A is for Alex

Howard is a freelance illustrator and sometimes fine artist. He lives in Arizona with his wife and three kids. He is currently chained to his easel deep in his art cave, toiling away towards the next deadline. Howard can also bake a mean cibiatta.

Spring is over.

At least it is in Arizona. April and the temperatures are pushing 100. No more open windows at night, cooling off the house and studio. Ah well, it was good while it lasted, bring on summer.

The door bursts open to chaos, kids everywhere.

“Hey dad!” Zack shouts as he runs by, several friends in tow.

“Hey buddy, welcome home, I missed you!”

“Missed you too Dad!”, Zack yells from the other room.

All right, I will catch up with the kids later, after their friends go home. Shari, my wife, comes in, sweaty, but smiling.

“Hey hon, I need to go back to the school and pick up Belle. I am going to take the car, it has better AC,” she says.

“Sounds good, see you when you get home.” I hadn’t even noticed that Belle wasn’t with the first herd of kids through the door.

Shari is always on the run it seems. Between the kids, her church callings and life in general, she sets a pretty fast pace, I don’t know how she does it.

Three kids and a beautiful wife, married for 14 years, yet it still feels like we are playing house. Any moment I could wake up and find myself just home from my mission, thinking about marriage and a career. Married! Three kids! Amazing. Belle is my oldest at 11. Zack is 9 and Alex just turned 8. Alex, what a funny kid.

Just last week in church, Alex leaned over in sacrament to Shari and said, “Mom, do you want to have a thumb war?”

“Alex, this is the Sacrament, you should be thinking about the Savior.”

He thinks for a minute.

“Mom, how ‘bout a little Jesus vs. Satan,” he says, while wiggling his thumbs and eyebrows.

So funny. His sense of humor has always been spot on. He just gets it.

Shari is back with Belle, who is growing up way too fast. I get up and give her a hug and kiss on the head. I love all my kids. I miss having infants in the house, but it is so rewarding to see them grow and become more independent. There are so many fun milestones to relive as a parent. First tooth, first Christmas, pinewood derbies, piano recitals, baptism… I just baptized Alex. My last child baptized. It feels like just yesterday Alex was born. It didn’t feel like we were playing house then, though. Shari had a very hard pregnancy, struggling to carry Alex to term, and when he was born a month early, they had to air evac him to a different hospital where he stayed in intensive care for two weeks while his lungs developed. Shari and I grew a lot those two weeks.

A rumbling SUV pulls up in front of the house. Someone from church no doubt. Shari heads out to chat at the curb. Probably something to do with primary or cub scouts. Alex just started Cubs two months ago and he loves it.

A few more minutes go by and I hear the SUV pull away then I hear Shari wheeling in the garbage barrel. Darn it, I always feel guilty when she gets to it before me.

I hear the door swing open and turn to see Shari rush by carrying Alex. She calls my name and I see deep fear in her eyes. Alex is naked and bright pink. Why would he be naked? I run to follow her into the kitchen where she lays Alex on the counter. He is covered in sweat, limp, eyes closed.

“What happened?!”

“I dunno, he was stuck in the van.” We both grab dishtowels, run water over them and start rubbing him down, trying to get his body temperature down.

Stuck in the van!? My mind races. How could that be? How long had be been out there? Since school? That was almost 45 minutes ago? Why didn’t he just come in?

You hear about kids dying in cars in Arizona every year, but those are babies, left in car seats. Not eight-year-old kids.

Alex’s opens his eyes, but they are heavy and unfocused. Tears are crusted on his cheeks. We keep rubbing him down with cool rags and get him to drink some water. He looks up and I can tell he is coming around. I say a prayer of thanks and plead with heaven that he will be fine.

It takes a while, but we get him cooled down and hydrated.

We all gather around Alex and hug each other, shedding tears of joy, tears of fear for what almost happened, and tears of gratitude for what didn’t.

Alex had crawled into the back of the van on the way home from school, behind the rear seat. When they got home, he kept playing back there, even once everyone had come in. With all the neighbor kids coming in with my kids, we didn’t notice Alex wasn’t with everyone. Why wouldn’t he be? By the time he tried to crawl out of the back of the van, over the tall back seat, the vinyl was so hot and he was so sweaty that he couldn’t get over the seat. He peeled off his clothes, down to his underwear, trying to cool down.

When Shari went out to talk to her friend, he was banging on the windows, but she couldn’t hear him. It wasn’t until she went to bring the garbage barrel in that she heard a faint banging on the glass.

As parents, we are all lucky to have however much time we get with our kids. Sometimes being a parent reminds me of a quote about war. “Periods of sheer boredom, punctuated by moments of stark terror.” Except it is never boring. It is wonderful, sometimes heartbreaking, and occasionally terrifying.

Through my kids’ eyes, the sky is a deeper shade of blue, the grass a little greener and spring is never over.

The day after, I got in the van to run an errand and looked in the rear view mirror. I saw the streaks and smears on the rear windows where Alex had been banging, clawing, trying to get someone’s attention. I sat there and cried until I didn’t have the energy to cry anymore, thankful the privilege of being Alex’s dad was still mine.