When your daughter wants a cup of cocoa at bedtime
You don’t just make her a cup of cocoa.
You pull up the tall red metal stool to the kitchen counter so when she perches on it she can reach and you get out the yellow Fry’s cocoa tin, the sugar bowl, the salt shaker, the quart of milk and the boiling water and you explain to her that you will put two spoons of cocoa, two spoons of sugar and just a sprinkle of salt into her mug and she will have to stir thoroughly so all the different colours and textures blend into one brown powder and then you add just a few drops of milk and tell her to blend it all till it’s creamy smooth and then she watches as you slowly add the boiling water almost to the top of the cup and she stirs it ever so gently so as not to burn herself and you tell her she did it just right.
When you love your wife
You don’t just tell her you love her.
You paint “Mary loves Al” in a huge heart with arrows through it on one wall during that spring break when you decide to surprise her with a mustard-yellow ketchup-red redo of your bedroom and you paint “Mary loves Al” in a gigantic heart with arrows through it across the front of the three-bedroom bungalow you share with her and you paint “Mary loves Al” in a small heart hidden under the mattress on the built-in bed frame and no one sees it till it’s time for you to move into a seniors’ apartment together.
When your children want you to read a bedtime story
You don’t just read a story.
You create bossy voices and grouchy voices and high squeaky lady voices and belligerent child voices so the old-fashioned poems about knights and nannies become real and the sound of you reading is so clear that when your child grows up and reads these lines to a tiny baby boy in her care your voice comes through her mouth and she starts to cry as the wide-eyed infant in her arms gazes up at her and she has to put the book down and let her tears drop quietly while the baby pats her back and looks over her shoulder and beyond.
When someone in your family has a birthday
You don’t just say happy birthday.
You phone that person first thing in the morning even though they might want to sleep in or they might be at work or they might not be taking calls and you get their voicemail and you sing happy birthday while you play the ukulele and you always finish with tiddly pom.
When you sponsor a foster child in another country
You don’t just send a cheque.
You write monthly letters and you send family photographs and you buy a plane ticket to the Honduras to visit the child and their family and you travel alone because nobody else is brave enough to go with you and three days before you die you still try to write a letter but can only scratch the date at the top of the lined paper on your desk.
When your lips are dry
You don’t just apply Chapstick.
You ask your wife for some lipkissy and when she finds a tube you smooth it on your lips and then ask for a little kiss and she always gives one.
When you are taken for an evening stroll in your wheelchair
You don’t just sit passively in your wheelchair.
You comment on the smooth ride and the flickering leaf shadows you notice along the new walking path by your personal care home and you ask what the solid brick building is that you see across the lawn and when you are told that it used to be the student nurses’ residence at the mental health centre you exclaim “the stupid nurses?” and when the words are clarified for you there is much laughter before you are taken back to your room on that final Tuesday evening in July.
When it’s time for dessert
You don’t just eat dessert.
You clean your plate because that is what your mom taught you to do and you have a cup of tea and if dessert is simple vanilla ice cream you put a maraschino cherry on top.
Or maybe two.
In memory of Dad.