‘Wash your hands,” I say for the 20th time. It’s important. There’s a dangerous virus loose. 

Tyler sweeps past, shaking his head with dramatic flair. “It’s unappropriate to wash our hands.”

Every time we’ve been together this past summer, there has been a moment or two to commit to memory. So I keep my notebook handy.

Bryce composes a song called “Mr. Sticker.”

“Hi, I’m Mr. Sticker. I put stickers everywhere. I put them on satellites. I put them on trees and plants. I put ’em on houses and cars. I put ’em everywhere, even on lamps, even on couches and boxes and people too. I put ’em on food. I put ’em on pillows, on Play Doh. I put ’em on butts. The End.” Catchy.

We discuss the upcoming seasons and their favorite parts of each:

Fall – Their birthday, leaf piles, Halloween

Winter – Snow, Christmas, sledding

Spring – Not too hot, not too cold, just right. Flowers, but not fresh-cut grass (Bryce says he’s allergic) 

Summer – Beaches and lakes, ice and ice cream, shade

Our trip to Brookfield Zoo is a great success because they manage to talk Papa Ken into buying them a giraffe and dolphin — but not just any “stuffies.” These are connected via a harness to a stick so they can take them for walks.

On the drive home, Tyler says, “Bryce, are you thinking what I’m thinking?” I feel like I’m in an episode of Pinky and the Brain. Bryce, I’m relieved to report, cannot read his mind.

“My dolphin is going to live in Africa,” Tyler explained, “in a pond next to your giraffe.” Well, at least he’s not trying to take over the world.

One morning I point to where two planets have been visible all summer in the southern sky from their back deck, “when the stars come out.”

Tyler points to the sun shining through the trees to the east as it climbs the blue vault and says, “There’s already a star out.”

That day we visited their buddy Serafina and her Grandpa Ray in LaGrange, which includes a pond stocked with fish. As I bait their hooks with night crawlers, I can’t help noticing that worms clearly feel pain when you impale them on a hook, a fact that somehow escaped me when I was 12 and last baited hooks on a regular basis. The things we do for love … and new experiences.

Serafina caught something almost every time she put her line out. That’s how charismatic she is. She landed a large-mouth bass, a catfish and four sunfish. Bryce caught a catfish and a sunfish but insisted his haul totaled three. Ray documented each with a photo, however, so the evidence is against him, but he received praise for showing great promise as an angler — with his natural gift for exaggeration.

Like a cat pinning down a flopping fish, Bryce asks, “What does exaggeration mean?” Well, it’s like the time we went to the zoo and after seeing all the animatronic dinosaurs, you insisted you saw a real dinosaur on a skateboard. Bryce lives in a world of reality inflation.

Despite the heat and the noon-day sun (sorry, “star”), we were not about to go inside until Tyler caught something. After many, many nibbles and strikes that got away, Tyler finally landed his sunfish. Amid much merriment and high-fives, we proclaimed, “Let’s have lunch!” which did not include fish. 

As we washed our hands (no longer unappropriate since they were covered in fish slime), I congratulated Tyler on his persistence. Tyler, who tends to speak in polished sound bites, said, “Never giving up is always the right choice.”

“Did somebody tell you that?”

“I figured it out on myself,” he replied. 

This summer we had much fun with the Slip ‘n’ Slide in their backyard — them splashing, me soaking it all in from my deck chair — until our penultimate day together when they sprayed me with the hose although I explicitly warned them not to. I responded like any older-but-wiser, doting, nonviolent grandfather would — I grabbed the hose and sprayed the bejeebers out of them. Then, as they ran screaming around to the other side of the house for cover, I filled the spent Super-Soaker and mercilessly hunted them down. Their soldier/police officer dad would have been proud — and laughed his butt off.

On our last day together, they came to Oak Park. First order of business was pancakes, so we revisited our memorial booth at George’s. They haven’t installed the plaque, yet, but I’m sure it’s coming. At my place, the boys plundered my Play Doh stash for old time’s sake, then we visited with Daddy via Zoom — all the way from Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti, Africa, where he is serving his country in ways I can’t even imagine.

But the real combat was on our side of the world as the boys got into one of their periodic tussles. Mom admonished Tyler for retaliating, and he put up the usual defense, “But he did it to me first!” Bryce, off to the side, said (sotto voce), “Treat people like you want to be treated.”

I was about to ask, “Where’d you hear that?” and then I remembered. He heard it from me in one of our many post-conflict conferences.

I was overwhelmed. He remembered something I said. The Golden Rule. He doesn’t live by it, but he has it committed to memory. It’s a start. Rare are the moments when we can catch a glimmer of possibility that we might have had some impact.

Something to cherish as I regretfully go on a temporary hiatus, now that the boys are back in school, in-person. I’m at an at-risk age, COVID-wise, and I want to see how all this settles out before I return. I hate pulling back, but I’m trying to be smart.

In the meantime, we will Zoom. 

With my notebook handy. 

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