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Yard work? Sure, after his nap

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.

"How about morning glories?" he asks.

"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.

"We don't?"

"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.

"Huh?"

"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 chris.erskine@latimes.com.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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