We chased each other around the house until he got bored. Fed him, but he wanted “black noodles,” his way of describing jajangmyun, noodles with black bean sauce, which Koreans love like New Englanders love chowder; better SAT comparison, jajangmyun is to Koreans like barbecue is to Texans. We pretended to fix the sofa with his Handy Manny toolbox, which led to visions of him in 25 years as an apartment building’s super, all low-hanging jeans, wife-beater shirt, and visible butt crack. Had to chase him again later when he refused to use the potty, and we almost had #1 on the hallway carpet outside the bathroom. This led to even scarier visions of him in 25 years needing to pee after too much beer, doing his business against the side of an apartment building.
We read Corduroy and Freight Train for the ten-thousandth time. Just to liven things up, I made up storylines about how Corduroy the bear was hiding from the security guard so he wouldn’t be deported for a fake green card, or how the train was smuggling Taliban leaders from Pakistan to Afghanistan (hey, he wasn’t the only one bored, and these books only take about two minutes to read).
Side note: why can’t I remember what my parents did to keep me from imploding from boredom? It isn’t like we had DVR or smart phones back in the 70s (I’m older than I look), and I distinctly remember my mother not wanting me to play with the rotary dial on the phone, wonder why.
Later, right before dinner at a jajangmyun restaurant with us, Imo (Korean for maternal aunt), and Hami (his way of shortening the Korean word for grandmother, halmoni) the sky opened. On our way to the car, of course, he didn’t want to do anything as safe or foolish as hold my hand. He also made a beeline for the biggest puddle in our parking lot. This particular puddle, for you connoisseurs, was round, about six feet wide, and occupied a gi-normous uneven patch in our parking lot’s pavement. It was also almost exactly halfway from the building to the car.
Part of me wanted to see him do it, see how much he’d enjoy it. Part of me also thought, we’re only bringing one spare pull-up and a bib, will my wife want to kick my butt if he gets his clothes wet? So I put on my best Stern Dad voice: “No, Ryan, we don’t jump in puddles, that’s not what good boys do. We have to go pick up Hami and Imo.” He looked up at me with his angelic face, a mischievous smile that said, “I’m not buying that for a second, Appa.” And he jumped like Carl Lewis in the ’84 Olympics.
Water flew out in 360-degree arcs from under both little Crocs, but miraculously and most importantly, it didn’t splash up. His face beamed with unadulterated joy, partly because he knew he was doing something I’d just told him not to, partly because he’s a two-and-a-half-year-old who loves splashing in puddles. The only thing that would have been better would have been if I told him Moose from Nick Jr. was moving in with us.
Fast forward, not because I’m a lazy writer (I sort of am, but that’s besides the point), but the concept of feeding a toddler jajangmyun isn’t any different from pasta, except the sauce isn’t red. Same mess, same happy smile when they make that mess. Same look of I-did-it-anyway glee when they have a sauce mustache that they need to spread, then rub into their hair like some evil gel.
He found his biggest and last puddle right outside the restaurant. Not just any puddle, this shin-deep wading pool fit right into a divot formed by two warped sections of sidewalk. He shrieked when he saw it, and he did his little shoulder-wagging happy dance. We were outside, waiting for Hami, Imo, and my wife to leave the restaurant. I figured, why not, go for it, little man. One splash wasn’t enough. Two quick shorts-drenching stomps turned into a tryout for Grambling’s marching band, then segued into an imitation of old Europeans stomping grapes for wine, until there wasn’t much water left in the puddle.
I couldn’t help it, had to let him have that moment. And I felt like I earned my keep as his Appa because I saw how happy that made him. Even if his shorts were so wet that it drenched the pull-up underneath.