I’ve had enough
“Jayson-Kandace, we miss you.”
My wife and I are a packaged deal, in the eyes of our god-children. We’ve watched them grow up and despite the fact that we are two very different human beings, they refuse to separate us. The boy, a seven-year-old sweetheart, loves to play with trains, ride his scooter, and ignore his little sister. The girl, just a year younger, is a ball of energy, a princess, and the second-coming of Simone Biles. One of my biggest regrets in life was teaching her how to do a cartwheel.
“Jayson-Kandace, look what I can do,” she said. Without warning, she bent backward into a shape that would cripple someone of my age and stature. Her feet and hands were both touching the floor, while her spine spun around like the refresh icon on a browser window. Peeking between her legs, I could see her eyes staring back at me, and a toothless grin on her face. I shot a look to my wife — one of shock and amazement.
“See.” She held the position until she received our approval. We clapped along while I held off the phantom pain that shot up my back. What she was doing was beyond my comprehension.
“Wow, that’s cool. Where’d you learn that?” I responded. I assumed that she’d seen the move on TV. No doubt, from a program on elementary school contortionists.
“I don’t know. I just thought of it. Jayson-Kandace! Do you know how to do a cartwheel?”
The conversation went downhill from there. Kandace did not but I did.
“Show me.” I should have seen it coming. I turned my body to my left and placed my feet one behind the other. Propelling my weight forward until my hands touched the ground, I used my momentum to swing my short and stocky legs into the air and back down onto the ground.
Seeing how impressed she was, I did it again. And, again. Before you know it she was mimicking my movements and we were doing consecutive cartwheels, in tandem, down her busy Bed-Stuy block. I imagined the thoughts of the neighbors.
I’ve never seen a fat man move like that.
So agile, almost cat-like.
He must have good insurance.
I taught her one move and days later, she was doing backflips on concrete. While I fear that she’ll hurt herself, I take pride in knowing that I helped shape a future Olympian.
Who’s that in the crowd?
Oh yes, that’s her godfather.
Ah, rumor has it that he taught her how to do a cartwheel and can be credited with shaping her gymnastics career.
Indeed, what a great man! I’m sure she’ll remember to thank her Uncle Jayson for all that he’s done.
I’d be informed that the Olympic announcers were discussing my contributions, and as the camera panned over to my wife and me, I’d wave like the Queen of England on field trips to see her peons.
Except, she never calls me “Uncle Jayson.” Neither of my godchildren do and it secretly eats away at me. It’s always Jayson-Kandace this or Jayson-Kandace that. I don’t even get my own name, let alone a title. But, oh how I crave that title. I blame her father; my best friend, a man that I’ve known for most of my life, and the best father that I know. He had the audacity to call me by my first name and the kids followed. However, it’s not all on him. I didn’t press the issue, nor did I require them to call me Uncle Jayson. And, if I were to choose a title that would not be my first choice. Lord Jones Supreme has a much better ring to it. Nevertheless, it makes me think about how children form language and my need to shape how my own children view me, when the time comes.
No, you can call me Lord Father Supreme.
Listen, you were one condom away from not existing, so the least you could do is show some respect.
That’s how I imagine the conversation going.
Legend has it that my first word was my mother’s name. I was six months old when I began walking and talking. Most won’t believe it but they weren’t there, so who cares? Each member of my family, who was around at the time, has the same story: Jayson was some kind of wunderkind. It came as no surprise that my grandmother nearly dropped me on my first day out of the hospital. Sitting in the backseat of the getaway car, she held me in her arms like one would hold out bread on a food line. Here, do you want it? It’s fresh. She whistled a little ditty. What it was, I’ll never remember, because again, I was a baby. Regardless of the tune, I assume that it was off-pitch and it was at least a decade before auto-tune became part of our daily lives. Staring into my eyes, and I into hers, I pursed my lips and tried my best to correct her abhorrent sound-making. Her arms fell limp, collapsing onto her outstretched knees, as did I. The creak of her decrepit joints broke my two-inch fall. Wunderkind.
It came as no surprise that it took me only a few months to master the language. My mother constantly spoke to me and brought me close to her face for me to see how she formed the words with her mouth. I’ve never been told the circumstances of our first real conversation. I don’t know where we were or what we were doing, but I do know that my first utterance of anything past babble, sent shockwaves through my mother’s body.
“Sathy,” I said in a breathy and highly lisped voice.
“What?” my mother repeated.
“Sa-thy.” My mother’s name is Sandy but I got an “A” for effort. What six-month-old child do you know that speaks? I was an innovator. A genius. A legend. However, I was also annoying. As anyone who has been around talking children can attest, once they start, they don’t stop. And, I never stopped.
I talked to everyone and did my best with all of their names.
My uncle Chris was “Tiff.” My uncle Dalton, Jr. was “Juwa,” and my Aunt Diana’s name was too difficult to pronounce, so I called her “Dee-Dee.” At the time, everyone was so impressed that I could speak, that they didn’t dare to correct me. No one demanded to be Uncle this or Aunt that. In fact, I had no idea that it was an issue until a family friend mentioned it.
“Jay, why do you call your mother ‘Sandy’?” he asked. “You should be calling her ‘Mom’.”
“But Sandy’s her name.” I was five at the time and confused. “Mom isn’t her name.”
“But, you call your grandmother ‘Grandma’ so why is this different?”
“Grandma is her name to me.” My logic was faulty but I was beginning to see his point. I didn’t call my mother anything but “Sandy,” until I was a teenager. It’s as if I woke up and realized that it was disrespectful. Sandy was still her name but “Mom” or “Mommy” was her title.
Everyone else stayed the same, however. My Uncle Chris graduated to Chris, thanks to my dwindling lisp. My Uncle Dalton, Jr. was just Junior and my Aunt Dianna got to keep her nickname of Dee-Dee. A significant turning point was when I learned that my Aunty Pearl wasn’t my aunt at all. In Grenada, as is the custom in most Black cultures, children call older adults Aunt or Uncle out of respect. But, when my mom told me that Aunty Pearl wasn’t her aunt and was just an old cousin, I refused to give her a title.
“So, why should I call her aunt?” I recall my five-year-old self saying. “If she’s just a cousin, why can’t we just call her by her name?”
“Well, she’s older, Jay,” my mother explained. “We do it out of respect.”
“But, I don’t respect her. I barely know her.” I was a stickler for the truth.
I tried showing her respect years later, on a bus. She got on a few stops after I did and having not seen her in years, I made my way over to greet her.
“Aunty Pearl! Aunty Pearl!” I yelled, just enough to get her attention, but not enough to be the rude kid on the bus.
She looked me in the eyes and immediately looked away. Feeling slighted, I didn’t speak to her for years. When we did meet again, she had the audacity to cheerily greet me, as if our encounter on the bus didn’t happen.
“Hi, Jayson!” She smiled as if genuinely happy to see me, but I could see through her performance.
Blithely, I replied, “Pearl.” Our eyes locked once again, reminiscent of that day on the B46 bus, before I abruptly turned, and walked away, flapping my trench coat for good measure. I’ve never owned a trench coat, but I won’t be told that our exchange went differently.
We recently celebrated our godson’s birthday. It’s amazing and scary how quickly time has passed. The day was perfect. We played some games, raced on scooters (well, I did my best to keep up with them on foot), and we got all the hugs that we could ever want. Sometime after all the singing, and cake devouring, they each came up to my wife and I, gave us hugs, and said
“Jayson-Kandace, I love you.” So, how could I get tripped up about not having a title? How could I possibly care, that I don’t even get my own name, separate from my wife? I know that they love me and that’s all that matters.
“But, who do you love the most?” I asked with a slight chuckle. I just had to know.
“Kandace!” they replied in unison.
Screw these kids.