Katie was at the park with the boys the other day when she posted the following on Facebook:
Elliott and Ian are playing on the playground, getting ready to blast off in their rocket. Ian asks Elliott to wait so he can say goodbye to me before they blast off. He walks over to me and gives me a nice sweaty hug and kiss. I'm going to miss that when he grows up.
I read that just seconds before the boys lifted off to wherever it is their rocket takes them, which can’t be far. On even their longest rocket trips they’ve always made it home in time to ask for another glass of juice or some Oreo cookies. And they never return with awed looks on their faces like they’ve seen anything more alien than a grasshopper or a spider. I have to admit, though, it hasn’t been long since I thought it might do Ian some good to take a longer trip to space. The International Space Station came to mind. It’s been manned for nearly 12 years. Surely someone needs a break. Maybe Ian could volunteer for the next 12.
Those thoughts are so 20 seconds ago (if that long). They are as unrecognizable as the confidence I once felt when I cashed out the Ian Cartwright college funds and immediately invested them in bail bonds. The soundest financial move I ever made, I thought.
But something happened on Ian’s way to Rikers Island. Ian started giving great big hugs. He wakes up in the morning and hunts me down like I’m his favorite person in the world. And even though I know that award was given to his mama the day he was born, and it came with a lifetime warranty, he has never shown any interest in making me feel like I was at least considered for the honor, a courtesy I’ve seen him extend to teachers, friends, and make believe animals that live in his make believe barn. Somehow I’m experiencing a status upgrade, like being relocated from the plane lavatory to first class. And trust me, I’m not about to ask the stewardess why, just bring me another one of those hugs please.
I’ve always been OK with my man’s man relationship with Ian. You know, a fist pump here, a high five there. Enough emotion to let the world know we’re somehow related, but not spending a lot of time checking out the family tree to determine quite how. While Elliott has always been quick to drown me in affection, and then save me for the chance to love me a little more, Ian has been Mr. Independent. Mr. Cool. So I’ve had the luxury of having one cool kid who hugs, and one cool kid too cool to hug. Lucky guy.
That was until I got an Ian hug. It felt a lot like, well, an Elliott hug. One of those hugs that says I love my dad more than anything I could ever put in my make believe barn, or visit on a rocketship trip. That real life is so much better than the not so real. I’ve heard them come out of my mouth lately, words that make me feel like I’m speaking a foreign language: “Ian is such a sweet kid.”
The truth is Ian has always been a sweet kid. It’s just a lot sweeter when you’re a target of his sweet. And I know the only thing that has changed is the phase Ian is going through, because kids do go through phases. I’m cherishing this phase, because I know so many of the future ones don’t involve hugs and kisses, at least not the kind that make you feel like the entire purpose of your kid getting out of bed in the morning was to let you know you’re the coolest dad in the world. I realize this is my last shot at this phase. I’m holding a child on the endangered species list blasting off into extinction. I know the day is coming soon when rocketships will be traded in for car keys, hugs and kisses will return to fist pumps and high fives, and my sweet kid will once again be Mr. Cool.