A tearful conversation during a weekend away from home

This past weekend I went to New York City for one last go around with a good friend before he becomes a father later this spring.  Our itinerary included a baseball game, a barbeque, beer, and a lot of ping pong.  When we finally turned out the lights a little after 3am on Friday night, I thought of Jay and Wally back home, and how it wouldn’t be long until they began to stir.

Earlier on Friday evening I’d talked with Jay and Caroline on the phone as I walked from the subway in Brooklyn. Jay was hysterical.  Caroline explained that they’d been reading Where The Wild Things Are and that Jay had started crying when they came to the part where Max gets in his boat and says goodbye to the Wild Things.  Apparently that part of the story was more than Jay could handle at a time when themes of (temporary) abandonment were alive in his own life.

We talked on the phone for a few minutes.  Jay sniffled throughout but managed to pull it together long enough to tell me what he’d had for dinner (pasta with grapes and salad) and to confirm what I already knew via text message, that he’d been a good boy during quiet time that afternoon and had earned the prize of a single Thin Mint cookie from the freezer.

But then he asked me if I was coming home tomorrow and I told him the truth that it would be a couple days yet.  He started sobbing again.  I was at a loss, simultaneously heart broken and disoriented: It was just not the kind of display I’m used to seeing from Jay.

I arrived at my friend’s house ten minutes later.  We sat down and started to catch up but for an hour or so my mood was still under the influence of that conversation with Jay.  When I thought about it later, I realized there were a couple different emotions operating.

The most prominent one was guilt. Jay was back home suffering in the depths of anguish so that I could…Eat pizza and drink beer? When I tallied things up like that it seemed hard to justify absconding for the weekend.  Of course, parents shouldn’t tally things up like that.  Otherwise our kids would hold us hostage.  In a masterstroke of self-justification it occurred to me later as I walked to a bar in Brooklyn Heights that one of my foremost responsibilities as a parent is to help Jay and Wally calibrate their emotions to the reality of the world rather than always trying to fix the world according to their emotions.

A second emotion, nearly as strong as the first, was vanity.  When I arrived at my friend’s house I wanted to tell him about my phone call with Jay—I wanted to emphasize just how hard Jay was sobbing, I wanted to play up the poignancy of him starting to cry because of a book.  My heart broke for Jay but it also swelled a little bit, too:  It feels good to be missed like that, to be so thoroughly at the center of someone else’s world.

The weekend proceeded and Jay got his emotions under control, suggesting that half the outpouring of the night before had been because he was tired.  We Skyped on Saturday morning before he went off for a belated Easter egg hunt at a friend’s house and we talked again that evening before he went to bed.

On Sunday evening he and Caroline and Wally picked me up at the Detroit Airport.  Both boys had fallen asleep on the ride over, but Jay roused as the car came to a stop. I peered in at him through the window beside his carseat.  His eyes were open but sleep was still heavy on his face.  He didn’t react to seeing me.

I got into the passenger seat and Caroline merged onto the highway.  Every couple minutes I looked back at Jay.  He was reviving, slowly.  When I thought he was ready I blew him a kiss.  He blew me a kiss back.

Related posts from Growing Sideways

A short trip far from home

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