When he was about 4, he would get up very early and come into the bathroom to watch me get ready for work, while everyone else was still asleep. It was our special time. Sometimes he would ask me deep questions like “Why did God create flies?” but usually it was questions like "can a T-Rex knock down our wood fence?" "What about a brick wall?" What about a bigger brick wall?” "How about a steel wall?" He always played so long and hard that he usually just laid down and fell asleep, no matter where he was. That was usually around 7 pm every evening. He never was a kid that I had to threaten in order to get him to go to bed. He almost always went to bed voluntarily, even when he was a teenager.
We moved to Mustang in December 1995 when Jake was in kindergarten and Jade was in first grade. They had only been in Norman schools for a semester, so the transition was fairly easy for them. Jake was embarrassed that he didn’t have a mom that lived at home with him, though. He even fibbed about it to classmates at first. I explained to him that a lot of kids only live with one parent. He got more comfortable with it as the years past. He hated going to daycare, which was another big change from living at home with two parents. He hated daycare so bad that he escaped once and was halfway down Robinson Street in Norman before they caught up with him. Another time, he tried to throw a chair through a window to break out of the LaPetite in Mustang. Jade never liked daycare much either, but she tolerated it because she was perseverant and knew that's where she had to go while I was at work. Jake, on the other hand, always expressed his emotions, regardless. Even after he was older, he would always lay down in the car whenever we passed LaPetite and he’d exclaim, “Arggghhhh, daycare!” Jake would ALWAYS tell you exactly what he thought or what was on his mind,... even if it wasn't what you wanted to hear.
Movies also played a big part in his passions. After he saw Jurassic Park when he was 3 1/2, he spent many an hour in the backyard digging for dinosaur bones with my screwdrivers. When he'd find a particularly hard patch of dirt, he assumed he'd found dinosaur bones and would dig the soft dirt from around it and brush the loose dirt away with my paintbrushes, just like in the movie. I always let him believe that they may indeed be dinosaur bones. Kids need fantasy and adventure in their lives. The real world sucks it out of them soon enough.
Living in Oklahoma, Jake was always interested in tornadoes. When he was small, he would watch the Wizard of Oz, but he would almost always fast-forward to the tornado sequence and watch it over and over. When Jake was in 2nd grade, he saw the movie Twister and was really impressed that guys could actually drive around and chase tornadoes. On a day when his class had to tell what they wanted to be when they grew up, Jake announced to the class that he wanted to be a "storm chaser." The kids laughed. His classmates didn't know it but their laughter hurt his feelings. He came home and told me how it hurt.
When he was in 1st and 2nd grade, the Goosebumps books were popular. Then there was a Goosebumps TV show. A couple of episodes dealt with a Charlie McCarthy type dummy named “Slappy.” Slappy was evil and did mean things. In one of the episodes, Slappy finally ran away after wreaking havoc on some unsuspecting kids. Well, there was an old abandoned house down the road from where we lived and when I took Jade and Jake to daycare on my way to work, I told them that I had heard that Slappy was thought to be hiding out there. Of course, they said “nuh uh!” but you could tell that they weren’t quite sure. So, the house became known as “the dummy house.” They knew that Slappy wasn’t real, but we played it up for years. We’d drive by the dummy house and one of them would gasp, “did you see that?” “Up in the window, I swear I saw a dummy looking out of that second story window.” We got a lot of mileage and laughs out of ole Slappy.
One of the traits that I admired most about Jake is that he always had a soft heart for kids who didn't have anyone to play with or those who were picked on by bullies. In 3rd grade, he came home and said "Dad, I played with two kids at recess that didn't have anyone to play with. No one ever plays with them and I feel sorry for them. And they're really nice and funny once you get to know them, Dad." THAT was the kind of sensitivity he had. I always praised him for that. He kept that trait up until the day he died. In going through his papers, I found various notes from friends. One note was from a girl in 8th grade who told him how much it meant to her that Jake was her friend. She said that when she first came to that school, he was the first person to come up, introduce himself and welcome her.
Jake went into puberty while still in elementary school (which is tough on a kid emotionally), so he suddenly got stronger than most of his classmates. There were two classmates who had the reputation for being obnoxious bullies and would say rude or ugly things to smaller kids. They use to say mean things to Jake because he had been one of the shorter kids in his class. (Jake never told me he had been picked on until many years later.) After Jake hit puberty and his voice changed, these two cocky kids were still dishing out terror, but they were unsure about Jake now that he was bigger. In 6th grade, Jake arm wrestled one of them and beat him quickly. The kid got wide-eyed and said," Wow, you're really strong! You can be one of us, now!" Jake told them with a little anger in his voice, "No way, I'm NEVER going to be like you!" I was never more proud of Jake. Since Jake's death, I've had three boys tell me that Jake became their friend in 6th or 7th grade when he told bullies to "back off" picking on them. And the bullies would back off because Jake was not shy about taking it outside (or inside for that matter)! He had a certain boldness about him that was one of his greatest traits, but his boldness also got him into trouble sometimes. Regardless, Jake never lost that passion to protect weaker people from bullies, because he remembered what it felt like. He never really feared much after he got older, which scared me sometimes. I wanted him to have a healthy respect for dangerous things and fear them, but that motto “NO FEAR” seemed to be written for him……with one exception. The one fear he never got over was the fear of SPIDERS. He wasn’t bothered by any other type of flying bug or creepy crawly, but whenever he came across a spider, he’d scream like a little girl! If he saw a spider in the bathtub, he'd always get me or his sister to go kill it.
My ABSOLUTE MOST PRECIOUS MEMORY of Jake is how he would always kiss me "bye" and tell me he loved me. And I'm not talking about a six year old kid. It was a ritual he followed his entire life. He had just turned 14 and he was still doing it up. Further, it didn't matter who was watching or who was with him. He was not embarrassed by it. When I took Jake to a school dance and pulled up in front of 50 of his classmates, he would still lean over, kiss me and say "I love you, Dad." Most kids that age want you to let them out of the vehicle a block away, so none of their friends will see. They DEFINITELY don't want to kiss their parents "bye" in front of their peers. But Jake didn't care what anyone thought. That boldness in him would always shine through. I will hold that precious memory of him in my heart forever.