It was just after 8:00 that Tuesday morning when I received the call in my office. Kendra was audibly distressed and doing her best to hold it together for the boys. I anticipated the phone call. Ethan was going to be dropped off with my parents for the first time so Kendra could spend the morning volunteering in the classroom. We spoke to Ethan about it the night before as well as that morning. But as much as he smiled and nodded to the news of spending time at Nana and Papa’s house, it was clear he had his own interpretation of what was being said when the time came to say goodbye to momma. To borrow from the Good Book, there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth…and that was just from Kendra.
She managed to relay the details of the drop off: the tears, the screams, the clutching on. The mournful wails that could be heard from within the house as she forced herself out the door hurry the boys off to school. I could picture his little outstretched arms and his bottom lip in fully pouted curl with his face streaked with tears. But I knew it wouldn’t last (or at least I really, really hoped it wouldn’t) and I attempted to console Kendra and committed to calling the house to check on him and provide a swift update. She drove on with the boys toward school… somehow weaving her grief into some type of rationalized contempt for me for having suggested or agreed to dropping Ethan off in the first place (As a man, I don’t try to understand these things, I just learn to recognize the warning signs).
I waited about 5 minutes to place the call. I needed her to be far enough down the road that she wouldn’t turn around if he was still crying (I hoped) and long enough for E to settle down and allow the Papa magic to take effect. The minutes crept past. I could feel my future growing more dim with each passing moment…her hatred was building…I was growing weak. I hit the speaker button. My eyes grew heavy and tight as I punched the telephone numbers. My head was cloudy. Did I dial correctly? How could I be sure? The phone rang. It sounded distant. I knew if I heard crying on the other end of the line, that morning may well have been my last. Ringing…ringing. “Hello?”
Silence in the background! Grim death released me from its tightening vice. “Hey dad”, I was able to respond as the strength quickly returned to my voice. “Everything Ok?” I asked. “He’s fine. We are doing fine. He’s just sitting up here hanging out with me. We’re about to go play soccer in the backyard.” Well played Papa… Ethan can hardly resist when the sports card gets pulled. So began their day. They kicked the soccer ball, explored the house, had some snacks, and watched a little TV. They had always been buddies, but this experience was giving them a chance to bond on an individual level and in a new setting. I texted Kendra the news. All was well, and she was able to focus and enjoy her time in the classroom. When I came home from work, I asked Ethan if he had a fun day. His response: “Papa”. “What did you do with Papa?” He jumped down and thrust his leg forward, “Kick!”
The following Tuesday saw a similar series of events. The initial meltdown was drastically less severe, and the sensations of panic and imminent doom decreased substantially. Ethan went through the motions, but was soon playing and into his routine. The next week included only a pouty face that never produced a tear or a wail. The week after that, nothing; and nothing since. He just settles in and takes command, directing my parents from room to room and playing games. When it is time to go outside, he runs after Papa, “Ball! Ball!”, then runs to the door. Sometimes he let’s Nana play, but most days she gets to watch. When it is time to relax, Papa joins him on the patio swing. Nana is always welcome to sit on the other furniture. Sometimes she gets to swing too; but Papa goes first. At lunch, he selects three pictures (I’m told it’s always the same three) to join him at the kitchen island: a wedding picture of Kendra and me; a wedding picture of Kendra and our niece; and a picture of him and Papa.
I never had a routine like this. I didn’t know either of my grandfathers. I did get to spend a little time with my grandma’s husband, Daddy Walter when we traveled out to visit them a couple times. He was always so tired from working. He would sit in his chair in his big blue overalls and fall asleep. He’d alternate between snoring loudly and grinding his teeth. So much so that he would wake himself up sometimes. He didn’t say much, but every word I remember him saying to me was kind. I’d sit and watch him and think about how hard his life was and imagine the horrible things he probably had to endure every day. He had big coarse hands. I always thought they looked like they could smash bricks. When he’d pat me on the head, his palms would be soft and heavy. It was like anvils with pillows lowering down. When he died, I felt like I missed out on a lot that I could have learned from him.
I have no association for the emotions that are tied up in these Tuesday morning sessions. It’s like I am outside looking in on them when I hear about their day or when I see Ethan light up when he looks at Papa’s picture on our wall. But I don’t feel left out or cheated. I just feel amazed. I never knew the magic in that kind of a relationship first hand, but now we have a day for it. I am appreciative for the opportunity we have for our kids to interact with their grandparents and for my dad to be able to enjoy playing with his grandkids. Eventually, the routine will change, but for now Ethan begins to look forward to Tuesdays like he looks forward to hunting the moon every night (and I do mean EVERY night). When I wonder what these Tuesdays will mean to him when he is older and thinks back on his relationship with Papa, I think about him eating lunch with his three pictures by his side. He brings them all to the table, but there’s only one that he picks up to kiss.
Thanks for coming along for the ride…