Dad was cleaning out the kiddie pool when we arrived at his home on West Manning Street. He wore carpenter jeans and was shirtless, the midmorning sun making his red belly shine. “At Granddad’s house,” Levi said from his car seat. “Granddad spray hose!”
I got the kids out and Levi got naked then ran for his pool. He put on goggles, which he calls safety glasses, then took the hose from Dad, began to fill his pool. “It’s not nice to grab things out of people’s hands,” I said in my broken-record mom voice.
“Oh, he’s alright,” said Dad, wiping the sweat from his face with a forest green bandana. He pulled on his shirt–a work polo the color of red clay–then reached for the baby. “Hi, Little! You’re looking very alive today.”
Holding Virginia in one arm, Dad pulled a patio chair into the shade of his big umbrella. “Have a seat, daughter.” Levi had filled his pool and was now watering Dad’s planter-box garden–the tomatoes, squash, peppers, okra. “How about a La Croixe?” Dad asked as I sat. “I’ve got your favorite flavor, orange.”
He brought me a cold can. The humidity made it sweat. I popped it open and drank. “Better than a beer in this heat,” I said.
“It’s oppressive,” said Dad. And then, “Would you look at your little boy?” Dad sat beside me, the baby on his lap. “Look how self-engaging he is, how happy, free.” Levi was jumping and splashing in his blue plastic pool, sliding around on his belly, pretending to be a shark. “You have a beautiful family, Claire.”
“It’s your family too, Dad.”
“Yes, yes. Thank you. You know it makes me glad to be a part of you all.”
“Us too. I don’t know what I’d do if we didn’t have Manning to come to in the mornings.”
“Manning gives,” said Dad. “Our sanctuary.” He paused, looked up at his giant hackberry then to the cars passing beyond his front yard. The cars that kept coming, carrying passengers living lives of which we would never know.
“Grass needs to be cut at least once more before summer’s out,” Dad said. “I’ll get to it eventually. Boy, I tell ya. Life is unfinished business. You have to compartmentalize it all. Put what’s left undone on a shelf.”
“I like that,” I said. “There’s so much I can’t get done that I wish I could now that I’m a mom.”
“Sweetheart, that’ll never change. Just do what’s most important, what best serves you and your family. It’s tough. Believe me I know. I’m an artist. I want uninterrupted focus. But you can’t have that all the time when you’re a parent. Especially at your juncture of young motherhood. Just know you’re doing a great job. You’re putting in the work. It will pay off.”
Levi was drinking the pool water out of his yellow pale even though I’ve told him countless times not to. I sighed. “It better.”
Dad laughed. “Levi’s rowdy. Into everything and testing his boundaries. I remember those days with you, your brother, and sister. You have to stand your ground. Show him your love, but daughter stand your ground. You know what I always say. If you don’t drive your train, somebody else will.”
I was taking in everything Dad was saying (he’s always been a practical philosopher) when Levi yelled out, “Get in, Granddad! Granddad, get in!”
“Granddad’s in his work clothes, grandson.”
“Get in, Granddad. Get in now, please.”
“Boy, you’re persistent. That will serve you well in life. I guess I oughta get in.”
“Ha. So much for standing your ground,” I said.
Dad handed me Virginia, grinned big. “I’m Granddad now. I get to bend my own rules.” He went inside, returned in his swimsuit. “Okay, Levi, make room for toddler two.” Dad plopped down in the pool, making a good bit of water spill out. “Hey, this is nice! Thanks for getting me in here, grandson.”
“Yeah. Yeah, Granddad.” Levi filled his yellow pale with water then dumped it over Dad’s head.
“Woo-hoo-hoo! Well okay then,” said Dad, wiping water from his eyes. “If that’s the way it’s gonna be then you better watch out.” Dad took the hose and sprayed Levi in the belly. Levi screamed and laughed. Dad laughed too. A rowdy toddler and a big man in a tiny pool, having the time of their lives.