‘Each morning, the door of our bedroom swings open as small boy and smaller stuffed animals enter. Sock-covered feet carry said boy to my sleeping form and small arms lift themselves wordlessly toward me.’
I had to get lucky eventually. The law of averages said so. My first two children were so utterly devoted to my wife when they were toddlers that they would burst into tears every time she left the house without them. Even though I was there to attend to their every need and could make them fly like an airplane around the living room much longer than she could, they would throw themselves on her when she walked through the door as though she had just returned from a stint in the Foreign Legion. But what about those airplane rides?
So, when our third child was born, I felt like it was my turn to be the preferred parent. Eric is six years younger than Samantha and four years younger than Alex. This differential has worked to his supreme advantage in that both of his siblings were madly in love with him from the day he was born. Samantha now had a baby to fawn over while Alex quickly realized that someone in this world worshipped him as much as he idolized his big sister. Eric (no fool, that boy) bathed in all the attention and adulation as if it were lilac scented water. And as a result, he was rewarded with even more.
I was now competing for the attention of my youngest child with my other two children. I had not calculated this factor into my odds. But, then again, I always sucked at math.
As Eric grew and developed his own personality and tastes, the scales began to tip in my favor. I believe the biggest seismic shift occurred when he started watching baseball with Alex.
Two years of Little League had made Alex a baseball fanatic. He watched every game, tracked standings and statistics and tried to model his swing after his favorite players. He would also ask me a Bar Exam’s worth of hypothetical questions on a nightly basis. Would you rather have Player X’s speed or Player Y’s average? Who would you trade to get Player Z if you could only trade an outfielder? If you could have a decent switch hitter or a power hitter who couldn’t hit lefties, which would you choose? I felt like Theo Epstein at a pre-season press conference.
Eric watched the games and listened to all the questions. At first, he was a passive observer, just happy to be in the same room with his hero. Then, as he absorbed the details and nuances of the games, he began to enjoy these daily contests on their own merits. In fact, he routinely asked us to DVR the night games so he could watch them the next day independent of Alex who would then be at school.
This was when Lady Luck smiled at me.
Eric’s one idiosyncrasy is that he refuses to watch any recorded game in which his beloved Red Sox lose. (I’m not sure if this is because he’s 4 years old or because he’s a Boston sports fan.) So, every morning he would pad into our room carrying three or four stuffed animals and make his way to my side of the bed.
“Dad,” he would say in a conspiratorial whisper, “did the Red Sox win?”
“Pedroia pulled it out in the ninth,” I’d reply in my sandpapery morning voice. “Walk-off single.”
After dancing a little jig, he’d look at me expectantly. “Can I go downstairs and watch it?”
“Yeah, but first give me a hug.”
Smiling, he would raise his arms and I’d lift him up onto the bed and on top of me. As I lay his little body across my torso, he would let all his muscles go slack so that it felt as is he were melting into me. Even with his head resting on my shoulder, his feet reached only slightly below my waist. His body would still be warm from sleep and his feathery locks would have that adorably tousled look that only little kids can pull off. I could feel his breath on my shoulder as I rubbed his back or stroked his hair. Soon, our lungs would expand and contract as one and, eventually, even our hearts would achieve metronomic synchronicity. We would stay like this for as long as he would allow it, me afraid to make even the slightest move for fear of breaking the spell.
We came to call this our Nudnik Hug.
Note: My Bubbie (grandmother) would have my head if I didn’t explain that nudnik is Yiddish for pest or nuisance. But, that’s not the way I’ve always used it. In our family’s parlance, a nudnik is a goofball. As in, “Which one of you nudniks put the phone in the refrigerator?” It’s a mild reproach or more often a term of endearment. If someone from my family calls you a nudnik, it means you’re one of us.
To my great delight, our Nudnik Hugs are no longer predicated on Red Sox games. Each morning, the door of our bedroom swings open as small boy and smaller stuffed animals enter. Sock-covered feet carry said boy to my sleeping form and small arms lift themselves wordlessly toward me. Regardless of the weather, every day begins with sunshine.
He called to me from his bed the other night, angry that his mother had tucked him in before I had the chance to kiss him goodnight.
“Hmmph,” my wife sniffed, only half-joking, “he doesn’t care when I don’t get to kiss him goodnight.”
“Come on, honey,” I replied as I breezed past her on my way up the stairs to his room, also only half-joking. “You got the other two. Now you’re just being greedy.”
—Photo Elisa …/Flickr