Her ears glowed bright red
when she returned home,
newly pierced earrings
gracing either side of her
bright eyes and shy smile.
I wished that we had taken her picture
in the morning,
but we hadn’t planned
for this to be the day —
just gone ahead when she asked,
following through on a months’ old promise.
As I watched her through the kitchen window
my wife told me about how
brave she had been.
We reminisced about that cold winter
when we had walked her back and forth
between her bedroom and ours,
soothing her newborn tears.
She came inside to tell me
she had seen the first snow drops,
or at least their green shoots
peeking through the icy leftovers
of the latest storm.
That’s where I’m going to build my fairy house,
she told me.
She ducked back outside
and leaned against the post on the porch,
filling an old seashell with greenery,
her legs outstretched
in the pale sun and
whispering quietly to herself,
perhaps about the moment,
or maybe about
all of her ten years.
(A found companion piece to Almost Eight)
Recently, our youngest son discovered a couple of large coloring books that had been tucked away on some basement shelves, unused since we got them years ago. He has sat with them several times for long stretches, simply coloring, tongue planted in his cheek just the way mine was as a boy when I was deep in concentration.
One afternoon this past weekend, he cleared some space at the kitchen table and asked me to sit with him while he colored. He chose a scene with a cowboy riding a horse, and worked carefully in crayon to make a sun in the corner of the page, complete with rays spreading out from a bright yellow center. I watched as he then colored a large swath of the sky, coloring blue right over the yellow sun. I wondered if he intended it that way, or if he was just caught up in the enjoyment of the blue. The answer came a moment later when I noticed him take a black crayon and make a scribble over and over the sun, and then slump back in his chair, dropping the crayon to the ground.
I thought this would fix it. It was supposed to be yellow, he said staring down at the sun, but I did the blue on it. I thought this would make it back to darker yellow, but it just ruined it.
He exhaled deeply and looked at me, then half-heartedly scraped with his thumbnail at the blue and black that covered his sun. The contentment that I had felt in sitting with him faded into sharing his deep disappointment.
What if we make it a cloud? I asked. It was the only thing I could think of.
Okay, he said.
I picked up the black crayon and traced an outline around the sun. There, now you color it in, and it will be a nice dark cloud.
He took the crayon from me and did just that. The black cloud looked a bit out of place in the otherwise bright blue sky, but he picked up a brown crayon and went back to coloring the cowboy riding his horse. I quietly exhaled in measured relief.
Until he started to cry.
But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.
I was completely and utterly helpless. He had been enjoying our moment as much as I had; I was sure he had been enjoying the idea of his picture too, the image of it he held his mind. Now neither one was the way he wanted it to be, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Remembering his attempt to scrape away at the crayon, I thought of getting my wife’s sharp pair of sewing scissors to do the same, to reduce that paper to white, to give my son the fresh start he wanted.
Perhaps it was the scissors that gave me the idea of drawing a new sun on a separate piece of paper and pasting it on top of the mistake. I wasn’t sure he would like the idea, but he agreed and drew a new sun on a white piece of paper. He asked me to color in the blue so he wouldn’t go over the rays. I worked carefully and then had him finish before we glued it on. He was happy with it, and went back to the cowboy, the grass, and the fence.
Even though it turned out all right in the end, I can still hear him saying to me, through his sobs and tears, But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad. He had tried to set aside his disappointment – but he couldn’t. Instead, he surrendered to complete presence in the moment. No pretense, no holding back, no self-judgment. Isn’t that what we all long for?
Most touching as a father is that my son was willing to do this with me, and in this way expressed his complete love and trust. As an adult, experiencing and expressing anger, sadness, or disappointment in the presence of others is difficult for me. I have come to fear doing so.
Yet here was my five year old, showing me exactly how to do it right here, right now.
But I wanted it to be a sunny day, Dad.
Coda: In the days since, I have thought a lot about having fixed the drawing. I know I won’t always be able to give him the sunny day he wants. And I shouldn’t. But this one? I had to.
Outside a robin hops
from a crusted snow pile
to the matted spring grass.
I stand at the window and watch,
while the echo of quiet play
mixed with soft humming
drifts out of the nearby bedroom
and into the hallway,
coming from a son
who is supposed
to be getting dressed —
but who has found absorption
in a long-forgotten toy.
I wish I could move
to see him,
but I don’t dare
stir the light
or sound the floorboards.
My body is warmed by the sun
before a shouted question
from downstairs intrudes
and the moment drains away.
streams across asphalt —
blue skies deepen
I’ve been working on letting go of a rigid syllable structure for haiku and tanka. It has been difficult – it turns out that letting go of one structure simply means giving myself over to another, however it might be veiled.
I stopped at the top of the stairs
to wait for him
as he shuffled out of his bedroom,
sleepy-eyed and not yet steady.
He took the old walnut railing
with his left hand
as we walked next to each other
towards breakfast and the day.
His right hand reached into mine,
gentle and soft,
warm from his blanketed slumber.
He’s almost eight years old, I thought,
in fear of the day
when he won’t slip so easily
into sharing his space
or his hand
I tried to tread carefully as we went
so as not to disturb our clasp,
wishing the stairs might go on forever,
a father and his boy.
the shallow stream skirts
softened edges of a field —
steady retreat on a path
through morning grey and stillness