I hear Henry crying in the other room.
That's basically like me saying, "I smell bacon when I'm frying bacon," because, like, no sh*t. Of course Henry's crying in the other room.
It's not that he's a cry-baby or anything, but he's almost 2 now, that age when there is a fire born down inside of a child which can only best be explained as the actual birth of their very soul, you know? See, by 2 years old, the little body has been around a bit/seen some things/got a few nicks in the enamel to show for all that living the kid's been doing.
But it's the soul -- THE SOUL! -- that pecks its way out of the great speckled egg down in that nest of nitty-grittiness known as your heart and cheep-cheeps its way out onto the big bad boulevard of broken dreams called your f*cking life. There, it takes one look at that squooshy lump of baby fat you had become and immediately starts rearranging house with game-changer moves.
Babies get born.
They slobber and stare at you clueless, as if you were a 50-foot-high pile of neon sheep sh*t.
Toddlers get Soul Born.
They hurl themselves down staircases and use streaming tears of manipulation to break your heart.
Babies shoot out a moist tunnel and into your hearts.
Toddlers shoot out of a Soul Cannon into your face.
So, at this point, hearing Henry crying in the other room is normal. It's when you aren't hearing him in there making a racket that you have to worry about what's up.
"Hen-REE!" I call out his name that way. I do that for a change sometimes.
I can hear him fussing around with his stool in the bathroom, so I figure he's probably in there trying to get up on the counter to eat some toothpaste, something I am a bit hesitant to call his "first hobby," but I'm not really one to mince the truth. Anyway, the last I saw him, a few minutes ago, maybe five, he had a lollipop in his hand and he was tearing through my room with blue lollipop glue all over his cheeks and lips looking like a small candy-coated squirrel on the make.
I hadn't expected tears. His sister is downstairs, she has an alibi. Something isn't adding up.
I wait but he keeps crying, a little harder now and I want to ignore it, let him tough it out, but whenever the crying pitch increases, say from a "there's-a-thumbtack-in-the-soft-sole-of-my-foot" to something like "help-there's-a-piece-of-my-own-poo-lodged-in-my-left-nosehole," I get a little worried, a little jittery. I think back to the time when I went to investigate his increasingly fevered cries to find him stuck sitting inside the sink with the hot water running full blast and maybe ten seconds away from getting seriously hot.
There are times when you know something is really the matter. It's a gut instinct -- or a chip floated into your head by insurance companies. Either way, as a parent, you know.
This might be one of those times, I start thinking.
He's crying harder now and he's not running to my calls, which is unusual, given that the very nature of his damn sobs are generally meant to curry influence and favoritism. I get up from my work and head into the bathroom.
I turn the corner through the door.
Henry has long, gorgeously sliced ribbons of toilet paper trailing from each of his fingers and his thumbs. It seems ethereal; at first, I think he is playing some kind of a boy wonder trick on me, crying to get me to run to see his fairly astonishing toilet paper art.
But then, no, I notice that some of the paper is still attached to the roll and the poor guy isn't trying to create anything cool on purpose here. He's literally tarred and feathered himself with toilet paper and lollipop gunk.
My heart aches a tiny bit for the kid as I laugh out loud, which makes him start bawling even harder with frustration.
What a guy, I think to myself. What a spectacular friggin' kid moving in spectacular circles of magical soul.
In his "big boy" effort to pull off some tissue and wipe his own snotty nose, like I've been teaching him lately, his lollipop fingers were basically candy corn nubs dipped in SuperGlue. The more he touched the toilet paper, the more it stuck to him! Now, here he is, and he's sad to the point of fury.
He bites his own arm as I stare down at him. That's how he handles his anger, a chip off the old block.
I try to hold my laughs in, but it's hard and I want him to know what a genius I think he is.
I lean over and whisper into his ear that it's OK, we'll fix him up. I help him over to the sink and I can also start to make out, just by osmosis, that a good part of his upset is also because he was really enjoying the hell out of that lollipop and all of this dumbass paper came out of nowhere to screw it all up.
We turn on the water and I show him how easy all this stuff comes off with just a few splashes and some gentle rubs.
After a minute or so, his tears dissolve into misty whimpers, the kind where he's kind of caught out there on a hiccup between old sadness and happy again.
And just as I catch a fleeting glimpe of us in the mirror, his brown eyes twinkling above his blue shellacked nose, half his noodle barely peering up over the vanity top, I am aware that I am watching him being born for the second time.