Fun with Peter

by George Choundas

12/03/05   Peter is born.

03/15/09   Peter and I walk to the playground down the street and hop onto the swings. We bore quickly of rote pendulum motion. We invent Battleswing, a martial-themed game that awards a point each time a player—er, warrior—succeeds in touching his foot against the opponent swinging alongside him, so long as foot contact is made with the other’s legs above the knees (lower legs are too accessible and gut the game of challenge) or with the front or back of his trunk. Safety is paramount: contact with head, neck, or arms is prohibited; holding on with both hands is mandatory.

I learn three things. First, at the playground that day, I learn that three-year-olds lack the neural pathways to distinguish between foot contact and kicking. Second, in bed the next morning, I discover a sullen bruise at the center of my lower back, the very place where birthing mothers sometimes experience bruising from epidurals. Mothers pay with their bodies through parturition, it seems, and fathers after.

Third, at the same playground six months later, it dawns on me—as multiple mothers shoot aren’t-we-setting-a-bad-example looks in my direction—that if safety were really paramount, there would be no such thing as Battleswing.

02/10/10   It snows eight inches. I shovel, Peter plays. Once I finish, we drift onto the front lawn. It is a mattress of snow. I point at two trees, ask Peter if he remembers using them once as a soccer goal (he does), and propose I curl up like a ball and he try to kick me through the snowfield into the goal. He likes this idea; it involves kicking and/or foot contact. I like this idea; it involves the madcap spontaneity that commercials for credit cards and cruise lines suggest middle-aged suburbanite fathers should be exhibiting more often. Peter scores two goals. It is great fun. Until he kicks me in the penis. It gets dark suddenly, for reasons having nothing to do with the sun.

10/11/13   It’s Friday before Columbus Day Weekend. Peter has the day off from school, so I take a vacation day myself. We put on shorts and bring his bicycle and my waveboard to the playground and play Cops & Robbers. As I chase him, tottering atop what is essentially a two-wheeled skateboard, Peter turns his bicycle into me rather than away from me, and at speed. I have two choices and one moment to make them:

(1) bail from the waveboard and get out of the way to minimize the impact but thereby run the risk that he catches his front tire on my abandoned waveboard and catapults over the handlebars, or

(2) stand my ground and absorb the impact by grabbing those handlebars.

I choose the latter, because I am a father. But immediately I realize I have overlooked the downside risk of this second option, which in fact materializes now: the bicycle’s underworks barge into my right leg, the chain wheel bites into the shin, and the serrated metal leaves a wound that gapes wide under a grinning flap of flesh.

I probably need stitches. I tape the thing instead. I tell Peter I’ll bear the scar forever as a reminder of the time he ran his father over. “You mean the first time I ran my father over,” he says.

Is this idle smartassery? Or is it a threat? I don’t know. But I have recorded it here, for public dissemination, in case the latter and I cannot give witness.

The scar—I still have it—is the shape of a letter J. Part of me sees it on its side and imagines it is a graph showing the necessarily dwindling number of memories I’ll make with my son over time. (Look, here’s where he leaves for college. And that point there—that’s where he gets the job in Guangzhou.)

More often I see it upright. More often I decide it stands for joy.

Today Peter is twelve. He can lift his mother and carry her through the house. His forearms are thicker than mine.

I still give him options, sure, every weekend. Lately they are limited to Xbox or chess.

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