When the Kids Lend a Hand

I had been gone for days. First a trip to Hawai’i and then straight to a press junket packed with celebrity and movie stars — I won’t pretend that it wasn’t awesome, but it was also work, and I was away from my family. I don’t enjoy being away from my family.

I was standing on a balcony overlooking the beach, and beyond it a green, clear ocean that would grow deeper and darker before it reached the shores my children know. It would be colder, too. The ocean has ebbs and flows and phases of the moon to consider. The echoes of our conversation are of no consequence to the sea. Our words sail across it, alone and unnoticed, one more ship of fools. The signal was surprisingly strong.

Before I left I had written notes for my wife and sons, sealed them with wax, and placed them folded upon their respective pillows. Each one similar in sincerity. Each one my hopes for our time apart, and apologies for our time together. They each contained a personal touch, a private joke, a specific message, and then they were signed with love and delivered accordingly.

My oldest read words of responsibility. The boys are quick to frustrate my wife and I urged him to make better choices in my absence. I asked him to work with her rather than against. I asked him to help his mother.

The sun was still rising. I was wearing a robe and sipping a cup of coffee. The resort below me was stretching. It let out one last yawn.

My wife was quiet on the phone. I filled her silence with recaps and highlights. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, we all missed each other. Yeses all around. At some point I realized that she was crying.

“What’s the matter?” I asked with concern, for she is seldom prone to tears.

It was the oldest boy, she had answered. There were pauses and the catching of breath. All I had was time to wait. The phone grew heavy. The sun too bright. The ocean retreated and charged again.

“What did he do?” I asked.

“Everything,” she said. “He’s done everything.”

Then she listed the everything in question. He had washed the dishes, taken out the trash, tended the pets, cleaned his room, done his homework, assisted his brother, and a number of other things that are usually the result of threats and compromise. Some were things he had never been asked to do before. Some were things she hadn’t asked of him at all.

“He has been so good,” she said. “So good.”

The sky was bright and blue. The ocean looked warm and inviting. I stood on the balcony and watched the world kiss the morning. My wife talked through tears, and it sounded as if she were singing. It was a song soft and full of happiness.

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