Hi, Ms. Paley. This is Jimmy Chang, calling on behalf of my son, Kevin. It seems he never received Julie’s RSVP for his birthday. The party just ended, but what if I told you he planned his whole kickball-themed day around Julie being here, yet he is terrible at all things requiring foot-eye coordination—even walking? What if none of the other booger-snacking overbiters in attendance even mattered, because only your daughter gives his heart a brain freeze?
Kevin’s been courting Julie since third grade, keeping track of how many teeth she’s lost and her favorite crayon color, which is somewhere between Pumpkin and Snazzy Sunburst. From what I understand, he said “hi” to her once by accident.
Sure, Kevin is not the ideal fourth grade boyfriend. He doesn’t know the secret handshake or not to share his chicken nuggets with the class pet iguana. But that’s on me: me failing him, not the other way around. See, he has this “eject” button on his belt loop that he presses whenever he gets stuck inside someone else’s joke. It was cute at first, but knowing what I know now, it’s like who can I ask about this? What words do good parents keep in their pockets?
Sometimes, I take him out on the roof with a telescope and a cookie dough bucket; we talk about buying a condo on the moon after we sell our lucky stars. I tell him, “I don’t know how much those go for on craigslist.” He chews with understanding.
Then, we talk superpowers: telekinesis or teleportation, the pros and cons of secret identities. Kevin would change one of his arms into a bazooka that shoots pterodactyls made of fire into the sky where they breathe rainbows and poop clouds. I thought that was weird but totally badass.
This is how I know the kickball thing is about Julie, because with the right genetic mutation, Kevin would use mind control on her friends so they’d always pick her for their team; that way, her face would never get rainy underneath the playground slide. When he asks about my powers, I claim superhuman strength and an unbreakable heart.
Ms. Paley, our kids are at the best age right now—before middle school, which just plain sucks because everyone outgrows you and your corduroys overnight. In high school, they’ll never be appreciated in their own time, learning too young to text their prayers and autocorrect their love. One or the other’s marriage will end in divorce. And it nukes my gut to think I might not be around to tell him not to fight if his wife leaves the light on in empty rooms, skyrocketing the electricity bill. Because it’s worth it—all that light in your life.
For now though, they still scamper to us when we pick them up from school. It’s the tail end of the scampering era. And the way they look at us, as if we became everything we once saw in ourselves: that’s the closest we’ll come to stadium lights.
Now, I know it’s late, Ms. Paley, and Sunday nights are school nights too. But if you and Julie would consider stopping by, we still have a decorate-your-own-cupcake station. We have videogames and pizza bagels and Kevin is saving the good controller for her. And while they play, maybe we can talk about superpowers too: about TiVo’ing real life and living without commercial interruption—about turning any water fountain into a tap with your favorite beer. What if we could save up time like it was money, and blow it all on those rare perfect moments, stretching them out for decades? Like when a spring day gets lost in January and you’re driving with the windows down, your kid and his dog in the backseat with their heads out the window—ice cream on both their noses.
Erik Doughty is an Asian American writer living in Boston, whose work has been published in The Drum, Corium Magazine, and Annalemma, among others. He is almost a lawyer and carries a notebook, air guitar, and inhaler with him wherever he goes. More of his stories can be found at erikdoughty.wordpress.com.
See Erik’s list of 5 Things later this week in our ongoing contributors’ series.