Bryce’s First Retreat

After a breakfast of oatmeal and bite-sized chunks of honeydew, we walked down the green carpeted hall.  Another pastor-father passed me, grinning and saying the same thing he said the night before, “They have child care!”  He walked briskly from the room where I was headed.  His three children were there.  I heard them playing, though they weren’t noisy at all.  No, they needed my son for noise.  He would lift the sound level by his own voice.  He would teach three children from one family what noise was.

There were blocks of all colors and games and bright toys along one wall.  Two staff members, a married couple who explained to me that they had nine grandchildren, one of whom was the same age as Bryce, wrote his name and took his bag.  I explained that yes, he could have snacks.  I said that there was a pacifier in extreme situations, though I, as always, was secretly embarrassed by this admission.  I still wish he did not use the thing, but he does.  It doesn’t kill him.  Let’s hope it doesn’t alter his development in the long run.  I pointed to where I kept the sucky cup, which isn’t a sippy cup because a straw pops up.

None of the other children had bags.  At first it was another small sign that I was at a Pastors and Spouses retreat without my wife.  I had those signs already that morning and the night before.  My explanation to colleagues became common.  Dawn couldn’t get off work.  Dawn has class “tomorrow night” or “tonight,” depending on when I answered the familiar question.  But it wasn’t a sign that I was wifeless or that Bryce was motherless for the retreat.  I had a bag, simply, because I knew my kid.  I packed his water and a banana and some pudding.  I included enough diapers and wipes.  He would only be there for two hours, but I knew this boy.  He would be a challenge, potentially.

I turned to walk out while he was busy playing.  I came back when we had a break, an hour and something later.  I listened for his scream as I descended the hill from the center to the building where childcare and lodging were.  Nothing yet.  He wasn’t yelling through the stones.  That was good.

At the bottom step to the basement level where the noise and playmakers were, I looked both ways like I was sneaking, like I was taking something that wasn’t mine to take.  I wanted to go undetected.  My thought was to stick my head in the room, get a thumb pointed up, and return to the next session.

But Bryce was behind me as I edged toward the room.  He was in the arms of a grandfather and new friend, Dave, who I heard saying, “There’s daddy.”  It was too late to hide, though I tried as I turned around.  Bryce was already reaching for me.  He had been crying.  He was still sniffling, and when he took to my neck, I saw the dribble under his nose and the strips of dried tears down his cheeks.  I felt a twinge of regret that I had not been there, that I had left my kid with these others who he did not know.

I got the usual and expected questions.  Is he sleepy?  He wasn’t.  He had almost two more hours before a nap grabbed him.  Then, the grandfather and new friend said something that sounded good to me, better than the half compliments, half sermons I had heard that morning about spending time with my son or about how fathers weren’t as involved as they should be.  He said, “Oh, it looks like he just wanted his daddy.”

Back in the room with the wall of toys, one of the staff folks asked if I had ESP.  No, I told her, I just know this guy.  I changed his diaper.  When we came back from the changing, he launched into the toys that were in every corner by then.  I saw something called Lincoln Logs, and there was a tiny town being built on a table that the kids had abandoned.

Bryce started drawing with his new friend and playing with one of the other children who had a pink and brown box of somethings I couldn’t see.  He found a truck, knelt down, and started pushing it the way he did when we visited the Poethigs down the hall the other day.  “Vroom vroom,” he whispered, as he rolled over the large rolling television that was playing something from Disney.  Then the boy came over took a pen and tried to swipe the taped paper with all the kids names and ages.  I asked him to leave it.  He kept the pen, deciding that I meant the paper.  His new friend and adopted for the day grandfather figure took him to the board.  They started drawing, Bryce with his back to me and me, suddenly, grateful that I paid attention every now and then to the kid’s rhythms.

Before I left at Dave’s suggestion—“You can sneak out, dad because things should be fine”—I heard a mumble or two from the great adults who gave themselves to do what I couldn’t.  “Maybe he just needed a dry diaper.  Maybe he just needed his dad.”  I, again, chose the second answer and I walked out with that in my ears.  And Bryce didn’t cry or wail or scream—for about another ten minutes—until I was too far away to hear him.

Mondays With My Boy #11

I suggested that we have lunch as a family since I was taking the boy up to a Pastors and Spouses Retreat.  It was my final requirement for our denomination’s ordination, which happened in June.  I had to attend our conference’s (i.e., region’s) retreat.  It worked best that Bryce attend since they had childcare, since Dawn had class on Tuesday evening, and since she couldn’t get away from school or work.  It would have proved difficult to find childcare for that weird slice of hours before our grandmothers arrived on their given days to be with the boy.  Dawn leaves for work two hours earlier than they’re used to arriving.

We picked up Dawn and had lunch, as we’ve done a few times before.  It was cute that Bryce knew we were outside his mom’s building.  He pointed and called for her.  Two or three times.  He yelled and yayed when she opened the door to greet him.

After we ate, Bryce began a slight melting; let’s say softening.  He transitioned to a full meltdown after Dawn exited the car.  His hand was pointing, following her, his screams were screaming, and she had turned to see what my life was to be over the next who knows what while I drove to Lake Geneva.  I thought to myself, this has to be easier.

We were passing Garrett’s popcorn by the time I pulled his cup from the holder under my arm.  “Want water?” I asked.

His arms reached out, thankful to have something.  He knew that I wasn’t into the pacifier movement his mother and his other loved ones participated in.  He quieted down for most of the commute, delaying his I’m bored whimpers for the last fifteen minutes.

People love my son.  Well, people probably love most kids his size.  After all, those kids tend to belong to someone else so that it’s easy to enjoy a cute-faced boy or girl in five-minute increments.  When we got to Covenant Harbor, Bryce was loved.  And I remember thinking what I’ve thought before about my denomination—that I’m grateful I get to be in ministry with others who care so well.  I knew that these folks weren’t the type to love for a little while.  These pastors and ministers and staff workers had been practicing love for the long haul.

Bryce got his name tag.  He went around introducing himself, in a language only other babies understand.  I laughed at my colleagues who tried to listen for his words.  We’d debate meanings between us, and I’d give up trying to know what he meant.  We unpacked and went to dinner where Bryce was preoccupied with getting more milk than I would allow and where a lovely woman and minister, Rev. Slaughter, went to get him a banana when he reached for hers.  She also brought a slice a pie (Bryce likes whipped cream now) and a plum and a pear, whispering, “Just in case.”

We were about done with dinner by then.  The banana finished him.  He had eaten less than I’d liked to see him eat.  But he has been doing that lately, eating more at breakfast and lunch than dinner.  He was waving and talking so much to Kathy behind him that she left her table to sit across from us.  He insisted on being in my lap, which he never does.  Kathy tried to ask me questions, tried to engage Bryce.

As I think about it, my responses to her conversation probably sounded like baby language.  I could hardly hear what people at my table were going on about, much less have a direct conversation with another person with Bryce doing stuff he never does.  It was enough to pay attention to the boy.  It was harder than usual, when he’ll eat what you put in front of him and when he’ll turn around when you tell him to and when he’ll happily devour his meal in his seat.

After dinner I let him stay up a little later than routine.  We were supposed to hear music and sing together.  But the worship started with reports and talking, so Bryce started his own talking in the large gym.  He ran to greet the other kids.  He sang to himself, trying, I think, to get the show going since I explicitly told him there would be music.  In the end, we had to leave after a half hour without singing.  He did have to go to bed.  So while we walked down the hill from the Jackson Activity Center, night time sweeping us into a cool embrace, we sang our little walking song.  Don’t ask me to sing it.  It’s our song, and actually it really does sound like language only babies understand.