(finding parenthood painfully funny)
“I hate that stupid book!” he yells and punches the baby boy on the cover.
The usual nightly battle reaches its climax and my five-year-old son finally succumbs to story time. Thank Baby Jesus he’s stopped screaming in my face that he wants Daddy to put him to bed. I am three seconds away from politely suggesting he go fuck himself. Typical Friday night.
I grab the book Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. An old favorite of mine that I have never read to him. I’ve been waiting for just the right time. And clearly, this night is as good as it will ever get. Let’s keep this romance alive.
He snuggles into me on his bottom bunk, surrounded by superhero wallpaper. Tonight’s reading is about a boy, a horrible, rebellious, troublemaking boy, who drives his mother crazy every chance he gets. (Slightly relatable.) But at night, when the boy is fast asleep, the mother sneaks into his bedroom, takes him out of his bed, and while he is sound asleep rocks him back and forth, back and forth, whispering that she will love him forever, and as long as she is living, he will always be her baby.
This happens over and over again throughout the boy’s life: when he is a toddler, tween, teen, even when he is a father himself. (I’ll admit it’s a little creepy when she breaks into his house, drags him out of the bed where he’s sleeping next to his wife, and rocks him in her arms. But I appreciate the repetition, I’m a sucker for thematic couplets.) The book ends with the grown son rocking his sick and dying mother in his arms, and telling her that he will love her forever, and as long as he is living, she will always be his mommy. (Grab tissues. Cue Love Story theme song.)
My little guy doesn’t move. I wonder if he has mysteriously fallen asleep in my arms for the first time in years. (As exhausted as I used to be at 3 a.m., I loved holding his heavy baby body as he slept on my chest.) I close the book and look down at his face. His eyes are, in fact, open. Staring at the book and flooding with tears. “I hate that stupid book!” he yells and punches the baby boy on the cover. I can’t hide my giant smile. “Why do you hate the book?”
“I don’t like the mommy at the end!” He’s crying hysterically. I’m witnessing the first moment in his young life when he realizes I will die one day. A part of me grossly feels a wave of satisfaction. I wasn’t sure he was that into me. He’s way more into Dad (can’t blame him, he’s always been cooler than I). I grab his wet, chubby cheeks in my hands and kiss away his tears. Literally. “I’m not going anywhere. I’m planning on being your mommy until you are old and have children of your own.”
“Promise?” His green eyes match my identical green eyes. All four eyeballs overflowing with tears. Can I make him that promise?
“And I’m way too cool to run off to the pay phone 25 feet away to call my dad and tell him I’m safe.”
I inherited my green eyes from my father. I remember staring into eyes identical to my son’s 24 years ago, long before he was born. It’s 1992. I’m a 14-year-old high school freshman, and I haven’t made it home for my 11 p.m. curfew. It’s long come and gone. I’m standing with about 30 other theater dorks in the Denny’s parking lot on Lincoln Boulevard, a few blocks away from Santa Monica High School. We’ve just finished another outstanding performance of The Wizard of Oz. (Not to brag, but I was the Coroner and got to pronounce the witch legally dead. Back off, haters.) We’re reeling with endorphin highs and free refills of Mountain Dew. A few of us newbies are doing our best to fit in with the sophisticated juniors and seniors.
Bumping some “Rump Shaker” by Wreckx-n-Effect out of my soon-to-be-boyfriend’s sea-foam green Dodge Dart, I show off my new munchkin moves, the ones that earned me a coveted spot in the troupe. Making people laugh, as usual, is the biggest high of my night. And I’m way too cool to run off to the pay phone 25 feet away to call my dad and tell him I’m safe. I’m not a baby!
A freakishly loud tire squeal catches everyone’s attention. A beat-up white van skids into the parking lot, almost tipping over completely as it slides into a spot. The Dodge Dart’s music flips off. The silence is thick like the backside of a girl Sir-Mix-A-Lot would write a song about. The only sound I hear is the racing thumping of my heart, like little Thumper from Bambi on crack. The driver’s door swings open. Everyone nervously waits to see who is going to appear. Truly fearing for our lives. And I know. I am dead.
My father slams the door shut behind him. He flicks his lit Marlboro Red onto the dewy parking lot asphalt. Smoke bellowing out of his nostrils like a raging bull. His voice is deep and amplified. “God damn it, Nicole Allyson. Get your ass over here right now! Where the hell have you been?” My body is suddenly on fire. I am scared to look around at my newest group of friends who I barely know. No one moves or says a word. Either that, or I’ve gone deaf and everyone is hysterically laughing. I’m not sure.
My father beelines to me. I’m frozen. He grabs my arm in a death grip and begins to drag me away. He throws me in the van like I am five years old. I’m too embarrassed to cry. Too embarrassed to speak.
We park outside our apartment. My dad stares at me. Our green eyes lock, the cigarette clouding the air between us. He clears his throat, sore from screaming, “You have to promise to always call me. You scared me to death.”
My father lunges forward and holds me tightly.
Cut to three weeks ago. My father and I hang up on each other after a heated argument about absolutely nothing. He feels so guilty (because he was wrong and I was right) that he checks Facebook, sees where I am scheduled to perform stand-up comedy that evening, and decides to surprise me by attending the show. (And by “show” I mean a makeshift plywood stage situated just to the left of the restrooms at a seedy bar a few blocks away from Los Angeles’ porn capital.) As I turn into the parking lot of the “show,” my cell rings. Without even a hello he dives right in, “Nicole, turn around. You are not performing here.”
“It’s not funny. This is not safe. You need to drive home immediately.”
“Dad, this is the nicest bar I’ve performed at in the last 17 months. This is what I do five nights a week. I’m fine.”
“I’ve been inside. The bartender doesn’t have teeth. Get your ass home.”
I pull up next to his old white van. I hop out. The parking lot feels familiar. I grab his arm. And take him in as my date.
After completely bombing, he walks me to my car. “Nicole, they’re idiots. You’re really funny.”
“I’m fine, Dad. It’s a typical Friday night.”
“Well, I don’t want you coming to these shady places alone. And it’s way past your curfew.”
“I’ll call you when I get home.”
“Call me after every show. Promise?” My father leans forward and holds me tightly.
Today, I stare into my own beautiful son’s eyes. Still cloudy with tears.
I clear my throat. “Yes, I promise to be your mommy forever. And love you past the day I die. That’s what parents do. We will Love You Forever.”
And I take my baby in my arms and rock him back and forth, back and forth. (Cue music, Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel “IZ” Kamakawiwo’ole.)
For more information on Nicole Blaine or to see her perform stand-up: www.NicoleBlaine.com