Tag Archives: writing nonfiction

Gifts From My Father

Clutch Cargo

Clutch Cargo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today, I placed a bid on a toy from my childhood: a Fisher Price Discovery Globe that lights up and has a viewfinder to “zoom-in” on a location. (Please don’t out-bid me.) Imagine a tangible Google Earth. Life really was cooler in the eighties.

This was the toy I loved most as a child. I spent hours peering into places I’d never see in real life–the countries and cities with their animals and culture and scene. And when I win the auction, I can’t wait to revisit that world. Can’t wait to share it with my boys. When Ebay asked me to enter a maximum bid, I turned melodramatic: How do you enter a high bid on your childhood? So I “x’d” the window.

I could always tell the Christmas gifts my father chose for me–besides this globe: a wood-branding kit, a full chemistry set with pipettes and chemicals, an amateur microscope complete with slides of fly wings and ant feces (or something as gross), a build-your-own-kaleidoscope kit, and a photosynthetic developing kit that I made maple leaf prints with while he blared Simply Red on the living room stereo.

My father used to bring me with him to houses en route to becoming homes, structures without drywall, with see-through staircases that I refused to climb, that I watched him climb with ease. In the process of home-building, it was his turn to add insulation. I loved the saw dust smell and the look of a structure vast and transparent as the woods around it.

Last night, on Ancestry.com, I found a census that showed my grandfather as living in LA when he was six, and my father said, “Huh. I didn’t know.” I frowned. Our realities are what we deem important, what stands out to us as remarkable or noteworthy. My grandfather had never told my father this in all his life. How can I tell my boys everything? How can I let them hold it in their hands?

What happens when life goes undiscovered? We can live a full day without a single moment of it embedded in our memory. There are whole weeks in our lives that we don’t ever speak another word of.

One day, when I was little, I fed bologna, my dad’s favorite lunch meat, to Cricket, a life-sized, blond-haired, blue-eyed doll that talked, because she’d said she was hungry. Another day, uncooked pasta. Her mouth moved when she “talked,” so why couldn’t she chew? Neither worked. I left her side for Teddy Ruxpin, who still refused to eat. (These dolls are now labeled as “vintage” on Ebay.) They could only be so real. Perhaps these failures led me to my microscope or globe? Perhaps these moments lead me to Ebay for my long-lost globe?

I give my parents a lot of grief for not hanging on to my toys. My husband has everything from his childhood! His old toy box sits in my son’s bedroom. They play with his super hero action figures–multiple versions of Spider Man and Batman. They can wear his old denim jacket.

Probably, I coaxed my parents to throw out my old dolls and science laboratories, to let me be a grown-up with lip gloss and purses and cassette tapes.

Last night, my parents showed up with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle truck for my sons. We watched Disney, and then I put on Looney Tunes, a throwback both my father and I remembered. He quizzed me on the character names.

Then he asked, “Have you ever seen Clutch Cargo?” This was a question he’d asked me before, and I still hadn’t looked it up on my own. I still had no vision when he said “human lips on a cartoon face.” Before I knew it, he had his Iphone in his hand, and had pulled up an episode on YouTube. He was eager to show us all–especially my boys.

After we took a peek, he sat there, mesmerized, in his YouTube childhood, watching the episode.

Advertisements

Boys at Home

Superman (comic book)

Superman (comic book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I tell my four-year-old on the way home, “Johnny, you have to calm down at Grandma’s: you can’t jump on her sleep-number bed or track mud on the floor, or look at the pork roast and then comment that the gravy smells like poop, or sit on the windshield of her car, and when we have to leave, you can’t cry behind the standing antique mirror you always almost break in your fervor, because she will stop inviting us over.”

I know she won’t.  She smiles baring all teeth, shaking her head, she says, “They’re boys.”  I smile, bearing anything at all.  How does my mother not mind?

Who doesn’t like gravy?

Sammy is two and threw my mother’s butter potatoes to the floor, swept them clear off her table before he began jamming out with his spoon on her new slate-tiled kitchen set.

Last week, a little girl ahead of us in line at Wegmans said, “My name’s Angelina.”

Johnny said, “My little brother’s name is Sam, and he’s not an angel.”  We all laughed, but he didn’t understand what was so funny.

My sons are not devils.  They are ragamuffins.  They are toughies, my mom says.  My mother-in-law says God only gives you what you need.  He forgot to give me muscles.  And many days, patience.

I did imagine that Angelina went home and combed her Monster High doll’s hair calmly and smoothly with attention to snarls and then smelled her doll’s hair and then cuddled her like a good Monster High doll’s mother would.  I imagine Angelina potty trained in two days.  She ate everything her parents put on her plate, with gravy.  She took ballet classes and tiptoed down the stairs after waking, never before 8 a.m.  I imagined.

I have to exert all my power to hold two boys down with force enough to put their shoes on while they spin like tornadoes, but not enough force to hurt them.  It is a hard practice, like yoga, this strict control of muscles.

And yet I see the same restraint in Johnny when he wants to wallop Sammy in return for the bite on his forearm.

They love as hard as they live.

We get home, and Johnny says, “I don’t like to come home.”

So I tell him that makes me sad, that I want him to love our home, to want to be here.  He starts crying and tells me he doesn’t want to leave this house, to move, that he wants to take the “for sale” sign down.

When I am almost in tears, Sammy says, “It’s okay, Mommy.”

At night, we are finally settled, the three of us on the couch, watching Chicken Little, and I’ve finally stopped holding my breath long enough to remind them how much I love them.  We share popsicles.  And if they fight by pushing hard and leaning against each other, growling, it’s over the space on my lap–which is my space, and I don’t mind if they each take it all.