It’s a secret we’ve kept for
these several years, just between us.
Every night, the two of us travelers don our flannel traveling suits — soft like whispers on the skin, warm as a goodnight hug, yet tough enough to brave the astral blasts of interdimensional travel, by God, as many of these trips take us into some rough-and-tough country where wild winds blow and black birds’ll peck at your shiny buttons.
The bedtime countdown is always the same.
One kiss, one hug, and a bottom’s up pink cup to fuel the heart furnaces and cool the boilers for the hard work of the mind just ahead, then two extra kisses from mom, a lick from Bobo the dog, a tickle or two, and finally we’re sitting pretty.
We settle into the cockpit on our backs, run through our checklists, flipping imaginary switches and settling scores.
The machine beneath us bucks and rattles, anxious to depart, a beast of imagination and adventure, attuned to our excitement and expectation, especially hers, the little one, the important one, my Juniper, codename: Junebug. This is my time with her. Our traveling time. Her bedtime.
From the map safe opposite the bed, she’s chosen her destination. Maybe we’re joining Mickey in the milk bottle, or using our fingers and toes to help Jeanne-Marie count her sheep, or helping Little Cottontail figure out what it means to be All Grown Up.
Tonight, the engine unwinds with a plume of joy and delirious laughter as I intone in my most serious narrator’s baritone:
up at the sky on a very clear night
you may see a star with a curious light.
Well, that star is red, to yourself you might think,
but study it close — it’s a planet — it’s pink!
And we two were aloft again, into universes populated by animated stuffies and dragons, magical horses and pegasi, over-plumped creatures that defy biological categories yet somehow feel perfectly at home in the confines of a toddler bed, the starry skies whirling by at lightning speed.
Uplifted and transformed by making stuff up, and loving it.
This night’s adventure follows a little girl desperately trying to bring a dash of variety to an all-pink world. She ultimately convinces the Queen of Pink that her favorite hue would be best served by having other colors to contrast itself against.
This demonstration of sweet courage, logic and good taste wins the day. Astronaut Junebug and I bore witness to the whole episode and saw a world transformed from one color to a diversity of hues exploding across the landscape.
So. Much. Fun.
One thing I’ve figured out as my months turn into years and my years turn into decades, is that little moments matter. A good and happy life is a quilt of such instances spent with those you love, mindfully curated, stored in a safe and dry place to haul out when times turn bleak and support networks crash.
One job parents have and too often neglect, I think, is to fill their child’s head with a bank of such recollections, warm happinesses with their mom and dad, their brothers and sisters, with a book or without, during a walk or on a hike, anywhere at all, making life-affirming associations and doing all they can to uphold the positive in life, raise their child up.
Stoke the fires of imagination, and grow their spirit.
I’m not just talking about books, and I’m not trying to preach. I don’t know more than any other parent who has raised kids. But I do believe that children are people, whole people, and deserve to be treated as such. Celebrated as such.
As part of that, they should certainly be allowed to occasionally take relativistic interdimensional excursions with their dumbass father.
So Junebug and I, we’ve charted the skies, tracing each constellation with our outstretched hands. Many of these worlds we’ve visited countless times before, read and reread the books so many times their pages are shredded and falling apart and their realities have become so vivid we arrive within instants of take-off and land with virtually no wake at all to explore among the citizens gone wrong in the township of Wacky Wednesday, perhap, or in the park and tenements of Anna Banana’s city playground.
Anna Banana, written by Lenore Blegvad, is especially good, I might add. It’s gotten to the point that I’ll probably read kids’ books even when my kids are grown. There’s a haunting charm to some of them that’s a balm to an old grouser’s soul. It’s a chapstick for the whole body callous.
As it stands, with no government support and little corporate fanfare, I launch her to sleep each night under a blissfully thick red comforter that shields us from cosmic rays and all sorts of background radiation.
I punctuate the action off the pages with all the charm and bravado an old man can muster after a hard day work in public television. It’s not Masterpiece, but it’s not penny ante. It’s one a heckuva ride.
And when I finally close the book, we’re suspended, aloft in this strange place I find myself almost every night: She sleeps and breathes in my arms while the rest our brood remains tangled in the web of their lives downstairs, making all the usual racket that goes along with going along.
In these moments, their raucous lives to us stand muted somewhat by the carpet, by the 125-year-old ancient redwood framing of this stark green farm house on a hill; and for now, as I listen to the rabbit kitten’s heart beat against me, feel her warm forehead against my cheek and her hand curled up in mine, that’s just about the finest thing in the world.
I’m right where I want to be.
James Faulk is a writer living in Eureka. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.