• Celebrity chef Thomas Keller won’t miss the salvia sproutling that Cayden destroyed when he fell into a flower bed outside of Ad Hoc restaurant.
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From: North Park

Blogging since: March 2013

Post Date: April 21, 2013

Here we go. In Cayden’s world, “What’s 6×2?” is a conversation starter, the equivalent of “How are you?” We’re heading out of Napa. We’ve had Thomas Keller’s ‘Ad Hoc’ for dinner, and I’ve yet to shed the cardigan, blazer, and tie I wore for the occasion. It’s increasingly warm here at the back of the minivan with Cayden. I can’t impress upon him why it is I’m so dressed up, Ad Hoc being a bucket-list restaurant of mine. I actually saw chef Thomas Keller today, just a few doors up the street. We had stopped the van momentarily so I could take a picture of the French Laundry, Keller’s famed four-star establishment. He was on the back patio in chef’s whites addressing the service staff. (This is my version of a celebrity sighting.)

Hey: Keller won the Bocuse d’Or. I just make a mean risotto.

“Twelve. You know that.”

“What’s 40×10?”

“Four thousand.”

Cayden escalates the math. He is fond of the numbers 42 and 68. Usually, he wields them in a rather magnanimous fashion, the numbers representing his immense “like” of something. As in: “Daddy, I love you 42 68 eleventy BILLION.” But tonight, it’s “What’s 42×68?” Like a challenge.

I remove my tie and cardigan. My belly’s warm. I’m not used to eating so much, so late. But despite the food and the IPA flight, I answer correctly. I’ve forgotten my calculus over the years, but not my arithmetic.

“2856. Hey, Cayden: why all the questions?”

No, I don’t.

“I just wanna know all the answers before I’m in first grade,” Cayden announces. This seems a reasonable time frame. Why not? That’s when I knew all the answers, too, by virtue of there not being that many questions.

“Dad-DEE!” Now Cayden’s looking to find comfort against the constraints of his seatbelt, and he fingers me as the source of his unrest. “You’re making me uncomfortable!” It’s not me, of course; it’s the car seat and its tangle of straps. But this is how Cayden sees me these days: I am at once the source of all answers and the wellspring of frustration. Everything is my fault.

Cayden falls asleep, and I am left to think. When I’m not the go-to arithmetician, I’m simply to blame.

Listen: if I discipline Cayden, I am told I’m “breaking his heart”; if I dare raise my voice in those heated parenting moments, my portrait is drawn with fangs in chalk on the sidewalk; if I make one mistake in doling out consequence, use one poorly chosen word, I’m the guilty one. I’m the one that needs reining in.

“Cayden: this is your own damn fault!” (This may be about relinquishing the iPad or refusing a bath, just something that has escalated into a pitting of wills and the earning of consequence.)

“No! It’s YOUR fault Daddy!” And as I play into this exchange, it becomes my fault. I’ve forgotten the cardinal rule that he’s just testing my boundaries to make sure I’m still in charge and that he is safe. Guilt becomes something free-floating — this has probably gone too far — and, as words are exchanged, that guilt is quickly lent substance.

Listen: I’m too angry; I’m damaging him.

I prop Cayden up as he sleeps and I’m suddenly apologetic as the lights illuminate his face in periodic fashion. “Didn’t mean to bark at you, Cayden, when you fell into the garden bed outside Ad Hoc. You certainly fucked up your Easter linens, though.” (For chrissake: he was being a BOY. Simply, and without the thought of reining it in. Keller’s not gonna miss the loss of a salvia sproutling).

Doesn’t matter what I have or haven’t done; that guilt I always feel when disciplining Cayden becomes something real, and it finds deposit in recollections of my guiltiest moments.

I’m sorry I yelled at you, Cayden. Tomorrow we’ll do better. Sorry I punched a dent into your wall at age two, and that you actually remember that.

[Post edited for length]

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