“LOOK,” is what he said, but I was too busy looking to hear him. It was the way he’d come through the door—right leg extended outward, left leg bent at an angle, hopping like he’d been wounded in some sort of pitched battle.
I leaned forward on the sofa (the show I’d been watching, something about how ancient Romans used human urine imported from Portugal as mouthwash, now blessedly forgotten) and tried to see what had happened. Tried to see the blood, actually. Or a wound. Or, at the very least, some sort of bug that had somehow landed on my son’s foot between the car and the front door. But I saw none of these things.
He said it again—“LOOK.” Shooting his right foot out like the kicks he does in karate, the ones he swears are so fast that his toes break the sound barrier.
I leaned forward more. Still, nothing.
“What’m I looking at, bud?” I asked.
He wiggled his big toe, which wasn’t so big at all. It was an eight-year-old toe. There was dirt beneath the nail. At first, I thought that was what he wanted me to LOOK at.
“You need a shower,” I told him.
“No.” Then, “NO. Look at my toe, Dad.”
He wiggled it again.
“See?” he asked.
A sigh then. It was the kind of exhale I’ve begun noticing has come more frequent from my children as they’ve grown older—part exasperation and part disappointment.
He placed his foot at the end of the sofa and motioned me closer. I followed his finger to the knuckle just behind the nail, where a thin, barely-there wisp of something had sprouted.
And in an awed whisper that was barely heard, he said these three words:
“It’s. A. Hair.”
No. Couldn’t be. Dirt, maybe. Actually, dirt most likely (it was the same dull brown color as the stuff under his toenail). I tried to rub it off. It stuck.
“I tried that,” he said. “Look.” He took the first and middle fingers of his right hand and pinched the spot, stretching it out. “See?”
“Do you know what that means?” he asked. “It means I did it. I’m a MAN.”
Then a smile—wide and tall and all teeth, the kind so big that his face didn’t seem able to hold it.
“Well, look there,” I told him.
I smiled back. Mine, I’ll confess, wasn’t so big. Oh, there were teeth. And if you’d ask him, I’m sure he’d say that smile was plenty tall and wide, too. But my face held it. It held it fine.
He went on then. My son may have been a man, but one not adverse to playing with his Legos after school. Me, I forgot about my television program. I just sat there thinking. Wondering.
I was like him once—a boy who often wished to be a man. Now I’m a man who often wishes to be a boy again. Such is life, I think, and for all of us. Always going to some far-off place that promises to be wonderful and perfect, only to arrive there and wish to be someplace else.
I guess I should have told him something like that, but I didn’t. I let him enjoy his moment. When your kids take another small step along that great and winding road of life, I think letting them enjoy it is best.
But later, I’m going to have him sit with me. I’m going to pat him on the leg and tousle his hair, and I’m going to tell him to always remember to slow down. To enjoy this moment, this day. Because there will come a tomorrow when he may look at those tiny hairs on his toes and think back to when they were naked, and I would have him remember those times well.