Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Growing-Up Son

I've written about his life and our adventures together in other places, such as here, but rarely if at all in this blog. In part it's because I've learned that taking an unpopular political position in public draws some very nasty insects to your flame. There are some people who have brushed against me here -- some ugly Chomskyite trolls -- who are disturbing to a degree that I am sorry they have discovered my name and where I live. And they make a point of letting me know they know these things. The less they know about my family, the better.

My son turned 15 Tuesday. He's growing into a fine, strong, noble-souled young man. I'm greatly proud of him.

When I was cleaning out my old computer, preparing to replace it with a new one, I came across this piece I wrote about him. It made me realize what a long, long time it's been since he was little enough to reach up to take my hand before we crossed a street. Raising a child is always a joy, but underneath it is a dark back-current of sorrow. You're forever saying good-bye to some younger child as you watch him emerge into a new person. You never let your child see the sorrow of this, of course, which is why it can strike you at odd angles later in life.

I wrote this intending to submit it for publication somewhere, which accounts for the tone and voice. But I don't think I ever did. I read it now, 11-and-a-half years later, and feel it much differently than I ever thought I would.

When you go places with a 3-year-old, getting there is half the fun. And it's usually three-fourths of the effort.

The sidewalk down at the corner near my apartment had been torn up for weeks, and my son, Luke, liked to check out the hole, to see the dirt and mud and trash.

If you can't conceive of a hole in a city sidewalk as something that requires daily monitoring, you've probably stopped thinking like a 3-year-old. As a journalist, I've never had to stop.

Luke and I headed off on some important errand on a recent sunny morning. Just as we walked past the torn-up street corner a cement mixer arrived, followed by a bunch of big guys in orange T-shirts and helmets bouncing along in the back of a yellow pick-up truck.

I looked at Luke's face and knew this was as far as we'd get. I didn't mind. After all, this miraculous event might engrave itself on Luke's mind and become his first real memory. It would at least be better than my first real memory, which is of sitting in a high chair and vomiting from what seems like a tremendous height onto a black and white linoleum checkerboard floor.

Besides, one of the perks of fatherhood is having an excuse to sit and watch things that grown men are supposed to stride past and pretend they're not interested in.

We watched the truck disgorge its sloppy green-gray cement over the white gravel. Some of the workers shoveled it into the corners with trowels and shaped it around a telephone pole and a street sign. Others smoothed it with long flat boards.

I tried to turn entertainment into education. I told Luke that everything in the city was made by somebody. And I pointed out how the crew, by working together, got the job done quickly.

He noted the foreman standing off to the side.

"Why isn't he working?"

I thought about how to phrase it. "He's the boss," I said, but how do you describe that job in a 3-year-old's terms?

"He's just making sure they do a good job and don't get hurt," I

"He has to stand around and watch." Not very impressive, I admit, but Luke seemed to get the point.

The dump truck roared off, heading for the next torn-up corner. The crew smoothed the last rough patch and started loading shovels onto the pick-up.

Luke ran to a big burly worker who was talking to the foreman. He hopped up and down, but he was so little the worker didn't notice him for a few seconds. When he did, the man bent down.

"You did a good job makin' the sidewalk," Luke said.

"Why thank you."

Then he turned to the foreman.

"And you did a good job standin' around watching."

There's a truck-full of road crew workers in Lancaster who probably had a few good laughs that day.