"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed."My stepson, bless his heart, has had a hard time of it of late. He is, as we used to say in the Air Force, "all thrust and no vector" (used in its single-dimensional if non-lexicographic sense of direction only without magnitude). He cannot control himself. He is not angry or malicious, mind you. That phase passed long ago, the inevitable result of a world turned upside down by divorce. No, this version of non-existent self-control is more driven by curiosity, over-abundant energy, above-average intelligence, and a disposition to disregard all boundaries of space and property. I awoke Saturday morning to find his bed empty and the tiny man downstairs, in the study, where he knows he's not to be, playing on not one, but two computers, both verboten. His repeated random keystrokes and who knows what else had vexed mine right into the blue screen of death. Not an auspicious beginning to the day, and it went downhill, in the Tiny Man's case, from there right through Sunday evening when, after dealing out consequence as dispassionately as I was capable of for nearly 36 straight hours without much detectable effect on behavior, I was granted parole to go see a movie in the interest of my sanity.
The movie is not important. Important is that, as I was putting on my coat to go, having had mostly only attention in the form of one consequence after another for the better part of two days, around the corner came a tiny man with a surprisingly flattering request: "Can I come with you?" "No son. Good night."
A brief exchange, it's true, but weighty. I needed a break. He needed . . . me. Never mind that other than a brief six-hour respite at work I had been on his case like white on rice for two days. I had thought he'd be as glad for the break in constant surveillance as I, but no. Nor did it change this morning. Out of bed nearly an hour before he should be, he was sent back to it, but chose instead, to avail himself of the pre-dawn darkness to rummage his sister's room while she slumbered. Busted yet again, his last sight of me this morning was exasperatedly tucking him in, kissing his brow, and closing the door to his room.
Fast forward through a long day at work where sometimes even the grown ups, when they don't get their way, are a trial more akin to rearing a four-year-old. Fast forward to bed time, and a calm conversation about consequence, about why again tonight there will be no Wii for the young hacker. And once there, freeze frame. Freeze on a bundle of four-year-old boy sitting in a half-century of lap, cradled, protected, nurtured, and loved, and listening calmly, and answering correctly when asked, "Why is there no Wii for you tonight son?"
"Because I went in the study and I played on the pooters."
"And why did you lose blanky this morning?"
"Cause I was in sissy's room playing wif her stuff."
"And who has control of how these things go son?"
"I got blanky back."
"So I see. For putting away all your clean clothes in their right drawers I hear. Very good, son. I'm proud of you."
"Will you carwy me downstairs?"
"Okay. Let's go."
Zoom in to angelic face of featherweight boy bundle snuggled into broad, man shoulders with blanky for pillow, arms around neck, tiny head tucked against bearded chin. I thought I might melt. The import, really, of "Will you carwy me?" is simply this: "I'd prefer my feet never hit the floor again tonight. I like here." Velcro. Even the squirms mostly worn out of him by a rambunctious day.
So down we go to rocking chair in living room. Man, boy, blanket, BlackBerry. Why BlackBerry? Simple: music. For the next thirty minutes, we snuggled and surfed. We worked our way through a series of music videos on YouTube, tiny hands holding the boy-sized screen as we worked our way through songs, me singing with most of them, each ending in the same refrain: "Can we do anover one?" Half an hour like this until, eyelids droopy, we headed up to brush teeth, don jammies, and be tucked in for the night.
Who needs whom most at the end of such a day is never really clear, not really even relevant, perhaps not even answerable. We empty our boy and man pockets on a common table: security, vulnerability, strength, fragility, age, youth, wisdom, innocence, calculation, impetuousness, anticipation, trust, and love. It works, this sharing. He's tall already, but in these moments he fits still in the crook of an arm. Safe. Calm. At home.
What I offer below is a list of those videos, that music. Soundtrack of a life. Witness to the wisdom of a license plate: love wins.