I was a damn good kick-ball player on the hard concrete of 1st grade recess. Now I know that sometimes the memory re-crafts things as time goes by, adding an extra layer of polish here and there so that it better fits the demands of nostalgia. But that’s how I remember it anyway. I kicked the ball with the power of 12 mules and could have outrun Forest Gump in his prime. As a result, I tended to get picked first in pick-up games, and I’m not gonna lie to you – it felt good.
So it came as a pretty big shock to me when Nina and I started having children and I found myself slipping in the rankings. I know other dads who have complained of a similar problem, but it has always seemed particularly acute in our family. It makes sense that I wouldn’t be on the top –so I don’t want to come across as some unreasonable whiner– Nina is a superstar and she deserves her #1 ranking. But I don’t feel like I’m running second. If we had a dog, it would definitely be in front of me. Our babysitters easily get the nod ahead of me. All of Nina’s sisters….well, you guessed it. The grandparents, my sister, casual friends, neighbors in our building, all would get picked long before me in a line-up. Even inanimate objects like blankets, toys de jour, dime-a-dozen water bottles, old subway maps, and run of the mill art projects leave me in the dust. But it’s ok. I know my place; quietly at the back of the line –always ready to carry heavy items, change light bulbs in the ceiling, or occasionally catch a bug. And of all the things I am low on the list for, bathroom matters are as low as it gets. Even the mere mention of my potential presence during a session on the can brings out a blood curdling scream from Jack.
But life is full of surprises, and every once in a while, even a blind squirrel finds a nut. As it turns out, today was just the sort of breakthrough day that I’d been waiting for over the past few years. It started around 2pm this afternoon. Jack had been holed up behind closed doors in the bathroom for about 20 minutes. I was watching the Yankee game and removing Max from random objects that he would climb every two or three minutes. In one stretch, I caught him standing on a doorknob and removed him, only to find him one minute later standing on top of the trash can with a spoon in one hand and a 12 inch pot cover in the other like he was infant Captain America – all standard Sunday stuff.
But then it happened. It started with a low whisper, that didn’t sound too different from the wind in our fireplace. But it wasn’t that. It was coming from the bathroom. I walked over and put my ear to the door, careful not to betray my presence. It almost sounded like he was saying, “Daddy, I’m all done,” but that didn’t make any sense. So I went and told Nina, and resumed my watch, swiftly plucking Max from his perch on top of a chair back. But what happened next was not normal, not in the least. Nina was turned away abruptly at the door with a, “No Mommy, Daddy please.” You could have hung a picture off of either side of her grin as she came back around the corner. At first, I didn’t believe it until she reaffirmed what I thought I’d heard as she giggled, “Your presence is requested.”
Now, I’ve changed about a million diapers, but this was new ground for me. Frankly, I didn’t know what to expect as I opened the door and walked in. There was no fan on, and the first thing I noticed was that it felt about 20 degrees warmer in there than anywhere else in our apartment. And then the smell hit me. I imagine that if it was possible to operate a dairy farm in a closet, it would smell like this. After checking myself to make sure I wasn’t outwardly reacting –never show fear or weakness in front of your two boys—I casually looked down to assess the situation. There was Jack, smiling up at his Dad. He seemed to be standing on his head, holding some sort of nightmarish downward dog position, while grasping the toilet paper in his hand. He looked up at me with his upside down eyes, and very simply said, “I’m all done Daddy.” Now a lot of things were going through my head at this moment, but the one that rose to the top was the feeling that, “I’m back”. Sure, there are definitely some lotteries in life that you don’t want to win. But thirty plus years later, it still feels good to be number one.