As I often do on Sundays, I took the twins to the coop playspace we belong to this afternoon. I see a lot of the same people there week to week, but this week I saw a guy I'd never seen before. I'm sure I would have noticed him if he'd been there at the same time as me in the past because he was John.
Well, OK, he was actually a tall, skinny, hipster-ish white guy who was there with his three-year-old-ish daughter. Most of the parents at the playspace chit-chat as they interact with/supervise their kids, but this guy was an island. I saw him standing in the gymnasium while his daughter played with a Cozy Coupe, sitting on a chair while his daughter played at a train table, and lounging on the floor while said daughter fixed "dinner" in a play kitchen. During all of it, he had a book in his hands and was intently reading.
John would have done exactly the same thing, and with exactly the same split attention. When this guy's daughter needed him, he was there for her. He knew just what she was doing, but he also appeared to be 100% focused on his book. John could do that, too. Not me. I love to read, but when I read, I am physically transported to where my book is set. I am either reading with my full brain or I'm not reading at all, and if I don't have at least five minutes to devote to reading and nothing but, I don't bother. If John could read five words, it was worth it to him. And he could read and do a host of other things simultaneously. It always amazed me.
I have a picture of John and Maddie taken when Mads was about six weeks old. They are sitting on a bench on our deck, Maddie splayed out on John's lap, fast asleep. He is reading to her from Julia Child's memoir. At night, we used to take turns telling each other stories. John told me stories about a family of heroic Dachshunds, the only dogs I like. Sounds lame, but the stories were hilarious. We read to each other sometimes, but our tastes differed, so most often we focused on our own books. John read mostly nonfiction, whereas I'm more of a fiction devotee, but we made converts of each other to a certain extent.
I've never been a hoarder. With few exceptions, I love to get rid of stuff. For a long time, books were one of the exceptions for me. I don't tend to buy a lot of books (thank you, public libraries), but it used to be that if I bought a book and liked it at all, I kept it. Now I'm at a point where I have to love a book like life itself to keep it. I'm happy to put things on the leave-a-book/take-a-book shelf at our local coffee joint, or pass a volume on to a friend. John, while not much of a packrat, couldn't bear to part with books. He also reread books pretty frequently, something I almost never do. Bookshelf space was always at a premium during our time together, and it still is now as the twins' ever-expanding collection jockeys for shelf space. I find that I have lots and lots of books of John's, books that I was always encouraging him to give away, books that I know I will never read that I now can't give away. There were so few physical things that were important to John that the ones I have—such as his books—are difficult to let go. What if Riley or Maddie develops an interest in military history (a favorite subject of John's)? Or what if I decide to read the collected works of Hesse (which for some reason he owned)?
John's ashes (my half) are on our bookshelves, in the crappy brown plastic box that they came in from the funeral home. He's on the oversized fiction shelf; that's where there was room, and since there was a lot of fiction left unread in his life, I figured he'd want to be with the stuff he never got to. It's hard to see "John" when I'm out and then come home and see where he truly physically is. It's hard to see the dad he would have been, imagine the life we would have had. He would have loved to give me a break, take the kids out of the house for the afternoon hoping that I'd take a nap but knowing full well that I'd putter around and find stuff that needed doing. He would love the twins at this age, with the talkingtalkingtalking and joking around. He'd be better with them than I am: more creative and sillier, less rules-bound. Of course, if he were around, I might be looser, too; my life as a single parent is by necessity extremely scheduled and goal-oriented.
Maddie is really into ownership right now. She spends a significant portion of each day saying things like, "This Maddie's jacket. This Mama's shirt. This YaYa's froggie. This Mama's soup. This Maddie's bag," etc. Today, in my room, she said, "This Daddy's hat," and pointed right at John's Detroit Tigers baseball cap hanging on the closet door handle. Yes, Mads, it is Daddy's hat. Wish he were here to wear it and take you to KidSpace with his book of the moment. Wish he were here to see you, and Riley, and me.