I felt someone banging their hand on my shoulder and I heard someone saying “Coo”, over and over so I opened my eyes. I was in bed under the covers and David was looking at me and hitting me with his hand on my shoulder. I could tell he thought something was different. Something DID feel different.
David pointed at the window between our beds. It was happening outside, but we could feel it inside the house too. He said “open” over and over again. So I got out of bed and I opened the window. It felt kind of cold, but not as cold as it felt yesterday, and the air smelled different. It smelled like something was cooking outside that was kind of sweet, or that smell when you opened a box of candy.
I remembered that smell from before, last year. Before Christmas. Before fall. Before summer and even my birthday. “A year ago” was what mom and dad would say. Things happened, and then they happened again, but you had to wait a long time for them to happen again. You had to wait for all the other special things to happen before each special thing happened again. You had to wait for the whole “circle” of the year – spring, summer, fall, winter.
I looked out the back window and I saw dad. He was sitting in the backyard between the two spruce trees on a chair from the kitchen and typing on his typewriter, which was on that “card” table that they kept in the living room closet all folded up. He was all shiny because he was in the sun.
David ran over to the other window in our room and pointed at it and said “open” again, so I opened that window too. He probably didn’t even remember last year, so this was all like it never happened before. He pulled at the arm part of my pajamas, and kept saying “go” and pointing at the door to our room.
“Okay”, I said, nodding my head, “But I have to get dressed.” He looked at me, wrinkled his nose, but then nodded, and started trying to open the drawer to the dresser where my clothes were. I chuckled. That was funny. I opened the drawer with my underwear, t-shirts and pants, and David pointed at the underwear.
I took off my pajamas and now I didn’t have any clothes on. I was “naked”, that was the word people said. I really liked being that way, feeling the air touching my penis and my bottom. It felt even better today because the air felt extra exciting.
You weren’t supposed to be naked except in your bedroom when you took off your pajamas and put on your regular clothes. Or when you got in the bathtub, or got out before you put your pajamas on. And other people weren’t supposed to see you naked either, except your mom and dad, and David too because he was in the same bedroom. Even Molly wasn’t supposed to see me naked, or me see her, even though she and I liked doing everything together and knowing everything about each other. If I liked feeling the air on my penis or bottom, she would like feeling it on hers too.
I even liked it when other people, kids or grownups, said the word “naked”. Some would get excited or worried when they said it. It seemed like there were a lot of people that liked thinking about being naked, but weren’t supposed to, so they would get excited and worried at the same time when they said the word. That’s the way dad was. Mom was more just worried. Some boys liked talking about girls being naked. But I never heard girls talk about boys being naked, though I didn’t know as many girls except for Molly.
I took the underwear that David was pointing at and put it on, then put on shorts and a t-shirt. Other people also weren’t supposed to see you just wearing underwear . So then you put pants or shorts over the underwear, so you couldn’t see it anymore, so why did you need to put it on?
It was also funny that mom or dad would say a “pair of underwear” or “pair of pants”, but there would only be ONE of them. If they said a “pair of socks”, there would be TWO socks, which made more sense.
As soon as I had my clothes on, David said “out”, which I figured meant he wanted me to take him outside, because he wasn’t supposed to go outside by himself, but he could go out if I was with him. So I took his hand and we walked into the living room. Both windows were open and the regular door was open too, just the “screen door” was closed.
I saw mom in the kitchen sitting at the table reading a book and drinking something out of one of those white cups. I figured it was that black “coffee” stuff, because she didn’t really drink it, she just “sipped” it, by sucking on the edge of the cup, instead of just drinking it the regular way. It smelled good, but she gave me a taste of it once and it tasted really yucky like dirt. Dad drank it too. It was like they had to drink it after they woke up or something bad would happen to them. They didn’t say they “wanted” it, they said they “needed” it. Mom said it gave her a “spark”, to get her mind working for doing all her “chores”. Molly said her mom and dad drank that coffee stuff all the time too. I think it was different than that “punch” stuff they drank at parties. Coffee did not make grownups silly.
Us kids drank things because we liked them and we wanted to, not because we needed to. Like the grownups drank that “punch” stuff at parties, not because they needed to, but because they wanted to be silly, and they couldn’t just BE silly without it.
Mom saw me and David and said, “Coolie, you’re up”, then, “Why don’t you take David outside. It’s gorgeous out there. Spring has sprung!”
David looked at me and nodded, like he was saying, “Yeah, why don’t you do that!”
Most of the time when I went outside I put socks and shoes on first, but I still couldn’t tie my shoes the right way, so they were tight with the laces in that “bow” thing. I had been trying it a lot, and mom kept showing me how. I could do the part where you had to make the first part of the bow and hold it with your thumb and other finger and then wrap the shoelace around the end of your thumb. It was just the next part, where you grabbed that part of the shoelace around your thumb with your thumb and finger and pulled it one way while the thumb and finger from the other hand pulled the first part of the bow the other way, that I couldn’t figure out. Mom said I would, that I should just “keep practicing”, but it seemed like I never would, and that made me mad. If I could just figure this out, everything would be different, I could go outside without a grownup helping me.
Well this morning I was just going to go outside with my “bare feet”, because I wouldn’t need a grownup to help me do that. David would too. He didn’t care. So he and I went out the screen door in the front yard before mom looked to see we weren’t wearing shoes.
The hard gray part that you walked on to get from the door to the sidewalk felt cold, but not super cold. The air was kind of cold too, what people said was “cool” instead of “cold”. But my legs and arms that had the sun shining on them felt a little bit hot, what people said was “warm”. “Cool” and “warm” were the words in between “cold” and “hot”.
I saw Molly across the street on the sidewalk with her dad. She was riding her new bicycle and he was walking next to her, helping her. Her bicycle had those extra little wheels on the back part. She saw me and David and waved to us.
“Coob”, she said, “Bring David over so he can watch me ride my new bicycle.”
David grabbed my hand and looked at me, waiting for me to walk him across the street, but I didn’t. I felt strange. We were going to watch Molly do something I couldn’t do yet.
Once she pushed on the pedals a few times, she could stop pushing them but the bicycle kept going. On our tricycles, if you stopped pushing the pedals then the tricycle would stop moving. Even though she wasn’t pushing the pedals, the bicycle was starting to go faster, and her dad started to look worried.
“Push the pedal BACK to stop”, he said, the bicycle still moving, “Not that way, the OTHER way!” Then the bicycle stopped.
“That’s it”, he said, “That’s called your brake. Push back gently to just slow down. Push back hard to stop. Got it?” Molly nodded.
“Okay”, he said, pointing in front of him, “Try riding down to the end of the block. It’s downhill so you don’t need to pedal much forward, just push back gently on the brake so you don’t go too fast.”
Molly started pedaling and she went down the sidewalk. She didn’t see me, but I watched her, and knew she was going faster than I could go on my tricycle, even pedaling as hard as I could. She could even stop pedaling and still keep going. That was how bicycles were different from tricycles, better.
David pointed at Molly on her bicycle and said “tri”, over and over, looking back at me.
I looked at David. “It’s not a tricycle. It’s a bicycle!”, I said. My words were loud and sounded mad. Molly and I were different. She was older. She had a bicycle and she could tie her shoes. I was still a little kid with a tricycle who couldn’t tie his shoes.
David looked at me worried, wondering why I was mad at him, then looked down at the ground.
Molly went down to the end of the block with her dad running behind her and telling her, “Now push back some on the brake. Don’t go too fast!”.
When they got to the part where the sidewalk turned to the left, I could still hear him say, “Now let’s stop here Molly. Push back on the brake!” But she didn’t stop, she turned to the left on the sidewalk and went behind a house and I couldn’t see her anymore.
I just stared down the street at where Molly had been but was now gone. I knew that she really liked her new bicycle and wouldn’t want to ride her tricycle anymore. I knew we were going to be different until I had a bicycle too. I wondered how I could get mom and dad to get me one. The ground felt cold on my feet.
I remembered mom had said to other grownups that “Right kids will tell you what they need.” I guess a lot of other grownups didn’t think so. That’s why she kept telling them.
Did she think I was one of those “right kids”? If you weren’t a “right kid”, were you a “wrong kid” or a “left kid”? I didn’t think there really could be “wrong kids”. And I was left-handed, but why would that make any difference. “Right kids” didn’t make any sense. But that was grownups sometimes, not making any sense, even mom and dad.
I heard the screen door open then mom’s voice. “Cloob. If you’ll run into your room and get yours and David’s shoes and socks I’ll help tie your laces if you still need help with that.”
I nodded, still looking out where Molly had disappeared at the corner of her block. David took my hand and started pulling me towards the front door.
Mom looked around and said, “Wow, the first day that feels like spring is pretty darn amazing. She held the screen door open so we could walk back into the living room.
“I’ll be in the kitchen, when you and David are ready for any help with your shoes.” I nodded, looking down at the ground.
“Are you frustrated that you haven’t figured out how to tie your shoes by yourself yet?”, she asked.
I nodded again, feeling even more like a little kid, since I only had a tricycle and I couldn’t even tie my shoes. When Molly came over the other day, she showed me that she could now tie HER shoes. She said it was because she was older, she was five and I was still only four. She was trying to make me feel better but it didn’t work.
David and I went into our bedroom and I got some socks and my shoes. David said “shoe” and had figured out how to pick up his shoes and walk back out of the room, but didn’t figure out about getting socks. So I picked some out from his drawer and brought them out with all my stuff.
Mom was in the kitchen. When David came in with a shoe in each hand, she said, “All right mister D, did you figure that out all by yourself?”
David nodded and said, “Shoe”.
Mom pointed her finger and touched the end of one of David’s shoes and said, “One shoe”, and then touched the other and said, “Two shoes.” David nodded and said “two” as she lifted him up onto one of the kitchen chairs, but not his special “high chair” for eating.
“You’re getting big young man”, she said, then, “No socks?” David shook his head and said “shoe” again.
“I got ‘em”, I said, holding his sock ball. Mom always rolled our socks up and then pushed one inside the other to make a kind of ball.
“Toss it”, she said. And when I threw it to her she caught it, opened up the socks and started putting them on David’s feet.
While she was doing that she looked back at me and said, “Put your socks and shoes on Cloob, then I’ll give you whatever help you need with those laces!”
Those damn shoelaces I thought. I’ll never be a bigger kid like Molly until I have a bicycle and can tie my shoes! I put my socks on and then my left sneaker. The ends of the laces were down on the floor on either side of the shoe. I picked up the end of one lace and put it around the other lace, and then pulled the end parts away from the shoe and felt it get tight on my foot. That part I could do!
I made the loop with the lace on the right side and then held it down at the bottom with the thumb and finger of my right hand. Then I took the lace on the left side and looped it around the other loop, but then I had to push it through that second loop and it would get all messed up.
Mom was watching me. “You’ve almost got it Coolie. Make your first loop and then the second loop around the first and your right thumb. Then push the middle part of that lace with the end of the middle finger of your left hand through the second loop and grab it with the thumb and big finger of your right hand.”
I didn’t like mom telling me what to do. I didn’t like any grownup telling me what to do. It made me mad. I wanted to be able to do everything by myself, or maybe just with help from other kids. If I was trying it by myself in my room, then at least no one else could see that I was doing it wrong. But I kept trying it by myself and getting it wrong, over and over again. And when Molly tried to show me she couldn’t tell me very well. Mom knew how to do it, and she was pretty good at telling me about things.
So maybe this one time I had to let her tell me what to do. It would feel bad and I would feel mad, but then I would finally know. Then I could do everything myself, and once I had a bicycle, then I wouldn’t be a little kid any more and Molly and I would be the same again.
“You want some help?”, mom asked. I couldn’t say yes because I was feeling mad. When did I get to tell mom how to do something? It wasn’t fair! But she wouldn’t help me if she didn’t think I wanted help, so I nodded just a little bit. Not a big nod like I really really wanted it. Just a small one.
“Okay!”, she said, nodding too, “Let’s figure this thing out together!”
She looked at me. Her mouth was closed and not smiling. “We’ll go slowly, step by step, okay?”
I nodded again, but again only just a little bit.
“Allright”, she said, “Do that first part you’ve already figured out where you wrap one lace over the other and pull the ends tight.” I did it.
“Good”, she said, “Now do that second part you’ve figured out where you make the loop with the right lace and hold the bottom of the loop with the thumb and forefinger of your right hand.” I did it.
“Good”, she said, “Now loop the other lace around the first loop…” I started to do it but she put up her hand and said, “Wait!”
“Loop it around the other lace AND the tip of your thumb”, she said, “Here I’ll show you with my own shoe.” She quickly untied her shoe and then started to tie it again and when she got to that part she said, “Now watch carefully, around the tip of the thumb just like this!” I watched her do it.
“Now you try!”, she said.
The first time I tried it didn’t work, but the second time I was doing it just like she was.
“Good”, she said, “Now here’s the tricky part. Take the tip of the forefinger from your left hand…”, she wiggled that finger on her hand, “and put it right on the lace where it is touching the tip of your thumb.” I did that too.
“Okay”, she said, “Just look at that for a minute, where all the fingers and laces are. Remember that. Once you get there then there’s only one last step!”
I looked at my fingers with the laces around them, and then nodded, a bigger nod this time because I could feel myself getting excited.
“Okay”, she said, “Now here is the tricky part. Use your right thumb and RIGHT forefinger to grab the lace on the tip of your LEFT forefinger.” She showed me with her fingers on her shoe. “See how I’m doing it? Do the same thing.” I messed up once but then we started again and I did it like her.
“You got it?” she asked. I nodded and even said, “Yeah.”
“Now with the thumb and forefinger of your left hand”, she said, holding up that thumb and finger of her left hand, “Grab this first loop here.” I did.
“Good”, she said. “Now still holding each of those laces tight, slowly and gently pull your two hands away from each other like this!” I did it, and suddenly there was a bow. I DID IT!
She gave me the other shoe. “Now do the other one”, she said.
The first two times I messed up and she had to help me some more. But the third time I did it right and made the bow.
She smiled and said, “They say ‘third time’s the charm’.”
“They?” I asked. I was now asking questions without really even thinking about it first.
Her eyes got big and she shook her head. “People I guess”, she said, moving her hands in small circles, “It’s what we call an ‘expression’. You’re dad might know more about where it comes from, who thought it up.”
Then I couldn’t believe it, but she pulled on the laces of both my shoes so they were untied again. I looked at her, wondering why.
She held up the pointing finger of both her hands in front of me and said, “Now tie each of your shoes and untie them again ten times, and you’ll remember how to do it the next time you try to tie them yourself.”
I felt mad again that she thought she was so smart to keep telling me what to do, like she was better than I was.
I think she figured that out, because she stood up, moved her shoulders back and stretched her head up and her back made a little crack noise. “Practice it on your own if you like, but listen to your mother, at least this once. Do it ten times right now while you’ve got all this in your head and you’ll have it down.”
I’ll show her, I thought. I’ll do it ten times and she’ll feel sorry she made me do it so much. So I did, and David standing and watching said, “Shoe.” By the time I was done with the ten times I was feeling very happy and I wasn’t mad at her anymore. I COULD DO IT! I COULD TIE MY SHOES! I wanted to tell Molly and show her too.
I looked out the kitchen window and saw Molly and her dad coming down the sidewalk across from the park. I figured she went all the way around the block on her bicycle. I remember she and I doing that on our tricycles with dad, and it took a long time, but Molly had done it a lot faster.
“C’mon David”, I said, “Let’s go see Molly!”
“Olly”, he said, nodding and taking my hand. I heard mom chuckling as I went out of the kitchen with David and out the front screen door. I wanted to go faster but David couldn’t go that fast. He was still a really little kid and couldn’t do a lot of the things I could, like running or even walking fast.
Molly yelled out, “Coob, David”, and waved for us to come over. She and her dad watched us as we crossed the street, me holding David’s hand. I almost forgot to look both ways first, but I remembered and did it really quick. I knew it was important that I always did it so mom and dad would know it was okay for me to do things on my own, even crossing the street.
As we came up to Molly, David pointed at her bicycle and said, “Tri”.
I don’t know why it made me mad that David was saying Molly’s new bicycle was a tricycle. He probably didn’t know the difference. But it made me have to think about how different Molly’s new bicycle was from MY tricycle. It made me feel like I was still a little kid.
“I went all the way around the block on my new bike”, Molly said smiling and her eyes twinkling, “But I still have training wheels!” She pointed down at the little wheels on either side of the big wheel on the back part of her bicycle. That word “bike” was one of those short “nickname” words, like “fridge” for “refrigerator”. It wasn’t just people that got nicknames.
I nodded and looked down at the ground. I could tell Molly could tell I was feeling mad and sad.
Molly looked at me. “Your mom and dad need to get you one Coob”, she said. I nodded but still looked down at the ground.
“Molly”, her dad said, “I’m sure Cooper and his parents will figure that out.” Then he looked at me and said, “Your birthday is coming up in April, right?” I nodded but didn’t look at him.
“Tell you what”, he said, “I’ve got to get to Schlenker’s and do some other chores, so why don’t you let me put your bike in the garage. We can ride it some more when I get back.” Molly nodded and got off her bike.
“You want to come with me to Schlenker’s?” he asked, “I know you like the place.” Molly shook her head.
“Yeah figured”, he said, laughing through his nose, “I can’t compete.”
I didn’t know what that “compete” word meant or why her dad couldn’t do it. If a kid had said it or mom or dad then I would have asked. But it felt like it had something to do with Molly and her dad and what she told me at her party about her mom not liking her dad anymore. So he rolled Molly’s bicycle around the side of their house to the garage back behind it. Molly watched him walk away and David pointed at her bike and said “tri” again.
“It’s not a tricycle, David, it’s a BICYCLE!”, I said. I sounded mad, though I didn’t think I was TRYING to be mad.
Molly looked at me then looked at David. “It’s a new word you haven’t learned how to say yet”, she said to him. He looked at her like he was really thinking about it. I thought David did a lot of thinking for a kid as little as he was.
Molly’s dad came back from the garage and walked up to where the three of us kids were standing.
“Okay”, he said, “I’m off to Schlenker’s. You sure you don’t want to come?” Molly shook her head.
“Cooper could come with us maybe”, he said, “Though I don’t know about David.” Molly shook her head again.
“Okay”, he said again, but this time it sounded really different than the last time he said it. “We can practice some more when I get back!” Molly nodded but looked at the ground.
He got in his little blue car instead of the big station wagon, then there was that car noise. Molly watched him drive away.
Then Molly walked right up to me and said, “You have to get a bicycle!”
“I know”, I said, “But I can tie my shoes now!”
Molly nodded, but it didn’t seem to change what she was thinking about. “If you really really need something”, she said, “Who do you ask, your mom or your dad?” And then she said, “I ask my dad.”
I thought about that and said, “My mom told another grownup that ‘right kids will tell you what they need’. She always wants more stuff and dad says we don’t have enough money right now.”
Molly shook her head. “What’s a ‘right kid’?” she asked. David shook his head too.
“I don’t know”, I said, shaking my head, “I THINK that’s what she said.” Then trying to figure it out, “Maybe it’s a kid that’s right handed?”
Molly wrinkled her nose. “That doesn’t make sense”, she said, “Why would that be different?”
“I don’t know”, I said again.
“You need to ask your mom”, Molly said. David nodded, then I nodded too. “Let’s go ask her”, she said.
“Okay”, I said, and Molly and I took each of David’s hands and we looked both ways and then walked across the street. We both knew we wanted our moms and dads not to worry about us crossing the street by ourselves, so they’d let us do more stuff by ourselves. We both knew they might be watching us right now from inside our houses.
We all walked into our living room. It was empty except for that “Herman Miller chest” and that “Windsor” chair. They were both by the front door, so you could get gloves and hats and other stuff out of the drawers and sit in the chair to put on your shoes or your boots before you went outside. I remember mom saying they looked “forlorn”, whatever that was, because there was no other stuff in the room. I could see Molly looking at the empty room, but she didn’t say anything about it.
Mom appeared in the door to the kitchen. “Well here you all are”, she said, “To what do I owe the pleasure?” She did a big smile. Molly, David and I all looked at her with no idea what she had just said.
She laughed. I liked it when mom or dad laughed. Mom did it a lot more than dad did. “It means I’m surprised, though happy you came to visit me, and wondering why.”
Molly looked at me and she opened up her eyes really big, like she was telling me to ask her. I didn’t know quite how to ask it.
Molly turned her head and looked at mom. “Coob wants to know what ‘right kids’ are”, she said.
Mom wrinkled her nose and shook her head, “What WHAT kids are?”, she asked.
“Right kids”, both Molly and I said. David made some sort of noise too, but I couldn’t figure out what he was trying to say.
Mom shook her head some more. “I’m not sure what you are talking about”, she said.
“You said about ‘right kids’”, Molly said.
Then I said, “That will tell you what they need!” I had never talked like that to my mom before. It felt good, because Molly was doing it with me, and I think David was trying too.
“What?”, mom asked. She looked like she really couldn’t figure it out. She looked at each of the three of us, her nose wrinkled and her mouth pushed together. We all just stood there for a minute, waiting for somebody to figure something out. David looked at Molly and me then looked at mom.
Then I could see that it looked like mom was figuring something out. “I think I was talking about ‘BRIGHT kids’, not ‘RIGHT kids’”, she said. “Oh my god!” She tilted her head back and laughed. I couldn’t remember ever seeing her laugh quite like that. “You remember me saying that to someone at a PARTY?” I nodded.
She put her hands behind her head, looked up at the ceiling and shook it slowly back and forth and said, “What I said was ‘BRIGHT kids will tell you what they need’.”
“What are bright kids?” Molly and I asked the question at the same time.
Mom held her hands out in front of her head. “Now this is a picture I wish I could capture and keep forever. Two bright kids asking me what ‘bright kids’ are! It’s so classic!”
“David too”, Molly said.
“YOU’RE RIGHT”, Mom said, pointing her finger at Molly, then looking at David, “You just don’t have all your words yet.” David shook his head.
“‘Bright kids’ are kids that figure things out for themselves and then figure out what to do next”, she said.
“All kids do that Missus Zale”, Molly said.
“Really”, mom said, “Well I’ll just have to think about that!”
Then she got down on her knees in front of Molly. “And dear, remember”, she said, “Please call me Jane. You and I have been friends for over two years now. Do you remember the day we met? When Eric, Coop and I first bought the house, and Coop and I came over to say hello to our new neighbors, and you answered the door?” Molly nodded.
“And you were so cute welcoming us to your home!”, mom said.
“Mom made me do that”, Molly said.
Mom laughed through her nose and nodded, sitting down on the floor now. “I remember your mom being upset with herself that she had not come over to our house to welcome us first. Then insisting we stay and have a drink”, she said, “And you took Coop up to show him your room and the two of you have been inseparable ever since!”
“Inseparable?”, I asked, not knowing what that word was and not wanting mom to just talk that way to Molly and not to me too.
“Inseparable”, mom said nodding and now looking at me too, which made me feel better, “Always wanting to be together.”
Molly nodded, looking at mom. She didn’t turn her head toward me but her eyes looked over at me for just a second and then away, and her cheeks got kind of pink. But then they got regular again.
No one said anything for a minute. Then David said “Tri” again. Mom looked at him.
“Try?”, she asked, “Try what?”
“He’s trying to say ‘tricycle’”, Molly said, “Because he saw my new bicycle but he thinks it’s a tricycle because he doesn’t know any better.”
“I see”, mom said, pushing her lips together and nodding. David nodded too. “So yes, your new bicycle. I saw you riding it this morning. How do you like it?”
“I like it really a lot”, Molly said nodding her head, “But Coob doesn’t have one.” I don’t think she wanted to say that, because she put her hand over her mouth.
Mom looked at her and then she looked at me. I could see in her eyes that she was figuring things out.
“Okay”, she said, “I think I’m understanding all this better now. ‘Bright kids will tell you what they need’.” She looked at Molly. “Now that you have a bicycle”, she said, now looking at me, “You need one too.” I nodded. Molly nodded. David nodded too.
“NOW it makes total sense”, she said. She put her hands behind her head again and looked up at the ceiling, wrinkled her nose and pushed her lips together, then blew air out of her mouth. Then she started nodding and said, “You’ve got your birthday coming up Coop. Your dad and I will figure out how to make that happen and get you a bicycle!”
I was happy and I looked at Molly. She seemed really happy. David looked at both of us.
Then mom said to me, “Coop, I want you to always come to me and tell me if there is something you think you need. Your dad and I might not always be able to get it for you right now, but we’ll sure as heck try! Okay?”
“I told him he needed to ask you”, Molly said.
Mom looked at Molly and did that big smile showing her teeth. “You’re a good friend dear!”, she said.
Molly nodded and said, “I know.”
And I knew I was going to get to be a big kid too. Pretty soon!