Living Off the Bonus

FullSizeRender (1)ANDY NEVER NOTICED THE WATTLES between my Grandmother’s chin and collarbone until he peered into the casket at her 95-year-old shell.

She died two years ago shortly after Christmas, and he had been army crawling with his cousins under pews in the decked out church before her funeral service.

Then, for unknown reasons he got “curiouser and curiouser,” what Alice spluttered after aspects of the Wonderland Lewis Carroll created overwhelmed her.

Andy stood up. He moved in for a closer look.

After all, this lady often predictably slipped him $2, discreetly folded, to spend on old-fashioned bulk candy at the Kandy Kitchen in Galena, Ill., where I grew up and she lived out her retirement.

I watched his approach from about 10 feet away and mistakenly figured that my middle son, then 5, intended to pay his last respects with a rare moment of stillness and silence beside her.

Instead, quick as a wink from St. Nick, he reached forward and wiggled her wattles before dashing off.

I nearly fainted.

Only later could I appreciate the gesture as some sort of “See ya later, Great Grams!” — one she would rubber stamp in a second because kid antics amused her to the end.

Andy’s second grade teacher this fall coined this kind of signature behavior.

Like a Supreme Court judge, Mrs. Larson knows it when she sees it and calls it: “Bringing on the ‘Andyness.’”

Sometimes this is a good thing. It is unfettered curiosity, imagination, and energy.

Sometimes, this is not a good thing. Think stubbornness that gives way to hysteria.

This bundle of a boy is my poster child nevertheless for the living-off-the-bonus attitude he inspired me to cultivate, especially when weird stuff happens.

He reminds me that all of us operate on a tightrope — not on the ground –and that just being up there is a gift whatever our contortions as we repeatedly catch our balance.

Why? Because for about 20 minutes in December 2007 he seemed doomed.

Truly.

As my late afternoon prenatal appointment with the obstetrician dragged on, the month’s early darkness pressed its face against the windows at the Longmont Clinic.

The doctor could not hear Andy’s heartbeat.

She moved the stethoscope all around my buddha belly that had grown with the baby in that eighth month of pregnancy and only heard my heart, beating perhaps a little quicker as the specter of stillbirth floated into the room.

Finally, Dr. Smith stepped back from the table. She quietly got the nurse who gave me sugar water to stimulate fetal movement before an ultrasound would confirm the situation.

I sipped the syrupy drink from a Dixie cup without company then and waited to be summoned.

At first, the small ultrasound screen revealed only a ghost town on a foggy midnight — a place slumbering in shadow and light.

Then we both spotted the one unmistakable feature, the target of our hunt.

A tiny heartbeat. Slow, but steady.

My toes curled a little tighter on the high wire that day.

How dizzying the heights can be.

Yet, because the show goes on with Andy, not without him, I sensed a second chance to appreciate everyone a little more — everyone as an acrobat feeling their way on the wire between two platforms.

Don’t we all deserve a hand for this?

Andy still forgets to knock when I am using the bathroom. He just barges in there after school to give me all the news that breaks during his day.

And I love that, although at some point I must insist that he wait outside the door for just a minute.

Still, how thrilling to witness a child playing out his story, a child growing into the future, a child living off the bonus as all of us do.

“Mom! I finished my i-Ready test, and I caught the football 10 times at recess, and did you know that a girl plays with us, too? I like that a girl plays football. Not all do. I like it that she tries the hard stuff…”

Pam Mellskog can be reached at p.mellskog@gmail.com or 303-746-0942.

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