Fatherhood in First Person: "Shake it off"
My 2-year-old son James can't wait to get to school. The moment he feels the stone and gravel walkway under his rubber-soled sneakers, he takes off ahead of me. Even though we've been walking this path for a year and a half, I still hate dropping him off. He points at the yellow school bus bustling up the road, and watches an exhaust cloud linger in the cold morning air. The toe of his sneaker catches the front edge of the rectangular stone and he breaks his fall with the slap of hands and forearms. "Shake ... it ... off?" he says, while smoothing one hand against the other as if he is washing them.
"Yes, pal. Shake it off," I say. I give his rear-end a pat, as if I am coaching him across the street. "Good hustle kid." It's not even 8 a.m. and I'm thinking about the afternoon, when my wife and I can pick him up. Soon enough, lacrosse coaches will blow whistles, and high school boys will wave their sticks through the warm spring air. Drivers will speed on the road in front of the toddlers' playground. A few students walking with backpacks over one shoulder will part a sea of runners. The commotion of pattering feet will seduce James to mimic them and bolt for our car in the parking lot.
Inside toddler nation, James sits at a table with his teacher, Miss Jenn. He grabs paper from one of the bins. He holds a skinny marker between his thumb and index finger. I hang up his jacket and put away his mini cooler jammed with plastic containers of food and a sippy-cup. Across the room, James' chubby hand rotates as he draws circles on the white paper. I can't hear what he is saying to Miss Jenn, but I know as he picks each one up he is looking at her and saying the color. He drops the marker to the table. His right index finger taps his lip -- the sign for red. She nods.
The morning light creeps over the field across the street and through the glass window, making a slanted rectangle in the spot where James' cot will be after lunch. He'll sleep there next to the play kitchen for two or three hours. If he starts falling asleep during lunch, Miss Sunnie, Miss Jenn or Miss Sarra will lay him down on his cot, and he'll eat after he wakes up. They will place his blanket over him, and rub his back a little to ensure he is out.
In this room he will discover: the textures of finger paints, puzzles, plastic cars and trucks. He will listen to the stories in the board books on the shelf. He'll learn more sign language, new songs, and whatever else is written on his busy schedule posted outside the door.
When we pick him up, he will scamper around the room until we catch him. His eyebrows will attempt to reach his hairline. If he is on the playground, it'll take 10 minutes before we can get him to leave. The green playground surface appears hard, but is yielding like corkboard. And while he climbs, slides, chases a ball or a friend, Miss Sunnie will tell us the story of his day. Even though the abridged version is written on his clothing in: chalk, marker or paint.
But picking up James is eight hours away. I take reluctant steps toward the Lego table. I ask him for a high-five. He raises his arm without averting his eyes from primary-colored Legos, as if he is pledging to always appease me. With his other hand, he hoards as many plastic bricks as he can from the others around the table. I rub his head a little, and end with a few sturdy pats. "Bye, buddy," I say waving from the foyer, but he doesn't see me. He's at school. Playing. Learning. This little toddler nation is his world. I walk outside along the stone pathway, rub my hands together, and shake it off.