The days all start the same. My wife is the first one up, and she isn’t quiet about it. Then the household menagerie begins their matinee performance: The cats run and scratch and meow and jump and bounce and run some more. The dogs spin their heads in time to the frisky felines, their necks adorned with tags of domestically jingling like a band of sleigh bells turned to 11. By that point my wife is just a memory, one more bicycle rolling through hills of marine layer toward a sunrise stretching in the distance. I pull the covers over my head, and I try to justify the morning.
My alarm goes off at 7:00, which, I have discovered through trial and error, is the latest possible time that I can sleep while still meeting the requirements of our routine. It wakes the boys and they both find their way from their beds to mine. They immediately join me under the covers and we spend a few minutes in snuggles and tickles. Sometimes there is a song. Sometimes there is an encore.
The boys shower and dress while I turn on some jazz, make their breakfast and pack their lunches. We feed the pets, I start the coffee, do the dishes if time allows, and walk them to school so that they arrive as requested some 30 minutes early for assorted playtime and the occasional study sessions. Then, because I am a glutton for punishment, I take a hard right and run a dirt trail through the desert, always on the verge of sure death by the time the first steep hill tumbles me from eyesight. I pant my way home to sweat upon a keyboard like a barrel of monkeys on a conveyor belt of deadlines.
It’s a living.
But some days start entirely different. They are the exceptions to the rule. These are the mornings that never break, stuck fast to the early hours of cries in the night. There may have been fevers burning or foul propellants splashed across tile and porcelain, soaking sourly into timeworn carpet. Sometimes there is everything, and it is everywhere.
Last night was a rerun of itself. I was up again. And then again. Each time with hugs and reassurances. Each time with soft words through softer moonlight.
It was never morning because it always was, and the night was but a series of short films from long ago shown across the undersides of eyelids and forgotten by daybreak.
Cue the circus, the bells, the bike.
My wife is pedaling and the alarm is beeping. The covers have assumed the position. The world may never find me.
But my son crawls in, smaller than he has been in quite some time, and he finds a space between my heart and gut that fits just right.
“I don’t want to go to school today,” he says.
“I figured as much,” I told him.
For a moment I entertained the thought of his brother staying home, too, and the bliss of added sleep that such a thing would bring, but the other wouldn’t hear it.
“I haven’t missed a day this year,” he said. “And I don’t want to miss one now.”
Cue the jazz, the shower, the breakfast. Cue the coffee and keep it coming.
Sick days are a time machine. They hark to an era of boy-filled weekdays, but with a lot less laughing. Childhood as viewed from a distance is years moving forward, but sick days are the proverbial two days back that fall between—a time when comfort is constant and naps are needed. These are the moments we reflect upon fondly, and suddenly they are here again. It is, obviously, bittersweet. The last thing we would ever want is for our children to suffer, and yet, there is a sweetness in revisiting the stuffs of memory. There is a tenderness in returning to our most basic role, not only the teaching of morals and the everyday molding of men, but the gentle caregiver and the perceived fixer of things that require nothing to heal but the passing of time.
Sick days are a speed bump. They slow us down when we are off to the races and losing track of the roses we no longer stop to smell. They require patience and caution, and a sudden awareness of how fast we were going. They provide focus in a world gone blurry.
Soon will return the days of endless play, and we will all be better for it, but the now is tired and so seemingly tiny.
He is sleeping down the hall, covered in blankets, books, and snoring pets. I am at my desk, knowing the peace of having him near me.
The days all start the same. The difference is where you go from there.