In my brain’s recess, playing kickball with plans to save more money, I wondered how to potty train Craig. I consulted Google, my coparent and digital spouse, and found videos and books. You got your timelines, and you got your theories. Instead, I called Craig into my room and asked him if he wanted to wear chonies, the kids’ Spanish slang for underwear. He was thrilled.
“I’m going to wear chonies! I’m going to wear chonies!”
He ran around showing them to his siblings. It had never occurred to me to try earlier. He did great with a few exceptions, like the puddle in between his feet that a lady at the haircutting salon noticed as he was about to climb into the chair.
I often arrived early to pick him up from preschool and watched him outside playing with children, trying to figure out if he’d become a Republican — “That’s my toy!” — or a Democrat — “Here, Billy, you can have Tom’s toy.” Craig loved to sing. On the drive to school, we took turns picking songs. Adriana’s favorite was “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain.” At the end, she added, “We’ll be eating chicken nuggets when she comes.” Javier’s favorite was “This Land Is Your Land.” Craig had two favorites. The first was “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” His other one, learned at school or made up — who knew? — he called “Our Thankful Song.” We sang it before dinner. “We are thankful, we are thankful, for our food, for our food …”
After spending time with Craig, I discovered that his intellectual challenges were temporary. He learned to sing, count, and write his name. Like every new parent, I imagined if I exposed him to music, he’d be a prodigy, and we’d have recitals for a select group of people, but nothing too exploitive, of course, because he was just a child. I began Craig’s music training in the Land Rover, driving from preschool to pick up Adriana and Javier at the YMCA after-school program. We started with the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil.” As an example of beat, I moved my right hand up and down and left and right. It was a compact lesson on an important topic. As we drove, I complimented myself. This was what separated me from the other men out there adopting three siblings. How many parents taught music while driving to the YMCA? The next song, “She’s a Rainbow,” was a symphony for piano. My hand moved like a wand. Craig was mesmerized. We finished with “Wild Horses”:
Childhood living it’s easy to do.
The things you wanted
I bought them for you.
“Daddy,” he said. Did he want a piano? I’d buy a little one with a mushroom stool. Maybe he wanted a violin. “Daddy,” he said again.
“Does Tarzan live in the jungle?”
I took a deep breath and made a note to not share any of my ingenious child-raising strategies without peer review in a respected journal or at least an indication that my children were listening.
“Yes,” I said. “He lives in the jungle. He lives with apes. He’s in foster.”