He squirmed out of my arms, twisting to the floor and then placing his hands on both knees before looking me straight in the eye.
“Daddy, I’ll be a good boy,” he pleadingly whispered. The fussing, playing, and general chaos around us in the crying room made it difficult actually to hear him, but he was only repeating what he’d been saying for the last several minutes. “Daddy? Daddy? I’ll be a good boy.”
“Daddy, will you take a picture?”
We’d returned to the crying room after trying to sit as a family in the church proper for the first time. Last week, during Polish Mass, when E and I sit alone, he’d managed it perfectly. He had motivation: Mama was singing in the choir, and he simply wanted to be able to see her clearly. “If you fuss at all, if you get up and try to wander around,” I’d warned, “we’ll go right back to the crying room.” And he’d been golden.
“Maybe we can start sitting together again,” K had suggested after Mass.
Reading before Mass
It’s been a long time since we all sat together. K tends to take the Boy to the crying room to avoid any unpleasantness for our pew-mates; I take the Girl to the nave (if it could be called a nave in a church of such semi-circular modernity). I offer to switch off with her, but K always insists on taking the Boy to the crying room.
Today, then, we tried it. The processional was fine. We made it through the first reading with few problems. But by the time we’d reaching the Gospel reading, it had become too much, and so I took our sweet boy to the crying room and found a seat in the back corner.
“You didn’t behave very well.”
“I didn’t behave well?” He always takes a statement and turns it into a question.
“No, you were squirming, rustling papers, distracting others.” He looked at me. “You have to be a good boy to sit stay there.” He climbed into my lap.
“A good boy?”
“Yes, a good boy. We’ll try again next week, but for today, we’re staying in here?”
“Staying in here?”
“Yes, staying in here.”
He put his head down on my shoulder for a moment, then began.
“I’ll be a good boy, Daddy.”
I explained it again. He accepted it. And again he stated, “I’ll be a good boy, Daddy.”
Yet he usually is. And the Girl is usually a good girl. Certainly I could complain about this or that: the Boy can be horridly stubborn, and the Girl can be achingly hyper. There’s more, and while I feel at times — and K concurs — that I focus on the negative with our children more than the positive, if I’m honest with myself, they’re good kids.
So why did this “I’ll be a good boy, Daddy” stick with me all day? Perhaps it was the tragic echoes of what that could imply: visions of abuse and children blaming themselves for their father’s evil behavior — perhaps it was the shudder that went through me when I imagined our children facing something like that. Maybe it was just the plaintiveness of his repetition, the seeming hopelessness in his voice at times. Whatever it was, felt more drawn to him, and to our daughter, than usual, because I think I heard another echo in that: “I’ll be a good Daddy, boy.”