Old Man and the Son

There was another marital quarrel — my “enthusiasm” was taken away for the day, as if I haven’t surrendered enough already — and the usual parental malaise. Those are easier to write about than everyday joys, the little highs we’re quick to forget. I’ll try. It’s Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday.

For some reason, this silly, mundane four-second high isn’t quick for me to forget. I think about it compulsively, and my eyes got misty the first time I told it to my wife.

I was killing that slow shot clock in the early morning with my 3-year-old on a big-boy playground in L.A. It was a weekday during our trip, so elementary school kids started sprouting out of nowhere before classes started. The place was soon overrun.

Last time we checked, my son was in the 11th percentile for height. So there he was on this sprawling playground, literally a midget, traversing the chaos with tunnel vision while kids double and triple his age raced around him and admirably avoided absolutely steamrolling him.

He looked like Simba in the fateful stampede. I was bracing myself for a Mufasa-like demise as I tailgated him up, down and around the towering main structure modeled after a spaceship theme.

As he climbed a ladder in the middle of it, I called out “To infinity and beyond” in Chinese. That’s our jam. We watch the “Toy Story” movies on Disney+ with Mandarin audio and English subtitles. Every night I recite the first part of Buzz Lightyear’s catchphrase and crouch down. My son then hops on my back and says the rest while holding out his arms in wing formation all the way upstairs to bath time.

He jumps off furniture the same way and wears Buzz pajamas and underwear. “Toy Story” was our liberating gateway from mind-numbing YouTube videos of garbage trucks to the mind-blowing creativity of Pixar. “Toy Story 3” also offers Mandarin dubbing on Disney+ and gets the loop treatment in our household.

Chinese is a cacophonous language to most native Western speakers, including me. When my mom and aunt have any conversation, my anxiety spikes because the volume and staccato are so jarring. I was shocked to count the same number of syllables in the translation of “To infinity and beyond” as in English. I swear it sounds like 10 sentences.

So I was blurting this out while my boy climbed the ladder, and he didn’t acknowledge it. I figured maybe he was distracted, or maybe this was one of those milestones. There was always going to be a time when he was too cool for his old man. It seemed premature now, but the thought crossed my mind that surrounded by these big kids, my son didn’t want to respond to some stupid Toy Story line in choppy Chinese from his dad wearing cargo shorts and boat shoes with socks.

It’s OK. I wasn’t mad about it. I could appreciate his social awareness and learning to read the room.

But as my little boy got to the top step, he stretched out his stubby arms like wings and lunged with his chest through them in a grand flying motion before scurrying to the next spot. He hadn’t been ignoring me. He was focused on getting to the top step because that kind of stuff is still hard for him. Because he’s still a baby.

In hindsight, no child can be a) too cool for his old man and b) require his old man to wipe his butt for him so Buzz Lightyear doesn’t get organic comet streaks. They are mutually exclusive conditions.

No child can be too cool for his old man and have to sit on a petite toilet seat placed on top of the regular one, so he doesn’t fall through. Something about the angle of this double-decker setup ensures his poop lands outside the water every time. It makes the bathroom smell like a Stagecoach porta potty in late afternoon.

I can tell when the payload is coming because his facial expressions basically transport me to the journey through his colon. His eyes lock with mine and subtly dart back and forth as if he were just finding out I betrayed him.

His lip comes up in a half-snarl while the rest of his face both freezes and trembles. Most of the time drool drips from his mouth onto his potbelly.

And here’s the kicker: While persevering through this natural phenomenon, my son feels the need to extend his hand to me, his dutiful servant waiting to wipe his little anus in downward dog position. We clasp hands thumb over thumb like Bertier and Julius at the hospital while he continues to push. Left side, strong side.

It’s almost degrading, this grotesque multi-sensory interactive experience forced on me as a member of his support staff. Yet I don’t hate it. There is something sweet and funny about our absurd ritual, his innocence and resulting extreme level of no f’s given.

I think it makes me love him even more. I am thankful that for all my griping and wishing these stages would go by faster… they don’t. And every now and then a bit of nostalgia can set in even before the kids take flight.


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