Dad

Dear Dad,

I didn’t want to teach today. I’m tired of teaching. No, that’s not true. I enjoy teaching G3, but I’m tired of constantly being the one in charge. All day, every day, I toggle between being G3’s mom and being his teacher. I’m constantly telling him what to do, what not to do, and getting frustrated when he doesn’t listen or when he complains. But can you blame him? I’m the only one issuing orders and giving commands. Is it really surprising that he doesn’t listen to me? He has never been a good listener. He’s never excelled at following directions. However, in the last couple of months it’s gotten worse. There are moments when it seems like he completely zones out when I speak, as if some internal device shuts down his hearing every time I talk. It’s not easy being two authority figures rolled into one. Last year, he could go to school and complain about me — his mom — to his friends, like every other kid. And then he could come home and whine about his teacher to me. Now, it’s just us. And the only one he can complain to about me, is me. Yes, when we’re home he has his other mother, but she’s been busier this year than ever before having to teach her students virtually and in-person. Even though we share the same living space, work takes up all her time, so even there, it’s mostly me and G3. 

As much as I didn’t want to teach, G3 didn’t want to read or write or look at another math problem. He needed a break. And today was warm and sunny. The perfect sort of day to be outside. So I canceled school. I just didn’t want to make any decisions. I wanted to abdicate all responsibility and have fun. I wanted a few hours where I didn’t have to be a mom or a teacher. What G3 and I needed was time to forget the rules, to set aside work, and simply enjoy each other’s company. I know how you feel about school, and how you never approved of missing a day for anything — unless it meant G3 could spend more time with you — but it’s only February and G3 has already finished the fifth grade history textbook. He only has a chapter left in math and as for writing, he’s written far more than he probably would have in real school, so I promise you, he didn’t miss anything important. 

We ate breakfast on the beach in Mattituck. I had an egg sandwich and G3 had a chocolate chip muffin. When we finished eating, we drove out to Greenport. We took a short hike in Arshamomaque Preserve. Have you ever been there? I don’t remember ever being there but my memory is far from flawless. There were still some patches of snow on the ground, but where it wasn’t snowy it was muddy. Since it’s still winter everything looked dead. The branches were all bare. There were no leaves, no flowers, no splashes of color anywhere.

After hiking, we walked around Greenport. The carousel was closed, though I’m not sure if it was closed because of the pandemic or because it was a weekday in the middle of winter. The ice cream shops were also closed. But the toy store was opened so G3 was able to pick out a couple of the rubber ducks  — a leprechaun duck and a nutcracker duck —which he loves so much. While we were out, he suggested we look to see if there were any geocaches in the area. There were, so we picked up a couple. It was the first time either of us thought to go caching since the pandemic shutdown the entire world.

On the way home, late in the afternoon, I decided to detour to Nassau Point to pick up one final cache. Did you ever take G3 to Nassau Point? You took him everywhere, all over the North Fork, but I have no memory of you taking him there. I asked G3 if he had every been there with you but he just shrugged, “Grandpa took me to lots of places.” It’s really bothering me that I don’t remember. It bothers me even more that I can’t simply call you up and ask. It’s like there’s this missing piece to an important puzzle and if I don’t find it the puzzle will always look askew. When I look at it, I’ll only see the missing piece, even though that piece is so incredibly tiny compared to the entire canvas. 

We picked up banana splits at Magic Fountain and then cuddled on your chair to watch Jumanji. I had never seen it before, even though you and G3 saw it together multiple times. The day must have exhausted him because he feel asleep earlier than usual. He had been read a Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but when I went in to check on him the book was open on his chest. I marked his page, kissed him good night, and shut out the light. Sometimes I wonder if he dreams about you, but when I ask, he’s always evasive. 

Elizabeth Jaeger is a writer. Her work has been published in various online and print journals. Her father, Gary, died in April.

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