Noah is no longer a baby.
But it’s not that simple to realize. I’m with him all the time, except when he’s at school or camp and I’m working. But mornings, evenings, nights, weekends, holidays, vacations, sick days, we’re together. So change is not always obvious to the naked eye.
“Dad, it doesn’t matter. Let’s go anyways.”
Saturday. Sunny and warm but with a cool wind as a reminder not to complain about summer heat because it’ll soon be over.
Yesterday was the last day of summer camp. Noah did the rounds of the animators and got hugged, kissed, had his hair ruffled, got jostled playfully. Like a pup in an overcrowded litter, when the babies step all over each other and get licked and fed and boxed by their parents. Physical, emotional, familial, the best of human warmth.
During the night, he started a high fever, complete with sore throat, earache. Tylenol and cold compresses and lost sleep.
By Saturday morning, his body was cool but his right ear was blocked. He looked tired with dark circles under his eyes, but otherwise, healthy.
“Actually, dad, I feel more than okay. Yeah, I mean you’re going to have to stay, like on this side of me or else, like I won’t understand anything you say, hahaha. Actually, it’s a good way to like do what I want and say like, ‘I can’t hear you’. Good one, huhn?”
I’m going to have to tell him again that it kills a joke when you have to explain it.
“So, yeah, let’s go to the party.”
In the recent past, whenever he got this kind of throat and ear infection it would quickly spiral down into horrid pain, contortions, visits to the doctor, prescriptions, antibiotics and days and days of worry and lack of sleep for both of us. This time seems different. I look at him, as if, suddenly, I’m several steps back.
He’s grown. Not just long legs and arms and two front teeth. He has a surprising stillness, now and then. Self assurance, self possession.
So, Saturday at 3pm. we’re ready for the half hour walk to the block party in a poor neighborhood of recent immigrants. I touch Noah’s forehead. He’s warm again.
“It’s okay dad, I’ll take some Tylenol and it’ll be okay.”
Last two tablets. I make a mental note to walk by the pharmacy to stock up.
On the way there, Noah starts whistling. We hardly talk. An easy silence born of love without question.
The party is wonderful. Circus acts, hula hoops, games that give coupons for a draw, corn on the cob, cotton candy, popcorn and, at nightfall, a Japanese Anime projected on a big screen outside.
“Dad, why do the kids like run and push in line? It’s really annoying. And look at that kid. I mean he’s like loaded his dish like a mountain. I mean that’s sorta suckish. What if like not everybody gets some?”
“Look around, Noah, these are really poor families. You’ll notice often that when people have little they sometimes are scared about missing out when something special happens. Because they have so little.”
I throw him a look. How mature he suddenly seems. Must be the fever. I touch his forehead. He is, in fact, warm.
The feast was organized by a local community group. The grace and patience of all the organizers created a bubble of beauty in the midst of the onrushing indifference of the surrounding city.
It was palpable.
Then came the drawing for prizes. Noah laid out the fifteen coupons he won playing the games. He had already spotted what he would choose: a mega box of wood color pencils for drawing.
“You know, dad, for an artist like me, those are really great.”
It’s taken me a lifetime to have the courage to call myself an artist. At nine he’s already there.
As the prizes start disappearing from the table, cradled by screaming kids with winning tickets, Noah’s disappointment rises.
“Dad, this sucks. I mean I really wanna win.”
“I know, it would be fun. But, Noah, this is Christmas for these kids.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at the apartment buildings around and look at how they’re dressed. They probably don’t have a house full of toys and books and movies like we do. Feeding them is probably tough enough for their parents.”
When the movie started, kids ran and pushed to get the best chairs. Noah waited until the commotion calmed to find us two seats. It was getting colder and his head was getting warmer. He snuggled up against me.
The movie was Ponyo by Hayao Miyazaki. A beautiful cartoon of adventure, nature and eternal love. When it ended, kids and parents dissolved into the project apartments all round. The ground was covered in litter. I quickly started picking up, to help the handful of organizers.
Noah hesitated. Then without a word, he started folding chairs and bringing them to the small storage shed. We both worked hard for twenty minutes. When we finally left, the place was clean.
“You have a really special kid,” says the lady in charge.
“Yeah, I know.” I can’t help myself.
We begin the walk back home at 10:30. He’s a little feverish but in no pain.
“This was a really, really great day, dad. And this is awesome walking back when it’s late and like we’re two adults after a party, yeah, It’s cool.”
I blew it! The pharmacy is already closed. No Tylenol to give him. I have adult aspirin. Maybe if I calculate the amounts in his and mine I can figure how many of the adult pills to give him. Shit! This might be a horrific night.
“Dad, you know I really don’t mind, like not winning anything you know, because you see how happy those kids were. I mean it made me feel rich.”
I put my arm around his shoulders. He’s just the right height that I can rest my arm on his shoulder and hold his whole torso close as we walk.
“Noah, you’re my hero.”
“And you’re my hero dad.”