The “Mongoloid” card gets played despite ground rules and—across the table—Jenn and I meet glances. Finn is asleep in Jenn’s lap, thumb resolutely in mouth.
In slumber, Finn’s almond eyes close along sinuous lines; the seams of his lids resemble tildes, those accent marks that give flourish to Latin n’s: tildes make “en-ye’s” out of n’s. Finn’s eyes are different, as is he. Do we call this exotic?
When the “Mongoloid” card is played—we are playing Cards Against Humanity, something I’m suddenly regretting—I feel a particular blunting. The table is still friendly, and this is Christmas Eve, but I turn to my friend John-Paul and say: “I think I’m done.” The “Mongoloid” mention has its certain hurt.
John and I are sharing a barrel-aged stout, something fourteen points, so me saying “done” is appropriately camouflaged by a near-finished pint. But that’s not why I quietly say “Uncle.”
Finn has 47 chromosomes, not the usual 46. The 21st chromosome was doubled somewhere in the early and meiotic phase; it turned Finn’s eyes almond-shaped and troubled his heart so that it needed surgering at three months. He has an arced palate and a lazy tongue by nature of his diagnosis. Lazier tongues, without diagnosis, have asked me: “Is he retarded?” A normal and relatively shallow palate should better lock a tongue into place, but it’s not always the case. People say things, coin questionable terms. And it still shocks me to see a word like “Mongoloid” still in circulation.
Wait—why am I playing this game?
Another hand is dealt, and with my son sleeping, I tell John-Paul that “I’m just gonna amuse myself, here.” I’m uncomfortable, so I’m going to start playing not to win.
The game asks that I play two associative cards, in as devilishly clever a way as possible. I lay down: “Heaven.” “Object Permanence.” On a pizza sauce-stained tablecloth, and where the “Mongoloid” card received a laugh, my combo fails to even get a chuckle. But I’m happier for it.
Then, it’s Christmas morning. The sky is impossibly blue, weather having lifted. The retreating cirrus leaves something matte, and—as if predicted by the cards—there’s a feeling of permanence. Like this sky could last forever, unchanged.
We’re at a park near Lindbergh Field, between holiday visits. It could always be this blue, and, to announce the fact, the planes take off overhead, their perfect paint jobs illumined by the mid-morning sun. Weather, velocity, and altitude surely flake the paint on the regular—inevitable atmospherics reducing veneer to scales—but today the jetliners gleam, flawless. Jenn pushes Finn on the swing and he’s laughing; my older son Cayden clack–clacks the sidewalks that loop the greenbelt on his skateboard, and I soak up this Christmas sun on a concrete bench.
There are other dads. That guy with the cargo shorts and grey beard, kid astride his shoulders. The other guy with a palsied face one-handedly flying a kite with his son. There’s a canopied picnic to the left, and the table is neatly kerchiefed in plaid; a tow-headed girl hides beneath her dad’s jacket arm near the cooler.
Cayde inexpertly stops in front of me. He received kneepads from Santa and is now invulnerable, and don’t we all wish for that. “Soccer, Daddy?” Cayde suggests. I’m in a loose-knit scarf, suede penny loafers, and a cardigan, but “Sure.” If only to add to this panorama. Different dads, different children.
Cayden declares goal-markers—“From here to here, Daddy”—but we wind up not keeping score. There are no points, and no point sometimes to numbers. Before, I would introduce the fact of Finn’s diagnosis as ‘Trisomy-21.’ The dash and mathematic embellishment meant I didn’t have to say “Downs,” nor certainly “Mongoloid.” But now: 21, 47. There are numbers on the underside of the airliners that are currently taking off, and they mean as little to me.
Numbers suggest perpetuity. Also a constant countdown to something, nothing. A dwindling arithmetic.
Suede-footed, I bend a kick in Cayden’s direction and, as if there’s a cosmic time signature at play, the ball caroms mid-air while Finn laughs in the background, kicking his legs in an upwards swing. An orange-bellied plane takes off while the soccer ball pauses, and there’s both a temporary and permanent suspension.
Thom Hofman has a degree in creative writing, but he happens to be a zookeeper in the meantime. Penguins, specifically. He is ecstatically married to a wonderful woman and has two boys, whom he writes about on Daddy, Medium-Well. He’s pleased to meet you.