It's early, say 7 a.m., and everything about this school morning seems a little off. The dog needs to go out a third time — he never does that.
There are clouds where there's usually sun. The coffee maker is acting up, producing an acrid, socky soup.
We'd be better off losing the roof than the coffee maker. They may as well rip off our foreheads.
On the couch, the little guy is tumbling around before school, snow-plowing the pillows in the way that drives his mother nuts. I look over and realize: "That's what's really off around here: We now have an only child."
Over the years, my wife and I have had every form of family. We started out with two kids. One girl, one boy, a princess and a prince.
Nice and comfortable, two kids. Nature and Noah support two of a kind. Math, software and romance are all based on the power of two, as are Simon & Garfunkel, Aspasia and Pericles, and the Olsen twins.
But the nice, sensible thing often frightens me — too Lutheran, too pat. I'm in no way normal. I gulp my wine the way others gulp beer. I prefer to play the black keys instead of the white.
So, about five years later, we had a bonus child. About 11 years after that, we had yet another bonus child.
That's right, we hit the double-bonus.
Now the older three are adults, and we're left with this little encore.
That explains why there's still a football in the flower bed, a three-point arc chalked upon the driveway. Coldplay might see "a sky full of stars"; I see a garage full of crud: baseballs, beach gear and soccer cleats two sizes too small. Our garage is such a mess, all the spiders moved out.
What do you do with a do-over like this?
In a minivan that seats seven, there is one kid left. In the back seat, on the way to school, he serenades me, singing along to Bruno Mars in a fluted voice that puberty hasn't yet stolen.
For a parent, this might seem the ultimate opportunity, a chance to finally do it right. But the truth is, your own kids can be as different as kittens and kangaroos. What works for one, usually won't work for the next.
Some kids raise themselves, driven by some inner engine to do well and not disappoint.
Others need a boot in the butt now and then, often hourly.
I've had both, and love them all the same. They bring you absolute joy at times and drive you crazy at others. They test you with eye rolls and shoulder shrugs, even the way they fling a backpack at a chair. They can anger you just in how they turn away from you when you're talking.
They are what they are — you can sand the edges, you can soften the lines, but you can't turn a turnip into a tomato.
When you're in your 20s, most of your fantasies involve sexual romps atop piles of money and maple leaves. By the time you're 40, your fantasies involve duct-taping your ornery kid to a fire hydrant and driving away in your minivan.
Tell me, which would really give you more pleasure?
So naturally, this encore kid feels like a chance at redemption, one more Hail Mary pass at parenthood.
It's certainly easier on us than it is on him. A little too often, the little guy feels the welder's glow of two experienced parents. We know a bluff when we hear it. We don't care that the other sixth-graders got a yacht for their birthday, or 2,000 shares of Apple stock.
We don't care that there were 100 jugglers at Sammy's party or that Trevor had a harem at his.
"I don't care about anything your friends get," I told him the other day. "I care only about you."
So not only is he an only child, he is the only child of parents who've been around a little.
And, once again, someone else to love too much.
One of the best outings lately involved just him and me, in the last moments of summer vacation, two guys on a roller coaster splashing down an 80-foot waterfall, then white-knuckling it through the Minions of the Despicable Me ride.
It was a long, sweaty day spent riding our own metaphor — just the two of us now, that number that used to be so perfect.
Two. A deuce.
The dad and the do-over.
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