me.

Of course, my first feeling was one of concern; Mommy gets a tad bit grouchy when she has to add an extra sheet-washing to the schedule, and I have to live with her.

The boy was lying on the couch, watching cartoons instead of getting dressed. We had already determined that he was too ill for school. I knew he had a belly ache and a little fever, but I didn’t know about the puking.

Mommy didn’t know about it either. We didn’t know because there was no sign of vomit in his bedroom, which meant that he had made it to the toilet. That’s not so amazing; he’s a practiced puker who’s been well-schooled on the drill of running to the bowl.

What is amazing is that he did it without waking anybody up. This boy, who bellows about every little scratch and had already made sure I knew all about his upset tummy and aching head with repeated updates before 8 a.m., had gone about his puking quietly and climbed back into bed without anyone knowing about his midnight troubles.

We would not have been upset if he’d woken us for so worthy a reason, and maybe he should have, but there’s part of me is proud of him for being stoic about his business and not making a big deal of it.

This is a kid who will get out of bed and call for help on the flimsiest of pretexts. Aside from the normal crises of illness, bad dreams, and dire thirst, this child has risen from his bed to complain about the following list of late night circumstances:

  • His nightlight was in the wrong outlet.
  • His blanket was upside down.
  • His blanket was wrong side up.
  • His sheets were kicked all the way to the bottom of the bed and he couldn’t find them under the blankets.
  • He needed a fingernail trimmed.
  • He needed a BAND-AID for an infinitesimal, bloodless scratch.
  • He had needed to examine his scratch by the glow of his nightlight and couldn’t get the BAND-AID to stick anymore; hence he needed a new one.
  • His nose itched.
  • He was too hot, sleeping under three blankets and a comforter.
  • He wanted his radio on.
  • He wanted his radio off.
  • What he really wanted was a kids’ BAND-AID. One with Spiderman on it, which we don’t have.
I want a kids' Band-Aid

“If you don’t have the Spiderman bandages, I’ll take the ones with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on them.” (Image: Keystone View Co.)

After all of these dubious disturbances to our nighttime peace, this boy gets up in the middle of the night, goes to the toilet, pukes, cleans himself up, and goes back to bed without so much as a Guess what I just did.

Remarkable? Responsible? Grown-up? Maybe, but once he’s feeling himself again, I have no doubt he’ll burst forth from his room at night to alert us all to the emergency situation caused by his incorrect arrangement of dirty clothes in his hamper or about how his hair hurts.