Riley: (proudly showing his uncle Joe the Lego building he made) “And this is the getaway boat, and this is the extra room, and this wall is a little taller because it’s part castle.”
Joe: “Cool! Where’s the cannon?”
Riley: “Oh, it’s right here, in this wall.”
Me: “How did you know it would have a cannon?”
Joe: (disbelieving) “You’ve gotta have a cannon.”


Riley: “Mom? Can I play with your thing, the plastic thing you have? The plastic thing that when you turn it on it goes bmmmmmm?”


Me: “Hey! Dylan, did you track this mud into the house?”
Dylan: “Um. Um. Um. If my shoes did accidentally make that dirt but they didn’t mean to, would you be mad at me?”


Dylan: (shyly, after I kiss him goodnight) “The baby whistlepig … the baby whistlepig loves the mommy whistlepig.”


Dylan: “Remember a long long time ago when Daddy made pancakes and I got to pour the syrup?”
Me: “You mean yesterday?”
Dylan. “Yeah. Also tomorrow I’m going to ride the bus with Riley to school because I’m going to be in kindergarten!”
Me: “You mean next fall?”
Dylan: “Yeah.”


Riley: (rolling a ball across the table and into the toy basket) “This one had a little fun before he went away.”

Riley: (picking up the living room, one hand full of toys) “Look at this hand! This hand is like a party.”


Dylan: “Can I have a dolphin pancake?”
Me: “A pancake cut into a dolphin shape?”
Dylan: “No! A pancake made out of real dolphin.”
Me: “Gross.”
Dylan: (rubbing his belly dramatically and smacking his lips) “MMMM. DOLPHIN. TASTES LIKE FIN.”


Riley: (examining my fresh-from-the-laundry bra) “I guess girl underwear is just really different.”
Dylan: “It looks like two Easter eggs!”
Riley: (doubtfully) “Ostrich eggs, maybe.”


Riley: “Do kids go to jail?”
Me: “Well, no.”
Riley: “Okay.”
Me: “But why do you ask?”
Riley: “No reason.”


Riley: (snuggling with his ratty blue blanket he’s had since birth) “I just love my blanket so, so much.”
Me: “I know you do, sweetie.”
Riley: “Will I have it forever?”
Me: “You’ll have it as long as you want it.”
Riley: “What if it rips?”
Me: “We’ll fix it.”
Riley: “I know it doesn’t look like it used to. But it’s like that book, right? About the rabbit? It’s real now, isn’t it? And it doesn’t mind looking like this?”
Me: “That’s right. Because you love it so much.”
Riley: (burying his face in the cloth) “It’s real for always.”

A long time ago, maybe twenty years or more, I was walking around Northwest Portland when I spotted the cartoonist John Callahan. I was hugely thrilled to see him — I’d been a longtime fan of his comics, and I instantly recognized him from the author photos I’d seen in his books — but I was too shy to say anything. All I could do was stare. It was mute, slightly star-struck admiration on my part, but I’m sure it looked like something else to him. He was in a wheelchair, after all, and there I was gawking at him like he’d probably been gawked at a thousand times before. He caught my eye as he rolled past, with a mild expression of acknowledgment. Like, yeah, I see you looking at me. I berated myself afterwards for not saying anything, but it was too late.

I was thinking about that encounter a couple weeks ago because I was re-reading his memoir, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot. It is, among other things, the story of how he came to be a quadriplegic, a recovering alcoholic, and the sort of wonderfully twisted politically incorrect bastard who produced comics like these:

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It occurred to me that he probably had a fairly strong online presence these days, and that I should look him up and send him a message. Just … you know, go ahead and say what I should have said all those years ago, but from behind the social comfort of a computer screen this time. Tell him I’ve always admired his humor, his honesty, his tenacity. Fanmail!

I Googled his name and the second link was his Wikipedia entry. John Michael Callahan (cartoonist). February 5, 1951, Portland, Oregon – July 24, 2010.

Wait, I thought. What’s that second — oh. Oh, goddamnit.

I don’t have a point to this story, really, except to say I wish more than ever that I’d have stopped and said hello back on that crowded Portland street. Maybe he wouldn’t have appreciated it, hell, maybe he hated being approached by fans, but I bet he’d have liked hearing some random gushing praise more than being silently stared at.

But also it makes me think how little it takes to tell someone that you appreciate them, and how meaningful it can be. I remember when I left my last job how I got a flurry of sincere, complimentary emails from people who had never given me feedback before, despite the fact that I’d worked with some of them for eight years. It wasn’t until I quit that I actually received the praise I’d been aching for all along. (But did I ever tell them I thought they were doing a good job? I’m not sure I did.)

I tend to be self-conscious and withdrawn and I have a difficult time opening up to people and saying things like, “I like what you do.” Or “I think you’re amazing.” I need to work on this. I want more of it in my own life and I want to give it to others.

RIP, John Callahan. I really like what you did.

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