June 06, 2007

Marvelling at Butterflies

As a college student I was reading in the park one day when a butterfly landed on the back of my hand. I remember the incident because of how I reacted. I didn't cherish the moment or murmur a prayer of thanks. Instead, my very first thought was, “Oh, no! This butterfly is about to leave me.” And it promptly did.

I'm a forward-looking, planning type of person, and even now I have to try consciously to live in the moment, to appreciate life's wonders, to just be.

The other night I was driving home from Cub Scouts with Nathaniel. We marveled aloud at the thousands of trees knocked down by a recent storm. Then he went quiet, and I turned on something called the John Tesh radio show, a mish-mash of soft-pop tunes and little monologues advertised as “intelligence for your life.” (The samples of intelligence are really just factoids gleaned from bullet points in USA Today.)

That Don't Impress Me Much was playing, and I'm a sucker for gimmicky pop songs.

As it ended, Nathaniel asked, “What was that song about?”

I explained that the girl was singing each verse to a different boy: a smart boy, a handsome boy, a boy with a fancy car. After describing each one's qualities, she concluded, “That don't impress me much.”

“She wants a man who is kind and loving,” I added, perhaps being a little hopeful in my interpretation of the line, “I think you're all right, but that won't keep me warm in the middle of the night.”

“So the smart guy was the one where she said, 'So you're a rocket scientist,' right?”

This was the first time Nathaniel had shown a real interest, indirectly, in how to win a girl's heart, and suddenly I saw his childhood flitting away. I've known him almost eight years now, and I've spent many of them trying to arrange my own life so I can steal more time with him. I feel like I'm just starting to prepare for fatherhood. But in another eight he'll be dating and driving.

While we were doing exegesis on Shania Twain's lyrics, the sun was setting behind scattered trees in what used to be a thick wood. They cast long shadows over the many already dead upon the ground.

I enjoy talking to him at eight. I'll miss his freely asked questions just as I miss the way I used to pull his stroller up to a stop sign and put on a little show.

“Stop sign,” I would say, pointing.

“Dah!” he would confirm, enthusiastic.

“The cars are coming”—I point to a driver who sees me and looks quizzically at the gesture—”and they see that sign: 'Stop!' So they stop their cars,” I conclude, abruptly halting my hand in front of him.

“Dah?” he would say, his questioning tone indicating that he wanted me to repeat the performance.

And I would . . . many times.

That stop sign feels so close. I can't quite believe it's irretrievably gone.

Another song ended and the radio proceeded to offer some of its intelligence, the results of a recent study on finding a mate.

“ . . . so if you want to attract a spouse,” John Tesh reported cheerfully, “don't decorate your room with those Legos or Star Wars action-figures that you hope will be worth a fortune some day. Over 65% of women said they would stop dating a man who had toys in his room.”

Nathaniel was alarmed.

“What!? That's like my room. What's he talking about? . . . no Legos, no Star Wars figures.”

“He means that if you want a woman to marry you, maybe you shouldn't have your room all full of toys, because the woman might think, 'Hmm, if I marry this guy, I'll have to have a bedroom full of toys.' And most girls don't really like Legos or Star Wars figures so much, do they?”

“Just because you get married doesn't mean you have to have the same bedroom,” he argued. “Your wife could have her own bedroom.”

“Usually when you get married you do have the same bedroom. But I'm sure that if a woman really loves you, she'll love you even if you have some Legos in your room. Remember Mommy bought me some Legos once?”

I drove onto our dirt road, slowing to see any deer emerging from the dark forest. I'll miss this eight-year old when he's gone, and I'm sorry to see him taking flight. But I'm cherishing him now, and I'm so grateful he landed here.