Like this tiny, crappy, plastic camera.
This last fall, my six-year-old son Alex had to have a frenectomy. That’s the dental procedure where they have to sever the flap of flesh connecting your top lip to your gums because it’s interfering with the development of your two front teeth. He was VERY nervous. And as is common practice in our household, I take the kids to the especially nervous-making doctor or dentist appointments. They’ll panic and whine if they know Mommy is a few feet away with a quick “My baby!” to spring to her lips. If they know Daddy’s sitting there, they won’t move or say a word.
Still, Alex is the youngest. Our very last child. And where Ashton is my man-in-training and Katie is my special girl, Alex is my baby.
We waited patiently in the dentist office for our names to be called. I had him work on his first grader reading homework and I read some comic books to him. And when the nurse popped out and called out “Alex Dill?”, I corrected her.
“He likes to go by Alexander the Brave.”
Alex looked up at me and grinned. “DaaaaAAAAAaaaad.”
“Alexander the Brave it is, then.” The nurse nodded in compliance. Soon she had the whole office calling him ‘Alexander the Brave’. And where Ashton and Katie had their frenectomy’s done with cold, hard steel; they performed Alex’s with a laser. I made Star Trek jokes the whole time. My presence wasn’t much appreciated.
After the procedure was complete, Alex was feeling okay but a little disoriented. Most of all, he was especially proud of how brave he was and how much attention he was getting from the nursing staff. To hear them tell it, they never have had a six-year-old sit quiet so still for this. “Alex the Brave.”
They led us out to the processing desk and pulled out a box of small toys. “Would you like to pick out a treat for being so good today?” The nurse asked.
After quietly explaining that she wasn’t, in fact, talking to me, Alex began pushing the crappy little plastic bits of nonsense around the box looking for anything remotely entertaining.
He picked up the tiny, orange toy camera and looked through it. He clicked the button on the top once, twice, click, click. He looked up at the nurse and said “I’ll take this one.”
I made him hold my hand on the way out to the car. He didn’t want to. “DaaaaaAAAAaaad.”
“I’m proud of you.” I said.
He nervously and embarrassedly giggled a few times. “I know.” He thought for a minute and laughed again. “They called me Alex the Brave.”
We got in the car and headed for home. I could hear him in the seat directly behind me. Click. Click. Click. Click. Pause. Click.
“What do you see in the camera, buddy?” I asked.
“Animals.” He answered. “The kind that you see… not in the forest. In the jungle.”
I considered this for a moment. “Do you see a snake.”
“Dad. No. No snakes.” He replied.
“Monkeys?” I tried again.
“Yeah.” He said. “There’s a monkey. And a zebra.”
The rest of the car ride went on like this. With us talking about his camera, his procedure, his school work, and “Alex the Brave”.
It was a moment. I don’t know why, or how, or what elements put moments like these together. But it’s a moment that makes my face all fuzzy and I’m hoping to never, ever forget. A moment when my rapidly growing baby boy was still little. Still entertained by a crappy plastic camera.
Recently Alex and I were working on the immense project of organizing his toys and getting them out of his brothers room in preparation for him to have a room of his own. I was short-tempered and annoyed and didn’t want to be doing this. There were other chores more important, but here I sat.
“Look Dad!” He exclaimed. “My camera!” He handed me the plastic toy.
It was one of many such throw-away exclamations he had made that day. And I was surrounded by plastic bins into which I was organizing the various toys. And between my legs was the ‘get rid of’ box. I took the camera from him, watched his eyes head towards the next attention-getter, and slid the camera into the ‘get rid of’ box.
Only it never left my fingers.
Couldn’t do it.