The buzzer always startled him. This time was no different. Alone and lost in thought, he sat with his fingers resting lightly on the home row when it sounded.
“Shit that’s loud,” he cursed, hoping to keep his man card after the fright.
The words not coming, he decided to go ahead and do now what had to be done at some point or another. The hardwood floor reminded him that he had been standing all day; the carpet, that he needed to vacuum. Pulling open the dryer, he hoped no socks would fall into the below washer as he removed the ball of clothes.
Back in the living room, he pulled his work clothes out first. Once folded, he laid them on the couch. Looking into the hamper, he saw her clothes.
At first he chuckled, never ceasing to be amazed by the sight of how small they are. Then he laughed at the memory of how excited she gets when putting them on herself.
Hating that he was laughing at memories, he didn’t laugh again for a while.
She was off in her corner, by her dollhouse and playing some such game of make believe. He figured there was a monster involved. There was always a monster.
“Ahhhh! A monster!” she said, running to where he was in the kitchen. “A monster daddy! Help! Help Strawberry Shortcake and Lemon Meringue! Help daddy!”
“You know I’m cooking H-. Can I help later?” he asked her.
“Okay,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “Can I look? Can I see what you’re cooking?”
“Sure- watch it, watch it! You’ll knock the utensil off the counter if you’re not careful,” he warned.
“Me tensil?” she asked.
“No, utensil,” he replied.
“Me tensil?” she pressed harder.
“Yoo-tensil,” he answered in kind.
“Me tensil?” she said with uncommon determination.
“No. Yoo-ten,” he stopped.
“Yoo-,” he stopped again.
“Yoo-,” he was embarrased.
Victory at last.
“All right H-, tonight’s going to be a bit different. I’m going to cook you some broccoli, which you’ll eat here, then we’ll go to the restaurant.”
“No, I feel like a burrito, so no McDonald’s today.”
“What’s this daddy?”
“Oh, yes, that came in the mail yesterday.”
“Can you open it, please?”
“Sure, just give me a second to start your broccoli. Okay, it’s open. Careful, careful! You don’t know if it’s breakable.”
“Can you open this card?”
“Sure. Here’s what it says, ‘What’s sweeter than a blueberry?…a you-berry! Happy Valentine’s day. Love, Grandma and Pops.'”
“It’s my Valentine’s Day?”
“Huh? Oh. No. Well…yes. I mean, that’s adorable.”
“All aboard!” he yelled in his best train conductor voice. She loved riding on the front of the shopping cart as they made their way through the grocery store.
“All aboard!” she mimicked, smiling and grabbing hold. “Faster daddy!”
It was Wednesday night. They were buying enough supplies to last them for the coming week. Racing through the produce section, skipping past the deli on the right, and taking a hard left with a little too much speed, they made it to the back of the store in record time, narrowly avoiding a collision with the lobster tank.
“Let’s see. What do we need H-? I think we need lunch meat for my lunches, bread-”
“Milk, daddy? We need milk, right daddy?”
“That’s right, but that’s all the way on the other side. What else do we need before then?”
“Yep, cereal,” he answered.
Passing the Pepsi shrine, he turned down the breakfast aisle. They were alone. With one big shove he jumped onto the back of the cart as they cruised towards the off-brand bags.
Beaming with joy, she could only ask, “What are you doing, daddy? What are you doing?”
“Oh, just having fun. Errrrrrt!” he sounded, halting prematurely at the sight of pancake mix. “I think we need pancake mix too.”
“Yep. What’s this? Look here H-. It says we can make 130 pancakes out of just this one bag. That’s a lot of pancakes, huh?”
“A lot of pancakes?”
“Yes, a lot of pancakes. Can you eat 130 pancakes?”
“No, that’s silly,” she said, laughing.
“Yeah, me neither. Do you believe this bag has enough mix to make 130 pancakes?”
“What do you say we put Krusteaz to the test this weekend?”
“Your friends like pancakes right?”
“Yeah, your friends. What do you say we invite all of them over for breakfast on Saturday, and see if we can really make 130 pancakes?”
“My God, she’s almost four,” he realized suddenly. “My sister is only three years older than me, and sometimes that seems like too much of an age difference.”
“Even if there was a bun in the oven today,” he resumed, “her sibling would be four and a half years younger. And there is no baking going on.”
In an instant his mind was burdened with memories from childhood. His sister was always there. Concerning his brother, if he had any memories from before Sam was born, he chalked them up to false-memories anyhow. He does remember his brother being born, though. He remembers it because, of all reasons, McDonald’s. Jerry–watching him for the day–took him to McDonald’s and the happy meal came with a Detroit Lion’s player’s trading card. It was awesome. (Sam turned out to be cool as well.)
All the pride and certainty that he felt about his parenting skill vanished upon full recognition of the result of his selfishness.
“It’s cut and dry. She’s going to miss out because of me. It’s as simple as that. Am I too picky? Too jaded? Too rational?” he asked himself, alone.
Then it hit him. He was out of his element. With the right woman, he may have been able to fake it ’til he made it regarding a traditional family. But now? Now a traditional family was as ethereal as the end of a rainbow. He knew he must acknowledge that.
“Done,” he acknowledged.
“Step two,” he recited, “Gather all the information.”
“Non-traditional family. How is that going to look? What can I learn from others as I try to start mine? And another thing,” he thought anxiously, “Why do I feel like I should keep this create-a-new-family desire away from public scrutiny? That’s gotta change.”
He always chuckled to himself on the mornings that he forgot to turn on the lights. Freshly shaved, he’d come out of the bathroom and see her eating in the dark.
She always answered “good” when asked her state of being, no matter the level of light, and this morning was no different. After breakfast she began playing with her dolls in her normal talkative way.
“Okay. I’m just going to brush my teeth and we’ll be ready to go,” he explained.
“Okay,” she responded.
As he turned the water off and reached for the towel he noticed she wasn’t talking anymore.
“Hey. You okay? How come you’re not talking anymore?” he asked, walking by her, still gathering everything together.
“I don’t want to brush my teeth daddy,” she confessed.
“Well, well, well,” he laughed. “And you might have gotten out of it if you didn’t say anything. Think about that for next time. For now, let’s go brush your teeth.”
Her small size leads you to believe that you know all there is to know about her.
You are correct to discern that she cries a lot, talks a lot, can’t do math, can’t read, eats an incredible amount of food considering her weight, plays with toys, likes to be tucked in at night, asks to have her hand held if she’s not being carried, places a frightening level of trust in adults, and sometimes has accidents.
You’re also correct if you guess that she can’t carry on a conversation which furthers any agenda, she has a surprising stubbornness, her fantasy world is repetitious, and very few of her actions are original. It is easy to see why people like her have lost their appeal. They require attention. They need help. They listen; they believe; they mimic; they obey; they break; they depend on others; they spill their milk regularly.
What you might not notice is that she can’t tell time. That’s right. She doesn’t know what time is. Not just what time of day it is, but she doesn’t have an awareness of time. Can you remember what life was like before you knew what time was? Probably not. But maybe you can remember something about life before you used an alarm clock to remind you that your life was so important that you must stop resting. Being around her–being around them–is the closest thing any of us will get to living without time again.
Without time 40 lbs never felt so light; repetitious stories never sounded so good; cleaning up spills never required less energy; soothing cries never seemed so desirable. Without time raising a child never seemed so natural.
First, please forgive me for not responding sooner. I was very moved by your letter, and fully intended to write you back that day. But, as you know, life got in the way. I’m sorry for that.
Skipping the weather chit-chat (face already reminds me daily that it has been sunny), I will get right to it. Regarding why I am making you work so hard these days, I think I know. You asked about the reason that I made you work so hard of late. You asked if I was running from “responsibility” or “failure”. With certainty I can tell you “No”.
I do think that I have discovered the reason that I am putting you through this situation, however. Do you remember doing the mediation before the divorce? There was a lot of talk about money and how much I had to pay her. Do you remember the part about how each tax season we’d review our incomes to see if the “Memorandum of Understanding” needed to be adjusted based on how much money she and I were making? I actually feel a bit silly admitting this, silly because I’m sure I can just ask a friend what the real answer is, but if I remember right, the rules to the divorce included that if I became a millionaire, I would have to pay her more than I already do. Well, here’s the thing. I don’t want to pay her more. So it’s shit jobs with shittier salaries for now.
It probably doesn’t make sense to you two, my friends, but I think for these next couple of years I’d rather risk ruining our relationship–yours and mine–than hear another man order me to pay her more money.
I know you’re tired. Believe me when I say I am more than aware that I am the reason you both feel and are tired. I am sorry about that. On the bright side, we’ve made it through one year, and that means only a few more years until this burden is lifted. And you know how time flies. Maybe I’ll even call up my lawyer friend and find out that I’m wrong about the situation.
In any case, thank you for not giving up on me. I will owe you both a lot when all this has passed.
In the classic children’s book A Fly Went By, Mike McClintock harnesses the The Great War’s lesson and with perfect eloquence tells a story that frees children from fear. With Fritz Siebel’s poignant illustrations as the glue holding a child’s gaze, McClintock’s repetitious prose etches its way into a young listener’s mind. The story is simple: a boy sees a fly go by, and asks him, “Why?” We soon find out that the fly ran from the frog. But the frog isn’t chasing the fly; he “ran from the cat, who ran from the dog.” The boy continues his search for the thing behind all the running, and in perfect metaphor to life, it turns out that a man was the first to run, and he ran from sounds of unknown origin. The chain reaction resulting in all the characters running in fear thus began. We soon discover, though, that these sounds were caused by “a sheep with an old tin can.”
Like any toddler whose parents read this book to them, apparently I had the big finale memorized before I knew how to read. It wasn’t until after college, though, that in reading the book to a nephew I realized the lesson that stamped itself on my person. Have no fear. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Be brave. These sentiments and more are captured within McClintock’s fun little book. It is a sure winner for parents who are looking for ways to teach their children a timeless truth–without the children knowing class is in session. A life without fear is a life worth living and a gift worth giving. Give children freedom from fear. Share with them the story of a boy who “sat by the lake, and looked at the sky.”
McClintock, Marshall, and Fritz Siebel. A Fly Went by. [New York]: Beginner, 1958. Print.
“Merry Christmas,” he said, walking into her room.
“Daddy,” she began, “you know what? I heard Santa last night.”
“I did, too,” he confirmed. “Let’s go see if he brought any presents.”
She led the way to the tree and let out a giggle before she reported her findings.
“I wanna open this one,” she said, pointing to the biggest present.
“Actually, it’s better if we start with the gifts from relatives. Then you can open the gifts from Santa. Is that a deal?” he offered.
“Deal,” she agreed.
“Okay then. Let’s start with Uncle Sam’s gift. What do you think he gave you?” he asked.
She struggled with the bow until, at last, it relented, at which point she lifted the heavier than expected box. She sensed a liquid inside, and like any American child, guessed with more excitement than adults have the capacity to fake, “Is it…wah-der?!”
“Yes child, it’s water. The one thing in life you’ll never be without due to your ‘kul-cherr and hair-i-tij’. Sam waited all year to surprise you with this once in a lifetime gift,” he laughed to himself, head shaking.
“I don’t know,” he answered, “why don’t you open it and find out?”