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My son's first brush with death

Don't blink

"Matthew? Matthew! Fin's in the middle of the road!" Wheneer we go out for breakfast at the Antique Row Cafe on Adams Avenue — California omelette (hold the olives), homestyle potatoes, English muffin, orange juice, coffee — I make sure to sit where I can look at Deirdre without having a TV in the background. If I don't, I'm a goner; I'm sucked in, I sink, I drown in the medium. I think they're perpetually tuned to AMC, but they could be running old Hee Haw episodes — it wouldn't matter.

At home, it's the same way. Sitting in the living room, tending to the boy, just a little TV ... and Fin is in the kitchen, bothering Mama. If Deirdre, the light of my life, speaks to me while I soak in the blue glow, I feel a physical wrenching as I attempt to give her my attention. She resents this and not without reason. She is, after all, more important than the television.

And it's not just TV. If I am listening to the radio, not reading, or writing, I go away. Which brings us to Deirdre's opening question, summons, and exclamation. If Fin had died, it's hard to say whose fault it would have been. She and the boy were visiting me in my garage/office. She left, and I returned to work at the computer. I had no idea whether Fin left with or stayed and mucked about with the papers on the floor. Deirdre didn't ask me to watch him, so I didn't. I descended into my working reverie.

Deirdre, for her part, thought that I would keep track of Fin while I worked, the way she does from the kitchen window. But writing and kitchening are very different things. If I dredge the murky bottom of my memory, the blare of a car horn floats up, but other than that, my entrance onto the scene of my son's first brush with death came when I stepped out of my office and saw our neighbor carrying him back to the sidewalk.

I never saw him leave the office and head for the gap between the gate and the hedge. I never saw him leave the yard and head out onto the street. I never saw that van that Deirdre tells me came to a full stop in front of him and honked. What I did see was a young woman crossing over to the other side of the street, staring at Deirdre and me like she was heading for the nearest phone to call Child Protective Services.

Sitting in the yard, looking blankly out into the street, picturing my little boy standing just in front of an angry van, I had a powerful sense of life going on without me, of events occurring outside my control, or even my awareness. I found my mind wrapping around the awful incongruity of it: a perfect blue sky, a day settling into the long, slow, late afternoon, a little screech of tires, a quiet thump. Lives intersecting, intertwining, without sense or intention. It could have happened.

So many developments are discovered by near disasters. Suddenly, he's mobile enough to crawl off the bed. Then he's coordinated enough to get into the liquor cabinet. Then he's tall enough to pull knives down off the cutting board. Then he's bold enough to venture out into the street. Time to close the gap between the gate and the hedge; time to finish the fence that extends halfway around our yard.

In the interim, we never leave Fin outside without at least one eye fixed on him. If he tries to leave the yard without us, he gets crib time, protection against the day when he finds he is able to climb the fence, or unlatch the gate, or tunnel underneath.

Ever since Deirdre had to stick Fin in the crib while she cleaned up the wine glasses he had shattered, he has hated that small, barred space. As soon as he's in, his face contorts; he is hysterical, gasping for air amid his screams. We never leave him in for long; we don't have to. And we think it works: Fin doesn't pull on electrical cords anymore, he doesn't get into the toilet, he gives pens back without protest.

But that list, no matter how exhaustive, pales in comparison to what he does do. He flees the yard, he clambers onto the table and topples the sugar bowl, he throws his food. He throws fits when things get stuck or refuse to obey his will, taking personal offense at their failure to cooperate.

And there's more, so much more. I know there is; I just can't recall it. My mother once said that most of life was monotonous repetition. But she didn't say it out of bitterness. She said it by way of explanation of life and the nature of the love that makes that life bearable. Dealing with a person who cries at every situation that displeases him is monotonous. Futilely warning a child over and over again not to do something is monotonous. Changing diapers is monotonous.

Love doesn't make the monotony of these things go away or change it into joy at the opportunity to serve — I'm not there yet. What it does do is blunt the twinge of annoyance the self feels at being encroached upon. It prevents resentment and frustration. It reminds me that I am a father now, that this is the way things are, and that I must do whatever I can to make my family happy. And once these things are done, love does not remember them.

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"Matthew? Matthew! Fin's in the middle of the road!" Wheneer we go out for breakfast at the Antique Row Cafe on Adams Avenue — California omelette (hold the olives), homestyle potatoes, English muffin, orange juice, coffee — I make sure to sit where I can look at Deirdre without having a TV in the background. If I don't, I'm a goner; I'm sucked in, I sink, I drown in the medium. I think they're perpetually tuned to AMC, but they could be running old Hee Haw episodes — it wouldn't matter.

At home, it's the same way. Sitting in the living room, tending to the boy, just a little TV ... and Fin is in the kitchen, bothering Mama. If Deirdre, the light of my life, speaks to me while I soak in the blue glow, I feel a physical wrenching as I attempt to give her my attention. She resents this and not without reason. She is, after all, more important than the television.

And it's not just TV. If I am listening to the radio, not reading, or writing, I go away. Which brings us to Deirdre's opening question, summons, and exclamation. If Fin had died, it's hard to say whose fault it would have been. She and the boy were visiting me in my garage/office. She left, and I returned to work at the computer. I had no idea whether Fin left with or stayed and mucked about with the papers on the floor. Deirdre didn't ask me to watch him, so I didn't. I descended into my working reverie.

Deirdre, for her part, thought that I would keep track of Fin while I worked, the way she does from the kitchen window. But writing and kitchening are very different things. If I dredge the murky bottom of my memory, the blare of a car horn floats up, but other than that, my entrance onto the scene of my son's first brush with death came when I stepped out of my office and saw our neighbor carrying him back to the sidewalk.

I never saw him leave the office and head for the gap between the gate and the hedge. I never saw him leave the yard and head out onto the street. I never saw that van that Deirdre tells me came to a full stop in front of him and honked. What I did see was a young woman crossing over to the other side of the street, staring at Deirdre and me like she was heading for the nearest phone to call Child Protective Services.

Sitting in the yard, looking blankly out into the street, picturing my little boy standing just in front of an angry van, I had a powerful sense of life going on without me, of events occurring outside my control, or even my awareness. I found my mind wrapping around the awful incongruity of it: a perfect blue sky, a day settling into the long, slow, late afternoon, a little screech of tires, a quiet thump. Lives intersecting, intertwining, without sense or intention. It could have happened.

So many developments are discovered by near disasters. Suddenly, he's mobile enough to crawl off the bed. Then he's coordinated enough to get into the liquor cabinet. Then he's tall enough to pull knives down off the cutting board. Then he's bold enough to venture out into the street. Time to close the gap between the gate and the hedge; time to finish the fence that extends halfway around our yard.

In the interim, we never leave Fin outside without at least one eye fixed on him. If he tries to leave the yard without us, he gets crib time, protection against the day when he finds he is able to climb the fence, or unlatch the gate, or tunnel underneath.

Ever since Deirdre had to stick Fin in the crib while she cleaned up the wine glasses he had shattered, he has hated that small, barred space. As soon as he's in, his face contorts; he is hysterical, gasping for air amid his screams. We never leave him in for long; we don't have to. And we think it works: Fin doesn't pull on electrical cords anymore, he doesn't get into the toilet, he gives pens back without protest.

But that list, no matter how exhaustive, pales in comparison to what he does do. He flees the yard, he clambers onto the table and topples the sugar bowl, he throws his food. He throws fits when things get stuck or refuse to obey his will, taking personal offense at their failure to cooperate.

And there's more, so much more. I know there is; I just can't recall it. My mother once said that most of life was monotonous repetition. But she didn't say it out of bitterness. She said it by way of explanation of life and the nature of the love that makes that life bearable. Dealing with a person who cries at every situation that displeases him is monotonous. Futilely warning a child over and over again not to do something is monotonous. Changing diapers is monotonous.

Love doesn't make the monotony of these things go away or change it into joy at the opportunity to serve — I'm not there yet. What it does do is blunt the twinge of annoyance the self feels at being encroached upon. It prevents resentment and frustration. It reminds me that I am a father now, that this is the way things are, and that I must do whatever I can to make my family happy. And once these things are done, love does not remember them.

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