The most joyous moments of parenthood are not the big events, the birthday parties, the Christmas mornings, the few minutes of elation that follow days and weeks and months of planning. The unplanned, unscripted, unexpected moments are the ones that endure long after the nest has emptied.
Before Russell started school and I was working in the afternoons, he and I often went to Lake Shore Park in the morning. He was enthralled by The Wizard of Oz, and when we got to the park, he'd tell me to follow him. He'd run by the duck pond and up the hills and back down again. "OK, stop," he'd tell me and take a moment to look around. "This doesn't look like Kansas," he'd say, and off we'd go again.
Back home, he had the sound-track album, and he played it constantly. Russ never tired of Dorothy and the Munchkins and, strangely, neither did I. I had never paid much attention to the lyrics, and it was only after listening to the album day after day that I realized how much fun E.Y. Harburg, the lyricist, must have had - "How about a hippopotamus? Why I'd trash him from top to bottomamus. Supposin' you met an elephant? I'd wrap him up in cellophant." My dad, as usual, was right: they don't write songs like they used to.
Not long after that, I began working days. And because I got home from work an hour-and-a-half before my wife Debbie, I did the cooking during the week. This was matter of convenience and had nothing to do with our respective culinary talents. But one night at the dinner table when Russell was in junior high, Debbie said, "This is really good." Russell looked up from his plate, said "Look who made it," and pointed to me. It has always been my favorite family joke.
And one evening when Bethany was four or five, I was reading at the kitchen table. She wandered in, got up on my lap and then up on the table. She looked at me with her big, expressive eyes and talked about her adventures at day care. She asked me if I wanted to hear a song she had learned there. I told her I did. More than twenty years later, I can still see Bethany's face as she sang:
Say, say my playmate,
come out and play with me
and bring your dollies three,
climb up the apple tree.
Slide down my rain barrel
into my cellar door
and we'll be jolly friends
forever more - more - more!
In the words of another old song, "No, no, they can't take that away from me."