Sunday, May 20, 2007

Just When You Least Expect It…

Bad things happen when you least expect it. It seems that I’m never prepared for the bad things when they do happen, and if I were, I think I’d be constantly stuck in some rut of negativity (yes, more so, I mean), always lamenting on the bad things that could happen and finding very little time to concentrate on anything know, the good stuff. On the other hand, I think about winning the lottery all the time and all the good things that would bring. If only I bought a ticket.

Friday morning began as it usually does. Sun’s up. I’m up, though especially tired from staying up later than I probably should have; I blame Kara, for reasons best left unmentioned. Breakfast is popped in the toaster, Kara's at work, "The Backyardigans" flickers on the electronic babysitter—hey, I don’t drink coffee in the morning, so it takes me a while to greet the day, the lousy good-for-nuthin—and all three of us are splayed out on the couch in a pile. Natalie has tucked herself into the crook of my right arm, at the elbow, and Matthew found a perch high up on a pillow next to my shoulder. His head is resting on my arm and he has a strange contentedness across his face, like he is watching the show with an intensity I’ve never seen before.

Happily, I steal this moment of calm for myself, knowing that whatever has their immediate and total attention, whatever strange possession is causing this remarkable tranquility is entirely transitory, that their worlds will soon rev back up into the whirling maelstrom that is their high-energy existence. It is inevitable. I close my eyes, lulled by Pablo and Uniqua’s song about the perfect wave. I cherish the quiet times, longingly recalling those peaceful moments before the advent of children, when someone told me to enjoy it while it lasts…and I didn’t listen.

Matthew laid there, motionless, staring beyond the television, it seems, and now his sluggish lethargy is somewhat troubling. I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth (whatever that means…was is fashionable to give horses as gifts to dentists at one time?), but it didn’t make sense. At 20 minutes to eight, he should be bouncing off the walls, ready to do anything, anywhere with anyone; instead, he’s peacefully watching the TV with little more than an expression of contemplation on his face.

I thought he might fall asleep, and of course that would happen on the day that we actually have somewhere to go (dance class). Then, something happened that explained everything, and when it happened, I actually made the distinction in my mind from all the other thoughts and reactions trying to be heard above the din, that what happened was precisely the last thing I was expecting to happen.

As if someone in my brain keeps a list of all the possibilities in the world, all the occurrences that could befall my day at that very moment, and his job is to constantly update that list as new information comes in from the outside world. A leftover piece of Skylab could fall on the house and destroy the patio. That’s on the list, albeit, towards the bottom. Natalie could suddenly scream into a fit of rage for little to no reason. Yep, that’s on there too, but more toward the top. But the last thing on the list, all the way down to the very bottom, passed developing superhuman abilities, passed aliens stopping by for a beer, passed breaking up a conspiracy plot of a grandmother’s knitting circle bent on overthrowing the government, down to the very last thing my brain expected to happen at that very moment in my life: Matthew throws up.

That’s it. I didn’t see that one coming. He's not sick, and hasn't been for weeks. He didn't complain about anything. There were no weird smells coming from him, no vacant look of tormenting agony in his eyes, nothing. Not even those burping hints people get right before the big event. One second, he’s blissfully sitting there without a care in the world, probably thinking of a variety of mischievously deeds on which he will soon endeavor, and the next, blowing chunks all over the place.

It came in two sequential waves. Now, remember, that my eyes were closed, so I didn’t see the first volcanic blast, but I felt it. As most of it cleared Matthew entirely, I received the brunt of the first onslaught, and before I could open my eyes, my body translated a sudden glop of warm lumps soaking through my shirt as nothing else but partially digested banana bits, crumbling Cheerios and viscous apple juice and toast concoction. Everything he had eaten 20 minutes earlier came spuing forth.

Wave two didn’t have the same punch as the first one, and by the time it had lurched forward from his mouth, we were halfway to the kitchen sink. Then the laughing started. As I’m trying to jerk his hands out from his sleeves without coating the rest of him in the beige mess, he begins to giggle and doesn’t let up until we’re upstairs changing his clothes (and mine). He's elated! At what? Puking all over me, for what? Like the 10th time in his short life?

Then, with that inconvenience out of the way, it was business as usual. Let’s throw stuff off of the second floor because crashing sounds are fun. Let’s splash around in the toilet because Natalie forgot to shut the door. Let’s tear as much fur out from Elsa’s back as we can until she finds a place to hide. Let’s grab something of Natalie’s and then run around the house with a thief’s gaze of exhilaration streaked across our face.

Yes, business as usual, as if he never took what was inside his stomach and moved it to on top of his stomach (and mine). What gives? The rest of the day, zaniness ensued.

And then at Natalie’s dance class, Matthew decided it was a good idea to test my reflexes, just how quick is the old man since he stopped going to the gym two years ago, stopped walking the dog a year ago, and stopped lifting anything heavier than a slice of pizza six months ago?

Matthew was gleefully lounging around on a large square leather-padded bench in the parents’ room at the dance studio (picture those wide benches you sit on when art galleries become wearisome). I’m sitting on a similar bench a couple of feet across an aisle from him. He was on his stomach, a few inches from the edge, but since his arm was dangling over the side, I figured he knew the outer reaches of his limits and there was little to worry about; plus I was sick of saying, “Now Matthew, be careful,” because I’m sure he didn’t understand me. One of the other moms was sitting on the same bench as he, making faces at Matthew and getting him to give her high-fives, and I was explaining to another mom how to exploit her pregnancy to get extra days off from work, when Matthew just rolls over, right off the edge. All I heard was a hushed gasp from two separate moms sitting nearby as he plummets toward the thinly carpeted concrete floor. My stomach muscles tightened, legs ached as I bolted upright, jerked out my arms and caught him, cradled perfectly in my hands, half way to the floor. His body was straight as a board, and if I hadn’t caught him, he would have land flat on his back and head with most unpleasant results.

I received applause, one mom swore that I must have played football in college, but I didn’t see it as anything out of the ordinary. It seems that I was always rescuing the little guy from some sort of peril, be it a tumble down the stairs or an inadvertent clocking of his head on the corner of a table.

Matthew, in life, I won't always be there to catch you, and some times you're going to have to fall...but not today or tomorrow, next week or next year... probably when you stop calling me daddy and start to call me dad.

In the meantime, just stop throwing up on me, okay?

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