“Oh, come on. Papa! Just try it!”
It was like peer pressure, only my peer was a 4-year-old girl.
It was a beautiful Saturday before Easter, in a park in a small town, and the issue at hand was the teeter-totter — and whether or not Papa James should get on it and do a little teetering, perhaps even some tottering.
The red-headed 4-year-old girl is a charming and persuasive individual, but the teeter-totter was tiny, and Papa James is — well, he’s not so tiny.
Also, teeter-totters have changed since the day when Papa James was tiny enough to frequent them. This teeter-totter was for four people, somehow, and it was made of plastic.
It looked kind of like two colorful, state-of-the-art boomerangs placed across from each other, and from what I could see, gravity and weight ratios had absolutely nothing to do with the operation. It was also very small, apparently designed only for children under 6 years old.
Back in the day, a teeter-totter was pretty much a long, narrow, hardwood board, placed on a single pivot point made out of some metal piping of some sort.
It took two to teeter — one of you sat on one end of the board and your buddy sat on the other — and you hoped that you were near the same weight, because if you weren’t, one of you was destined to spend all his time up high teetering and the other would be down low, in perpetual totter.
Eventually, the totterer would get off, and the teeterer would come crashing down to earth. Often times, stitches would become necessary.
Usually, before we began a see-saw session, we called ahead to the emergency room to make reservations, just to give them a heads-up.
“We’ll be going to the playground in a few,” we’d say. “Have someone on call.”
So all this was on the mind of Papa James as this little girl attempted to sweet-talk him into participating.
“Just try it, Papa,” she said, in a tone that implied she believed that Papa James had never tried a teeter-totter before, and this would be his first experience with one. “It will be fun,” she said.
So spending a sunny Easter weekend with three grandkids had come to this — the oldest of the three issuing her version of a double-dog dare to Papa James.
She was insistent, although the other two didn’t seem to care all that much.
The boy is 2 years old, strong-willed and a bit mixed up about things, but he’s focused.
I watched him take a small plastic shovel no bigger than a soup spoon and methodically unload every grain from a wagon load of sand onto various places in the yard. I assume he had decided that all those spots needed a spoonful of sand, so he undertook this landscaping project on his own initiative. The boy is his own boss.
I know this to be true, because several people who think they are the boy’s boss very clearly told the boy not to remove any more sand from the wagon, because once it’s all unloaded, there would be no more sand for him to play with. He heard these directives, but chose to ignore them, and none of the so-called bosses reprimanded him for his blatant insubordination.
Sure enough, once the landscaping project was complete, the boy realized that, indeed, he had no more sand to play with, and he was very upset. Instead of blaming himself, however, he blamed all the people who had warned him that this would happen. He cried and yelled and screamed at all of them.
This is the exact behavior of almost every boss I’ve ever had. This kid is going to be the CEO of a major corporation.
The boy is talking now, although he speaks only in nouns and verbs, with an occasional adjective — usually a color. There are no indefinite articles or determiners in his sentences. Every time he talks to his gramma on video chat, he has two questions. They seem to be the only things he’s concerned about. He asks them, then he goes away.
“PapaJamesWork?” (“Is Papa James at work again?”)
“GrammaOrangeCar?” (“Do you still have that orange car, Gramma?”)
I told his gramma that this is pretty much the way he’s going to be into adulthood. Sure, he’ll learn a lot more words, but his chief concerns right now, at age 2, will be the same when he’s 22, 52 and 92.
The first questions on every man’s mind when he meets somebody are 1) “What do you do for a living?” and 2) “What kind of car do you drive?” To a guy, they are the only questions that really matter. The kid already knows this, and he’s just 2. By the time he’s age 3, he’ll likely be asking the two bonus questions, which are reserved only for people who answer the first two questions satisfactorily.
The bonus questions are, of course, 1) “Do you like to go fishing?” and 2) “Do you have a boat?”
That’s how guys enter the world. The boy is well on his way to manhood.
Then there’s the little one, not even a year old yet, perfecting her three-toothed smile. She bounces around in wagons and strollers, or grips your collar or shirt pocket as you carry her around. She just looks at you, like a cute bug on a white wall, with equal parts wonder and superiority.
She doesn’t know much yet, but you get the feeling she knows a bit more than she lets on. She doesn’t talk, but an array of unique sounds seem to simmer and stew somewhere behind those baby teeth before they erupt from her mouth.
They are loaded sounds, which represent elevated emotions. The sounds she makes have no real form, but if you hear them often enough, you can start to detect a pattern — and it seems she understands these sounds, and doesn’t really care that you don’t.
The 4-year-old, on the other hand, most certainly does talk — and she is understood.
“Come on, Papa! Just try it! It will be fun!”
Back to the teeter-totter.
You know how this ends. Of course Papa James sat down on the tiny teeter-totter, squatted down there like a frog, with his knees up above his ears and a half-grimace, half-smile on his face.
I teetered a little, and I tottered a little, and it was enough to satisfy the little girl. She jumped off with an excited shriek and scampered over to the twisty-slide. No stitches were necessary.
Standing back up from that low spot was more difficult than sitting down, but none of the grandkids noticed the struggle.
And so on Easter weekend, I spent Friday at a solemn church service and Sunday at a joyous church celebration.
Both events were beautiful.
But neither of them restored my spirit like Saturday’s view from the teeter-totter.