Thursday, September 23, 2010

End of Days

(3 years 5 months)

Dear Trevor,

Mommy got your Phases of the Moon poster framed. We hung it on the wall in the hallway at Trevor height, and you have become intensely interested in the calendar. You ‘read’ the months and count the days over and over.

I use quotation marks up there because I thought I was helping you with them yesterday, only to realize you have the months just about memorized. Today I’m in the kitchen and you’re lying on the floor in the dinning area, kind of half watching me. In general you are a busy guy. You’ve got your extensive train collections, your Stix, and now you are just getting into Leggos. But there are times when you are like you are now, which seem to me to be pensive. If I referred your current state to myself I’d call it contemplative. And damned if here it doesn’t come. ‘When we get to December,’ you ask, ‘what came next.’

That rocked me a bit, and I answered cautiously. I said, ‘Nothing comes after December, honey. What we do is start all over again with January.’

You come right back at me, ‘But what's the last day of December?’

‘December has thirty-one days, so the last day we call the thirty-first.’

‘And then do we die?’ you ask.

I knew something was coming. I think I have to give you the short answer, though I feel guilty doing it. ‘No,’ I say, ‘we don’t die. Days are just the way we have of keeping track of time. The days go on and on, there's no last day. There is always tomorrow, day after day. ‘Every year you have a birthday in August. So August keeps coming around. If August didn't come around you wouldn't have a birthday, and you'd always be three years old.’

You gave me a look like you weren't buying it. ‘Think of it,’ I said, ‘what would happen if we woke up and there was no more day?’

You looked at me for a few moments, then your face lighted up, ‘We just stay home,’ you said.

Love, Daddy

Thursday, September 16, 2010

First Pediatrician Visit

Dear Trevor,

We leave the house around nine. It’s a bright August morning. You are two weeks old and we are going to visit a pediatrician at Nyack Hospital. During the two hundred and sixty six days you were a guest in your mommy’s womb, right through your birth, midwives attended to yours and mommy’s needs. Never has a guest been treated more graciously, nor assisted to depart more gracefully. There is an old saying that a man needs a nurse until he’s ready for the doctor. Well, I think you’re ready.
The truth is, we aren’t ready. It’s embarrassing that in all this time we haven’t given a thought to pediatricians. I think we are delirious. I’ll call it expectancy-induced hysterical silliness. Each visit with the wives sends us back up the Palisades singing oldies. We just can’t wait to get home.

So it was just last week we dug out the phone book. I expected to find a long list of pediatricians. It does seem half the county is pregnant, and the other half is busy jamming the village sidewalks with strollers and baby carriages.

But no, all the pediatricians for miles around are stacked up in two clinics. There are a few hiding in the woods, but we figured, start close to home. I cold-called Nyack Hospital, which hosts a large clinic. They said, ‘Who is your attending physician?’ Rather than respond I said, ‘I’d like to make an appointment with a pediatrician for the first visit of an infant boy.’ There was a long hesitation. I thought, damn, she’s going to call the cops. But I did know I was being discounted. Man, its cold out there.

And here we are. And damn if it isn’t cold. The first room we enter is enormous. I can just see the top of a head behind a curved counter to our right. To our left are a dozen rows of empty chairs. The center of the room e opens on a long, wide corridor. Somewhere, way toward the other end of that corridor, a baby is crying heartily.

I had been told to come early, to allow time for the copious paper work. I stand quietly for a while looking over the barrier at the gatekeepers’ head. As always I’m vigorously dandling you. It seems you have renounced stillness. Finally I clear my throat and introduce us. Now, honey, I swear I have never seen this woman before, but she slings a sheaf of papers on the counter and instructs us with such enmity that a person might think I was her obstreperous son in law. What she does not know is that your mommy is to paper work what one of those four story tall combine harvesters is to a field of wheat. It’s all buzz and flying dust. When we gently drop the completed forms on her desk she flinches.

By now I really do not want to be here. In fact, everything inside me is screaming to just forget the whole thing. I do not see anything ahead but further pain. Yet I hesitate. We do need a pediatrician for you. The difficulties we are having with your feeding and sleeping must be overcome. And our failure each day is debilitating my general confidence, and it can’t be good for you. The stakes seemed so high, and this is the customary path. I have to fight my instincts, ignore the imploring of my soul. I feel I am being trapped by ignorance. I hate it, and I promise you I will figure out how to live our lives and not some role we are forced to fulfill. I think our survival depends on it. In the process I will do my best not to become an iconoclast and turn you into a recalcitrant child. Wish me luck.

In preparation for the pediatrician’s visit a nurse appears and shows us to a room. ‘Undress the baby,’ she says. I ask her why, and immediately I see I’ve done it again. Two up, two alienated. With one tiny word I have made it onto her shit list. Her body displays impatience, her face displays condescension. ‘Because I have to weigh him,’ she tosses at us just before the door slams behind her.
It’s a large room, almost empty, with a hard asphalt tile floor, and the A/C is cranking like a nor’easter slamming down the Hudson Valley. It is cold. I got a bad feeling. This is not good, I am thinking.

There is a counter with cabinets running along two walls and I sit you down on one, never letting go of course. It is August, so we did not dress you for this winter climate. Your immediate destination is on the counter opposite us. A bare stainless steel tray shaped to accommodate a reclining infant, rests on a shiny balance scale. I do not need to touch it. I know that to lay you naked on that bed of steel would be one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done, and the biggest mistake or your little life.

I strip you down to your skivvies and we wait. When the nurse reap-pears, she says, ‘Take his shirt off,’ and takes up a position next to the scale. Now this piece of cotton she’s calling a shirt could be packed into a thimble. It’s so fine it could pass for threadbare. It’s so short it fails to cover your navel. If it was on one side of a balance beam and a diaper pin was dropped on the other side, it would fly into the air.

I say to the nurse, ‘I know you want to track his growth. I understand that, but when we come back in two weeks he will be about a pound heavier. So at that time I will have him dressed in this same shirt, and…. And then she was gone. Just like that. The sound of the door made me think of the gates of hell.

I zip you back into your little tracksuit, and we go out to the waiting area to encounter the doctor. He is relatively young and relatively good looking and has a relatively pleasant voice. He starts off by saying that we would be back in two weeks to begin your series of inoculations. And I say, ‘Doc, I was hoping we could talk about that.’ And he says, ‘Mr. Freeman, I think you would be happier some place else.’ I say, ‘thank you doctor.’

Now we can go home.

Love, Daddy

Monday, September 13, 2010


(3 years, 2 months)

Dear Trevor,

I pick you up at Nani’s. It is the kind of perfect autumn day New England is famous for. The sky is bright blue with a few puffy white clouds, the temperature is moderate, and the trees are beginning to dress in red and gold for their annual color pageant. As we are driving through Nanuet I realize I have some extra time before my next appointment and we decide to visit Nanuet Park. It is one of your favorites.

We enter the park and see four children running on the wooden palisades. They are a blond boy of about five, named Conner, who we’ve seen before, a girl of four, a boy slightly younger, and another boy perhaps two and half who straggles after them.

This is the park of large wooden structures built of fat woodpiles on Church Street in Nanuet. Its various parts are connected by sling bridges and elevated walkways, or I should say runways, some open, some enclosed, that travel all over the playground. It has turreted towers and narrow spaces you have to wiggle through on many levels. There are lots of hidden intersections, clear runs and bridges of truck tires connected with chains. For you, who could be correctly named Running-Climbing Boy, this park is Jubilation City.

You love to run, and most especially, you love to chase. We do not get to this park often. The children are running on the constructions when we entered the park and you quickly join them and give chase. Conner is the leader. You all make a circuit of half the ramparts, and crossing to the other set the younger boy bumps his head and is out of the running.

His crying brings three women, who had been sitting at a picnic table on the park perimeter, closer to the action, where he is comforted with words and food. Conner continues his run with the older boy following, but the girl pulls up to observe the drama of the injured boy. The older boy breaks away from Conner and circles back to the women. He’s rewarded with food and a container of juice.

You watch for a moment and then take off for another circuit. The girl follows you. And on you go scrambling up steep steps, crossing bridges, climbing ladders, circling through convoluted passages of irregular levels in narrow spaces. When you realize the girl is following you, you run like a gale, your face an expression of contained glee, lips spread, mouth open, jaw moving, as if chewing your happiness. Watching you at times like these I feel my¬self grinning, you are the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced. You are Baryshnikov of the Palisades. Your happiness opens my heart like the sun causing a ripe tomato to burst its skin; I can feel the juice running through my limbs.

Skirt flying, the girl runs across the middle part of the construction. The boy, hampered by his juice container, follows her, but you quickly lap the pack and pass him. She chooses one of the paths you are most fond of, up several long steps, through a little house, out on to a platform and down a little slide into the sandbox. You are not too keen on slides, though sometimes they're okay. Now, when you come to the slide you take the alternate route, emerging on one side of the sandbox. Conner unexpectedly appears on the opposite side of the sandbox. The girl moves toward him. The boy emerges from the slide and follows her.
Speaking into some middle distance, but addressing the girl, Conner says, Why is that baby following you?

I feel it, as I know you were meant to feel it, like a blow to the heart, like a jackboot has squashed my tomato. But in this moment, I’m not exactly me. It is as you I feel the pain, as if I am you and me both. And it isn't my tomato; really, it is the perfectly open flower of your innocence I feel smashed. Crazily, I hope you haven’t heard it.

I’m nonplussed. I’m aching. I want revenge. I would never have imagined I could feel homicidal toward a five year old. Holy God, what the hell am I supposed to do? I understand right away I cannot follow my impulse and wring his filthy little neck. What? Cry to his parents? Even at that moment I know that would make me look foolish and accomplish nothing. I must have read fifty primers while you were preparing for your birth, and not a one mentioned what would be appropriate behavior in a situation like this. I do not for a moment, however, think I have stumbled onto a unique example of childhood deportment.

Strangely, or maybe not, I find myself frightened. I don’t hear any words, but the fear, I think it’s the fear, raises an impulse that cautions: Re-evaluate the stakes. Thank god for my training. I take a deep breath. I feel my belly; I feel the pressure of the earth against the soles of my feet. I pray not to fuck up.
The girl, steps out of the box to stand next to Conner. She immediately seizes his question and repeats it. I’m astonished. The boy, who is now on the periphery, is puzzled. He is about the same height as you. Who's the baby? he asks. The girl points to you and he instantly understands the game. Baby, he shouts at you. Conner and the girl run off and he chases them.

I'm not sure if you know what has happened. You hesitate, but then you run after them. Conner splits off to hang on a chinning bar, and the others mill around in a kind of distracted quandary near where the mothers sit chatting. You observe this dispersion and lack of activity for a moment, and then run off to the high palisades.
By the time you've returned to ground level, the three children are regrouped and you move to join them. Conner and the girl run up the tire pile and across a platform. You start after them. The boy, whom I hadn't been watching, appears on a platform five feet above you. Juice in one hand, a half eaten something in the other, he points at you, knees bent, body tense, arm and finger extended. His face is flushed, his voice loud, his mouth full of food. He jeers at you, There's the baby!

It is hard to accuse a four year old of being hateful. But if his act was played by an adult, no one would hesitate to supply the emotion of crazed accuser, shouting, There he goes, he’s the killer. And this time you get it. I wince as I see you receive it like a body blow, your shoulders hunch, you hang your head. Dear God I want to hurt this boy.

I am in the circle of benches next to the platform and above where you are now sitting on the lowest tire in the chain. I can feel your dejection and bewilderment. I start around the benches and am descending toward you when Conner and the girl run by me. They stop next to you. I stay a good six feet away, careful not to intrude on their space. I don't want them to feel threatened or run away. Conner swings from a post, looking out across the playground, but the girl looks right at you. You look up at her. I'm not a baby, you say in a sad voice, I'm a boy.
You're a baby, the girl says, looking right at you.

I call your name and you look up at me. I say, If you want to, you can tell her that she's being mean and nasty, and you don't like her.
You're being mean and nasty, you say, with very little inflection and no heat.
The girl, however, is shocked. She looks at me. That's a bad word, she says. I don’t know which word she is referring to. I say, It may be a bad word, but it's the truth. You are being mean and nasty.

She is aghast. Conner runs away and she follows. They ended up on the tire swing that hangs from one of the walkways.I tell you that they are being mean and you have done nothing to deserve their ridicule. Besides, they are really acting dumb.
You kind of nod and walk under the construction. I walk the other way to where I can observe the children on the swing. The boy has joined them.

You come around the construction and stop about fifteen feet from them. You pick up a handful of gravel and toss it at them, underhanded, with so little aggression it travels only a few feet. I step off the platform and start toward you. You throw another handful of gravel and this time it reaches them. I call to you across a bridge of chains. You come toward me with a fist full of gravel. I say, I know you want to throw the gravel, but it's not a good idea. I say, You're angry. And you nod. I say, I understand, it’s right for you to be angry. I say, You can say anything you want to these children, but you cannot throw gravel at them. It will get you in trouble, and they are the ones who deserve to get in trouble. You can say, You're not nice guys, and I don't want to play with you. So that is what you do. You turn to face them and say, You are not nice guys, and I don’t want to play with you. I was proud of you.

I take your hand. It is time to go anyway. We've done our usual fifteen minutes and you’re ready. We walk near the platform where the women are still sitting and chatting. I speak in a clear, moderate voice. I say, Are any of you related to these children? They all rise and as a chorus to let me know they are indeed connected to these children. I say, Are you aware that these three children have been tormenting this boy with the word baby? They have been doing their best to humiliate him, they have been jeering and taunting?

They respond like a chorus, but speak in a Babel of voices. One woman says, They are the same age as he is. Another says, They're only playing.
I don't get what the other is saying. I say, Ladies, we’d love to stay and chat, but we really must be going. Talk to your children.
I squeeze your hand we walk away.

Love, Daddy