Monday, June 11, 2007

the little role model

When I'm carting the Jackal around in his stroller, usually killing time after work by meandering up and down Connecticut Avenue, some passerby inevitably comments on the luxury of being wheeled around town every day. There are many different variations on the shape and delivery of this commentary -- "Must be nice" or "Man, what I would give to be in his shoes today" -- and I suspect I've heard every last one of them. My typical response entails a grunt of sympathy laughter combined with a subtle nod of the head, nothing more and nothing less, but the other day I actually engaged someone with a fleeting piece of dialogue along the following lines...

Someone: Don't you wish you could get pushed around like that?

Me: Not really, no.

Someone: Well why not?

Me: Because I'm a grown man, so that would mean I require a wheelchair, which would be awful.

I don't believe he responded, but I really didn't linger long enough to find out. Obviously this guy hung a meatball over the plate and I swung for the fences on it. I'm aware that he didn't mean any harm with his question and that its context didn't apply directly to me as a grown man. For whatever reason, at that particular moment I couldn't resist. My wife was not with me, so she was spared any embarrassment. As for the Jackal, he laughs at just about anything, which I certainly appreciate.

That same evening we got a call from Mom saying she would be running a bit later, so we scored some play dough at the local toy store and grabbed an outside table at La Lomita Dos. While he rolled the play dough into snakes and guided these creations toward my jugular, I dabbled in chips and salsa and found myself completely absorbed in the idea of being him. The pure joy he displays at the simplest of pleasures erases the truly insignificant abrasions from my work days and makes me feel weightless. Here's an example of how we cover just half of one city block: "Hi, bird! Hi, bus! Hi, cars! No Cars Go! Hey! Oh, hi doggie! Look - one, two, three bus! Hi, bus! Wow - fire engine! Hi, fire engine! Oh my gosh! Look, daddy! Flowers! Hi, flowers! Hi, butterfly! Hi, bird!"

Hanging out with this kid is absolutely refreshing. It's scary how much I have to learn from him and how much I sometimes feel the need to hide from him. It's no mystery to us that with experience comes wisdom, and part of wisdom is reaching a point where you notice those dark circles under the world's eyes. Right now I don't discourage him from chattering with the occasional street person or pan handler. Much of that has to do with the fact that I want him to be extremely open to people. In that regard, I think the exposure to all walks of life that DC offers is a wonderful asset for a kid. At the same time, I can't deny that one day those same street hustlers will be off limits or that I won't institute certain detours on our excursions. There's a fine line somewhere between psycho, protective parent and open-minded, urbane dad. Here's to hoping I find it and walk it.

For now I can't help but sum it up with a snippet of my favorite Eels lyric:

Every moment is built to last, when you're living without a past....

Smacks of optimism, yes?

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