Monday, November 25, 2002

Chapter Six: In Which Daddy's Psyche Goes on an Expotition

Man, being Daddy to this complex and stupendously brilliant little creature is a trip. Mommy, too, of course. Hell, even more so, inasmuch as she's the one home all day bringing the kid up (and doing a beautiful job of it). But I can really only speak to my own experience and my own experience the past couple of days has been very intense.

On Sunday we met some friends at the playground. Niko doesn't play like most kids. He doesn't tear around furiously. He doesn't jet up the stairs and throw himself down the slide. He checks out the scene. He's interested in kids doing things. He sees a kid by himself playing, say, with dinosaurs and he runs up to the kid, sits down beside him, smiles hugely and tries to imagine a way to become part of the game, whatever the game might be.

On Sunday this kid playing dinosaurs had placed all four of his beastly beasts on the spine of the park's giant concrete lizard. One fell down. Niko picked it up and put it back. The kid knocked it down. Niko, standing behind the kid, took three soft, looping swipes at the kid's back. Only one brushed the kid. No big deal.

No big deal except to Nazi Daddy.

I rushed in, grabbed Niko, picked him up, darn near flung him over to his mom, and barked, "Niko hit that boy!" We were on our way home within minutes. Rebecca was trying to explain to me how she handles such scenes: stay cool to deescalate; firmly tell Niko that hitting is never acceptable; and ask him to say he's sorry to the other kid.

This made sense to me. It made perfect sense. It was so sensible, I took umbrage. Of course. But after a while Pride and Ego stepped aside. I cried a bit, feeling sorry for myself for being such a shitty dad. Rebecca at first felt as though I was questioning her commitment to discipline. Then she saw I was just being a fool. She softened up, gave me a little room to see the confusion of my ways, and everyone calmed down. A half-hour or so later, when the waters were placid, smooth as glass, she said, "You know you're a great dad, right?"

For her, it was a statement—one that by quirk of the vernacular included a question mark at the end. I knew that, but I couldn't help but ponder the question.

Am I a great dad? I think I'm pretty good most of the time. Too often, though, I push too hard for perfection from the wee lad and fear that unless each and every transgression is met by fierce scolding, he'll go bad on us.

To which you are saying, quite sagely: He's 3! Yep. He's 3 and he's going to do crazy and stupid and wrong things. He's going to lose his cool. Which is all the more reason for me not to.

Stay calm. Stay in control. Stay in charge. Stay in love.

Well heck, that sounds like the end of this entry. Can we all hug and take a break until next week's episode, same time, same channel? But I mentioned today being tough as well, so a quick word on that. Thinking about it a little more, today 'twas nothing—but for a while, we couldn't be sure. Every half hour or so Niko was running and doubling over in pain. It was clear he needed to poop, and he always runs before he poops. However, we'd never seen anything like this. I mean, he was in agony. Crying hysterically. Wailing. And in the intervals between these episodes he was slightly delirious, babbling, moving from topic to topic, unwinding strange and complex tales. Which, to be sure, is not too far removed from normal. And yet there was an emotional element to it all—tears were just an interjection or even suggestion away.

Is he coming down with something? Is there a fever? Is it his appendix? Is it merely constipation?

We called the doctor at two minutes till 5 (thank you Lord for getting that call in two minutes before 5 instead of two minutes after). Karen the nurse called back immediately. Karen the Greatest Nurse in the World, I mean. We went through the symptoms. She was neither dismissive nor alarmist. Some of the possibilities were serious, but the probability was he was just constipated. She told us what to look for over the next hour or so, asked that we call back if any alarming signals were sounded at any point, and insisted that we call back if things weren't better within two hours. She also recommended no food but clear liquids—water more than anything, with, maybe, a bit of apple juice mixed in.

Well, by the time I got back from the store with the Martinelli's, Niko had (as we used to say) Dropped the Chalupa. And a rather large clump of you-know-what it was. The delirium faded as evening turned to night, but he still seemed high strung. We eased him into bedtime mode, using every inflection and pat and prod we had learned over the years. Moo Cow (the hand-puppet cow) led the way upstairs, into the bedroom where the scary furnace lurks. Moo Cow was ready to get that furnace if it tried anything, I assured. Moo Cow bit Daddy's nose and Daddy's toes. Moo Cow helped turn the pages of the heffalump chapter. Moo Cow got into bed with Niko just before good-night kisses.

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