Leo’s parents have not yet mastered the use of their computer to video chat, so he connects with them the old-fashioned way: he calls them. He waits until Franny is busy in the kitchen, steps outside in the chilly December air, protecting her from the loudness of his parents’ voices and their television that will be blaring in the background.
“Hi Mom.” It’s always his mother who answers the phone. “Who is that?” he hears his father shout. “It’s Leo,” his mother says, before she’s even said hello back. The phone line crackles, buzzes, then his father is on the extension.
“Merry Christmas, Dad.”
“When are you coming over?” his father shouts. It’s not an angry shout. It’s simply that his father has a binary volume setting. He either shouts or is silent.
“When the pandemic is over, when we’re all vaccinated, Dad. Like I’ve told you a million times.”
“Your mom needs some help shoveling snow. Her knee’s still not right.”
Leo takes a deep breath. “Mom, you’re not out there shoveling, are you?”
“Well, it needs to be done, and your dad refuses to help.” This goes on for a while, his parents accusing one another or him, Leo trying to offer solutions, until he hears Franny call his name.
“Mom, Dad, I have to go. Franny has breakfast ready. I just wanted to say merry Christmas. I love you both.” It takes a few more rounds to extricate himself, and he knows Franny will be growing annoyed.
When he finally makes it back inside, he discovers he’s wrong. Franny’s not annoyed at all. She grabs him, hugs him.
“Thank you for growing up different than you were raised,” she says.
Leo laughs. “You’re welcome, I guess.”