Early morning in the Foutz house: I’m planted at the kitchen table, coffee steaming, orange sliced, fingers wrangling a runaway book project, while my own Little Slice is encamped in his bubbly-bouncy chair at my feet, kicking his tiny, socked pootsies and declaring, "Bah! Begh! Halghgh-goooo!" Or something to that sunny effect.
My laptop computer glows, but my concentration is waning. There’s just too much to stare at in 6-month-old Jonah.
His latest trick is grabbing both feet with his hands, then jamming them into his mouth, grinning at me all the while.
And I know if I push back from the table, run around the corner where he can’t see me, then jump out with a shouted "Ah-boo!" it will send him into delirious giggles. Repeat the feat enough times and it always ends in hiccups, poor kid.
Or, I could walk his stuffed turtle pal down the length of table, drop him paratrooper-style in Jonah’s lap, and watch as, inevitably, Jonah tires of gnawing on turtle’s plastic hands and instead turns him around to study the manufacturer’s tags sprouting from the base of the shell. "Jonah," I’ll say. "Hey, buddy." And tickle his sides. But his focus can’t be broken. Fascinating, those tags.
As a new dad, these ordinary moments are what captivate me—glimpses into my son’s budding personality.
I remember how we first began to connect. There were his comical sighs as a newborn, following a volley of sneezes, almost like he was saying, "this life on the outside is rough." And his drumming feet in the bassinet to remind Mommy that, yes, this is the same manic little dude she carried around for nine months.
They start out so pink and swaddled and helpless, alien explorers with black, curious eyes, light enough to lift in one hand. And we love them, we do, but it’s such a shock to think of them as part of the family, as ours, when we feel more like hosts, catering to their every whim but not really knowing them.
Gradually, the relationship develops, in a thousand ordinary moments. Like changing Jonah: I’d sing as a way of getting myself through those first, awkward bouts of wiping and taping and dodging—parents with sons, you know what I mean. Suddenly, one day, his eyes were locked right on me. And with each playful poke to his chest, punctuating my silly verses—"Hello. To you. To you, and you, and you"—came cheery chortles. Then eureka! A gummy grin.
Seems strange to admit this, but getting Jonah on the changing table became one of the highlights of my day. I expanded our repertoire to Cream’s "I Feel Free," moving his legs and hips in a circle as I sang, then stopping in a dramatic lurch that got him giggling every time.
Around 10 weeks or so, we began having actual conversations. Oh, nothing too deep or anything. You know, the time when they’re tiny enough to be cradled in your lap, head nestled in the buckle of your knee if you’re sitting cross-legged, and all of their attention on you. Jonah’s eyes sparkled as I talked of Mommy and the kitty and his visiting cousin, or a bit of nonsense lifted from a TV commercial, delivered in a ponderously deep announcer voice. He imitated my mouth movements, then launched into the most uplifting collection of coos and sighs.
You wonder what it all adds up to, how my little rambler will turn out.
Will Jonah be a talker like his old man? It’s a question with some significance. Both of his parents are writers—and talkers.
My mom claims she recorded me speaking at 3 months. Well, you know mothers. But already there are signs of Jonah’s impending punditry. Elongated babbles that sound suspiciously like "Hi." The way he perks up at his own name and greets each sight of Lucy, our cat, with a trumpeting "A-wooooooo!"
My mind’s on fast-forward, anticipating questions, looking forward to storytime, camp outs, the kind of chats my father and I had on long-distance runs and passing down Grandpa’s tips for driving a stick-shift.
But there’s time enough for all that. For now, I’ve got these ordinary, everyday moments and I’ve gotta go. You see, Jonah’s learned how to take off his socks now, and though he doesn’t mind the taste of them, I’d rather his mouth be free.
So I can listen.
Colt Foutz is a freelance writer and Follett Fellow in the MFA fiction writing program at Columbia College Chicago. His book, The Old Man and the Green Machine, chronicling the history of the Chicago Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps, is due for release in December.