I was having a bad day - a really bad day. Maybe it was one of those trickledown yellings. I was working at the University then, so maybe I felt caught in one of the many departmental power struggles. And it must have been a Tuesday, because on Tuesdays I went with Karen and her twins, Natalie and Lucas, to the "kids eat free" special offered at the cafeteria. Karen was an adjunct professor in the department, a brilliant but underappreciated one. It was on this underappreciated note that we often bonded.
Given my sour mood, I had no desire to attend this particular night, but I'd already skipped out the week before. Besides, her kids were great. They were preschoolers, curious about everything. Lucas was an especially good influence on me, as he clearly knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. I was not so sure, but he knew. He was going to be ... a "dog- ologist." He'd already started on this career track by accumulating lots of stuffed-animal dogs and watching dog programs on the Animal Planet cable channel. He could name several breeds. He was firm about his career path.
On this particular Tuesday, Karen and I unbuckled the kids from their car seats and began walking across the parking lot to the cafeteria. Natalie was pretty hungry, so she and Karen walked quickly ahead. Lucas and I were lagging behind when I spotted a lizard on the sidewalk. We tried to sneak up for a better view, but the lizard scurried across the grass and escaped up a tree.
Then Lucas stopped and said, "Listen." I heard them, too - baby birds up in the trees somewhere. So I stepped back and looked: Sure enough, a nest was tucked into the top of a nearby tree.
I told Lucas, "See? It's right up there."
"Where?" he asked.
"There to the left of the street light," I said, a little annoyed, pointing to the nest. He still didn't see it, so I squatted down next to him and realized that, from his height, the nest was completely blocked by the other tree.
"Come here," I said, and hoisted him up.
His eyes lighted up and he shot his arm out, saying, "There!"
He said, "Wow," went quiet, and leaned his head on my chin. For a moment, nothing else existed except Lucas and me and the little birds chirping in that silly nest. There were no worries about the future, no frustration over people in the department, none of that. Just us.
It was getting dark, and the street light came on. I put Lucas down, and we continued walking toward the cafeteria. I felt lighter. Before we went in, he grabbed my hand and said, "Sometimes you just need someone to lift you up, so you can see the trees better."
I looked down at him, nodded, and said, "I think you're on to something there." As I opened the cafeteria door, I asked if he'd ever thought of becoming a "people-ologist." Lucas looked up at me, thought it over for a minute, and then wrinkled his nose and said, "Nah, they don't have tails."