I have finished tidying the kitchen after breakfast, so the appointed hour has come. I yell upstairs: “Nic, it’s time to go to school now. Come and put your jacket on.”
It’s common to hear this in reply: “Hold on, let me get my toy.”
Depending on the day, Nic has already selected a toy and has already been playing with it for about twenty minutes.
Usually what happens is this: after breakfast I help him get dressed, brush his teeth, brush his hair and then wash his face. After I clean off the sticky crust caked onto his chin, he tells me: “Okay, you brush your teeth now, Daddy.”
I comply. Meanwhile, he trudges upstairs to choose the Toy of the Day. This is the toy he will take to school to show to his teacher for, oh, say, five seconds before turning it over to Dad for safe-keeping.
He chooses a new toy every day (I am not exaggerating), so his selections are as varied as the weather.
There is the fighter jet, to which Nic supplies the whooshing, swooping noises as we sail to school. Thankfully, this fighter jet doesn't know how to fire its guns yet.
There is also baby Max, a small stuffed brown puppy, for whom Nic provides a “leash” (which is nothing more than a black strap that has just been divorced from its canvas bag partner--never to be “paired” again, probably). Nic “walks” baby Max to school, providing little whimpering noises at varied points along the journey. (Perhaps when he grows up he'll be a ventriloquist.) Upon arrival at school, baby Max yips and then slurps while kissing Vanessa, the head of the school. Then, Nic hands baby Max over to me with solemn instructions to “take baby Max to school”. By this, Nic means: when I get home, I am to walk up two flights of stairs to the play room. Once in the play room, I am to walk around the blue couch in a circle, only to head back downstairs (one flight this time) with baby Max still in hand. Then, I am to take baby Max to Nic’s room, which, as it turns out, happens to be baby Max’s “school”. His “desk” is Nic’s bed, blanketed with a Bob the Builder duvet cover. There is no “teacher” in the room, but that doesn’t matter, since baby Max seems to be self-taught. Sounds like my kind of school.
The other day, Nic brought one toy, only to discover along the way that he also had a toy cell phone in the pocket of his jacket. Upon finding this cell phone, he exclaimed, “Look! My cell phone! It’s Joel. He wants to talk to you, Daddy.”
“Okay. Hi, Joel. How are you?”
Nic then puts on a voice that sounds like “Joel”, at least in his mind.
(Yes, he calls me “Troy” when he’s pretending to be someone other than himself.)
I chuckle to myself and continue, “Hi. How are you, Joel?”
“Uh, I’m fine. How are you?”
“Uh, fine. I’m walking Nic to school. Do you like school?”
“That’s good. Okay, well…nice talkin’ to ya. I’ll give you back to Nic now. Bye.”
I hand the toy phone back to Nic and he carries on the following conversation with “Joel”.
“Yeah, I’m going to school now. I have a new teacher.”
“Her name is Luz.”
“Yeah, Luz. My old teacher was Estela.”
“I miss Estela.”
“But I like Luz, too.”
Another morning Nic took his toy camera, taking snapshots of just about everything along the way, including the dirt.
A couple days ago his “toy” was a piece of paper with the following words scrawled crookedly on it as if a drunk spider had been dipped in ink and then commanded to write with its spindly legs in all capital letters: “THE INCREDIBLES BATH AND SHOWER GEL”. We arrived at school and he proudly displayed his handiwork to Vanessa. Being a Spaniard, she couldn’t read what it said. So, I explained: ‘Los Increibles'... At which point, she understood and praised Nic for his work of art. Nic handed me the piece of paper and told me to bring it home. I folded it in half and then half again to fit in my coat pocket. When Nic got home, he told me I shouldn’t have folded the paper, so I apologized for the infraction.
The previous morning, his selected toy included a harmonica encased in a small cloth purse from Ecuador. He did not play the harmonica on the way to school, for which I thanked the good Lord in heaven. When he got to school, he insisted that I let him take it in. Usually I do not allow this as that is a good way to lose toys. I thought about the prospect of Nic losing his harmonica for about two seconds--and then promptly approved his request.
I hope the teacher is not mad at me now.
Each morning, there is a new adventure, a new toy and a new boy. I wonder what tomorrow will bring, how my baby will change. Each day there is something new, stretching out to eternity. One day there will be music; another, flight. Occasionally there will be pride, and, from time to time, filmless pictures. And always there will be friends, old and new, real and imagined. For my part, I merely hope to be the oldest friend he’ll ever have, till death takes me from his side.