You can't just order up a perfect day. A perfect day is a winged creature with a mind of its own.
The first day of May had been circled on my desk calendar for months. I volunteered to take the day off from work to take my 10-year-old son to a track meet; my wife pulled this duty last year, so it was my turn.
I had a hunch there might be drama at the track. My older son, Mr. Competitive, has been know to tie himself into an emotional knot before a big competition. He once told me somewhat dejectedly that he'd "lost" a cross-country race, and I later discovered that he came in second in a field of about 50.
The morning of May 1 arrived, though, and he seemed poised and calm. We were the first people to arrive at the track, and I think that helped him keep his nerves in check.
I watched in the shade of the press box at Red Bank High School as the morning unfolded. He got ribbons in his two events -- long jump and 400 meters -- but he didn't win either one.
When we reunited after the meet, I congratulated him with a hug and handed him a grape Powerade. I asked if he felt good about his effort.
"Yes, Daddy," he said. "I think I did my best. I couldn't have run any faster or jumped any farther."
I felt my spirits lift. The older you get, the more you realize that resiliency is a more durable life skill than ambition.
We went to lunch, and then I took him to a friend's house for a play date. When you're a 10-year-old boy and one of your best friends is a 10-year-old girl with pigtails and a backyard swimming pool, life is good. When we arrived, she dropped out of a tree where she had been watching for us and ran beside the car up a winding driveway to the front door.
From there, I swung by my younger son's preschool to pick him up early. Such is the life of a second child that merely getting to leave school early is cause for jubilation.
Before I could even get my car parked, he bolted toward me.
"Come inside, Daddy" he beckoned, motioning me to the front door of his school. Inside, he grabbed his lunch box, unzipped the top and emptied the contents out on a countertop. Out toppled a set of watercolors, some pencils and a Rice Krispies treat.
"Wow," I said, rubbing his blond mop of hair. "Who gave you this stuff, Bob-a-doo."
"My teacher," he said. "She said it was because I was so helpful all year."
That didn't surprise me. This is a 5-year-old kid who sometimes sweeps the deck, takes out the trash and does the dishes at home while nobody is looking.
I scooped him up and gave him a hug.
"I'm so proud of you," I said, realizing that with his work ethic he will someday be a manager's dream.
Then we went home and spent 30 minutes hitting a tennis ball in the driveway.
Later that night, as I sat keeping score in the dugout, my older son pitched his first complete game in baseball and had the game-winning hit. After the game, he was glowing, for the first time realizing that the path to victory is focused relaxation.
When I put the boys to bed that night, I brushed aside their bangs and kissed each one on the forehead.
Then, I backed out and closed the door on my practically perfect day -- an unexpected gift from the maker of light.
Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...