You won't sit on my shoulders

I’ve put my neck out. Or not my neck. It’s below my neck. Between my shoulder blades. I can’t work out exactly where because every time I raise an arm to reach over my shoulders to find the pain epicentre, or try to feed an arm up from underneath, I yelp. It’s sore. I’m stiff. I have to turn my whole body round when I want to look left or right, tie my shoelaces blind.

It’s taken me a while to work out how it might have happened.

I was on a 14-hour flight from Chile recently. I thought it might have been that. I’m the wrong size for Economy, the wrong income bracket for Business. For the first three hours, before sneaking into a free seat by the emergency exit, I was wedged between elbows, legs and tray tables watching episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm. For the remaining 11 hours I had more space, more Curb, but far from ideal posture. It could have been that.

Back in Melbourne, to deal with the jet lag, I went for a bike ride. Unlikely, I thought, but it could have been that. A freak cycling muscle thing. 

I woke against my will at 4am on Saturday and went to the gym. Despite them being called AnyTime Fitness, and encouraging weird workout hours on their flyers, I was the only one there. I did some weights and core exercises – pretty light loads, really, but maybe enough to pull a muscle or two.

On Sunday, I spent the day with my kids. I'd missed them terribly when I was away, hated being at such a remove. Every time I was on the metro and saw people with their South American kids I thought: I have kids too. They’re in another continent. I’m here. I don’t like that. If I had the choice that just wouldn’t happen. I want to make the most of the time I have with them. Anything could have happened while I was elsewhere, and something did. 

They were in a car crash – my wife’s fault, by her own admission.

I'd just been telling her about the driving in Lima, where I'd spent the weekend, how bonkers it was, how amazing that I didn't see any crashes.

"A car smashed into the side of us on the way to the supermarket," she said. "Everyone’s OK. No-one's been injured. The boys are a bit shaken up though. And it's going to cost a bit of money." 

While we were out on Sunday my eldest asked if he could go on my shoulders. I said he could. I’ve not carried him on my shoulders for some time because he’s getting pretty heavy, although I lift my younger and lighter son whenever possible.

That disparity doesn’t go down well. Things have to be the same or they’re unfair: it’s pretty simple. I brought them back identical gifts from Chile. Matching teddies. Matching key rings. Anything else would be asking for trouble.

I lifted him up, tried not to groan under his weight, and continued walking along the bike path we were on. And it felt good. I knew he was happy, and that I’d been away, and that being with him, enjoying our time together, was imperative.

"I wont be able to do this much longer," I said. "You’re getting so heavy."

We stopped so he could reach a branch and pull off some seeds. Then we stopped again so I could spin him round.

I wanted to put him down, but didn't. When we got to the car with its smashed-in side door, I lifted him awkwardly across my head, onto my shoulder, put him down. 

It didn't hurt at the time but I think, on reflection, that was it. We’ve reached a point I didn’t even know I was dreading, a rite of passage for us both – he’s too heavy, I’m too frail. My days of lifting him are over.