That's him there, out on the basketball court. You can't miss my 8-year-old. He's the one down on the floor, quasi-breakdancing after having lost the ball to an opponent. Other kids might gripe with frustration at such a fumble, but Anton personifies the saying, "When you're handed a lemon, make lemonade."
He prefers to dance.
All the world loves a stage, but Anton craves it. He has a hair trigger for antics. The basketball game I just mentioned had some of his teammates twisted in emotional knots: They were being systematically steamrollered by the other team, 48-0. The tension among the parents was palpable. If one could envision a large, common thought bubble above our heads it would have read, "One basket. That's all we ask. Just one basket!"
Anton seemed to sense, with the instincts of a born actor, that here was an audience for the taking. After receiving a pass and knowing that a basket, much less a win, was unlikely, he offered all of us - his teammates, opponents, and the parents - comic relief by skipping with the ball down the court and rolling his eyes.
The howls he earned were spontaneous and heartfelt. A game that had been sad and desperate had suddenly become a show. And Anton resonated to the approbation of his public as he pranced, tip-toed, and slid after the ball.
I was not always so accepting of my son's escapades. Early on, I'd struggle with exasperation as notes from the principal fluttered home from school about Anton's, shall we say, lack of seriousness.
I knew that he could be devilishly hard to reckon with. It's his eyes (like saucers of chocolate pudding) and his impish grin and his multitude of cowlicks. I just seem unable to look at him and play the disciplinarian with a straight face. What's worse, he knows this. When I try to strike a serious tone with him, he actually tries to crack me up. And more often than not, he succeeds. (How can I be a distraught parent when he is pursing his lips, flaring his nostrils, and fluttering his eyelids?)
I think Anton was 6 when I finally realized he had a mission in life. I was watching him and some of his friends on the playground one day. One of the other boys was standing alone, quietly sobbing over some mishap. Anton went over to him, pulled his chin up, and directed him to watch as he performed a series of pratfalls, leaping to his feet each time, only to fall again. Before long, that boy's tears had been replaced with laughter.
At those times when I tell Anton to "be serious" so I can speak to him, I try to be careful not to create the impression that I think he's being "bad" by being so, well, loony. I try to convey to him that he sometimes lacks a sense of the appropriate venue for his talent. He knows that a somersault is perfectly reasonable in a gym. But he'd also do it at a church wedding. To him, it's all the same.
On the other hand, my son's comedy routines have opened up new opportunities for communication. Before we attend special events or visit friends, I take a few moments to sit quietly with him.
"Anton," I begin, "the people we're visiting have a very small house. They also have thousands of knickknacks. It won't be the right place for a lot of, er, fooling around. No handstands, OK?"
Anton looks up at me, his chocolate eyes shining with ... understanding? Mischief? A willingness to cooperate? It's hard to say. But there's a 50-50 chance he'll work to make me proud of him. His creative energy levels being what they are, I'm always willing to take those odds.
I have a younger brother who graduated from grammar school in 1970. At the ceremony, one of his classmates got up before parents, teachers, and classmates, and did a dead-on impression of Jackie Gleason - his loose-limbed dancing, his pop-eyed double-take, and his pratfalls.
Everybody was in stitches, including the 16-year-old me. I remember asking myself, "I wonder how a kid like that will turn out?"
Well, he became Nathan Lane, the comic stage and screen star.
Who knows? Maybe Anton's physical creativity is also preamble to a unique, and wonderful, life. For now, though, I'm simply trying to hang on for the ride. As The Great One used to say, "And awaaay we go!"