I finish mowing the lawn after having neglected it for almost two weeks. Not really my fault, it rained every other day and on each day I had a chance to get to it. My oldest son, in trouble with his mother, has done the back-yard and the side of the house. He’s twelve, and while this isn’t his first time mowing, he still doesn’t quite get how to do it properly. Patches of grass stand high next the fresh cut. I tell him he did a good job and offer some advice on technique. Better to be constructive than critical, although I do too much of the latter and not enough of the former.
Their part of the yard-work done, my family, wife and two sons, head inside to clean up while I’m finishing. I empty the clippings in the burn-pile and put the mower in the garage. The sun has set, and I decide to spend some quiet time outside. My three-year-old comes outside after his bath, clad in his cartoon pajamas and bare feet, to run around in the grass for a bit.
I really want time to myself, plus his mother is standing at the door complaining he’s going to get dirty again, so I shoo him inside. I head inside to grab a drink and my pack of cigarettes then immediately head back outside. I sit in my canvas chair on the back patio and watch the night deepen. Lightning bugs flash in the darkening air as I light a cigarette and relax a bit from a long day.
Even though it is quiet for now, my mind refuses to do the same. Thoughts of money, or the lack of it, fill my mind. The scarcity of jobs and my lack of fortune in finding one crowd in, turning my alone time into a wake. What am I going to do? Will we have to move and tear my oldest son away from everything he knows? He has ADHD and doesn’t do very well in a regular school setting. Can we find a place that has a similar program he is in now? What happens when the cars inevitably break…
I hear the backdoor open and a little head pops out. “What you doing, Daddy?”
“Just sitting here, baby. Go back inside with Mommy.”
Of course, he doesn’t listen. He comes out, still barefoot, and heads over to his little basketball hoop. “I going to shoot a basket,” he says. He looks around for his little basketball. “Where’s my ball?”
“I don’t know, sweetie.”
“Is it in the grass?” To answer his own question, he heads out in the yard and starts looking around. “I can’t find it.”
“We’ll find it tomorrow, honey,” I tell him.
He’s not too disappointed as a lightning bug flashes in front of him. “Lightning bug! I catch him!” he says. He runs after it, jumping as high as he can, arms swinging overhead. “It too high.”
I laugh at his antics and decide to help him. I get up and head over to him, watching the lightning bugs flash like stars you can catch. “There’s one!” he tells me, and I head over to where he points. I catch the lightning bug on my hand and call him over so he can see it.
“See the lightning bug, buddy? You want to hold it?”
“No, thanks,” he says, “I catch one. There’s one!” The lightning bug had flown off my hand higher than even I could reach, but to him it was a brand new lightning bug. We chase after lightning bugs for a few more minutes, but they seem to disappear from the yard.
“I think we scared them off, buddy. Why don’t we go sit down and watch for them for a little bit?”
We head back onto the patio and I sit in my chair. I hold my arms out to him, “You want to sit on my lap?”
He shakes his head. “No, where my chair?”
I’m not sure what he’s talking about, so I tell him, “I don’t know.” I point to a big green hard plastic chair next to me. “You can sit in this one if you want.”
“Okay.” He heaves himself in the chair and stares out into the yard looking for lightning bugs. “There’s one!” he says, “It up in the sky.” Over and over again he does this with same level of enthusiasm. Every sighting is just as exciting as the one before.
I think back to when I was little and growing up in Illinois. Me and my little brother outside with jars, holes poked in the lids, trying to catch lightning bugs in the yard. We’d run down the hill, around the playhouse, even in the neighbor’s yard to catch them. Sometimes we’d pick honeysuckle off the trees and drink the sweetness from the stem. We would come back and show Mom our jars with lightning bugs in them, and she would make the appropriate noises of encouragement.
The lightning bugs would soon die, of course. In our innocence and ignorance we killed that which we wanted to treasure. I’m a little wiser now; at least I hope so. Doesn’t seem like it sometimes. I’m not going to do that now, though. I’ll just catch them on my hands and let them fly away when they feel the need.
We sit there for a couple of minutes, my little one and me. He points way up in the sky. “Look! An airplane!”
I look up and sure enough there is an airplane, only recognizable as such by the flashing beacon lights. “You’re right, buddy. That’s an airplane.”
His grins at me, and I wonder again how I could have helped make such a cute kid. He points over to his swing-set, “There’s one!” He jumps out of the chair and stands on the path-stone, right where the patio meets the grass. His back is turned to me, but I know him. I see the serious face he has as he poses. His right foot is forward, and right arm across his chest. His left arm is straight behind him. For that short infinite moment he is a superhero, maybe the Flash, about to speed off and catch his goal.
He waits for another flash from the lightning bug then takes off. His little legs pump as hard as they can and his bare feet flash through the grass. He makes it about halfway to the swing-set and stops. He starts jumping up again, and I hear the “Uh, Uh” grunts as he tries to beat gravity and fly up to join the bug he’s after.
The bug flies higher, and my son stops jumping. “It too high.” He comes back over to the patio. “Where my blue chair?”
I finally realize what he’s asking for: a child-size plastic blue chair. It used to be his brother’s before he outgrew it. It was right in front of me all along. I point over beside the barbecue grill. “There it is, honey.”
He grabs it and moves it so he can sit in front of me. As he sits, I hear a contented sigh escape from him. We sit for a while watching the bugs light up the night before I tell him it’s time to go in. It is late and he needs to go to bed soon.
We go to the backdoor and I ask him if he can open it for me. “Yes, sir!” he replies. I always get a kick out of that. Big brother’s martial arts teacher wanted him to say that to me to help instill discipline, but little brother uses it more consistently, and with more enthusiasm.
He stands up on his tiptoes to reach the handle and struggles a bit to pull it open. I don’t help because I’ve learned he gets upset when I do. I walk through the door into the kitchen saying, “Thank you.”
Then a rare occurrence happens. “Can you help me, Dad?” He is struggling a bit with the door. I hold it open as he scampers in the house. “Thank you.”
“You are absolutely welcome, bud.”
My wife comes into the kitchen. “Have you seen what’s on my leg?” She lifts her nightgown to show me a series of bug bites in a sideways V on her upper thigh. A big red blotch and a small smear of blood tell me she has been itching them.
“Yeah, I’ve seen them. And I’m sure scratching at them like that doesn’t help any.”
“I know,” she sighs. She walks back into the living room and the next thing I hear is a half upset/ half whining, “Noooooooooo!”
I come in to see what’s the matter, and I see my son dumping the un-popped kernels out of the bowl that used to hold popcorn. I can’t help but chuckle, but I don’t want to encourage the behavior so I head upstairs to take a late shower.
My oldest son, who is supposed to be asleep as he has summer school tomorrow, says, “Hi, Dad.”
“Hi, buddy. Go to sleep.” I head into the bathroom to take my shower. Even though I close the door, turn on the fan, and have the water going, I can still hear my oldest yelling at his little brother, “Be quiet!” In response to the yell the little one screams at the top of his lungs. Again and again and again and again they go at it, like some demonic verbal merry-go-round.
Mommy finally tires of it. “I guess I have to be the bad guy for awhile.” She takes the little one to bed, as I get dressed.
“I wanna give Daddy a kiss-hug night-night,” he whines.
“Fine, go give him one.”
He races into our bedroom and climbs on the bed. He loves turning on the radio and jumping on our bed while he watches himself in my wife’s mirror. I grab him and pick him up, swinging him in my arms. His giggles soon turn to full-blown laughter as I twirl him around like he is flying.
I sit on the edge of the bed when I finish twirling him around. He stands up on my legs and looks at me with a grin. Suddenly, he throws his arms around my neck and buries his face in my shoulder in a hug. I squeeze him tightly in response. He pulls back and puckers his lips, giving me a kiss goodnight.
He gets down and runs into his bedroom. He performs his nightly struggle to pull himself into bed. Finally succeeding, the nightly struggle to actually get him to lie down commences. My wife keeps putting covers on him, and he keeps sitting up and shrugging them off. I come in to help get him to sleep.
“Hey,” I whisper, “If you go night-night then tomorrow when the sun goes down we’ll go catch lightning bugs.”
“Okay,” he whispers back. He lies down, and as I start to leave he sits right back up. “Daddy,” he says still whispering.
He points to his closet. I forgot to check it for monsters. I open one of the folding doors so he can see inside. “See, no monsters.” He nods and I open the other door. “No monsters here either. Looks like you’re safe. Night-night.”
I leave his room, closing the door far enough that a crack remains so he can see the hall light still on; even though he needs the light less than his big brother does. I start to go downstairs when I hear a soft voice calling, “Daddy. Daddy.”
I head back up and go into his room again. He circles his arm for me to come closer, like we’re about to share a secret. I come close and lean down, putting my ear next to his mouth so I can hear him. “We gonna catch lightning bugs tomorrow?” he whispers in my ear.
“Yeah,” I tell him, “but you have to be a good boy and go to sleep, okay?”
“Okay.” He lay down again, closing his eyes. “Night-night, Daddy. Love you too.”
“Night-night, buddy. I love you too.” I head back downstairs to join my wife in watching a movie. The kids are finally asleep and the house is quiet except for the television. I enjoy this time of day.
My wife asks, “So, are you going to look for a job again tomorrow?”
I sigh. “Yes,” I tell her. What I’m really looking forward to, though, is catching lightning bugs.
Happy Reading and Writing!