I’m on the phone as I accompany Noah to his day camp, Friday morning. I never do this. Hate being on the phone when he”s there.
He stares up at me.
“What is it, Dad. Do I get the uh, parcel like today?”
He hops a little. Understandably. He’s been excited ever since we saw the failed delivery notice stuck to our door.
Last night he was full of questions. “Do you think it’s from Belgium, from Johanna (his mom)? Or do you think it’s maybe like from Italy, from Mirella (his cousin)? Do they know I’m crazy about Pokémon? How come it’s not like from the mailman? Can we go pick it up now?”
The only way to get him to relent and go to bed was to promise that I would call first thing in the morning to enquire about delivery.
“Thanks dad. I love you dad.You’re the best.”
Yes, there are considerable collateral benefits to being a Father.
“Between 1 am and 7pm, sir.”
The Midwestern voice on the phone is polite in that perfectly modulated, barely human tone that leaves no openings.
I laugh out loud. Noah smiles, a little uncertainly.
“Wow, that’s not very useful. For one it’s an impossibly wide range and two, it’s the opposite of when I’m home, able to receive the package.”
“I’m sorry sir.”
Noah frowns, stops walking. “What dad, what did they say?” He ‘s not hopping anymore. I motion him to keep moving forward. We’re late.
“Can’t I make an appointment in a shorter time frame.”
“No, sir, I’m sorry, sir.”
This is the moment where I choose to rant or choose to smile at the absurdity of “service”. Pre-fatherhood I would have ranted. But there’s Noah, all 137 cm. of trusting, hopeful excitement. Already he’s stopped hopping because of the weight of our inquiry.
“Sir? Are you still there?”
“Yes, I was just trying to figure out how to meet your unavailabilities.”
Ooooh, I’m proud of that one. Nasty but elegant.
“Sir, you can sign the delivery notice giving us permission to leave it at the door.”
“I see no other option.”
“You can include a check for the payment.”
“Payment? For what? Dad?”
Noah stops moving again. He must be mimicking me because he’s frowning in a mix of surprise and mounting frustration.
“$38.40 for shipping and customs, sir.” Her voice is mono-chord.
“$38.40?” My voice goes up one octave. Incredulity and bitchiness does that.
“$38.40? Noah’s voice goes up at several octaves.
No surprise. Yesterday I grumbled at him because he bought a $1.86 push-pop candy that I thought was 99 cents. So $38.40 is a massive expenditure.
“Where’s it from?”
I try hard to control my face. Noah’s Mom has been gone for at least six of his 9 years… lost in the labyrinth of her mental illnesses, running up against the dead ends of schizophrenia, psychosis. borderline syndrome and other unicorns. He hears from her rarely, and that’s a good thing, given that she refuses any medication and is prone to violence. Luckily, she’s more than five thousand kilometers away.
“You can leave a check, sir.”
“Okay, thanks. Good day.” I hang up.
“It’s from Belgium, Noah. I guess from your mom.”
“But what, dad? She like sent me something that like you have to pay for?”
“She bought whatever is inside. But she didn’t pay for the delivery.”
“Whaaaa…? That’s mean.”
Yes. As usual.
“No. She probably just got confused.”
“I’m so sorry for you, dad.”
“For like the thirty eight dollars and uhm, forty cents. That’s a lot of money.”
“It’s like my fault.”
“Absolutely not! The Push pop candy last night, now that was your total fault.”
He looks up, sees me smiling and snickers.
“Yeah, that was a fail, huhn dad? Yeah! But still, she coulda like have paid it, you know.”
Yeah, but Noah… the cool thing is that it’s proof that she thinks about you. Probably all the time.”
“I’m sure. So she probably found something for you and was so excited she just had to send it whether she had the money or not.”
“Just like a kid, dad.”
Sweet, brilliant Noah.
“Exactly. And receiving a parcel from Europe. How cool is that?”
“I just like hope it’s not like the stuff, remember, when I was like 8. Yeah, she sent me a package that said Happy Birthday but, like two months late. Haha.”
He chortles and shakes his head in sympathetic acceptance, like an old man considering the folly of youth.
“And dad, it was like clothes I hated, and uh, candy I didn’t eat and the worst of the worstest was like she sent books, like, for a baby.”
“Yeah. you were disappointed. But at least she tried.”
“Yeah, poor Johanna.”
It rends my heart that he no longer calls her mom. Yes, she’s nuts and useless and thousands of kilometers away and yes she was violent and horrible before she left. But she was the only woman I had loved enough to bring forth a child.
His little hand shoots up into mine.
“Dad, like what happens if you don’t want to pay?”
“It goes back to your mom. But that’s cruel. I think she would be very sad.”
Who knows my son, who knows?
“Yeah, and if it’s like stuff I don’t want, I can like give it to the poor.”
Sweet. He doesn’t know that we’re the poor.
“You’re a wonderful human being, Noah.”
“You too, dad. And a great Father, too.”
Collateral benefits to single fatherhood is that I get all of the love.