Tony Woodlief | Author

Sweet and Stinky

I don’t think I have a theme today, which would not leave me in good stead with my 7th grade English teacher. Or maybe there is a theme lurking in here somewhere, and that theme is the combination of sweetness and stinkiness that is the little boy. I’m walking a fine line here — a friend recently told me that my use of “cakehole,” as in “Caleb doesn’t shut his,” is starting to sound unkind.

Love forgives all, as the epistle goes, and so perhaps this too can be forgiven. Certainly in my boys there is an abundance of love. We arrived late last night from Wichita, and took a Washington Flyer cab home. This is, by the way, the only livery service that is approved by the Dulles International Airport Authority. This makes me suspicious, in much the same way one might view with jaundiced eye a life philosophy book endorsed by Ben Affleck.

But at 10:30 p.m., after traversing a third of the country with two little boys who are fond of expressing their opinions, I’m not what you might call a discriminating shopper. Washington Flyer is stationed near the baggage carousel and it has some concern for its reputation, so it beats trying to save twenty bucks by hiring one of the frustrated Iranian limo drivers who lurk by the doors of the airport mumbling, “you want cab?” On a risk-adjusted basis, Washington Flyer isn’t such a bad deal.

So we piled in the back of the cab and Caleb gave directions to our Hindi driver. Eli, sensing a long, smooth ride, nestled into me and began sucking his fingers. I offered my thumb to his free hand and he grasped it gratefully. This is the same child who two hours before, I was certain, was about to pop a blood vessel because we could not get his sandwich unwrapped fast enough. But here he was in my arms, peaceful and accepting my love. I breathed the baby-shampoo smell lingering in his hair, which I’m sure by this evening will be replaced with the faint smell of sweaty little boy that seems to come upon them when they are a year old and doesn’t leave until they’ve been domesticated by some sweet young girl.

Caleb, meanwhile, satisfied that the driver knew what he was doing, settled back into the special bliss of a four year-old, which is to have Mommy and Daddy on either side, our arms on his legs and around his shoulders and in general creating a cocoon of protective parental flesh over 80 percent of his body. He looked up at me, smiled sweetly, and then giggled at the fact that he had just passed a particularly stinky one. Windows went down, chastisements were delivered.

Since she’s not here to defend herself, I want to point out that he gets that from his mother, or from somebody on her side of the family.

Caleb is the real storyteller in our house. One day he was going on and on (I note lovingly) about when he worked in the circus, and the time he drove a train, and other such little boy fantasies, and then he simply announced, “and that’s the end of my story.” I think he wove that particular tale for about three days, stretching it across several car rides and dinners. He’s a prolific storyteller, too. No sooner had he finished his story than he took a deep breath and began to deliver another.

Eli, on the other hand . . . well, I don’t know what that boy will do. Sometimes I think he’ll become a general, the way he barks orders across the house (“Daddy! Are you!?! Daddy! Come here!”). Other times I think he’ll be a pediatrician, the way he attends to the little cloth baby doll that has been his constant bedtime companion for two years. I see him solve problems and make mental connections that convince me he’ll find a cure for cancer. Then I watch him try to eat a sandwich by inserting it vertically, and think to myself, “that boy is going to end up working the Tilt-a-Whirl.”

No matter, I’ll love them no matter what they do, or don’t. That’s the nature of parenthood — it so transforms us that even the most selfish of creatures finds himself praying that if blessings are limited, then please, God, give them all to my children. But I know that blessings aren’t in short supply.

Sometimes I lie awake at night and think about the fact that I’ve already won the lottery. Everything else is a bonus.

On Key

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