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Cole Parker

When He Was Five


        When he was six, he bounded into my bed in the morning, not being terribly careful where his knees landed.

        “Up early, are we, Champ?”

        “Hungry,” he squeaked.

        “Hungry!?  You ate a whole cow last night!”  I scowled at him, making a fierce face.

        He giggled his high-pitched giggle, his bright blond curls dancing in the early rays of sunlight as they peeked around and through the spaces in the Venetian blinds covering the windows, tickled the corners of the room and managed to prick at our eyes.  He wiggled under the covers and pressed himself against me.  I reached over and hugged him.

        “Did not!  You ate most of it.”

        “I’m bigger than you are.  It’s only fair.”

        “I’m still hungry.  I want pancakes.”

        “Then I guess that’s what we’d better have,” I said, and threw the covers off us.  His blue jammies were the exact same color mine were.  He wouldn’t have it any other way.  Every night, he’d ask what color I was going to wear, then go to his dresser and very seriously study all the choices he had, and by some strange coincidence, he’d pick the color I’d told him.

        I’d read to him at night.  I’d sit on his bed, leaning against the headboard.  The bedside lamp on his little table beside the bed would be the only light in the room, but it was plenty to read by.  I’d sit there, on his bed, after I’d tucked him in, but by the time the first page was read, he be up against me, his pillow against the headboard too, next to mine, his arm pressed into mine, his breath tickling my cheek, his serious and inquisitive and boyish face peering intently at the words as I read them, or studying the pictures.

        If he didn’t fall asleep before the chapter was over, I’d stand up and gently slide him down so he was flat on the bed.  I’d pull the covers up.  I’d kiss his forehead and smooth the hair off his face.  If he was asleep, his head drooping over his chest, I’d do the exact same things.

        He didn’t need the light on.  I’d turn it out as I’d leave the room. I always marveled at that.  He didn’t need the light on.  If I thought about it at all, which I sometimes did, my eyes moistened.

        While I was stirring the batter, after he’d broken the eggs and I’d sternly scolded him for all the eggshells he’d got in the bowl and he’d laughed and laughed and told me I was funny, he tried to set the table as well as he could, but, after all, he was six.

        He got dressed all by himself, and I watched as he brushed his teeth.  He dripped toothpaste and saliva all over.  He was a messy kid.  Those are the best kind.

        He was in first grade.  His teacher said he was very bright.  She might have said that to all the parents, I didn’t know, it made me feel good, though.  Maybe that’s why she said it.  She was young enough to be my daughter.

        The first time he screamed at night, I almost had a heart attack, then stubbed my toe running to his room and didn’t even feel it.  He was still asleep, and yelling, “Mommy, mommy, no, no, mommy” and tears were running down his face.  I picked him up, cuddling him in my arms, and took him to my bed.  His was too small.  He barely woke up, shuddered as he was stopping crying, gave me a half awake almost sort of smile and fell asleep as I was laying him down.   He was still asleep when I got up in the morning.

        The caseworker had been an apprentice of mine.  I’d taught him how to do his job.  He’d been eager and smart and energetic as they all were when they started.  He wasn’t quite so eager any more and far less energetic.  He was still smart, and surprisingly compassionate.  That usually faded pretty quickly.  I’d always had high hopes for Todd.

        “You sure you want to foster him?” he’d asked, looking at me through his thick glasses, which made his eyes look bigger that they were.  “You don’t much like kids.”

        “Just sign the forms, Todd.”

        “You sure?”

        “No, I’m not sure.  I’m probably getting senile.  Just sign the damn forms!”

        I had a renewal hearing next month.

        “I got a gold star!  Brian only got a silver one. Gold’s best!”  He was bouncing he was so happy.

        “What’s the gold star for,” I asked.  I’d been reading the paper. Now it was lying on the floor.  Not in my lap.  Tyler was in my lap.

        “I know all the letters.  Only Trisha knows all the letters.  And me.  I know them all.”

        “Do you know any words?”

        “I know a lot of words.”

        “How come you know a lot of words?”

        “I don’t know.  But when you read to me, sometimes I know what you’re going to say.  ‘Specially the third time you read the same book.  Then I know most of the words.”



============   ===========   ============


        When he was seven, his 2nd grade teacher asked me to come talk to him.

        “Tyler is having some problems,” he said.

        The room was very quiet.  We were the only ones there.  He was sitting at an adult sized desk on an adult sized chair.  I was sitting on a kid sized chair.  I wondered if that were done on purpose.  The room was too bright.  I already hated him.

        “What kind?”

        “He doesn’t always do what I tell him to.  He must pay more attention and do what he’s told.”

        “That doesn’t sound like Tyler.  Can you give me an example?”

        “Well, today for example, I told him to go to his seat, and he didn’t do it.”

        “What was he doing?”

        “Two of the boys and a girl were fussing together.  Tyler walked over to talk to them.  I told him to sit down, that I’d take care of the problem.  Tyler looked at me, then kept walking over to the kids that were fussing.  He took Melissa by the hand and took her back to her desk before he went back to his seat.  He needs to learn a little more obedience.”

        I thought for a moment.  “Has Melissa had any problems with those boys before?” 

        “Yes, but I’m working with them.  They tend to be bullies, a  little bit, but we’re working on it.  It’s better if the other kids don’t get involved.  I need Tyler to listen to me a little bit better.”

        “I see.  By the way, Mr. Snyder, are you talking to the bullies’ fathers.”

        “No.  I’m solving one problem at a time. I’m still working with Ricky and Ed.”

        Two days later, Tyler jumped into my lap after school and said, “Guess what?”

        I said,” Hey, you don’t get in my lap much any more.  I like it.”

        “You didn’t guess.”

        “Oh.  Well, I guess you ate all your sandwich at lunch.”

        “Of course I did.  But it wasn’t the one you made.  I traded it to Becky for hers.  Hers was jelly.”

        “So you traded your roast beef and sliced tomato and lettuce sandwich with mayonaisse and pickle for a jelly sandwich”

        “Sure.  I got the best of the deal!”

        “Oh.  And what was I supposed to guess?”

        “I got moved!  I don’t got Mr. Snyder any more.  I’m in Mrs. Tuttle’s room now.  I like her!”

        “Don’t got?  Don’t got!?  I know some kid who needs to go back to first grade to learn how to speak correctly!”

        “Stop tickling me!  OK, OK, ‘Don’t have!’  Stop it!”

        The judge had looked at me over his half-glasses.  “We don’t ordinarily let single men adopt small boys, you realize?”

        “Yes, and I also realize this isn’t 1965 any longer and six-year-old boys aren’t the cream of the crop for being adopted.  Judge Harper, you know me and I know you.  I’ve been in your courtroom probably 40 times for fostering hearings.  You’re a gruff old goat who cares as much as I used to about kids.  Begging your pardon, of course.  You’ve had me investigated six ways to Sunday and you know the effect it would have on Tyler if you didn’t OK this.  You’re going to go ahead with this, so let’s cut the crap and do it.  Your honor.”

        He’d regarded me sternly for a full minute, then broken out in a smile and extended his hand.

        And I had a son.