Children, Learning, Parenting

Back To Each Other


Think of your child as a plant who is programmed by nature to grow and blossom. If you see the plant has brown leaves, you consider if maybe it needs more light, more water, more fertilizer. You don’t criticize it and yell at it to straighten up and grow right.

Kids form their view of themselves and the world every day. They need your encouragement to see themselves as good people who are capable of good things. And they need to know you’re on their side. If most of what comes out of your mouth is correction or criticism, they won’t feel good about themselves, and they won’t feel like you’re their ally. You lose your only leverage with them, and they lose something every kid needs: to know they have an adult who thinks the world of them.

– From “Building a Great Relationship with your Child” in Aha! Parenting

On our spring break trip to California, my son rounded up other kids at the hotel pool and played for 4 hours without pause.  At the San Diego Botanical Gardens, he climbed up into tangled two-story treehouse and built a shelter out of balsa wood.  On one bright morning, he hiked with his grandma and me through the hills at Torrey Pines as Pacific tides lapped at the cliffs.

He also fought, screamed, raged, cried, hit, kicked, and hurled insults.  Every single day at every point of conflict, his body went rigid with defiance.  He said hateful things.  He brought his grandmother and cousin to tears.  Me, to worse.

Continue reading “Back To Each Other”

Co-Parenting, community, Relationships

The Spoils of Civility

Ritter Skates

The transformation of the heart is a wondrous thing, no matter how you land there.

–Patti Smith, M Train

Tee’s face fell when I told him my Mister and I broke up. “That’s a bummer,” he said. “He’s a really good guy. What happened?”

I kept it vague. It would take a steadier hand than mine to fill in the fine detail of our shared briar patch. Attending to the perennial questions that twine their way through our story has worn me out. It’s all a little too bright and raw inside me at the moment, and anyway, it would be a mistake to cast my ex-husband in the role of confidant. He’s kind though, and he held the news gently. He told me he was sorry, and that both the boyfriend and his two kids were a positive influence on Bug. Tee seemed genuinely disappointed that our son would miss out on having that family in his life.

Continue reading “The Spoils of Civility”

Children, Things I Can

27. Things I Can Provide: Light, Touch

Look at me, dancing my little dance for a few moments against the background of eternity.

– Sarah Manguso, Ongoingness: The End of a Diary

His dad opens the door and leads me in. I step out of my shoes and climb the stairs. In the bathroom, our son is tucked into a lumpy cloud of pillows and blankets. His eyelids are tinged green. “Hi mom.” It’s his Eeyore voice. He takes his time peeling himself from the heap. Leaning his body into mine, Bug wraps his arms around my middle. He sighs.

“I’m sorry you’re feeling yucky,” I say. His hair is stuck to his temples and neck. I stroke his skin and for once, he doesn’t stop me. He pulls back and looks at me with eyes far too big. He tells me he was sweating and then shivering, and that he sort of slept while watching a Harry Potter movie.

“Do you want to go to your other house and maybe make a nest on the bathroom floor there?”

“No,” he says. He gets all the way up now and presses into my arms again.

“Maybe just go home and read together?”


He plods out of the bathroom and down the stairs. Tee collects the backpack, the uneaten lunch, the unfinished homework. We step out together into a startling shaft of afternoon sun. When did spring decide to come out of hibernation? My desk at work is angled away from the window. An awakening can stroll all the way to its fullness and recede again without my notice. If I remember to resurface when I clock out, I might catch the last of its halo disappearing into the horizon.

The air fringing the sidewalk is so light and gentle it makes my chest throb. Only so many days like these ever happen in a season. In a chapter. In a lifetime. This is one of the truths that resolves into view at the rate of decades. The reward for a long life is the biting grasp of life’s brevity.

At home, the dog yips and babbles as we tumble inside. “Let’s open the balcony door,” I tell Bug. “We can put the blankets there. Right where you can be in the sun.”

Bug shrugs. “Okay,” he says. “Can I have tea?”

After walking Noodle, I dig around for the King Arthur picture book. Bug and I settle into cushions and pull a blanket around us. Leaning into my body, he alternates between sparkly water and hot tea. At our feet, the dog sprawls out under the current of evening air that cools my son’s fevered skin.


Change, Divorce

The Year of Pottery

We had a cookie ceremony. Friends and family poured ingredients into a shared bowl. Sugar, flour, chocolate, salt. The dear ones who were married long enough to know something about sticking it out through the rough stuff had painted a bowl to hold this moment. They’d splashed it sunflower yellow and added coral loops. Their baby daughter’s footprint marked the base.

Each participant stepped up and told a story. My almost-sister-in-law cracked open an egg and recalled the chicken coop in the yard in Wisconsin. My mother added pecans and told about the trees on the long-gone land of our Oklahoma kin. Each story found its way into the mix that was becoming Us.

When the mandolin and fiddle played the happy jig, the ceremony turned into dancing and caterers served chocolate chip cookies to everyone.

Nine years, it would have been.

We live up the street from each other now, both of us just a short jump to the park where we stood laughing in the sweltering sun on this day then. The man I married is my friend, our mix now composed mostly of flour and salt. It’s light on sugar but I don’t mind. It’s been 18 months since I’ve eaten a cookie. I’ve shed the craving for sweet.

The yellow bowl is a pop of light on my kitchen counter. It cradles lemons, nectarines, the paper husks of garlic bulbs. When my boy and I come home from school, I dance around the sink and stove cobbling together a meal. My son goes to relax in his “spot,” a bare wooden chair in the corner under the calendar.

He reaches into the bowl and pulls out a banana just like he did the last time he was here.

“You hungry for a snack, bub?” I ask.

“Sort of.” He splits the peel open and settles back. “This is just what I do now. This how it is.”

Divorce, Family, Poetry

The Price is Right

It’ll cost you
the title, your hero,
your favorite villain,
and at least half the notes
you’ve added to the score.
You’ll be charged the magic carpet
of your pride and its rareified view
from a distance that has shrunk
so mercifully the proportion
of your never diminishing guilt
along the contours
of your history.

Into this dowry will go your cardinal
north and the map you drew
with measurements meticulously
if mistakenly
taken. You’ll hand over the slide rule
along with the legend
of triumphant good and forfeit
the last word,
the last laugh, the last time
you’ll ever have to deal with that shit again.

Hidden fees will take your breath
away and the fine print
sting your eyes:
You can’t throw anyone
under the bus, gather an audience,
hand-pick seeds
to sow, spin bristles into yarns,
tally fault, count beans,
spit venom, or squirrel spite
into the pocket of your cheek
and chew its cud in righteous silence.

You will pay yourself empty
of the solid weight
of your myth
just to buy a ticket
to a lottery whose odds are against you
and whose prize is nothing
more than a single fleeting frame

of sun-warmed bleachers
in an early spring thaw
where you loll with your son
and the person who shared
the bed where he was made

watching a stuttering rainbow
of children cast balls from turf to net
and another family
maybe taking shape
and maybe changing the currency
that drops in your palm
one penny at a time.

Children, Parenting

The Better Parent

“Is it hard taking care of me?”

He asks this as we coast at long last on a hard-won current of harmony. We are under the Tinkerbell blanket and nearing the last of the songs.

I laugh at his question to buffer the twist of the knife. He has seen my jaw tonight. It has been a locked box heavy with chains. He is seven and keen to learn the cues.

His face is near. I kiss his forehead. “Some days, it’s tough just getting through it all. Home and chores. All that.” The long mess of his hair presses into my cheek. “But that’s just part of being a family. It’s not hard being your mom.” I pause. “Is it hard being my kid?”

He flashes a wicked grin. “Yes. It’s really hard. It’s terrible.”

“Why’s that, bub?”

“You don’t give me anything good ever. Not Pokemon cards. Not ever, not even once.”

We are back here again. Back at the fight that started yesterday at 3:30pm in Bug’s classroom. Tee and I had joined three other parent volunteers to run the first-grade holiday party. When I offered myself up a week earlier, I was picturing a pan of brownies and paper plates. Instead, at 9:30 the night before, I was the glassy-eyed zombie walking through the screaming aisles of Party City collecting cheap props for a class photo booth. At the actual party, I ended up pinch hitting for the mom whose sick son kept her home. This meant, on a half-beat of notice, coming up with holiday-themed movement games to play with sugared-up groups of 7-year-olds in a suffocatingly small indoor space.

As we bagged up the party’s limp remains and the kids licked the last frosting from their fingers, Tee was in the back corner trying to convince Bug to pose for a photo. Our son was the only student who hadn’t had his glamour shot taken. Twenty other children had donned reindeer antlers and glittering top hats to ham it up for Tee’s camera. Not Bug. He’d flat out refused.

Instead of letting it ride, Tee cajoled. He begged. I dressed up for one. Tee dressed up and had me take one. Bug wouldn’t do it.

Tee wouldn’t let it go.

(Allow me to step aside here for a minute and say that Tee is super-dad. He’s the dad that eats, dreams, and oozes dad-hood. He’s engaged and loving and patient and on board with Bug’s all-around development. He coaches Bug’s basketball team. He comes to all the parent-teacher conferences. He takes the kid camping and ice skating and makes him do his homework. He is the father everyone wishes they’d had so they wouldn’t have all their daddy issues. He’s also a fantastic co-parent.)

Okay. Back to it.

Tee bribed Bug to take the photo. Bribed him by saying the next time Bug stayed with him, Tee would buy him Pokemon cards.

Bug posed for the photo. Tee reminded him that it would be Friday before they stayed together again.

Also? Tee made this same deal two weekends ago to convince Bug to go to a concert. Pokemon cards. Straight-up bribe.

It’s Tee’s issue, yes? His to deal with? If my son’s dad exchanges goodies for favors, not my problem, right?


When I picked up Bug from school after the party, the kid cracked into a dozen pieces. Sobbing. Wanted to go to Wal Mart. Said his daddy promised. Begged me to let him stay with his dad. Told me he didn’t like my house and he never wanted to stay with me ever again.

On our way out the door, the after-school care folks cheerfully reminded me of the potluck to be held the next day. Reminded? No, wait. Informed. For the first time. So, after working all day at my job and then volunteering in the classroom doing Rudolph Says with three dozen wired mini humans, I was to go home and cobble together some festive dish to take back to school in 13-1/2 hours?

“Remember, no nuts or pork! Thanks! We can’t wait!”

Me neither.

But we were still hours from the menu planning. Right on the heels of the car meltdown came galloping in an epic homework battle. Bug scrapped with every sentence. Tore at the paper. Slumped. Drew on the table. Deliberately misspelled every other word then flipped out when he had to correct them. Took 30 minutes to do a 5 minute assighment.

Finally, we ate. Bathed. Sang extra-long Christmas carols. Bug crashed. I went into the kitchen to make brownies, prepare a cheese platter, and assemble Bug’s lunch while finishing up wrapping gifts for the holiday exchange at my office.

Bed for mama sometime after midnight? Did I even dare look at the clock?

Fast forward to tonight.

I pick up Bug at school. Collect the brownie tins and cheese tray. Play the last two rounds of Pictionary with the kids.


“Why can’t I stay with my dad? He promised me Pokemon. And it’s Thursday which is the start of Friday so you’re a liar and I hate you!”

Ding Ding! Round 2!

Bug wails and rages and sobs the whole way home. Claims he is homesick. That his daddy is better because he gives him the food he likes and he has all the good toys and he buys Pokemon. Everything about his dad is better. And I’m mean. And he hates me.

Another homework battle. Another long lecture.

Another chokehold on my temper.

Here’s mom breathing. Mom steadying herself. Mom only yelling once and immediately changing tack. Mom talking through feelings and expectations. Mom explaining that homework is his own, his name is on it — not Mom’s name — and it’s his choice to do his best or not. Here’s mom methodically making dinner. Pausing to kiss the boy on the head. Ironing the fuse beads. Chatting calmly over grilled cheese sandwiches and broccoli.

So, at bedtime? Sweet mercy, we fall into reading and cuddling as we do every night. As if nothing in the world is ever very big, as if three is the magic number.

Three books to call up some fallen angel’s wings. Three songs, the incantation that wraps them around us.

“Is it hard taking care of me?”

This tap-tap on the sealed edge of my door. This spinning of the combination lock.

When he tells me it’s hard to be my kid because I never give him anything good, I chuckle instead of wincing. This is the third invocation in the spell of threes. This is the charm that animates the thing embracing us and warms it to life.

I laugh. He tries again.

“You don’t ever give me Pokemon ever.”

(Which isn’t true, but)

He curls into my arms and tickles my neck with his breath. I say, “I give you more good things that you can even count.”

I say this to him. To me. I say this to oil the hinges and thaw loose the frozen clasp.

I say this:

I give you cheese quesadillas.
A gazillion books.
Trips to the library.
Rides to the ice rink.

I give you a hot breakfast every morning.
Clothes you can move in.
A sweet doggie.
Cuddles. Hugs. Three songs every night.

I give you art stuff in every room of the house.
I give you a home.
Near a park.
And walks to the park all the time.
And walks all over this town.

I give you bandaids.
Time with your grandma.
Playdates with friends.
Help with your homework.

I slow down. Bug’s eyes droop. I ease up on the list and start the same last song I sing every night and will sing every night for as long as this fleeting eternity lasts.

Baby Beluga in the deep blue sea.

And I say without saying the words between the lyrics:

I give you my steady face. My calm half-attention when I reach all the way in and half is the most my fingers will grasp.
I give you my breath.

When I know the beast inside is snapping for bones, I give you the locked door.

I give you my best self. When I haven’t seen her in days and don’t know if she’s even in this time zone, I call her back home. I sit her down in the place I just was and let you have her version of love.

Yes, it’s hard to be your mom.
Some days I just give you a mom.
But you deserve her, this mom of yours.
I’m still figuring out how to be her.

Parenting, Reading

Mad Skills

His teacher says we need to have them read to us. “A book a day at least.” I have not been doing this. Judging by the other parents’ shifts and murmurs, I am not alone. We are all folded into the small desks with our knees bent up to our shoulders. Mrs. P smiles. “And one more request. Please, please teach your children to tie their own shoes.” Groans now. Giggles.
Tee and I look over the sign-up sheet for parent-teacher conferences in November. We are the only twosome negotiating for a time slot. At every other desk, it is just one mom or dad – mostly mom – checking the schedule. Divorce comes with a handful of unexpected side benefits. They’re pretty expensive and probably not worth what our son has to pay for them, so we guard them with our lives. Tee and I both attend every event. We used to argue over who gets to chaperone the school trip until we realized we could handle it together. We have already set a theme and divided up cake- and game-duties for a birthday party over a month away.
“Geez, I can’t get here at 12:30 on a weekday,” I say. All of the morning and afternoon appointments are filled. Tee and I have our calendars out. “There’s a unit meeting on Monday I can’t miss,” he says. Our negotiations are stalling the process for everyone. Another mom takes mercy on us and offers us her 8:15 slot. She stays at home mom and lives right near the school. She’s our new favorite person. Tee and I put up a symbolic fight for about three seconds before erasing her name and squeezing our two onto the blue line.
The teacher introduces the parents to the Spanish teacher and the weekly schedule. Then the bell rings for us just as it does for the kids. Parents scatter. Tee and I are alone in the hallway, engaged in the eternal yet forever interrupted conversation about raising our son. Other parents might be doing this at home with each other. Maybe they’re not doing this much at all. Tee and I talk. We talk in corridors, over phones, between meetings at work. Scraps and patches. We find compromises lightning fast now without even discussing the values beneath our positions. We are a million miles apart but right on the same page.
Some days.
One of the things I miss and don’t miss in the slightest is having Tee in my home and private space, thinking with me about raising our son. I don’t know what I’m doing 95% of the time. Now, I bumble around in isolation. I ache for another set of eyes while knowing my ex husband’s presence wouldn’t actually help. I don’t understand the way he sees. We have decided to be in complete agreement on all things practical and to cross our fingers that we won’t bump too hard against the Whys of our choices. There are walls between us that we still don’t know how to scale.
Tonight, in perfect alignment, we are the envy of our friends and neighbors.
“So, do you have him read to you?” I ask.
He smiles a little. “Nope. We still do our three books and sometimes he points out a word, but. . .” he shrugs.
“I guess we should start.” I’m thinking about the inevitable struggle with Bug. Like just about every other human on the planet, he resists change.
“One a night?” Tee asks.
I nod. “I’ll start tonight.”
Bug has already had his bath when I bang through the door. He and my mother are sitting on the sofa looking through a picture book about spies. Bug slumps off to the bathroom to brush his teeth while I hear the run-down of the evening. Good dinner, chip on his shoulder, won’t talk to her about anything. I don’t bother telling her again that this is his personality right now. His attitude hurts her feelings regardless. I saw the other truth, though. They had been leaning in together, close and quiet in the orange glow of the lamp. Maybe it was only three minutes. Maybe we have to take what we can get.
She heads out and I brace myself. “All right, kiddo. Bed.” No slush time tonight. I just know this shift in our routine is going to drag us down to first gear. My nights with my kid are precious but they are so very long. It’s been years since Goodnight Moon. These days, three books and three songs can fill an hour, easy. If Bug has to read? We’ll be bumping along on the shoulder, me craning my neck for the exit ramp. The dinner dishes are heaped in the sink, the lunches are not made, the dog has to be walked. . .
Clearly, Bug’s not the only one who dreads change.
Right here, right now. I tell myself.
“Okay, Buddy. Tonight, you get to read one of the books out loud to me.”
“I’ll start tomorrow,” he says.
“Tonight,” I say.
“Next week? Please? Wait! I know. I’ll start when I’m seven.”
“Baby, you practically are seven. And Mrs. P didn’t say to wait a day or a week or anything. She said now. You’re teacher said it, so even Mommy has to do it.”
Bug deflates. I read two from the pile then root through it again and pull out one of the shorter ones. It is from the library and neither of us has ever seen it before.
“What’s this?” he asks.
“I don’t know. What does the title say?”
“Oh, Mom! Come on.”
I point to the first word on the cover and wait.
“H-h-hondo. And. Fuh – what’s that?”
“Hondo and Fabian,” he says.
We open the book. He reads the first line. Not a single stumble. He reads it just like any old reader would do it. I have to hold back the wave of Wow that surges up in me. If I don’t keep my cool, he won’t keep going. We turn the page. His voice rolls smooth right over the next line. Then the next. Hondo and his friend Fred are playing in the waves. Fabian the kitty is playing with the toilet paper. Bug is giggling. I use my fingers to cover parts of a long word and he pieces together “chicken.” Then, just like that, Hondo and Fabian are asleep. We close the book and I turn to Bug.
“You just read to me, baby. You just read a whole book!”
“Yeah, yeah. Whatever.”
“Whatever your own self. I had no idea you could do that! Look how all your hard work and practicing is making it so you can really-for-real read.”
“Could you just sing please?”
My mother is right. He does have a chip on his shoulder tonight. It’s no different than just about all the 182 nights I have with my flinty boy. That’s not nearly enough squares on the calendar to waste any one of them on wishing he were different, wishing any of this were something else. I pull the pillows down behind us and curl into him. He pushes my hand off of his side and twists away.
“Old Mr. Johnson had troubles of his own.”
“Will you rub my back?” His little voice. His one concession to attachment. I lift his shirt and trace my nails down his spine. His muscles roll as he hums a little laugh.
“I’m really proud of you, baby,” I whisper. “You’ve worked really hard. It’s going to be so fun reading together.”
Bug doesn’t say anything. I pick up the song’s drifting thread.
“He had a yellow cat that wouldn’t leave his home. . .”

Art, Divorce

June 11, 2005

Wedding Cake

My son wants to know what the plastic box contains. It is in his room on the dresser where I have stashed it in the hopes of a near-future move. We lift the lid and I show him the colored paper. The stack of card stock is a jumbled rainbow of hues. Inside the lid is pasted a stylized directive: Please place completed scrapbook pages here.
Bug reads it out loud slowly. “What does that mean?”
“The box was from our wedding,” I explain. “Our guests drew pictures for us so we could remember them.”
From the bottom, Bug fishes one of the blank pages left from that day. A goldenrod square is pasted onto a larger lavender piece. A tiny stamp in the center of the smaller frame reads, “Your photo will be here.”
“How?” Bug asks.
“Like this.” The scrapbooks are all in his room. Weddings, pregnancy, first tooth, first steps. Tee and I hug in faded sepia on the front of one. I pull it down and nestle with my son on his bed. “We made two books because we had so many creative wedding guests. One is for family and one is for friends. This is your family too, you know.”
We flip past all the announcements and shower invitations. In a save-the-date , a silhouette of Tee and me leaps against a Lake Michigan sunset. A handmade flower-petal paper sports its indigo raffia bow. The booklet from the wedding day slips around in a plastic sheath that protects the lyrics to James Taylor’s “How Sweet it Is” alongside the cowboy-hat story of our first meeting.
Someone had the bright idea to use one of the tabletop disposable cameras to capture a few shots of the scrapbooking table. A violet satin cloth is littered with stamps, stickers, pens. Everything is so very bright. Sunburnt guests brandish markers and grins. The daisies my friend planted months in advance pop from their hand-painted pots.
I point out cousins my son knows now as older. He has me read their wishes to us.
“Was I there?” He asks.
“You were the reason we were all there, but no. You weren’t born yet.”
He turns another page. “Nelson!” he cries. “He was there!”
“You know Nelson?”
“Of course,” Bug says. “He lives at Daddy’s house.”
Nelson. A stuffed plush banana slug from a trip to an Olympic Peninsula lodge was a key player in Tee’s and my courtship. Nelson was present at the third and final proposal. Sometime during the wedding reception, Tee snuck the slug out of his jacket pocket and propped him onto the cake table. Nelson’s big-eyed welcome is now a sunny flourish against our melting, blue sky confection.
Bug slips down from the bed and goes back over to the box of blanks. He pulls the lavender-and-gold card stock from the top and settles down at his desk.
“Are you going to make one?”
“Mmm-hmm,” he murmurs. He is already in the flow. He outlines the shape of a purple butterfly with his marker. A red flower. I let him draw for a few minutes as I turn back through the album. A few cards at the back sing out their happy wishes. The rooftop group shot with all of us jumping is a cascade of smiles. Grandparents, siblings, all so much younger. They glisten and wilt and whirl and bounce.
I try to feel sad but I just can’t tap sorrow. It was a gorgeous day. Tee and I were giddy. I couldn’t stop giggling as I walked down that makeshift aisle my mother rolled out on the grass from a bolt of rainbow upholstery fabric. The sunflowers arching behind fiancé and friend opened their delight to me. Happiness still pulses there, beating in a subdued major key.
“When you are done, baby, do you want me to find a picture of you to put on the page?”
He nods but does not turn, still bent to the task of making his garden come to life. “Yep. And then put it in the book.”
“Okay. We can make room for you in there.”

Children, Family

Born at Sea

Bug schlepped a canvas bag weighed down with five books and a beach towel to school on Friday. This was on top of his normal overstuffed backpack. With a parade of literary events, his class had been celebrating Dr. Seuss’ birthday all week. The grand finale had the kids lounging around the classroom on their towels like a pod of beached bibliophiles. It was a Key West siesta under fluorescent lights. When I picked him up, he told me someone special had come to his class to read.
“Was it Horton?” I asked. “The Cat in the Hat?”
He rolled his eyes. “They’re pretend!”
“Oh, so it was Santa Claus, then.”
“No! Guess for real!”
“Let me see. Was it. . . your daddy?”
His face lit up. “Yep!”
Tee is one of the three Class Moms for Bug’s kindergarten room. He is a regular volunteer and he manages all the electronic communication to keep the rest of us absent kin in the loop. The twinge of envy I feel about his extensive involvement is eclipsed by relief. At least my kid has a parent who is a solid presence in the school. (Even typing this, I am quelling the urge to explain all the reasons why this is the way it is, and how I am doing my best given commutes and job demands, etc. etc. Maternal guilt is a bottomless pit).
“So,” I said, turning into the driveway. “What did Daddy read?”
“Scuppers,” Bug said with a grin.
“Sailor Dog!” I cut the engine and twisted around to face him. “Boy, we read the heck out that book when you were little. ‘Born at sea in the teeth of a gale, the sailor was a dog.’ That is your daddy’s most favorite book ever.”
Bug jutted his chin. “How do you know?” This is Bug’s latest gambit: haughty skepticism. I take it as a sign of charisma and burgeoning self-reliance. This helps me bite my tongue.
My better self won out and offered up a shiny smile. “A long, lo-o-ong time ago, back when your daddy and I were first dating, he did nice things to try to get my attention.” I stretched toward him over the console and whispered, “I’ll never understand why, but he kinda liked me.”
Bug’s wall of snottiness crumbled. He unsnapped his seat belt and ooched forward. “Yeah?”
“Yeah. And you know how sometimes, when big kids or grownups like each other and start getting romantic and silly, they bring flowers and chocolate, all that lovey-dovey stuff?”
Bug nodded. His eyes were wide.
“So, your daddy and I had only been seeing each other for a few weeks. This was long before you were born. It was before we were married, before we really knew each other at all. One day, a package came for me at work. It was all wrapped up in paper. It didn’t say who it was from. I took it back to my desk and tore it open. Do you know what was inside?”
Bug shook his head. “What?”
Bug took a second to absorb this. Then his face split open. “Scuppers?” He burst out laughing.
“Your daddy had sent me a picture book to show me he liked me.”
Bug rocked back with a whoop and collapsed into his booster seat. He laughed so hard he could barely catch his breath. “He sent you Scuppers? What?”
“Yep. I kept looking at it and turning it over. I couldn’t figure it out! He hadn’t even put a note in it. Some guys surprise you with a big bouquet of flowers. Not Tee. Nope. He sent me. . . ”
“Scuppers!” Bug snorted. “A kid’s book.”
I shrugged. “That’s when I knew your daddy was a giant goofball. And I also found out what his favorite book was.”
Bug shook his head and opened the car door. “I can’t believe Daddy. I just can’t believe he got you Scuppers.” He bounced out of the car and up the driveway. I grabbed the backpack and books he invariably forgets without a reminder from me. This time, I let him off the hook.
Bug knows his daddy loves him because Tee is there. Every time my kiddo turns, he finds his father all over again. Tee’s care is a physical presence. His love is relentless. (Long may it last)
Bug knows I love him because I lay with him every night and rub his back. Three books, three songs, without fail. We greet the dark together.
Bug knows that his daddy I once loved each other, too. I do not want him to forget. Our story is the prelude to our son’s. It was calm waters before it was storms and shipwrecks. It didn’t end the way storybooks are supposed to, but it was ours. It was love. All that remains of it is our son’s. There is treasure down there somewhere. It is his for the taking.

Brown, Margaret Wise. The Sailor Dog. Golden Books, 1953.