Sometimes, when your wife is traveling for two weeks on business, it’s best for her not to know EVERY detail of what’s happening at home while she’s gone. At least that was my thinking last week, as my five-year-old son, Zack, hurtled toward the curb on his bike, completely out-of-control.
“ZACK!” I yelled, which, in retrospect, was much less helpful than yelling something along the lines of, “BRAKES! YOU HAVE BRAKES!”
Zack kept his balance while going over a low spot in the curb, even as his training wheels briefly lost contact with the earth, but the next stage of his adventure would present an even bigger challenge: careening down our neighbor’s grassy hill without hitting the large tree directly in his path.
Up until that moment, I’d been doing a fine job with solo parenting. I’d created efficiencies in our evening routine by foregoing bath time. I’d provided culinary variety by alternating between frozen chicken nuggets and Frosted Flakes for dinner. I’d cultivated a sense of harmony between the two boys by turning up the music in the car too loud for them to argue with each other.
Years ago, taking care of them by myself would have been a feat of human endurance. But now, with Evan being eight and Zack being five, we’re at this great moment when the kids can bring their own dishes to the kitchen after dinner, they enjoy sleep almost as much as us, and they are not yet embarrassed to be seen with us in public. Ever since Kara left, the three of us have just been dudes, hanging out, with one of the dudes regularly disciplining the other two dudes, as needed.
The evening before our eventful bike ride, Zack curled up next to me on the couch and struck up a conversation, attempting to mine my fatherly wisdom to help him understand how the world works.
“Daddy?” Zack asked.
“What is it, buddy?” I replied.
“What if your face was your butt, and your butt was your face?” he asked, deadpan. He really wanted to know the answer. It was a timeless question, the kind that has given philosophers sleepless nights from Descartes (“I think, therefore I am… still perplexed about what would happen if your head and your butt were switched.”) to John Locke (“The mind is furnished with ideas by experience alone, but what if the mind is where the butt should be?”).
“You know, I really don’t know,” I replied.
“How would you breathe when you went swimming?” he asked.
So the next night, I decided that we should take the night off from dealing with weighty philosophical problems so that I could walk the dog while the kids practiced riding their bikes. Just as Zack rounded the cul-de-sac, he started picking up the speed that would launch his bike over the curb, and my heart somewhere over the horizon.
I’d love to report that I heroically saved Zack from an arboreal collision, but he quite ably steered himself away from the tree. By the time I got to him, panting and panicked, he was already rolling to a stop at the bottom of the hill. Gravity was through having its fun with him, for now.
“You did a really great job of not running into that tree, Zack. That was the best thing you could have done. Well, besides using the brakes in the first place,” I said as we set him back up on his bike at the top of the hill.
“Oh yeah, the brakes. I forgot about those,” he said.
Somewhere, over a business dinner, my wife, Kara, probably felt a slight twinge.
You can keep Mike Todd from careening into a tree at email@example.com.