When I picked up the boys to go trick-or-treating, I couldn’t contain my excitement. They looked just perfect — Ryan as Spiderman and Ben as Sponge Bob. I had them pose for photos and then we drove off to find a neighborhood oozing with candy.
But before we had a chance to leave the parking lot, I heard a screaming voice:
I slammed the breaks and peered out the window. A guy, his arms flailing about, was running toward us.
Ryan: Who is that, Daddy?
Daddy: Um um…We’d better get out of here, boys.
Ryan: You didn’t answer my question.
Daddy: Don’t give me attitude, Ryan.
Ryan: Who is it?
Daddy: Just some psycho, I don’t know.
The guy approaches our car.
Psycho: Is this your camera case?
Daddy: Oh did I leave that…thank you!
Psycho: And the Spiderman mask?
Daddy: We were in a hurry.
Psycho: No explanation needed. Happy Halloween!
Yes, it’s true – Daddy had a brain fart and totally left some important items on the park bench. Thankfully my new best friend, Psycho, saved the day!
Do you remember The Great Compromise?
“Just give me an hour with the boys trick or treating and you can have them for the rest of the night.”
So how did it work in practice? The hour I had with them turned out to be more like 25 minutes once you factor in transportation time. And at 5:30 p.m., it was still light out, there was no action on the street and most homes weren’t even “open for business.” But putting my petty complaints aside, I got what I wanted out of The Great Compromise — time with my boys while they are still precious enough to eat. (Don’t freak out, I would only eat them if we ran out of Peanut Butter Cups, which wasn’t likely to happen).
Ben has good days and not so good days. This wasn’t one of his good days, which is apparent in the photos. As Ryan eagerly approached a home, Ben would wander aimlessly on the sidewalk, completely unfocused and so unlike that boy on a mission we saw at the grocery store. I began holding his hand and guiding him to each home, which seemed to work much better. I knew Ben was having a good time when he’d say, “Daddy open,” as he handed me a candy bar.
At 6:15 p.m. it was already time to get back in the car and meet their mother. Upon announcing this, I was met with a rising chorus of resistance.
Ryan: We just got here.
Daddy: I know, but we had a great time, didn’t we?
Ryan: I guess.
Daddy: I know I had a lot of fun and now it’s your Mommy’s turn to share you…and that’s how I feel.
Ryan: Right Dad, like anyone believes you.
The guy questioning Daddy’s credibility was my not-easily-fazed Ryan. When he was 3, he already was developing his seen-it-all demeanor.
FLASH BACK: JULY 4, 2009
I have audio from last July 4th of my “ooh-ing and ah-ing” as the fireworks lit the sky. In the background, you can hear Ryan telling me to chill.
Ryan: Just relax.
Daddy: What do you mean, relax? I am relaxed.
Ryan: Being quiet is relaxing.
Daddy: Is that grammatically correct? Just asking.
Ryan: Don’t say words…just relax okay?
He almost seemed a little annoyed with me. My 4-year-old is cooler than his old man. And that hurts big-time.
CUT BACK TO THE CAR
As we drove back, Ben was putting the pieces together. He now understood that I was returning the boys to their mother. As we approached the now familiar parking lot, I realized that Ben had joined the resistance movement. He said and required only two words: “Papa’s house.” In Ben’s memory, my father’s house is where the boys and I spend the weekends together and it’s where he thought, or hoped, we were now headed.
This reinforced something Ryan had disclosed to me earlier, as we were going door to door:
The whole day Ben has been saying…’Daddy, Daddy, Daddy’…saying it over and over again…’Daddy, Daddy, Daddy’.
I thanked Ryan for telling me and he responded with a big smile: “Ben loves you Daddy – and so do I.” I was, of course, delighted to hear this. Ryan is becoming quite the skilled panderer, telling Daddy what he wants to hear.
But this time Ryan wasn’t kidding. In fact, you won’t believe what happened next. In the parking lot, Ben walked over to greet his smiling mother and climb into the van. But then he paused, as if confused.
“Daddy, come,” he pleaded.
I didn’t. But the tears did.
While Ryan munched on an Almond Joy, this was my treat. No longer could my ex maintain the myth that she alone can raise these boys. I took more than a little pleasure in hearing Ben deliver those simple, poignant words. But not for the reasons you may suspect. Rather, this incident represents the first time I’ve seen Ben seek independence from that blissful mother-centered world which has protected and nurtured him for the past six years. This is a good sign.
He’s starting to pay more attention to Daddy. Because Daddy loves him and because he loves Daddy.
Even if Daddy is not that cool.