January 7, 2016 11:45 am A Very Small Cardiologist
“Things just shouldn’t be so hard, Paul. You’re the kid and I’m your father. You get in the car when you are asked to and that’s that.” Russ’ voice was exasperated.
Paul climbed into the jeep and tried to buckle his car seat.
“That’s more like it. Try harder. You’re four now, or did you forget?”
Paul’s hands were suddenly putty and he couldn’t get the metal things in their slots.
Russ yanked open the back door of the jeep and buckled him in. “No one said you had to come with me, anyway.”
Paul wondered about that. He knew his father would never let him stay in the house by himself. His father sped out of the driveway and put on the news.
“Could we hear some music, Daddy?”
“Maybe the news will wake you up. You need to be part of our life. Dreamland is never going to help you. You have to toughen up now.”
Paul slipped away into imagining his best friend Leo’s kittens. There were four of them. The mother cat, Mamie, had given birth to them in Leo’s second dresser drawer. They were adorable: a tabby, a calico, an oatmeal-colored and a black one. Leo was the youngest of five children. His mother and father, Peggy and Bill Jamison were gentle, happy and fun. Paul looked forward to going back to his mother’s house and visiting Leo again.
Russ seemed to be fighting with his jeep and then parked.
“Let’s try to do this before dinner time, okay?”
Nothing short of a miracle helped Paul to unbuckle his car seat and open his door.
“Wow!” His father said sarcastically, “You did it! History has been made.”
They walked into a huge grocery store. Paul reached to pick up a little green basket as he always did with his mother.
“No, Paul. Your job is to stay with me as I pick out what we need. Got it?”
“May I go get the apples we love?”
“Are you deaf? I’m the shopper.”
Paul stayed closed to his father. He noticed a smiling baby girl sitting in the front of a cart. Her mother was talking to her. Even though the baby wasn’t able to speak yet, they were having a real love fest. Her mother kissed the little girl’s head as she put lemons and oranges in the cart. Paul wished he were with his mother. She was always nice to him.
Russ nudged Paul. “Real life, remember Paul? Spacing out is no help!”
Paul looked ahead at his father’s navy blue jacket. He thought of walking away and wondered how long it would take for his father to notice. He imagined his father would then make a big scene.
“Are you kidding me? Dawdling is not an option! Stick with me or never come with me again!”
Paul hoped he would never have to go shopping with his father again. He longed to be back in his car seat thinking of Leo’s kittens.
“Here is a bag for you. Try not to drop it!”
Carefully Paul held the bag. It had celery and other vegetables in it and he was relieved knowing he couldn’t break something if it slid out of his hand. The mother and baby were in a nearby checkout line, still beaming at one another.
The car seat belt gave him a break and soon they were roaring back in the last bit of a late fall afternoon light. Images of the adorable kittens filled Paul’s mind. The Jamisons cooked a lot and the smells of spaghetti and soup and cake were woven into Paul’s happy and peaceful reverie, all the way to his father’s.
Paul looked at the house. It was twilight, almost dark. The lights were off. He knew that going in and turning on the lights would not make much of a difference in their spirits. When he was with his father, the lights were usually on a permanent dimmer. He yearned for something else, something happy.
“Daddy, do you even like me?” Paul asked as his father as he took bags out of the back of the jeep.
“What, are we getting all heavy now? Here’s your bag.”
Paul waited while his father closed the back of the jeep. His father’s arms were full of bags and Paul knew his father was not interested in a conversation. He didn’t care anymore.
After opening the door, turning on some lights and putting the bags on the kitchen counter, Russ Benson looked at his four-year-old son. He reached for the bag Paul carried in. Paul didn’t take his eyes off of his father. He waited for a response. Russ said nothing, just continued to put the groceries away. The phone rang, lightening the bleak heavy air.
“Russ, it’s me. May I please speak with Paul?”
“Here you go. Paul, it’s Mommy.”
“Hi Mommy, are you coming to get me? I really want to be home with you. I feel too sad here.”
“Oh, dear Paul, I’m coming tomorrow morning. I’ll be there bright and early and in no time we’ll be having breakfast together. Then we can try to fly your kite again at the beach. Oh and Paul, the Jamisons invited us for dinner tomorrow night. Leo can’t wait.”
Russ had been tidying up while Paul was on the phone. After a long silence, Paul sighed and said in a trembling voice. “Okay Mommy. I love you.”
“I love you too, my Paul. See you in the morning!”
Paul put the phone down. He didn’t want to see his father but as he turned, their eyes met and stayed put. Paul realized his father was wringing his hands. The downturned corners of his mouth made Paul feel sad for him.
Paul walked slowly towards his father and reached out his hand. Russ knelt down so he could look into Paul’s eyes. He leaned into his four-year-old’s small body and hugged him.
Paul was surprised. He felt suddenly happier.
“Oh Paul, I do like you. I love you very much. I have been so self-absorbed and sad. I’ll try to be better. Thank you for putting up with me.”
“Daddy, maybe when we feel sad about other things we can try not to act angry. We can just say we’re sad, and then help each other feel better.”
“Deal, Paul. You are the greatest teacher. You might become a heart doctor someday. Really, you already are one!”
“That’s funny. Mommy said that too. Do you want to make some cookies?”
“Sounds like a plan!” They both smiled at each other. The room suddenly seemed brighter.
Anne Martine Cook has 40 years experience teaching nursery school children.
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