Christmas has been a chore for me since I was old enough to understand my own desires, and having kids has not exactly eased that pain. Granted, I get to see the joy and wonder of the holidays through fresh eyes, yadda, yadda, yadda… But the one thing I can say for sure is that each new season always brings some killer new anecdotes.
Take for example the following perfect storm of my almost 8 year old son’s newfound love of reading, lots of holiday travel and time spent in numerous public restrooms at truck stops along the way.
My son appreciates that his new found literary freedom has ushered him into a previously hidden world of grown-up secrets and takes a special joy in pointing out (often under awkward public circumstances) the discrepancies between what we as adults say are “the rules” and what we do. Sometimes I can even see it coming, as was the case in at least two gas station bathrooms of late.
Impatient, road weary, bloated from holiday feasting and on the verge of a cold, I was in no mood to tarry at this particular truck stop. As is my custom, I’m waiting outside the stall for my son to finish and staring blankly at my iPhone’s home screen, too dumbfounded or lazy to even launch an app but in need of someplace to look to keep from having to make eye contact with the dozen or so other dads, truckers, sons, and loners milling about the urinals and stalls, waiting for a turn.
I’m prepared to remind my son to wash his hands as soon as possible – able to hurry things along verbally if it seems his 8 year old focus is wandering – and suddenly I hear my son begin to spell aloud something clearly carved into the wall of the stall.
“F…” ok, what’s he doing, spelling?
“U…” uh oh, he’s discovered the walls… I attempt to intercede…
“You all done in there, buddy…?”
“C…” he gasps.
“I know, kiddo, just ignore it…”
“But, dad! Somebody carved this word on the wall, why would somebody…”
Busy bathroom suddenly gets too quiet…Yes, dad, tell us all why…
“Just let it go and finish what you are there for…”
Hours go by. Miles go by. More parties. More relatives. More driving. Another truck stop bathroom.
Once again staring at the home screen, wishing I was really at home, not making eye contact…
“Are you done in there, kiddo?”
“That word! That same word is carved on the wall here too, that “F…U…C…”
Another busy bathroom suddenly as quiet as a church in vespers…
“Let’s go, buddy…”
“Do you suppose it’s the same guy? The same guy that carved it in the last one?”
My velocitated mind is flooded with images of a b-movie bad guy, cruising the highways and byways of America, free of spirit and free of mind, carving his four letter manifesto into every bathroom stall from sea to shining sea for 8 year olds everywhere who are finally learning the truth about grown-ups and language and words uttered under breath. “This word is real!” I’d hear him proclaim, “and people use it every day even if nobody says so!”
“Wash your hands,” I’d say instead, and usher my beloved innocent with a wink toward the soap.