A blinding flash lights up the room, a BOOM! causes the house to shake, the dog barks hysterically downstairs. Plane crash, I think, not sure if I’m asleep or awake even as I’m up and moving. Cacophony at 1:46 AM. Need to get to Lucas. Double-time, into his room – he’s sitting up, wide-eyed. The dog skulks and whines. “Lighting. Thunder. Nothing to worry about”, I say. I know what he’s going to ask. “Come on. You can sleep in our room tonight.”
Afterwards, we’ll say that it went exactly like we thought it would. He was nervous, watching us putting on our raincoats. The first Parent-Teacher Conference of First Grade. The clouds roiled; the rain had slowed to a mist, and the school was littered with puddles. Of course he’d jumped in a few; the damp brown cuffs of his jeans was damning, even as he tried to deny it. We try to qualify our admonishments: “I don’t want you jumping in the puddles because your shoes will get wet, and if that happens your feet are gonna itch. Like you wouldn’t believe.” Asking him not to jump in a puddle. Might as well ask him not to smile. I’m thinking about his puddle-jumping even as his teacher tells us what we already know: he’s very smart, he’s very friendly, the rest of the kids love him…but he’s having trouble focusing. He’s easily distracted – no, she says, he doesn’t have ADD…well, no more than any of the other kids, because really, they’re 6, and they’ve all got a little ADD, you know? Of course I know this. But these days he’s a dervish, constantly whirling to music that I can’t yet hear.
Churning black skies. It’s 8:00 and we’re going to be late. The rain will make it worse; any time it rains in southern California, civilization grinds to a halt, the screeching courtesy of thousands of sets of anti-lock brakes. He’s still in the shower, doing some sort of weird shower dance, looking like one of those stereotypical awkward “Natives” in a 1950’s Tarzan movie, extras with bad makeup and New Yawk accents. “Lucas.” He dances. “Lucas.” Dances. “LUCAS!” He snaps out of it. Stands there looking at me. “Wash your hair.” Nothing. Jesus. I grab the shampoo bottle and pour some on his head. He idly pats his hair. “Like this,” I say, massaging the shampoo into his scalp. “You know how to wash your hair. You do it every morning.” He shrugs. I turn off the shower and hand him a towel. “Dry yourself off, please. I’ll go get your clothes.” I do, he doesn’t. Until I tell him to. “Ok, brush your teeth.” There is an argument about something. Lately, there are lots of arguments. The storm’s made it worse, turning our house into a container. A game of tug-of-war, played inside a submarine. “Just brush your teeth, please.” “But…” “Your teeth. Please brush them.” “But…” “Brush. Your. Teeth.” There’s a basic disconnect here. He’s having trouble focusing. His refusal: me yelling, hating myself for it. “BRUSH YOUR TEETH!” He does.
He sleeps between us. The dog paces the room, breathing like a locomotive. The rumbling and flashing have stopped. I watch him, watch his eyes, moving back and forth behind the lids. I wonder what he’s dreaming about. I wonder who we are to him.
On the drive to school, I talk to him, about why Mom and I get upset when he argues with us, or talks back to us, or simply ignores us. The Why’s are met with the I Don’t Know’s. We’ve had this discussion before. I remind myself: he defaults to Good, like most kids. Do I? I’m not sure. As they always do, this discussion ends with an exchange of OK’s and I Love You’s. I think about the water cycle – this was something he’d learned about last year. He was so proud of this, this knowing. “Water doesn’t really go away, Dad. It rains and then some of the rain gets soaked up into the ground and some turns to clouds and some goes into the ocean. But it eventually goes back up into the sky. And then it rains again.” My smart boy. We pull into the parking lot. The clouds hang low. We hustle in to school before they open up.