|A few weeks ago when I took Gnat to the clinic to see if she had pink eye, I asked for her immunization record. The school wants it, or a good reason why I’ve decided she might profit from a wrestling match with rubella. (Save me the anti-vaccine emails.) I said she had the annual check-up coming in a few weeks; was she due for anything that would make this record out of date?
“Let me check,” said the nurse. “Yes, she’s due for some shots.”
Oh boy. Gnat has the standard human disinclination to suffer flesh-piercing, and had wondered a few times whether a SHOT would occur the next time we visited the doctor. Probably, I’d said. So let’s talk about it. What’s worse, the shot, or waiting for it? The shot, she said, sensibly. But not really. It’s worrying about it that drives you nuts. It’s thinking about it. But how long does it take? I clapped my hands and moved them apart at medium speed. That’s it. And then you get to choose a toy at Target.
You do. So don’t worry. Whenever the subject of the SHOT came up, I’d ask how long they took, and she’d clap her hand.
So we’re heading down the elevator, and I said: I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is you get three shots next time.
She looked at me as though I’d suggested we go home and stick Jasper in the gas grill. Daddy, THREE SHOTS?
"The good news is you get three toys. Only fair."
"Deal?" She said, and stuck out her little hand.
Then we clapped three times to show how quickly the shots would be over.
It seemed like a lot of clapping.
She knew the clinic visit would happen before school, and school was coming soon; she was enthused about the toys, since she anticipated a clean sweep of Barbie and the Magic of Pegasus loot. (This is the annual CGI Barbie movie; it’ll be hard to top “Princess and the Pauper,” and I don’t like the name of the main horse: Briatta. Sounds like a selfish convertible.) Told her yesterday that today was the clinic. She clapped three times. “I can’t wait for my shots!” she said. “I’m so excited about the Magic of Pegasus,” and she sang the song. I don’t recall seeing a commercial for it; apparently they’ve just started beaming this stuff directly into the brains of little girls.
Today we hung out all morning long, windows open, warm summer flowing in. I finished two columns, sent them both, thought: ahhh. What next? I know: call up the contractors and complain. It’s my right as an American! But of course it would be a futile gesture; you’re always at their mercy, and if they don’t come, they don’t come. You cannot will them to appear. Ask for a reason why they haven’t shown up, and they’ll tell you: another project. If you think about it, you realize that your project will be someone else’s project, and in the Great Chain of Being you should feel sympathy for those who come after you. On the other hand, screw ‘em! I was here first!
Home improvements bring out the worst in everyone. Until it’s done. Then you want to hug ‘em and strew rose petals and sacrifice a goat. Speaking of which: “Rome,” HBO’s new series, is quite good. It’s not “I, Claudius,” for better and for worse. Better because it fleshes out Rome at the quotidian level, and it feels right. Worse because “I, Claudius” concentrated on faces and brightly drawn characters, perhaps to compensate for the fact that it had three sets. Better because the ancillary characters are very, very good. Better because its source material is a little closed to the historical facts, whatever they might actually be. Put it this way: it’s completely different than the Sopranos, the Wire, and Carnivale, three of my favorite shows – and that’s why I love HBO.
“Everything is real on the Discovery Kids channel,” Gnat just observed.
Anyway. Rome once a week, a Lost marathon this week. Haven’t seen an episode, but I have to write about it next week so I’d best catch up. I love the modern world: missed a TV show? Go to Target, get it in widescreen. Why, in my day shows vanished forever. You missed that episode of “Search,” that was it – unless you recorded the audio track on an 8-track hooked up to the TV, and could listen to it like a radio show and recreate the show. (This I did, in 1973. I am sure I was not alone.)
Anyway. The contractors came, I explained how we were behind schedule, how I’ve been looking at the butt end of a Bobcat in the back yard for a week, and while I understand that things happen, like rain, all I ask is that you give me a call. That’s it! It’s amazing how this simple courtesy rarely occurs to contractors. One cell phone call in the morning – sorry, the ground’s too wet, the stone didn’t come in, the crew left and a meteor took out my electrical crew, but we’ll be around tomorrow, noon at the latest. You’re happy. And when they show up at 11 you think: better than advertised!
All the contractors have done exceptional work, and I’d use them all again. It’s just the way it is.
Then the clinic. As a child, I lived in mortal dread of the doctor, and I’m sure I picked this up from my Mom. I have doctor dread to this day, but I am determined not to pass it on.
“Will it hurt?” Gnat said on the way to the clinic. “The shots I mean.”
“For a moment. But it’s not as a bad as you think. I had three shots last month, and they were just little sticks. It’s over in a second. And then it’s Target!”
“And Krispy Kreme!”
Right; I’d promised that, too.
She took a stuffed bear up to the clinic. Something to hug. First we filled out a behavioral development quiz – she scored 100, thankyouvermuch – and then the doctor breezed in. He’s great. He doesn’t wear the white coat like my doctor did; his manner is cheerful and disarming, without the serious I – am – probing – for – tumors seriousness I always got from my doc. (He was a wonderful pediatrician – don’t mean to demean him. Again, my own cradle-formed paranoia.) Then we waited. For the shots.
When I was a kid the door was closed, and you’d see indistinct shapes through the pebbled glass. You breathed a sigh of relief when the Angel of Shots passed you by, but that only meant you had to wait longer.
“It’s the waiting that makes you anxious, doesn’t it,” I said.
“Yeah,” she said, clutching her bear.
“I know what you’re feeling, hon. But we’ll be done in five minutes, and then it’s Target!”
“And Krispy Kreme,” she said, with less enthusiasm.
The nurse arrived with a tray. Three needles. Gulp. She asked Gnat to sit in my lap; she asked me to hold her hands. Look up at the birds on the wall – can you tell me what they are?
“Wiggle your toes,” I said, a trick Mrs. Crazy Uke had recommended last night. “Concentrate on wiggling your toes.”
“One down,” I said. “Good job. Now let’s see if we can find a hummingbird – remember the hummingb –“
“Two down. Almost to Target.” The nurse changed positions and chose a different spot.
“Hold her hands tight,” she said.
Because this one was the Molten Acid shot; because this one hurt like hell. Gnat hugged her bear tight and cried a little when it was done.
“That was like metal,” she said.
I wiped her tears and we went to the Crappy Toy Box, where she chose a pinwheel. I asked at the desk: would she ever have to get that one again? Nope.
“You will never have to have that shot again ever for the rest of your life,” I said. “Ever.”
“Yaaaay!” And she skipped off to the elevators.
“The third one really hurted,” she said when we were heading down.
“That’s probably why it was last.”
At Target she walked down the toy aisles, hands clasped behind her back like a drill instructor inspecting the raw recruits. She went with Briatta and a small Kelly doll.
It took me 22 minutes to release them all from their plastic tombs, their bindings of wire and plastic. Took longer than the entire exam.
Wednesday is our last day before school. We’ll go to the gardens we visit every year at summer’s end, where I shoot the video of her in the same place, binding the years together. She has no idea what this means to me. Just as well. Just another happy day with Dad; the fact that I release her to kindergarten in a day, and this feels like a great flaming bolt-cutter that severs tomorrow from all the wonderful yesterdays – well, of course she has no idea. In a sense, it’s nothing new. She’s done pre-school for the last two years. We’ve had dozens of transitions – the day the high-chair was replaced by a real chair, the day the inedible gorge-raising microwave mac n’ cheese in a nukable cup gave way to the real thing, the day she no longer laid on the floor and gurgled at fabric toys but stood up and tottered over to the bin to pick out something she wanted, the day she first said “I can do it” when I tried to help with the computer. All those moments come and go; every day is the alpha and omega. She still takes my hand when we walk down the stairs; she likes to do the Charleston to Paul Whiteman tunes; she still says “you can fix everything about computers” when I use SysAdmin privileges to boot into Classic mode so her game can run. She still casts a wishful eye at those whore-bot Bratz, but knows that both Dad and Mom disapprove, so they’re out. For now.
I wrote this at the kitchen table while she watched “House of Mouse” before bed; when it was done she danced a little to Brian Setzer’s theme – that’s my gal – then came over and said “Thank you for the toys, Daddy.”
“Happy to make you happy, hon.”
“Were you proud of me today with the shots?”
“I’m always proud.”
Smile, kiss, upstairs to bed.
The other day a friend told me about a local talk show host who was going on a tear about older parents, people in their forties who had kids; he called them disgusting. If he has kids of his own, he’s an idiot. If he doesn’t have kids he’s an idiot twice over. There’s really only one response to people like that:
It’s not often I deploy the cruelty of the Perry Head, but this is such a moment. Oh, I have my problems with guys in the high-geezer bracket who get trophy bunnies, have a doctor extract the sole swimmer who isn’t staggering around the testes with a walker and point it towards a ripe egg; while it’s nice to bring life into the world, of course, there’s something immeasurably sad about being a dad at age 78. You won’t walk them down the aisle on their wedding day unless someone rolls your ash-canister down the carpet. On the other hand, who knows how much time we have? They may not remember you specifically, but if you do it right your work manifests itself two decades hence in a reflection of the safety and love they felt as they grew up. And for my part, well, it’s ordinary days like this – and bolt-cutter transitional days like tomorrow – that remind you why, exactly, we get up in the morning. If a bony finger tapped me on the shoulder tonight as I went outside to finish the cigar, and the dark face in the cowl mouthed the words IT IS YOUR TIME I’d think, well, shit. But on the other hand, it’s warm out tonight; the gardens glow in the lights I laid down this spring, and even the Bobcat seems part of the scenery by now. If it all led up to nothing but today, that would be fine. It was an unremarkable day - but then again, when recalled in detail it seems ungrateful to ask for another. And it seems unbelievable that I’ll be granted another tomorrow as a matter of course.
Note to contractors: this doesn’t mean you can’t show up without calling. “The Milanese quarry foreman came down with the Black Plague, and that’s putting us behind a week” is an acceptable excuse. Anything is acceptable. Just call, okay? Jeez.