Amid the frustrations of being stuck at home, a pink heart is slipped beneath Daddy’s door
Looking back one day, that’s one of the best things I’ll remember about the time we were all stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic,
I finally had to put a lock on my office door.
It was two weeks ago. Or was it three? The days blur.
My editor had sent a note asking what I was doing to the top of a story I’d filed that was about to be posted to the Chicago Sun-Times’ website.
I actually hadn’t done a thing to it. I’d stepped away from my computer for a few moments.
When I returned, there was gibberish at the beginning of the story about a Chicago mother and son trapped in Peru — the telltale sign of a 2-year-old gleefully pounding my keyboard with his fists.
Like the dirty laundry pile my wife and I are too busy to handle right now, the daily — OK, sometimes hourly — frustrations of this altered existence continue to grow.
The other day, I left a package of hamburger meat on the stairs leading to the basement freezer while I put away other groceries. I returned to find the package torn open, our kitten scampering away. I tossed it, pausing to wonder whether I might be quite so fussy if one day meat — like toilet paper or face masks — becomes scarce.
These aren’t the kinds of things I want to remember years from now about this time. Nor are they what I’m writing about in the once-monthly letters I’m writing to each of my boys to preserve memories that might otherwise fade.
Perhaps I’ll think back to the evening when I stood beside Lucca, my 8-year-old, and we watched as clouds — towering and soot-black — gathered. For a few minutes, at least, he actually was entranced by something other than his computer screen.
“That one looks like a dragon’s claws,” Lucca said, pointing to a shape my brain couldn’t quite conceive.
A few days later, I guided Lucca’s hand as he hammered his first nail — without crushing any of Daddy’s fingers or his own.I didn’t even mind the twisted and bent nails left scattered across our deck.
While his older brother learns to play the violin, Matteo is developing his own musical interests. He’s cast aside “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” in favor of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The evening the dark clouds rolled in, Matteo charged into the kitchen, yelling: “Funder bolt and lightning — vewy, vewy fwightening! Galileo, Figawo!”
Looking back one day at this time, I’ll think of my well-intentioned mistakes. Like the other night, when I made beef tacos for dinner, liberally sprinkling pre-grated cheese on top of each, only to discover — after everyone had finished eating — a clump of moldy cheese at the bottom of the package.
Or the night I thought it would be great if Lucca and I started reading, at bedtime, “Hatchet,” a beloved middle-grade novel about a boy who has to survive in the Canadian wilderness after the crash of the single-engine airplane in which he was the only passenger.
“But it’s OK because he survives in the end!” I tried to tell Lucca after he asked me to close the book because it was “too frightening.”
It was only later that it occurred to me he might have been less disturbed by the plane crashing than by the image of the pilot — a man about Daddy’s age — yelling, “Chest! Oh, God, my chest is coming apart!” as he succumbed to a fatal heart attack.
I will also remember my mixed feelings once I’d installed the lock on my home office door.
Soon after, I heard the familiar shuffle of little feet and the tug on the door, this time thwarted.
A few minutes later, Matteo returned. And I saw he’d slipped something under the door.
It was a piece of pink felt, with eyes and a nose — cut in the shape of a heart.