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A Dream of Children

When they were very young I’d sing them to sleep. A 2-year-old girl on one arm, a 4-year-old boy on the other in that big old worn out recliner, we’d rock and after a story, I’d sing. They’d make requests. “My Grandfather’s Clock” and “Wandering Star” were favorites. “I was born under a wandering star…Oh, wheels were made for turning and mules were made to pack. I’ve never seen a place that didn’t look better looking back…” They knew the deal. Only after a story and a song would they go to sleep.I remember tired as we were, we’d crave adult time after the kids were tucked into bed. We never imagined we’d miss those days, now so long gone and dreamlike. Little ones grow and are full of questions. In exasperation you wonder how someone could be so full of questions about the wide world and still crap their pants? If you’re handy you rebuild your washing machine, worn out from never ending loads of diapers and laundry. The diapers you hang out on the line in the sunshine like white prayer flags, beseeching the god or goddess of potty training. (Please, help me…)To leave the car and cross the parking lot, you bend down and tell them to: “Hold my finger.” One child on each side, gripping your index fingers, they stride along happily on newly mastered feet. You shuffle along at their pace, stooped over like some young and sleep deprived stroke victim. More time passes and they develop senses of humor. “Hold my finger” becomes: “Pull my finger.” They squeal in delight and run away.I remember at 3 years old we’d taken our little girl to the Tesla Museum in Colorado Springs. “Does anyone know who invented radar?” – The host asked us, a room full of people of all ages. The answer was Nikolai Tesla, of course. We all sat mute, not wanting to be spotlighted. Our girl raised her hand, fingers splayed and straining. “Yes little girl,” the host said, “do you know the answer?””Galileo!” Our tiny daughter belted it out, totally sure of herself. “Who’s child is this?” – I heard whispered from the back of the room. As a 3-year-old she somehow knew Galileo was a scientist and so, even though handicapped by the fact that electricity was unknown in his day, Galileo simply must have invented radar.Later the host asked us about magnetism. “Does anyone here know anything about magnetism?” The deer-in-the-headlights look across the room became more pronounced. Again, our tiny daughter raised her hand. “Yes, little girl?””We have MANY magnets on our refrigerator!”By now the grandmothers in the back of the room were falling over like bowling pins. What do you do with a kid like that? Well, you take her and her big brother fishing at commercial trout ponds with dough balls. You watch their faces as they watch their lines. You teach them to read and have them read to you. Little kids love to read to their parents, and to feed them too, especially things that they’ve found on the floor, fuzzed up with dust bunnies and cat hair.You watch them beam with pride when they realize that they know how to ride the bicycle. (“No, no Daddy, don’t hold onto the seat! I can do it.”) When they get older you take them “back packing.” The adventure begins when you help them pack. They carry a teddy bear, a sandwich and a small canteen. You carry everything else. Camp is a mile or two up the easy trail and taking them to the moon couldn’t be any more exciting.There are projects that you must work on together. A “sky cable” lets them whiz along on a pulley with a handle between trees. School projects on astronomy and the speed of sound require your attention. Anything you do is exciting and wonderful and they always want to come along. Camping? – great! Drive through car wash? – Oh, wowee! Changing spark plugs? – Of course, and what do they do and how do they do it and why, why, why?One day they’re not excited by a Happy Meal anymore. One day they’d really like a car of their own. One day they’re gone. Oh, they love you but your towering place in their lives has diminished. Friends and work and college fill their time now. The house seems empty and surprisingly clean these days. Things in the refrigerator actually have a chance to go bad. You don’t see them for months at a time. The rush and overtiredness and hubbub of parenting recedes into a hazy dream. Did I really wash that many diapers? Did I once explain the world to brand new members of humanity?One day you go to see your grown son for lunch. He orders for himself and he orders you a double buffalo burger. “No worries Dad, I’ve got it covered,” he says. He’s a young man now, taking on responsibility. And yet… And yet he still gripes about his little sister. Squiring you about in his finely beat-up automobile he says: “I hate it when she borrows my car! She always leaves me out of gas, on fumes! I end up squeezing the steering wheel with worry until I can get to a gas pump.”How low on gas could you be, you ask him. Look, you tell him, the little yellow gas pump light on the dash (which should rarely, if ever be illuminated on a responsible adult’s car) is not lit. Son, you explain logically, you’ve got to have at least a couple of gallons left.”Oh, that. That hasn’t worked for over a year.”A moment of silence. Glancing over at him with a sly smile, a smile that communicates instantly the cynical shared family sense of humor, you say that the bulb must be burned out, eh? You laugh together, hard. Later you put $50 in his gas tank and smile, thinking that that was the most expensive free burger you’ve ever had. He thanks you profusely and sincerely. Yeah, yeah you say, it’s to cover for that “empty tanker” sister of yours too.Things change. They don’t hang on your every word as they did in your misty memories of their childhood. You miss those days, but these days are good, too. Driving home, your mind hearkens back to the words of a song not sung for a long, long time: “…Wheels are made for turning and mules are made to pack. I’ve never seen a place that didn’t look better looking back…”Tom

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