Virtue & Mischief


Yesterday evening Krista enjoyed a much-deserved evening out with a dear friend, sans amigos and her Neanderthal companion (i.e. me). Magnanimous fellow that I am, I “grant” (yeah, right) her such an outing once or twice a year…whether she needs one or not. To borrow a cliché, we employ the same practice when it comes to the amigos’ bath/shower schedules.

In any case, after Krista’s departure I turned to the children and asked what they’d like to do for dinner—leftovers or a visit to a local family restaurant? After receiving the wholly predictable response to the wholly rhetorical question, we hopped in my car, turned the radio up (to Daniel’s chagrin—“Mom would NEVER let us do this,” he announced ruefully. “Exactly, Daniel,” Luke replied. “That’s the point.”), and drove to the restaurant.

We arrived, were seated promptly, and announced our orders. There were a few more rhetorical questions and answers with that process, too, though I confess that Abby threw me off a little by asking for Belgian waffles and Luke utterly blew my mind by ordering sausage links. Sausage links! Luke?? (Incidentally, he followed up that shocker by dipping his links in ketchup before devouring them. Mon Dieu. In some more civilized circles that’s considered a gustatory crime, punishable by fines and/or a long stint in time-out.) And I thought I knew my children. Thank goodness for sweet, consistent Daniel: “chicken strips and smiley-faced potatoes, please” he told the young waiter. I felt my emotional vertigo recede, sensed the world once again turning properly on its axis.

As we waited for our food Abby and Luke engaged in a lively and revealing conversation while Daniel read his Avenger’s graphic novel and I observed unobtrusively, Margaret Mead among the natives. Their discourse was highly entertaining and digressive. In a span of 10 minutes the topics included favorite video games, former teachers, why broccoli is gross (Abby: “well, just start with the fact that it’s green and move from there….”), and my skin (Luke: “Have you ever noticed how many freckles dad has? It’s, like, WAYYY more than a thousand! And I’m just talking about his face and arms.”). I don’t like to brag, but my children’s capacity for detecting and commenting on absurd minutiae is both impressive and alarming.

Moments after Luke and Abby had exhausted the topic of my skin discolorations I heard a familiar song on the establishment’s sound system.

“Daniel!” I exclaimed. “Do you remember this song? I used to sing this to you as I rocked you to sleep when you were little.”

He looked up from his book. “Ummm. Yeah. Sure.” He resumed reading, unmoved by the music and my enthusiasm.

I began to sing in the booth and was shocked—again—by Abby and Luke, this time by their lack of mortification. “I can’t stand to see you sad, I can’t bear to hear you cry, if you can’t tell me what you need all I can do is wonder why,” I crooned. “Daniel—remember?” I tried again.

“Yeah” he lied, returning again to Captain America and the Hulk.

“Dad, did you sing to me and Abby too?” Luke inquired. “I mean, I know you did. But do you remember which songs you sang to us? Which ones we liked?”

“Oh, yeah. Absolutely.”

“I remember you sang that rainbow song to me,” Abby offered. “The one from Wizard of Oz.”

“Yes, you liked that one a lot. But your favorite was the song from the pig movie, ‘Babe’.” I started to sing. “If I had words to make a day for you, I’d sing a morning golden and true.”

“Yes! I remember! And sometimes, if you were standing when you were holding me, you’d try to jump like Farmer Hoggett at the end of it. One time you threw your back out. I remember!”

“Yeah, thanks. Thanks for recalling that touching moment. I’m getting a little misty-eyed,” I teased.

“What about me?” Luke asked. “What song did you sing to me?”

“Well, Luke, you were always so giggly and energetic, I remember wanting to make you calm and drowsy if I could. And I didn’t want to wake Abby or Daniel when I sang and rocked you, so I sang ‘Sweet Baby James’ to you a lot. I remember idly hoping that singing it frequently might make you kind of calm and slow-moving when you got older. Clearly, that was ridiculous. Maybe I should’ve tried ‘Steamroller’ instead.”

“‘Steamroller’?”

“Never mind. I’ll explain later.”

Our food arrived and for a minute we gobbled it quietly as I contemplated the sweet memories of rocking and singing my children to sleep, each accorded a special, “favorite” song.

“So, dad,” Luke broke the silence. “I know you can’t see them, but I’ve been wondering. How many freckles do you think you have on your back?”

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