A good moment (in a year of bad moments)
Some things I write are, by definition, stories. They have a beginning, middle, and end. Rising action. Falling action. They have character arcs and conflicts. They have resolutions and themes.
The stories I write are true. Or as close to true as my flawed memory and limited perspective allow them to be. I write stories about my life, so 5 or 25 or 50 years from now, when I’m dead, my children can learn about me as if they’re in history class and the teacher just instructed them to open their books to the chapter entitled, “Abraham Lincoln.”
Not that I’m comparing myself to Lincoln. His story is far more compelling than mine. Not more important. Just more compelling. More meaningful drama– with the war and slavery and the Gettysburg Address and all. My story, as a New Jersey high school English teacher struggling to do his best with a neurological disease, doesn’t come close to Abraham Lincoln’s story and the historical impact his life had and continues to have.
However, I’ve got to believe as we celebrate Lincoln’s life in movies and biographies, there were a lot of small moments, Lincoln the father, Lincoln the husband, we never learned about. A lot of small moments that were just as important to him as anything printed in the pages of school textbooks.
Parents will certainly remember moments their children will certainly forget. Like when a child, probably sitting in a highchair, is given a plate of spaghetti topped with tomato sauce for the first time and how that child dumped the plate on their head and laughed because everyone at the table laughed. If stimulating a reaction is, for better or worse, a connection, the child just learned a valuable lesson.
Partly age and partly a worsening of my condition, I’m beginning to think it’s my fatherly duty to record and keep alive the small moments before the phone rings or another birthday is celebrated or my children are accepted into their dream college and move out and those little moments that lives are built on evaporate forever.
This entry isn’t a story. It might not be even an anecdote. It’s just simple happening. A little moment that means a lot to me and hopefully it will mean something to Chase when he’s older. A moment that, if I don’t write it down, will surly be a forgotten moment in a life of mostly forgotten moments.
It goes like this:
I’m sitting at the kitchen table staring into my laptop, attempting to grade student essays. After a few hours of staring at the screen my nystagmus seems to guzzled a Red Bull and my eyes bounce like rubber balls in their bony sockets.
I hold the laptop slightly above my eyes and look up at the screen. This helps. Maybe its the angle but my eyes settle, I can read, but with both hands holding the laptop I can’t type. The amount of screen time remote teaching offers, strains and instigates my already troubled eyes.
As a 21st century parent I’m worried (or at least pretend to be) about my kids screen time. But what about my screen time?
Anyway, the front door creaks opens and slaps shut. I’m holding the laptop level with my eyes. I’m concentrating on the words. I don’t know which child just went outside. Or why.
The door swings open.
“Dad, come quick!” Chase’s voice booms and the door slaps shut again.
I set the laptop on the table and try to finish the student’s essay. The letters bounce and I worry about my screen time.
I take a deep breath and rub my eyes and push from the table and move to the door and open the door and find Chase standing on the front step.
He looks at me and points up.
“Dad, look at the sky. It looks like cotton candy.”
And together we stare at the sky. It’s a nice moment. Quiet. Easy on the eyes. Did Lincoln have these moments with any of his children? Did he ever regret the time spent away from home? Away from his kids? Did being President of a country embroiled in a civil war compromise his fatherly devotion like how being a high school English teacher strapped with essays compromises mine?
It occurs to me one day I will not be here to look up at the cotton candy sky with my son. And maybe, many years from now, after he graduates from Princeton University and is elected The President of the United States and after he saves the country from some national crisis he will be invited to balcony seats at the theater. Maybe to see reprise of Hamilton. Unlike Lincoln, he’ll decline the invitation and, if history is a good predictor, his declination will save his life. He will elect to stay home, at the White House that night, and he will spend the September evening standing in the Rose Garden, with his top button undone and his tie loose, staring up at the cotton candy sky thinking about his dad.
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