It was exactly three years ago this month when Kyle and I first met.
He was a spineless little imp that drooled a lot and had a sour disposition. I had recently turned 50 and was none too happy about that. I was far too busy planning how to spend the rest of my life as a crotchety, ill-tempered old man.
In terms of our foul dispositions, we weren’t all that different. If I reached for him, he’d sour up and look for comfort elsewhere, and in turn, on the rare occasion he’d reach for me, I’d pawn him off on any available body within throwing distance. We spent the first couple of months in this fashion. Ultimately, we came to understand if we left each other alone, nobody got hurt.
Kyle really wasn’t all that interesting at first and he also had some nasty habits. He moaned and complained about everything, and although it doesn’t seem likely now, at the time I thought he had it in for me. Every time he was near me, he would spit a evil smelling concoction of fluids on me, or even worse, he would foul himself and leave me gagging and gasping for air. It seemed we were never going to be able to co-exist.
One Sunday morning about two years ago, while I was sipping my coffee and practicing my crotchety old man routine, all the women decided to go to church, leaving me alone with the gurgling gnome. I tried to get out of it, first by feigning a brain tumor, but they didn’t buy it. I even said that I needed to go to church myself, but to no avail. The Redhead flung him into my lap and gave me the, “You can’t win this one” look, and I was trapped alone with Mr. Snot-N-Bubbles for the entire morning.
I tried to be reasonable, but he wouldn’t cooperate with me. Within five minutes he had created a lump in his drawers the size of a football and the smell was so bad I had no recourse but to strip him down and take him to the back yard and hose him down. A nosy neighbor leered over the fence, but I didn’t have time to worry about that. This was about survival.
To make a long story short, by the time the women returned home I had him spread out on the kitchen table, powdered down with whole wheat flour and was duct taping a folded towel around him. I had planned to hermetically seal the makeshift diaper by taping on a garbage bag, but the women didn’t seem to appreciate my ingenuity.
After a severe scolding from the Redhead and a threat from the nosy neighbor to call Children’s Services, I slinked off to my bedroom and flipped on the TV. I drifted off into a nap, recuperating from my harrowing experience alone with Mr. Poop-N-Spit.
I don’t know how long I was asleep, but I awoke to find myself alone with the little urchin lying on my arm, soundly sleeping. My first instinct was to jump and run, but with the slightest move he wiggled a little and buried himself deeper into my armpit and made a cooing sound. I watched him for a few minutes as he occasionally took a few tiny draws from his little blue cup, allowing some of the milk to drool down his cheek and soak the underarm of my T-shirt. It occurred to me that we had both been through a lot, and if he was man enough to withstand having his little nose in my armpit, then I could be man enough to withstand a few more drops of drool on my shirt.
I guess we both took the longest nap in recorded history because the Redhead had to wake us up. By then we were both drooling and it was dark outside. It’s almost as if the little imp had given a little bit of his self to me in that nap. I felt a connection with him, and although I didn’t say it out loud, I was sad to see him leave with his mother.
Now he is 3, and it is rare that we don’t spend the weekend together. He has traded in his diapers for more suitable men’s wear and cowboy boots, and for the most part he doesn’t spew radioactive waste on me anymore. Much of the time we spend doing whatever he likes to do and I feel younger. I have put off my crotchety old man rehearsals until further notice and am even trying to live better so I can be around to see him grow up. He runs to me on sight and calls me Papaw, I soak him in and call him my little monkey and now I find it hard to imagine a world without my grandchild.
It must be one of those spiritual full circle things people always talk about, but it’s still hard to believe that this phase of my life all began the day a 7-pound screaming, spitting, drooling stubborn guy with bowel control issues came into my life. Now that I see that in print, it occurs to me we’re very much alike, except I weigh a lot more.
Thank you, Kyle, for teaching me how to live again. When you get older, I’ll let you read this and you’ll know what a pain in the #$&! you were, and how we came to be bestest buddies.
John Booth is a columnist for the Columbus Messenger Newspapers.