“Dad, when is it going to be not tilted?” Patch asks. Patch is six, and I have no idea what he’s talking about. I’m coloring comics at my computer.
“It’s still tilted.” He gestures at the drawing table adjacent my computer station, a monsterous spring-loaded thing that can be adjusted quite a bit.
The light comes on. Before I started work on XDM, that particular drawing table was horizontal most of the time because I used it for recreation. I painted miniatures on it, and it was usually covered with little pewter figurines in various degrees of
undress unpaint. One of Patch’s very favorite things to do was to sit at that table with some fully-painted Cygnaran Stormblades, a few fully-painted Trollbloods, and carry on as six-year-olds are wont to carry on with such toys — making explosion sounds and playing at warfare. I always trusted him to play gently. It was a privilege to play with Daddy’s Stormblades, and he respected that.
But then came the crushing workload of “get this book illustrated in a month,” and I put all my toys away, angled the table for drawing, and there it stayed.
Recently I decided to leave it angled, and to use it for marker-art. Just today, in fact, I markered a fresh background for the comic. Patch’s playground is doomed to remain angled, because the moment I make it flat again it’ll get covered with clutter.
This is not a digression from a first-person, present-tense narrative. These last three paragraphs are what run through my head. Especially the part about Patch’s playground being doomed.
“It has to stay tilted” I tell him, and his face falls. “Did you want to play with some miniatures?” I ask, hoping he can be placated with $200 worth of nigh-indestructible Monsterpocalypse plastic figs rather than 200 hours worth of hand-painted pewter.
“Yeah. I want the Stormblades.”
It is time for me to man up to this “Dad” thing I’ve been doing for thirteen years now. My youngest is my responsibility this evening, and I can make a minor concession.
“I tell you what… go get a TV table, and I’ll set it up for you.”
He does, and I do. And I wriggle past my marker-stand into my crowded closet to fish out a pair of boxy bags whose foam trays protect some 300 or so pewter figs.
“Which ones do you want?”
“The Stormblades. And some robots. And the big robot. The biggest one. And the wreck markers.”
“For bad guys do you want the Trolls, or do you want the Undead?” I’m hoping he chooses the Undead. Alexia Ciannor and The Risen are an easy unit for me to fish out, while the Trolls will required digging into the BIG bag.
He pauses. “Undead.” Good boy.
And so he sits and plays at a TV table next to me while I color. This goes on for half an hour or so, at which point he decides the Undead are not enough of a challenge for the Stormblades, two light Warjacks, and one heavy Defender Warjack. Good eye, son. That’s because you’ve got close to four hundred points of Cygnarans up against maybe fifty points of Undead. No, wait. A hundred. They’ve got an Ogrun with them. But I don’t say that. I get out the Trolls.
Half an hour later he’s done. I send him off for a bath, and I carefully pack everything away.
And I get back to work. I’m way behind schedule. I could have knocked down four strips during that hour, and only managed one and a half. All the packing and unpacking, plus the broken concentration… it’s expensive, time-wise. Oh, and one of the miniatures is broken. I examine it closely and decide it’s an easy fix – it’s not broken pewter, it’s a separated joint. Super-glue and a daub of paint will do the trick.
Twenty minutes later he returns from his bath with his Mom. Sandra lets me know that during bath-time he could talk about nothing besides his hour in my office. I briefly consider calling his attention to the broken miniature, and hold my tongue as I realize that being in my office with me and my expensive toys was the best part of his day — a day that included hours of Lego Star-Wars games with a friend, bike-riding, two different stints on a trampoline, and pizza.
I pick him up and collect a hug. “Goodnight, buddy. I love you.” We part, him off to bed with happy thoughts of victorious Cygnarans, me alone again in my office with introspection.
I realize that the best part of his day was the part that I almost sent him away from, and very nearly ruined after the fact with a scolding. I realize that I almost decided that I was too busy, that he could just play more video games, or make do with a lesser set of miniatures. I realize that if I am a Good Dad it’s only accidentally.
Hopefully the act of writing this down will help me remember to have this kind of accident more often.