Saturday August 23, 2003 11:59 PM
Agony and Extasy

Isaiah's Uncle Mark (Ruth's younger brother) got married today. mark had asked Isaiah months ago to be a junior groomsman- to simply walk down the aisle with the flower girl and then stand on the stage for a few minutes between Mark and the best man, Mark's brother John.

Isaiah agreed to do it and a couple of weeks ago he was measured for his four year old sized tuxedo. Last Thursday Ruth took Isaiah to the tuxedo shop where Uncle Mark, Uncle John, and Grandpa Denby all met him to try on their tuxedos together. Isaiah was excited and enjoyed wearing his "secret agent suit" as Uncle Mark called it.

Yesterday afternoon during the latter of our usual two daily AIM chats that allow Ruth and I to communicate while I'm at work without having to run up the long distance bill of either my employer or, more importantly, my own home phone, she stated that Isaiah no longer wanted to be a junior groomsman because he had, as he'd proclaimed, "stage fright". I was convinced that he didn't have stage fright, but had only heard the phrase on television somewhere (very likely from the episode of "I Love Lucy" where Little Ricky is supposed to play his drums at the Tropicana but has the aforementioned prohibitory condition) and suggested we ignore such protestations and simply let things progress naturally, relying on Isaiah's general good-naturedness to bring the situation to the desired conclusion- that is him actually being in the wedding.

I also suggested that she get a certain large robot kit we'd gotten several weeks ago as an x-mas present down out of the closet and conceal it in a bag. Then at the rehearsal that night, I'd show Isaiah the kit and tell him that if he did a good job we'd put it together Saturday night after the reception and that if he didn't do a good job he wouldn't see it for a long, long time. She then told Isaiah that I had a surprise for him that evening and she typed to me that he was very excited and had decided he could be a junior groomsman.

That night was the rehearsal where Isaiah did marvelously. He didn't even mind walking down the aisle with the flower girl and he did a fair job of standing still on stage the second time they ran through the routine. Of course, that was due in part to him being a good boy and in part to his (I was going to say 'extreme', but that would be an understatement, so we'll just leave out any pointless adjectives) desire to get his little hands on that robot.

At the rehearsal dinner, however, he had one problem. The dinner was in the fellowship hall of the church building where the wedding was held, so we only had to walk down the hall to dinner. For some reason, though, there were a lot more people there than were actually in the wedding party. Anyway, as I was in line loading up my plate with catered, sterno-heated offerings, I heard my son's voice at a volume and with a tone that caused me to postpone my plans to get something to drink after loading my plate and instead return to the table immediately.

As I approached the table I noted Ruth hauling Isaiah out of his chair with a grim look on her face and I noticed an old lady I'd never seen before hovering behind the chair beside Isaiah which was to be mine. Ruth dragged Isaiah past me with a look that said "I'll handle this one" and as I drew closer to the table, it became apparent that the old lady had every intention of sitting in what would have obviously been my seat to anyone who cared to notice. Her husband was with her, though, and if she'd sat at our table they would have had to sit on opposite sides. Finally, as I'd been standing there a few seconds with a blank look carefully masking my emotions of dismay and irritation that someone could be either so clueless or inconsiderate, they both decided to sit at another table.

I sat down between Cousin Patty who's visiting from Arizona, and Isaiah's currently empty chair. Also seated at the table were my junior high band teacher, who is a long time friend of Ruth's folks and who was the organist for the affair, and his wife. I apologized to them for Isaiah's behavior, though they claimed they understood since they'd had kids themselves. (I'd been in the same class with their son for several years in elementary school.) Nonetheless I told them that such behavior was not acceptable and when Ruth and Isaiah returned I made him apologize to them and go to the other table and apologize to the old lady since it seems the shouting I'd heard was him telling her that she could not sit in my seat. He shaped up and was very good for the remainder of the dinner, though his behavior would prove to be the precursor of later outbursts even more vexing.

When we got home it was just about bedtime. He wanted to play for a little while.

"Let's watch some TV, Daddo."

"No, Son. It's just about bedtime. I'm just going to sit here on the recliner and relax a couple of minutes before we all go upstairs."

"Can I play for a few minutes?"

"OK, you can play for ten minutes, but I don't want to hear any fussing when the time's up."

"NO- that's too short! I need more time... How about seven minutes?"

"OK, then, seven it is. Go play fast."

"Would you like me to set the timer, Isaiah?" Ruth asked.

"Yeah, but for seven minutes, not ten."

"Isaiah," I said slightly amused, "seven is less than ten. You can still play for ten minutes."

"No! I want seven minutes."

"OK," Ruth said, returning from the kitchen with the timer in her hands, "I'm setting it for seven minutes- look here, see? Seven."

Then Isaiah played for seven minutes while I relaxed in the recliner and when the timer buzzed, we went upstairs with a minimal (though not nonexistent) amount of fuss. As soon as I'd gotten his pyjamas on him, though, and told him he needed his rest for the big day tomorrow he burst into tears and said he wasn't going to be a junior groomsman because he had "stage fright".

I have from time to time described Isaiah as a four year old teenager. Why, you ask, would I refer to him in such an odd manner? Because, though he is physically four years old, he has the surly contrariness and the certainty that he does know everything of the most difficult thirteen year old you are likely to meet. You're probably saying to yourself "I know what Roger's trying to say, but Roger never met so-and-so." to which I would reply with a condescending grin "You are welcome to think that, but the only reason you do is because you haven't seen Isaiah in one of his moods. Ask anybody who has and they'll tell you." He has an amazingly powerful imagination, the logical deduction skills of a shrunken Sherlock Holmes, and the rhetorical chops of a pint-sized Perry Mason.

Again, I understand that you're rolling your eyes and thinking "Yeah, Roger, whatever you say- your kid's really, really smart. I get the point, You don't have to exaggerate.", but again I reply "You only think I'm exaggerating cause you've never met the kid, cause if you had, you'd know I wasn't." Let's just give each other the benefit of the doubt and move on.

I spent about forty five minutes with him after reading his story discussing the situation with him. Have you ever tried talking to a four year old who would declare emphatically "I do know what it's like to be an adult, you get up in the morning, you go to your job, and you sit at your desk all day doing boring computer stuff. Don't tell me I don't know what it's like to be an adult and I am NOT going to be a junior groomsman!" as a reply to the point that part of growing up is doing things we don't want to? It can be challenging, to say the least. Rather tiring, too.

Eventually, after our lengthy, circular, and at times heated discussion and a prayer I told him good night and left him to his own precocious thoughts.

The next morning, though I'd stayed up till three a.m. working on an art project, I awoke, rested around nine a.m. Ruth was up and dressed. At the rehearsal dinner Cousin Patty had said she wanted to have a pedicure in the morning and that she wanted to treat Ruth to one also. "What do you need a pedicure for, Ruth," I'd asked, "I have your AKC registry papers at home?" Fortunately, this had been taken in the nature it was intended- not actually a comment about my wife whom I love, but simply the inability to let such a witty rejoinder go to waste, and no violence followed. Ruth was glad to accept the offer, though, and as I said she was up and dressed when I awoke.

When I came downstairs after showering, shaving, and dressing, Isaiah was playing in his P's happy as a little lark, having evidently forgotten all about his recalcitrance of the night before.

He and I had a few errands to do while Ruth was getting her pedigre- er, pedicure and I mentioned this to Isaiah. "When we get back, let's put together the grey robot we got the other night!" I replied that I wasn't sure if we'd have time, but that if he was good we would at least start on it.

After a visit to the bank, the post office, and the Hayner Youth Library to return 13 books, re-check three, and check out six new ones, I noticed that we were low on gas and we took a detour across the Mississippi River to the state of Missouri where gas is usually a few cents cheaper. I probably should have checked the prices in Illinois, because the sign at my regular fueling stop showed that the cost of one gallon of gasoline had increased by 13 from what it had been on my way home from work the day before. I got ten dollars anyway.

We were both getting hungry when we got home so I put a bag of popcorn in the microwave. It was about 11:30 and we were all supposed to be at the church building by 12:30 for lunch, so I didn't want to spoil our appetites. Once the popcorn was popped and we each had a frosty rootbeer, Isaiah and I sat down at the coffee table in the living room which is our main robot workshop, and went to work on the grey robot.

Work went quickly despite Isaiah's help and we got it done just as Ruth was dropped off. The reason we were able to get the robot done, though, was that Ruth had been dropped off about half an hour later than I thought she'd be- an amount of time that coincided precisely with the amount of between when we thought she'd be picked up and when she actually was picked up.

It was this lateness that caused us to be somewhat harried as we gathered up all our clothes (Ruth and I were in our regular Saturday garb- I was wearing a six year old t-shirt and jeans and we were going to change at the church building), the wedding gift, and all the auxiliary and ancillary stuff she thought we'd need and loaded them and ourselves in the van and headed for the 12:30 lunch at 12:45.

We weren't tardy after all because as we stepped through the door which opens into the fellowship hall where the food was being served, the groomsmen were just beginning to slap hunks of Honeybaked ham between slices of white bread. Things were not altogether OK, though, because while I'd thought I'd gotten all the stuff off the dining room table and that Ruth had gotten all the clothes in the big plastic suit bag that was hung on the lip of the moulding on the front of the china cabinet, she thought I'd made two trips and gotten everything. I only noticed this discrepancy in our cargo manifest as we were hauling our stuff into the church building.

I was ticked (not at her, but in general) about it and decided I'd have a sandwich and get the clothes after eating until I noticed that there was no cheese on the hastily prepared buffet. Since I had to go back to our house anyway, I figured there was no point in committing such an act of uncivilized anarchy as eating a ham sandwich without cheese. Especially since Ruth had gotten three twenty-four slice packs on sale earlier in the week. As I made the relatively short, but still irritatingly long round trip, my mood was somewhat soothed by hearing some steel guitar music on The Midday Jamboree, a old-style country and western show on Saturday afternoons on my favorite public radio station.

I returned with our clothes and with cheese and with a newly improved outlook. I enjoyed a sandwich with Ruth and Isaiah, and two more by myself as everybody went about whatever they did while Rupie and Cousin Patty took Isaiah to blow off some steam in the gymnasium.

When I was done eating it was about time for us to start getting Isaiah into his tuxedo so he could be ready to be in the pictures which were being taken before (and after as it eventually turned out) the ceremony. Ruth had stored all our gear in a Sunday school classroom in a far, back corner just about as far as could be from the rest of the building without going outside.

I took Isaiah back there and told him to start getting undressed so we could get his tuxedo on him. At this point, he was happy, in a good mood, and perfectly willing (due to the incentive of the green robot kit) to do his part in the wedding. As he was peeling off his threads, I remember him saying something about sloths and how they were slow because they were sleepy all the time. I then explained (successfully- I told you he's smart) that sloths are slow because of their metabolism, which he almost pronounced correctly on the third try.

By the time he could say "metabolism" properly, I had his black socks, his tuxedo shirt, and the pants on him. It was then that things went right off the rails. Seriously.

I realized I'd just buttoned his shirt normally instead of using the studs which had been enclosed with the tuxedo. This was a fateful realization.

I couldn't figure out how to get them on (I've worn a tuxedo a grand total of one time, and that was six years ago when I was married) and I sent Ruth to get her dad to help me. As soon as she left the problem began.

"I am not going to let you put those things on my shirt. They're dumb looking."

"Well, Isaiah, it's part of the tuxedo. They aren't dumb looking, that's just how they go."

"NO. They are stupid and I will not wear them!"

By then Ruth and Grandpa Dimmy (Isaiah call's him Dimmy) had returned and Grandpa explained that you can't put the studs on once you've buttoned the shirt, they go in place of the buttons. I unbuttoned Isaiah's shirt with little resistance, but when it was time to put in the studs... Well, it wasn't pretty.

"You are NOT putting those on me! I am NOT going to wear this tuxedo- take it OFF me and I AM NOT GOING TO BE A JUNIOR GROOMSMAN!"

Ruth grabbed his wrists and held his arms apart like one of Marlin Perkins' assistants holding apart the wings of a Sub-Saharan vulture as the tranquilizer dart wore off, while I battled the studs into Isaiah's shirt. As expected, this did not mollify him. Quite the opposite, in fact. He was less enthusiastic than he had been before and was now crying. "I do NOT want to wear this- take it off, me! It's dumb looking!"

I calmly and patiently explained that it wasn't dumb looking. When that didn't work, I explained that even if it was dumb looking, all the other guys were wearing them so it would be OK. When that didn't work I told him that he'd promised Uncle Mark and he just had to do it. When that didn't work I asked if he could just put it on and let me take one picture to send to Grandpa Roger only. See, this was the master plan that my mighty brane had developed for me. I figured that slowly, step by tiny step, if I could just get him into the tuxedo, perhaps I could then slowly, step by tiny step, persuade him to do the job.

He agreed to let me finish putting the tuxedo on him so I could take "one single" picture for Grandpa Roger only. That plan got the shiny black shoes on his feet, but when I attempted to take the next step- buttoning his collar so I could put the tie on him, it was all back out the window.

"You canNOT button the collar- it will choke me!" I grabbed him and tried to hold him to button the collar, knowing full well that it had been sized just fine and would not choke him. This didn't work, though. Grabbing him and holding him had not subdued him. In fact, it had the opposite effect. He was now screaming at the top of his lungs "I AM NOT GOING TO BE A JUNIOR GROOMSMAN- I'M NOT GOING TO DO IT!" as he ran around the room from us and crawled under the table.

I gently told him to get out from under the table and to come to me and he did. I tried to reason with him a bit, but there was going to be no reasoning. I was struggling to contain my temper, but I knew the only way to win was with my plan of glacial patience and infinitesimal but steady progress.

Then Ruth came over to us and gave Isaiah a hug. I asked him to turn around to me and with Ruth's arms still around him, he did. Seeing that she was holding him gently but firmly and that she had his arms pinned, I took advantage of the opportunity and buttoned his collar and slipped the tie around his neck.

This, of course, destroyed the progress we'd made quieting him down, but on the other hand, we were now one step closer to having the tuxedo fully installed. I was betting that once it was on him the battle would be much easier, so my primary goal at this phase was completing the outfit.

He was, however, back to screaming and under the table again.

One of the groomsmen, a fire jumper, who Isaiah had taken to pretty well earlier in the week came into the room and tried to talk to the boy. He even crawled under the table with him. This helped a little bit. Isaiah couldn't keep himself from laughing when Tim tickled him, but the laughter was like a small, brief cloudburst on a huge forest fire- encouraging and good for morale, but in the end insufficient.

Isaiah had come back out from under the table, though, and when I told him to come give me a hug, he did. I took him into a different, empty classroom and talked patiently with him about how he'd promised to do it and that he couldn't back out. I told him that if he loved Uncle Mark he should help him out because no one else could do the job Isaiah said he'd do. I reminded him about the robot kit that would be put away for a long, long time.

None of these topics held much traction, but he was more subdued when we went back to our changing room. In fact, he was subdued enough that I got the vest and the coat on him and the tuxedo was complete!

He was still proclaiming in no uncertain terms, though, that he was not going to be the junior groomsman.

He looked quite dapper in his little lux and I could tell that his fury was beginning to cool. Like the slenderest ray of sunshine glimmering through the stygian clouds of a torrential deluge, I could see that my plan was working. He was in the tux, now I just had to play it cool and easy... cool and easy.

"OK, if you don't want to be the junior groomsman, you don't have to. Let's just go for a little walk around the place, OK?"

"...OK."

It was about three o'clock at this point and the wedding was to begin at three-thirty. We walked through the empty halls of the back part of the building in the gloom of a building designed with no natural light in mind. Then we passed into the more populated areas where wedding party members, family members, and various support personnel and interested parties were milling around waiting, or seeing to last minute tasks.

I think perhaps all the ladies commenting about how good he looked may have served to further bank the flames of his ire. Though he replied to the first two to comment his appearance that he did NOT look good, he looked dumb- I could tell he was softening.

We milled around out there with the folks a while and I told him there was nothing to be afraid of, it would be easy. I told him that he would make us all sad if he wouldn't do it.

Then- THEN!

"OK... I guess I'll do it..."

Ah, the extasy! My plan had worked! I'd done it! I wanted to shout YAHOO, but I didn't since guests were starting to arrive and as I was leading this little tuxedoed boy around by the hand, I was till wearing my six year old t-shirt and jeans. I did want to tell Mark and John, though, but I didn't see them around anywhere.

I lead Isaiah as I looked for them, but we didn't see them. Then I spotted John in the back of the auditorium where guests were just beginning to be seated. I headed for Uncle John to tell him the good news, but just as we passed through the door into the auditorium, I knew I'd made a mistake.

I don't know if it was the small crowd of people in the pews, or the slight loudness of the recorded music playing, but Isaiah changed his mind back to the negative state. He was still quiet and subdued, just at the edge of tears, but he told me he wouldn't do "his job".

We walked back out, right past a doofus with a video camera (Who tapes the guests arriving? Tacky or not, and I say it is, it's just dumb.) who immortalized me forever at my brother in law's wedding in my beat-up old comfortable Saturday clothes. I lead Isaiah back to the dressing room where we sat and stared at each other.

"You look mad, Daddo..."

"I am mad. I'm mad and I'm sad, too. You told Uncle Mark a long time ago that you'd do this and now you're backing out. That's not the kind of thing people I like to hang around with do. On top of that, now I'm behind schedule in getting dressed because I've been dealing with you. You look great and I look stupid because everybody is dressed up but me."

"Are you going to stay mad?"

"There's only one thing that will let me get over being mad and that is you being the junior groomsman. Now I'm going to change my clothes so I don't look dumb out there."

I put on my suit and sat back down and stared at him some more.

"Will you do it?"

"Yes, I guess I'll do it."

Once again the clarion song of joy rushed through my being!

"ALRIGHT!" I couldn't hold back my smile.

He smiled, too- a little bit.

"It'll be fine. You'll be OK. You'll see it'll be fun and easy. I'm so proud of you! Come on, it's time to go get in line. The wedding will start soon."

By this time almost all the guests had arrived and the ushers' job was trickling off to nothing. The wedding party was all assembled at the proper door to the auditorium and Uncle Mark was already down front by the microphone waiting for the 'keeper to raise his cold steel hammer to forever close the hasp on the ball and chain destined to go around Mark's right ankle.

Uncle John was by the door in the line with the rest of the attendants. Our good news brought a big smile to his face. Isaiah still wasn't as cheerful as he normally is, but his mood was fine and he was fully willing.

"Now, when it's your turn, walk with the flower girl, OK? and walk slowly, OK?"

"OK, I'll walk with her, but I'm gonna walk in front of her- and I'll walk slowly."

"Alright, you can walk in front of her," I greatfully compromised, thrilled that he'd walk at all "but stay near her. Don't get too far away- Hey, here you go- it's your turn!"

He walked with her (with-ish, anyway) but in front of her, he walked almost slowly enough, climbed up the stairs to the dias in a dignified manner, and he stood as perfectly still as a four year old could possibly stand.

I could hardly contain myself. I was standing against the back wall of the auditorium barely resisting the urge to jump up and throw my fist at the sun in a celebratory expression of victory much like what you frequently see when a member of the Professional Bowling Association hits the game winning strike. There was a happy lump in my throat and I was very, very happy as I stood watching my boy stand stock still by Uncle John without so much as on single fidget.

It seemed like they kept the kids up there forever. It was glorious to me to see him standing there so terrifically, but I knew the longer he stood... But then it was time for the kids to get down off the stage.

As Isaiah carefully walked down the half dozen steps to the auditorium floor on his way to the pew where my mom was sitting just behind the immediate family, I succumbed partially to the aforementioned temptation and squatted down on one knee to give Isaiah a big, fat double thumbs-up along with the widest smile I can remember having. I could tell, he saw me, too by the smile on his face, but he calmly and with decorum that belied his short years, went to Grandma Joanne and sat down.

It was a nice ceremony, I guess. I didn't really notice. I was so happy all the rest was a blur. A long-ish blur, though.

My lingering excitement over Isaiah's performance didn't prevent me from succumbing to a second temptation at the wedding. Tired of standing, I'd gone upstairs and taken a seat in the balcony where I could proudly beam down at my son. However, eventually even that got old and while a solo was being sung during the lighting of the unity candles, I could stand it no longer.

I reached in the pocket of my suit coat and pulled out my ace in the hole, so to speak- "Stranger from Arizona" by Norman A. Fox.

It may take a special kind of jerk to sit in the balcony and read a western at his brother-in-law's wedding, but at least this special jerk can pat himself on the back today for his mighty parenting kung-fu.