An excerpt from Spinning
“I’m not really good at...” I let my voice fade, hoping that Diane would understand that many men, including myself, don’t get into that kind of thing.
“At what? Bathing? Come on. I’ll teach you. But first, why don’t you find me a story or two to read before she goes to sleep? And we’ll need a glass of water.”
“A book or two and a glass of water. Are you going to do a magic trick?”
Diane disappeared in the back and I went to find the books. Locating a story or two shouldn’t be a problem. I went to the bookcase. I slid my finger along the titles and passed by The Great Gatsby – too complicated. A Farewell to Arms – unlike the movie, she dies in the end. The Art of War – not tonight. And we could hold off on John Irving’s The Cider House Rules for at least a few more weeks. It was looking pretty slim until I finally found my number one management-training book, Green Eggs and Ham.
I got a cup of water, and set it and the book next to the bed.
“Diane?” I called tentatively, as I knocked on the bathroom door. “Is she a prune yet?”
“Come on in. We’re almost done.”
Come on in? It had been a long time since I’d been involved in the whole bath process, having taken showers for the last 20 years. Then I recalled being a kid, and my brother helping bathe me. Mostly, he dumped water over my head and told me not to inhale. I’m sure it was more for his amusement than my personal hygiene. “Are you sure?”
Once inside, I discovered a little girl covered in soap and a lovely arrangement of chaotic shampoo horns jut- ting from her head. Spring looked like a spiny blowfish.
Then I realized I was staring at a little naked girl and turned around.
“I’m sorry, Diane. I didn’t realize she was uh, not wearing clothes.”
“Did you think she’d have a swimsuit on? She’s three- and-a-half. Don’t worry.”
I turned back around. “I just don’t want Spring to feel uncomfortable.”
Spring turned around with her arms crossed over her chest, which made me feel a little better. If I had to be in the bathroom while she bathed, if she covered her little... self, then I could talk with Diane while they did their bath thing.
Then she did something I never imagined she’d do. Spring hopped to her feet, spreading her arms and sending soap bubbles into the ozone. I quickly turned away.
The last thing I remember was me slamming face-first into an open cabinet door. When I opened my eyes, I was staring at the ceiling. Wrapped in a white towel and looking like a human marshmallow, Spring waved at me.
Diane pressed a compress to my nose and forehead. “Dylan, are you okay?” I grabbed the ice and held it to my nose, which felt like it had taken the majority of the impact. I didn’t need to check the mirror to know that my nose had swollen. It now obstructed vision in both eyes. “I told you I didn’t have any experience with that whole bath thing.”
“You didn’t make it to the bath thing. You got as far as the cabinet door thing, which led to the ice thing.” She touched my head. “Better use lots of ice on this tonight.”
Feeling a little better, I sat up. “What happens next?”
“It’s probably going to swell up a bit more.”
“I meant with your evening routine.”
“Oh, that. Spring goes to bed and we read to her. Did you find any books?”
“Spring, do you like Dr, Seuss?” My face felt heavy.
“Maybe you can read it to her,” Diane said.
I shrugged. I’d once entertained my colleagues with a dramatic reading of Fox in Socks. I could probably keep a kid amused, as well. Holding the ice to my face, I followed the two of them into their room.
“Every night before bed,” Diane said, “we read two books, and sing a song, and...”
“And we drink a small glass,” Diane eyed the Yankees 32-ounce guzzle cup I’d brought in, “of water and then we do animal impressions. Spring, is it okay if Dylan reads to you instead of Mommy tonight?”
She nodded, and Diane handed me the book.
In spite of the pain in my nose, I thought it would be fun to read the book to Spring. I’d always had a thing for Dr. Seuss. I pulled the chair close to the bed and began Green Eggs and Ham.
“I am Sam. Sam I am.”
“What?” Six words in and I had already made a mistake. At least no one was bleeding, or required more ice.
Diane touched my arm. “You’re supposed to do the voices,” she suggested.
“You want voices?”
Once a year or so, this could be a lot of fun. “Voices. Okay, here goes.” I cleared my throat, which sent a shot of pain to my injured face. I ignored it. “Tonight,” I began, trying to imitate Alistair Cooke from my Masterpiece Theatre DVDs, “we will discover a tale of intrigue and woe, as Sam pursues this fuzzy dude,” I pointed to his picture, “in a hat to get him to taste the delectable flavors of green eggs and ham.”
Spring seemed pleased and hugged her pillow.
By the time we reached, “I do so like green eggs and ham,” her eyes had started closing – even though I could see she was trying to keep them open. She hadn’t had much sleep since flying in from Chicago two nights before, and I assumed Spring was history for the night. Then I learned something important about children: having a routine can mean a lot more to them than their need for sleep. As I closed the book, a cry drifted up from the burrows of Spring’s blanket. “Next...”
Unless she could navigate through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, we were out of stories for the evening. I shrugged to indicate that I didn’t have anything else in the apartment that was appropriate. Diane rolled her eyes and then pulled a Winnie the Pooh book called Friendship Day out of Spring’s backpack. I don’t know if Diane was giving me a break, or if she was suggesting that my previous performance lacked the proper nuance, but she read this one herself. By the end, Spring seemed to be approaching the off-ramp to Dreamland again.
Yet, her voice still rang out from her pillow. “Song...?”
Diane looked at me.
“What?” I said.
“Mom, you do it,” Spring said.
I gestured toward Diane. “She wants you to sing.”
Still looking at me, Diane said, “Spring, wouldn’t you love for Dylan to sing to you tonight?” She was delighting in making me feel uncomfortable. The interesting thing was that I was enjoying her doing it.
Spring shook her head. “He doesn’t know how.”
I mustered up as much of an indignant expression as I could pull off with the ice still pressed to my nose. “Don’t know how? Clearly, you missed the New York Times review of my last shower.” I removed the compress, stretched my neck, then belted out:
Concrete jungle where dreams are made of....
Spring buried her face in her pillow and I stopped.
Diane laughed. “How about something a little less edgy. Maybe John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt?”
Spring turned back toward us. “Yeah!”
“I don’t really remember the words.”
“Just follow along.” Diane began to sing:
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, his name is my name, too.
Whenever I go out, the people always shout,
“There goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.”
Daa daa daa daa daa daa daa…
With Spring tooting along, I remembered the daa daa daa part and we repeated the tune more confidently in the second and third go-around. Spring giggled through every refrain, then called for another song, as her routine required two. Diane looked at me and I raised my eyebrows to suggest that I wasn’t about to venture forth on my own here.
“How about The Itsy-Bitsy Spider?” Diane said.
“The Band of Horses version or...”
She chuckled. “Just sing along.” As Diane began to sing, the song came back like I was in preschool again. When I remembered some of the hand motions, I abandoned my compress. At the end, my spider did a little break-dancing thing. Before the end of third time through, all of our spiders were showing their stuff. Spring delighted in the songs. At first, I thought it was because we were entertaining her and keeping her up late. Every kid wants to stay up past bedtime – that, I remembered. But with each verse of the song and every spider dance move, I could tell that she was pleased with my participation.
“Water, please,” she said, sticking her hand out.
After drinking a few sips – there was probably enough water in there to last until her fourth birthday – she adjusted her pillow for the next part of the show.
“There’s more?” I said, looking at Diane. It seemed to me that this routine was designed to last until the morning.
“This is the really fun part,” Diane said, winking. “We do animal impressions. I’m guessing you’ll be really good at this.”
“Is there a video camera somewhere? Did my friend Hank put you up to this?”
“Oh, come on, Dylan. You were made for his role.”
I shook my head to deny the fact that I was actually enjoying this. You don’t get too many inner child opportunities when you’re out conquering the world.