Still in his pajamas, Neanderdad sat slumped at the breakfast table. He sipped groggily at the caffeine leaching from the tea bag in his cup. He scratched at his unkempt, shaggy head. He rubbed his puffy, sleep-blurred eyes. Then he scowled slightly at the bright sunlight. Never a morning person, Neanderdad was famously grumpy before noon. His family had learned to adjust to that reality and give him space. But this day, because the girl had left early with her mother, Neanderdad was alone with the boy. Neanderdad now worried that his morning distemper would lead to a poor bonding experience.
Neanderdad peered across the table at his breakfast companion to check his mood. The boy had been watching him intently as he drank his tea. The three-year-old now picked up his milk glass and sipped in perfect imitation. The boy rubbed at his hair and eyes like Neanderdad had done. The boy scowled like Neanderdad had done. Then the boy watched Neanderdad, waiting for his next move. So that was how it was going to be, Neanderdad thought? The boy was going to copy him a bit to amuse himself. Neanderdad could deal with that.
Neanderdad played along, squinted at the boy for a moment. Then he stabbed at his egg with the crust of his toast to get at the runny yolk. He jammed the food one side of his mouth and chewed slowly, eyeing the boy. The boy watched, then looked down at his plate and frowned. The youngster had adamantly demanded cereal when Neanderdad was making breakfast. Now he appeared to be having second thoughts. There was a quiet moment as the boy considered his next move.
“Can I have a little of your egg and toast, Dad,” the boy asked sweetly. “Just a little?”
Neanderdad considered. Then he broke off a piece and put it on the boy’s plate. The boy picked it up an jammed it into his mouth and chewed slowly, just like Neanderdad had done. He looked back at Neanderdad evenly. Then, as Neanderdad kept watching him, the boy flashed an impish smile. Neanderdad couldn’t help but smile back. It was an amusing game.
After breakfast, Neanderdad and the boy got ready for the day. The boy went to his bedroom for some socks. Neanderdad retreated to his bedroom to dress. Coming out of the bedroom, Neanderdad was reunited with his breakfast companion. The boy examined him carefully, his eyes coming to rest on the logo t-shirt Neanderdad had chosen. The boy’s eye’s narrowed.
“You’re wearing your Buffalo shirt,” the boy said, pointing at the image of the shaggy beast on Neanderdad’s chest. The boy looked down at his own striped rugby shirt and frowned. He turned and rushed to his bedroom in great haste.
“I’m getting my Buffalo shirt,” the boy said over his shoulder.
Neanderdad, surprised that the game was still afoot, followed him into the room. He came upon a scene of great tumult. Clothing was erupting into the air like a geyser. The boy had flung open the middle dresser drawer and was rummaging frantically. He threw shirts over his shoulder as he searched. The boy seemed on the verge of a tantrum, squeaking in frustration at not finding what he was looking for. But then he pulled out a shirt and hugged it. He turned and beamed at Neanderdad, unfurling his treasure. It was an identical Buffalo shirt that Neanderdad had given him months before. The boy wrestled off the one he was wearing and pulled on the match. Then he carefully compared Neanderdad’s shirt and his own. Finally, he was satisfied.
“You have a Buffalo shirt. I have a Buffalo shirt,” the boy explained. Neanderdad agreed.
Then these unlikely twins, one sleepy and shaggy, the other small and ardent, went about their business. They wrestled in the playroom. They bounced a rubber ball back and forth to each other. They teamed up to chase the dog. They settled into the big yellow chair to read Dave Keane’s heartwarming “Sloppy Joe.” Then, after discussing what next to do, they agreed that it was time to go play some baseball.
Given the slight chill outside, Neanderdad suggested that they start at the coat rack, where he proceeded to select a nylon windbreaker. The boy watched closely then carefully selected a nylon windbreaker of his own, though he was less than pleased that the two jackets were not exactly the same. When Neanderdad fastened his jacket, the boy followed suit by zipping his up to a matching level. When Neanderdad zipped it down an inch. The boy quickly adjusted. When Neanderdad grabbed a baseball hat and pulled it down low over his eyes. The boy immediately grabbed his hat and did the same. When Neanderdad tipped his hat back, the boy did too.
There was then an extended search for the baseball. In a playroom full of balls–wiffle balls, beach balls, and tennis balls–a baseball can easily hide. But the boy finally found it, jammed in a corner under a Buzz Lightyear doll and a bag of lego. Then there was a similar effort to locate baseball gloves. Some time was lost as the boy carefully copied Neanderdad’s style of sticking his middle finger out of the hole on the back of the glove. His little fingers weren’t easy to manipulate in the glove. Finally, they were fully attired for their baseball toss in the back yard and proceeded to the door. Only shoes remained.
But as the boy rushed to don his favorite tennis shoes, blue with velcro laces, there was trouble. Neanderdad had chosen a pair of work shoes he favored, put them on quickly and moved to the doorway. The dog almost had a stroke waiting for the signal that would give him permission to exit the house. But the boy did not move. Instead he kept comparing his feet and Neanderdad’s. Then he stamped his feet angrily.
“I want you to wear your tennis shoes,” the boy explained.
Neanderdad stalled. His tennis shoes were way down in the conveyance and his morning recalcitrance reared its ugly head. He tried to dodge the request, offering a brief explanation of the difficulties involved. But the boy, suddenly demonstrating the same genetic disposition toward morning irritability as his father, became red-faced with frustration. He stomped his feet again, then took a deep breath and spoke slowly and loudly.
“I want you to wear tennis shoes, Dad!”
For a moment, grumpy-morning Neanderdad considered resisting the request again. But then Neanderdad looked down at the boy’s face. As he gazed into the boys wide, hopeful eyes, it became clear to Neanderdad, morning befuddlement or not, just how important this matching tennis shoes was to the boy. When Neanderdad started out to the car to get the shoes, the boy nodded approvingly. When Neanderdad returned with the shoes, the boys smiled. When he pulled on the shoes, the boy positively beamed.
And then Neanderdad, as cheerful as he’d been on any morning that he could ever remember, strode out into the sunlit backyard to play baseball with his mini mirror image. The dog bounded out behind them.