My boy smiled up at me, oblivious to the truculent March weather.
'I wanna go higher!'
No matter that he hadn't gone anywhere yet.
Once upon a time I too used to laugh in the biting wind. Whatever happened to that guy? I wondered as I slid my hands out of my pockets and grabbed the ropes on the big yellow swing.
It was Friday the 12th. I know this because of a conversation I had with my son as he swung toward me and away, toward me and away, brown eyes bright as two brown eyes could be. His mother's birthday was in two days. True to form I hadn't even thought about what to get her. We don't even bother with presents for each other half the time, through mutual understanding perhaps but more likely due to my forgetfulness and her Japan-bred interest in keeping things even between us (though customarily this applies to gift-giving, not gift-omitting).
I do my best to fill my boy's ears with English whenever we are together. Sometimes I am inspired with great new ideas and things to talk about (Lord only knows where these come from); in other moments I am about as loquacious as yesterday's spring rolls and end up asking him if he wants to count to twenty again. On this day, with my brain lobbing wisecracks at me ('Whatsa matter, Cupcake, your brain getting chilly? Wanna borrow your boy's scarf?...'), I spit out the only other thing on my mind.
'What should we get Mommy for her birthday, Yamato?'
I didn't expect much out of him, to be honest. And where did this pessimism come from?
He stared over toward the big blue bouncy caterpillar thing. His eyes had a sparkle that could melt ice.
He looked at me as he swung toward me again, smile like the sunrise.
I always loved sunrises.
'Wow! That's a great idea!' I didn't even realize it at the time but I think this is when the cold started feeling really not all that cold. 'Okay, let's get Mommy some chocolate!'
My boy gazed across the empty playground again, palatable, innocent satisfaction on his face. I kept pushing him, swinging my arms and rolling back on my heels as he swung away, maintaining a sort of metronomic rhythm as if that meant I had any real control over things. But I knew who was mastering the moment. All I could do was try to fan the fire.
'Do you want to get anything else?'
If he were a little older he might have perceived a lack of imagination in the guy who was supposed to be his father. God, I really wanted this moment to last forever.
He turned that smile to me. Children are so beautiful.
I knew right away what he was thinking, and what had never occurred to me until that moment.
In Japan, tradition often dies hard. This can be a good thing; there is a certain intimacy in sitting on the floor around a table too small for all the food and family members gathered. The country's steadfast refusal to accept the idea of central heating is another story. As for my wife, she is quite accustomed to getting out of the bathtub and drying herself off with a towel the size of a large lasagna noodle. I did contribute two normal sized bath towels to our existence when we got married, though I'd bought them in Colorado six years previous so that might have had something to do with her leaving them both for me and reaching for her flat cotton noodle instead. Regardless, I had never questioned it. Never even considered it. She had her towels.
She needs a big one! I could hear my boy saying as he looked at me, so eager to give Mommy his own idea of love.
Now I too was smiling in the chilly gray afternoon.
'You know buddy, that is such a good idea! What color should we get?'
More gazing. More thinking. More sunrise.
He almost jumped out of his swing.
Thirty minutes later he was picking out a yellow Winnie the Pooh bath towel to give to his Mommy.
He uses it every day now.
And Mommy continues on with her customary collection of cloth noodles.