AND OUT OF nowhere, which is the only way these things happen, which is why you have to force yourself to stay for the entire slog, suddenly one is standing in his underpants in the dining room, serenading me about the belle of Belfast City off a Xerox, and the other has turned into Gene Krupa in the tub.
So I don’t take my tea into the bedroom, and I stand and listen as he struggles through the verses he doesn’t know by heart yet, and listen also to the rattling experiments in stochastic rhythm coming from the hot and cold handles and the plastic bath drums, and try to let the miracle reside. But I’m severely undercaffeinated, very worried about money, and not yet convalesced from the bomb damage of 2010, and I can’t snap myself into being quite the emotionally open human this moment exists for.
But even if I can’t luxuriate, he can. And should. I can do that for him: He can have the experience of not doubting his Daddy wants to be sung to right this instant.
So I hold my mug and listen through the stumbles.
Many, many stumbles.
Whenever he glances up to make sure I’m still with him, he sees me looking back. I can do that.
Then I give him a kiss and excuse myself before the next song, and order Krupa to wash his face and get out of the tub.
I’M ON THE bed, doing whatever on the laptop, something imperatively useless, when he comes in with the blue plastic stool that he wrote his name on in marker, which I haven’t gotten around to making him clean off because I kind of like it, clutching his stapled Xeroxes. He places the stool for his performance and lets me know he’s going to sing Put a Little Love in Your Heart to me.
So, he never being six years old on March 1 again, and me never being quite so dense that I don’t notice an urgent memo when it’s hand-delivered, action required on my part, in a song title, I put the Internet addiction aside and close its lid so I won’t be diverted and tell him please sing to me.
Another day goes by / and still the children cry.
Put a little love in your heart.
If you want the world to know / we won’t let hatred grow—
He looks up without any guile and says, “Can you tell me what is hatred?”
That one takes some thinking.
KRUPA INDIGNANTLY SNATCHED up what he claimed were his stapled Xeroxes and sang through them on the bed during Pavarotti’s turn in the tub, in the little-boy soprano I hope I don’t entirely forget when they’re 18, and then Kathleen came in and asked for help on a work thing and, after I provided what I could, mentioned that the community chorale she’s been too overwhelmed to consider is doing Bach this year, cantatas, which could, maybe, mean a beautiful part for her.
Then the singing boy felt a too-long silence and his parents both beaming at him and looked up and smiled as he kept singing.
First you slog; then, sometimes, you’re shown why. It never goes the other way around.
THE SECOND PERFORMER wanted his “1000 Facts On Space” book for story time because he thought it would tell him about radar, so once I was done yelling them through teeth-jobs-pee-shoes-and-pick-up-this-floor, we got on the big bed.
The one instance of radar in the index took us to a page about distances. This boy was born a scientist, but his brother tunes out unless there’s music or acting involved, so their two heads became Jupiter and Earth, and we made movie radar sound effects and counted Mississippis between forehead boinks. Then Jupiter stood farther away and became Pluto and we counted again.
We don’t actually shoot fingers into space. Right, guys? We do it with radar instead.
And then—they couldn’t get this when they were five, but now that they’re six: Looking back in time by looking up at the stars, and how an alien near Proxima Centauri looking through a really powerful telescope into our apartment—what do you think he would see?
But not us right now. He’d see me giving you a bottle. He’d see Baby You, not Six-Year-Old You.
Because you’re six, and it takes the light five and a half years to get here. Light is how we see, when it goes in our eyeballs. So what he’d see wouldn’t be you now. It would be you five and a half years ago. And another star called Deneb is almost two thousand light-years away, so when we look up, we’re seeing it two thousand years ago.
Yes, sweetie. Really.
Want to know something REALLY cool? If you’re going at the speed of light, and you turn on a flashlight, how fast does THAT light go?
Nope. It goes the speed of light too.
Your brain is telling you that when you add two things, they get more. Right?
But light doesn’t work that way. And that’s just the beginning of how cool and weird science is.
Did I make your brain explode?
Good night, sweetheart.
THE FIRST PERFORMER had reached his quota of science facts at the same moment his head stopped being Pluto, back in Mommy and Daddy’s room, so he just got big noisy kisses on his cheeks. Good night, sweetheart. (KISS KISS KISS KISS!) I love you. (KISS KISS KISS!) Sweet dreams. (KISS KISS!)
When the kisses and giggling were done, he held my head firmly in his hands, looked up at me in the darkened room, and filled his moment of being the one to end the evening by saying:
“I need you to shave tomorrow.”
See you in the morning.