Monday two things worth noting happened. First, I concluded that going to the grocery store in the morning on a Monday means I will finish shopping having experienced very little congestion. We ran off to the store after breakfast and before nap time. It was an experiment to see how much I could accomplish in the slim window between these very important events in the boy’s routine. It was an experiment in whether I broke the law to accomplish shopping and returning to abide by the boy’s routine.
Now, you may know that he and I have been to the grocery store before during these time frames. The one thing different was that we didn’t go to the neighborhood grocer. We had to go to another store, a store I’ve developed an affection for because they have a produce section, with great sales, as big as my community’s entire grocery store. Off we went. It worked. We survived and Bryce got to his nap. Late but he made it without melting.
Second, me and Bryce buckled into the car in the afternoon and went to the Lincoln Park Zoo. For some reason, I forgot to take his stroller. On the way to the voo, I remembered that I was strollerless and explained to the kid that we’d be doing a lot walking. After exiting the Drive, I lectured the boy on how important it was, in general, to never pay for parking when he could avoid it. I spoke like the father I will be, later on in life, the one who reluctantly hands over a set of keys–with a series of instructions (they’ll probably be podcasts by then) and diagrams and a file of personally implemented drivers tests since the DMV only does half the job. We parked a few blocks away from the zoo. Everybody else, it seemed, had the idea I had. Did you know that it costs $17 to park for 31 minutes to 3 hours at the only free zoo in Chicago?
I carried him most of the way from the parking spot. I told him we only had enough time to walk toddler-like in the zoo. I’ll get us there, I told him, and then we can walk as slowly as you like. We stepped over ten thousand leaves, crunching and cracking, until we entered the place. Bryce wanted to bend down and pick up rocks. So we did that. Then we went to see zebras and a host of animals that I cannot name. They were ugly, the animals. They weren’t monkeys or lions or snakes. We saw those the first time we had a family outing to the same zoo.
He made friends as he does, waving and speaking to people I wouldn’t have if he weren’t with me. He flirted with women and extended his hand to men. It was entertaining, walking through that invisible but potent cloud of stink.
After leaving, we crossed the street and played at the park. There were a lot of people at the park. We went to the swings directly, his preferred park toy. His arms went up and I slid his legs through the holes. He likes letting go of the swing for some reason now. I told him several times that I was pushing hard, that he’d fall, that I’d laugh, and that his mother would be mad at him. His response? Little fingers still unwrapping. I’d stop to underscore the point; then he’d re-wrap those hands around the links and we’d swing.
He climbed up the stairs to the slide, stopping and relying on me because he knew I would help lift him. We don’t have stairs in our house and I keep wondering when he’ll learn to walk up and down stairs and whether I’ve set him up to miss some major developmental milestone because we live on one level. I think of those tests they give us at his doctor’s office and conclude that the next one (indeed the one on our counter now that’s waiting for one of us to complete it) will ask about how well our boy walks up and down the stairs. One of us will have to circle that no. Our boy will fail the little test and we’ll be the cause of it because we live in a building with an elevator, because we live in a unit without an upstairs. This goes through my mind while I’m standing behind him at green staircase connected to the double slide and advanced version of what used to be monkey bars, cheering him for the steps he’s taking, feeling those tiny fingers of his holding mine before I re-place his hands on the bar and try to teach him how to do this on his own.
Bryce met a dog named Bella. The owner lady said something about how much Bella loved children. Bella sat there, knowing what was coming, tail already wagging. She rolled to her side when Bryce approached, taking in his love. He patted and rubbed and jumped back. He did this again and again and again and again. This was the last thing we did at the park. I started telling him that we had to walk to the car, that we would pick mommy up from work today. He looked up when he heard mommy but his eyes dropped back down to Bella when he didn’t notice mommy anywhere. Pat, pat, pat. Bella lying there, turning and tail-wagging.
I picked him and knew leaving would be a scene. His whine eased out as a slight warning. Reason wouldn’t work. So I outwitted him, still able to exercise more thought than him at this point in our relationship. This will one day turn. I picked him all the way up off the ground, sang something about him flying, and threw him up and up and up, catching him, throwing him, catching him, throwing him. I stepped out of the gates with each throw and didn’t stop until we were a block away. He was giggling until we got to the corner. He looked around—where are we, he wanted to ask.
I cleaned our hands, thinking of my wife and what she would say about Bella and all that patting. Then I opened a banana and we ate, walking back to the car.