The social contract that I've established with this toddler is that he follows me wherever I go and behaves exactly the way I behave. If I sneeze explosively, as dads often do, he is to sneeze the same way. If I wink at the cashier at the garden center, he is to wink as well. He's not so much my mirror image as a walking, talking mulligan. A human do-over. We waddle off on a Saturday morning like two ducks headed for a pond.
"Let's get some pumpkin seeds," I say as we load up the shopping cart at the garden center.
"Glories are good," I say, grabbing a pack of blue ones.
He sits in the metal basket, encouraging me as I shop, affirming my every choice. It's spring, even if the sun hasn't noticed yet. Time to sink our fingers into God's good earth.
"Radishes?" I ask.
"Why not?" the baby says.
We go to Blockbuster on Friday nights and can't find a thing we really like. But on Saturday mornings, here at the garden center, we want everything we see.
Cucumbers. Peppers. 'Early Girl' tomatoes. We pick up a pack of each.
Squash. Eggplant. Sweet corn. Fire up the tractor, Ma. The soil is calling.
Back home, the baby and I make a plan. Herbs here. Tomatoes over there. Hula-skirt grass over by the steps. We approach the job with a fisherman's optimism. For what is life without promise? What is spring without seed?
"Anticipation is everything," I tell the baby.
"It is?" the baby asks.
"Without hope, we have nothing," I explain.
"Trust me," I say.
With much work ahead, we take a nap. Men of action need their sleep. Even superheroes get a little drowsy after major triumphs.
"But it's 9 a.m." my wife notes.
"We've been up since 7," I explain.
"Blahhhh," says the baby.
"See? He's exhausted," I say.
"Blaa, blaa, blaa," says the baby.
"Don't push it," I tell him.
I am an early and constant riser. At 7 a.m., I was walking both dogs, standing for what seemed like hours as they licked last night's rainwater from the neighbors' ivy. To them, it's better than Starbucks.
Then I wiped their muddy feet — that's eight very soggy, very reluctant paws — made coffee, ran out for doughnuts, bought a yellow calla lily for Easter, picked out 12 packs of seeds and returned to the house by 9 a.m., at which time I called around to see if our softball game was canceled due to rain. It was.
"Dad's been busy," notes the little girl.
"Thank you," I say.
"We've earned our rest," says the baby.
"Well put," I say.
"Jeeesh," says the wife.
A little nap, that's all. You'd have thought they caught me putting hemlock in their iced tea.
As a friend recently noted about wives, the personal traits they found so appealing in us in the first place now seem to annoy them the most. In my case, that's a smoldering sexuality and a keen intellect.
Plus, a spontaneous side that leads me back to bed at 9 in the morning for a quick nap, from which I'll awaken refreshed and more dynamic than ever.
Who'd she think she was marrying, a machine? No. She was marrying me. The Willy Wonka of the American suburb.
"Did Dad just take a nap?" the boy asks when I stumble from the bedroom.
"It was more like a short coma," I explain.
I have another plan. In addition to rehabbing the backyard for summer, I want to put in a dog wash. "A dog wash?" You must be saying to yourself. "How brilliant! How moist!"
Yes, a little dog wash over along the side of the house, where I currently store the wheelbarrow and the empty clay pots.
It'll be like a mini-shower for the dog, with a flexible nozzle and a tiled basin with a built-in seat. I'll be able to bathe the dogs without lifting them awkwardly into the utility sink. When I'm done, I can tie them in the sun to dry.
This dog wash will also be a great place to water potted plants or clean out beach coolers. It may be my most important backyard invention yet.
"You're building a what?" my wife asks.
"A dog wash," I say, " a place to wash the dogs."
"Naked?" asks the little girl.
"I'll be naked," I explain. "The dogs will be fully clothed."
"That's a good idea," says the boy.
"Thank you," I say.
"Dad," the little girl says.
"Dogs don't wear clothes," she says.
OK, there are still a few kinks to work out.
But that's what we visionaries do. We dream. We hope. We nap. All in the name of creating a better world. All before 9 o'clock in the morning.
So far, the results have been sort of mixed.
Chris Erskine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MAN OF THE HOUSE
Yard work? Sure, after his nap
No, not the toddler. It may be only 9 a.m. but Dad needs some rest before he tills the soil.
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