Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Car Seat #GBE2

Peeking out from below the unfamiliar car in the driveway of Best Dad Evar’s suburban home, we see one grown-up foot. The foot flexes on top of weeds that have found a permanent home in the cracks that run unevenly across the cement. There is a grunt and a curse. Then another curse.
“Where the fuck does this thing go?” Best Dad Evar scowls at a latch thingy.
“Having trouble with that car seat, Best Dad Evar?” The narrator asks with a drip of sarcasm.
“Yes!” His yell reverberates inside the small, crisp vehicle (all the windows are closed and only the rear passenger door is open). “Well, I’m sure I’ll figure it out.”

“There’s a hook back there for that latch, isn’t there?” the narrator asks helpfully.
“Where...?” Best Dad asks, looking around the entire backseat frantically.
“Right there on the back of the seat.” The narrator says, slightly impatiently.
“Wh-? Oh.” Now Best Dad looks completely sheepish. “I didn’t see that there.” He peers at the icon on the back of the seat. It’s an anchor with a cars eat next to it. Next to the icon is a metal bar that’s just the right size. He latches the hook into place, then goes to work threading the seat belt through the seat. He looks at the receiving end of seat belt.
“This is nice.” Best Dad says. “There’s only one receiving seat belt latch.”
“Why do you sound so relieved?” the narrator replies.
“Usually there are two. Both my car and my wife’s have two, right next to each other. So instead of just latching it in, I have to use the process of elimination to find the right one. You know, try the male end of the belt into the first female receiver. ‘Nope. Guess it’s the other one.’”
“Yeah, but that just takes an extra second, doesn’t it?”
Best Dad rolls his eyes and chooses to ignore the narrator’s biting question. “Now let’s see if this car has that zipper sound that means the seat belt’s going to lock into place.” He extends the belt as far as it will go. Yes indeedy, the belt lets out a pleasing zipper sound as it reaches the end of its length. Best Dad Sighs with relief.

“Don’t you read instructions, Best Dad?” the narrator asks skeptically, as Best Dad tugs on the belt to test it for tightness.
“Sometimes,” he responds, while raising his eyebrows, giving himself away. He obviously doubts himself.
“Never.” The narrator corrects him.
“No, no, no, not never!” he protests weakly. “Rarely?” he wonders.
“That’s closer to the truth.”
Now Best Dad is tugging strongly on the top of the car seat itself to see how much play it has. It moves about an inch and a half before the locked belt stops its forward progress.
“Is it supposed to move that much?” the narrator asks, concerned for the safety of Best Dad’s littlest one.
“Yeah, that much play is normal.”
“Is that what the manual says?”
“No, that’s what my judgment says.”
“What about your wife’s judgment?”
Best Dad is sheepish again. “She’d put her entire body weight into tightening that belt until it didn’t move a millimeter.” But he perks up. “You know what, though, it’s not her car, it’s mine and I’m driving the kids today. So it’s my judgment that matters this time.”

“Well, now, it’s not your car, is it?” the narrator scolds.
“No, not literally. This is the car I was telling you about, the one I’m babysitting for my brother.”
“It’s very nice.”
“Yes, well, it’s new.” Best Dad still sounds completely unimpressed.
“It’s not just new, it’s newfangled.” The narrator is at the opposite end of the impressed spectrum.
“Yeah, one of those all electric jobs.” Best Dad says with a smirk.
“I thought this car would appeal to your environmentalist streak.”
“I’m sure it will impress me. Once I figure out how to turn the damn thing on!” As usual, Best Dad is nonplussed and annoyed.

“Didn’t your brother give you the keys?”
“’It doesn’t come with keys,’ he tells me. Just this remote thingy.” Best Dad holds up a palm-sized black electronic gadget. He looks at it disgustedly. “What if I just-“
“Start pressing buttons?” the narrator is concerned.
“Naaah, I wouldn’t-” Best Dad says with that shrug that says, ‘yeah, I would’.
“You wouldn’t?” the narrator interrupts doubtfully. “Mr. ‘Doesn’t read the directions’?”
“Well, this one looks like an on-off button. It’s got the right icon.” Suddenly the air conditioner hums to life in the small vehicle, and the video display on the console blips on like a television. “Progress!” Best Dad Evar shouts triumphantly.
“I don’t hear the motor running.”
“Hm. Yet another button to find. I think I remember my brother telling me about this one. It’s gotta be…. this one!”
“Are you sure?” the narrator asks doubtfully.
“No, but if I don’t try it, I have to spend twenty minutes locating the manual, so, here goes!”

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Dream #GBE2

Our hero, Best Dad Evar leans against the doorway into the living room of his in-laws’ home peering across the room. It is evening and the rest of the family is clearing dishes and food from the table. Best Dad’s oldest daughter sits at a dusty but well kept grand piano carefully picking out notes on the white keys and singing a tune quietly, while he watches her quietly. Though he’s in plain sight, his posture indicates that he’s melting into the shadows, so as not to disturb the youngster. His eyes shine with approval despite the occasional, obvious sharp notes.
The narrator quietly interrupts his enjoyment of the moment. “Best Dad Evar, do you have a dream?”
“Do I dream? Of course I dream” Best Dad says with a smirk.
“No, I don’t mean the dreams you have at night. I mean a dream. Dream with a capital ’D’.”
“Oh, that kind of dream. Like my daughter’s dream to be a famous pianist and singer?” He looks at the child, still playing quite nicely and singing not quite in tune. “Yeah, I had a dream like that once.”
“Tell me about it.”
“I had a dream to be the next Jack Sikma.”
“Jack Sikma? Who’s that?”
“Well, in the late 1970’s and through the 1980’s, Jack Sikma was one of the top forwards in the National Basketball Association. He was six foot ten, had a very consistent shot and played well on the boards getting rebounds. When I was younger, I watched all the big sports, and I thought if there was any player that I could be like, it would be him.”

“So, Sikma was your favorite player?”
“No, no. My favorite player was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. So of course, I practiced my sky hook, too. But Jack Sikma was a white guy like me. He had a shot I could emulate and a rebounding and defensive style I could work towards. He wasn’t my idol, but he was my model.”
“There’s just one problem, Best Dad Evar.”
“I’m getting there. When I was twelve and thirteen years old, that dream seemed realistic. I had two uncles who were pretty tall. Nowhere near six foot ten, but still, there’s always that hope in the back of your mind that you’ll be the exception. Especially when you’re in the middle of puberty and everything’s changing.”
“And when you reached fourteen?” the narrator asks knowingly.
“Yeah, at fourteen, my teammates were starting to tower over me and I stopped growing at just short of five foot ten. Nothing close to Jack Sikma‘s height and size were in my genes.”
“And by sixteen?” the narrator prompts him further.
“At sixteen I found myself competing with the little, quick guys who were great ball-handlers and whose feet moved at lightning speed defensively. That just wasn’t my game at all. When I finally got a little playing time that year, I hurt my knee and spent the rest of the season in a flexible cast. The next year I decided to ‘get real’ and focus on my classes so I could get into a good college and I never played organized sports after that.”

Suddenly, there is a commotion at the piano. Best Dad’s younger daughter has asserted herself onto the piano bench and without asking has claimed her turn at the keys. She gleefully pounds the keys in a cacophony of sound that even a parent couldn’t love. Actually, a parent is very likely to become immediately annoyed, particularly due to the complete lack of manners displayed in the interruption. The older child reacts with a screechy, ear-splitting yell of “Get off!!” Best Dad rolls his eyes and strides over to avert a sibling meltdown. He sighs and tells the younger child she can only have a turn if she asks nicely. When she does so, he shrugs and asks the older child if she will allow the youngster to take a turn.
“I’ll give you a turn playing games on my phone,” he adds as incentive. The older child’s shoulders slump in defeat, but she agrees and slides off the bench.

Best Dad slinks back to the doorway and leans heavily against it again. He watches sadly as his older daughter accepts the electronic bribe and plops down on the sofa, now enthralled with mindless video games. The narrator continues, the random clanging of notes preventing the children from hearing him, “Haven’t you developed another dream since your passion to be the next Jack Sikma died?”
“A dream like that one? An all-consuming passion that leads to you dedicating your life to one single pursuit to the exclusion of all others?”
“Yes?” the narrator asks in a hopeful tone, knowing full well that the answer is a resounding “No!”
“Nope, since then I’ve had something else. I don’t know what to call them. Perhaps you could call them ‘pursuits’ or ‘interests’ or even ‘hobbies’. ‘Careers’ I’ve had, too, several of them. None of these interests or careers has ever felt as firmly rooted in my heart as that first one. I wanted to be a baseball statistician, an economist, a mortgage broker, and maybe a few other things. I’ve dedicated a few years to each of them, but they’ve risen to the level of a ‘dream’.”
“This is a running theme with you, Best Dad: a lack of loyalty to your dreams, ideas, pursuits, et cetera.”
“No argument here.” Best Dad says sadly, but matter-of-factly.

“Except one thing.”
“Your family history research.”
“Yeah.” Best Dad pauses for a long moment, the gears of his mind turning over this item. “I have been pretty loyal to that pursuit, haven’t I?”
“So much so that you might refer to it as a ‘calling’?” The narrator says, half question, half statement.
“I’ve actually been doing research on my family tree and family history for my entire adult life. My grandmother got me started on that path when I was a teenager when she showed me her family tree that goes back to the Mayflower.”
“Wow!” The narrator is impressed.
Best Dad continues, “But… since there’s no money in that pursuit, it will always be just a hobby. And beyond that, there’s no single thing I can call my ‘Dream’ in family history.”
“You know that’s not true.” The narrator rebukes him.
“No, you’re right." Best Dad pauses for a satisfied smile. "I did have a dream in family history research.”
“And it already came true.”

“Mm hmm.” The narrator replies knowingly.
“Yeah, I had what I felt to be a mystery in my family history that I wanted to solve, a hole in my family tree that I felt should be filled. And through my own initiative and research, I discovered that missing link in my family tree. I opened up a whole section of our family history, discovered well-known and respected ancestors, even found the gravesites of several generations of my family.”
“So, not only did you have a dream after Jack Sikma, it’s already come true.”
“Yeah." He says, continuing to smile. "But that’s one of the drawbacks of dreams.”
“What’s that Best Dad?” the narrator asks with surprise.
“The dream-come-true moment is only one moment and then that moment passes."
"Ah," the narrator understands.
"Once that moment is in the past, it's a memory, not a dream any more and, inevitably you have to find a new dream.”
“And that’s not so easy, is it?”
“No, it isn’t. But you know what?”
“It’s pretty fun to watch these little ones developing their first dreams.”
“First dreams are like first loves aren’t they?” The narrator wistfully and rhetorically asks. “Pie-in-the-sky and head-over-heels.”
“Except for one thing. Unlike first loves, we parents can share those first dreams along with our children. Those dreams sink deeply into us, and they become our dreams, too.”

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Planning #GBE2

We find our hero, Best Dad Evar sitting in a black, wheeled office chair at a desk with numerous scratches and dings. Behind and below the chair the carpet in the family’s living room bunches up unnaturally, so that when he rolls the chair back a bit, Best Dad has to give an extra oomph just to move into a more comfortable position. That’s tough these days. Finding a comfortable position, that is.
“Best Dad Evar,” a voice calls out in the darkened room. Best Dad Evar doesn’t look up from his computer screen. “Is it true that you actually planned to have your children?”
“Don’t sound so surprised.” Best Dad replies.
“Well, I overheard some of your co-workers discussing their own children today and from what I heard, it sounds like none of their children were actually planned.”
“They just sort of happened when they happened.” Best Dad finished the thought. “Yes, I heard that, too. For us, it just didn’t make sense to have children if you weren’t fully prepared to be a parent.”
“And you and your wife didn’t feel prepared for all those earlier years you were together?”
“No. Even right up to the moment we took our first child home, we didn’t feel prepared.”

“The planning must have helped, right?”
“You would think it would, wouldn’t you? Well, it sure didn’t feel that way…. Doesn’t feel that way.”
“No? You think parenting is just as difficult even though you did everything you planned to do beforehand?”
“If anything I find myself wondering often if we didn’t make a huge mistake by waiting all those years. You know what that did to us? It made us older.”
“Not wiser? More experienced?”
“Not when it comes to parenting.” Best Dad replies with a tired rub of his eyes. “We’re just older, our joints creakier and muscles more sore, our brains have lost more cells, we’re more dependent on caffeine and thus we’re crankier. None of this helps us be better parents.”

“Still, Best Dad, some of your plans have to have helped.”
“Well, let’s put it this way. Some of the things we planned to do, we’ve actually done.”
“Like what?”
“Like always having someone who is family or ‘like family’ watching the children when we’re away or working.” Best Dad’s face changes into a very slight smile, which is about as much emotion as you ever see from him.
“You never hire babysitters?”
“We never have. We’ve always had grandparents, aunties or very close friends who’ve watched them.”
“Wow, Best Dad, that’s really impressive.”
“Yeah,” he says softly, that slight smile still on his face. “That’s one thing that has really worked for everyone.”

“But we also planned that we would be settled in our careers by the time we started our family.”
“Oh.” The narrator’s voice betrays his dismay.
“We thought we’d be financially solid and secure.”
“Yikes.” You can almost hear the narrator cringe.
“We figured we wouldn’t be worrying so much about money and success.”
“Yeah. And one year ago, I effectively had to start my career over from square one.”
“Uh huh.”
“During the worst recession of our lifetime.”
“And having my industry of choice in ruins.”
“Yeah. You can’t plan for all that.”

A tone on the computer indicates to Best Dad Evar that he has an email. He quickly reads the message on the screen, then lets out his breath in an exasperated “Hah!” His arms slump down onto the desk in front of him, followed by his head. With his forehead resting on the backs of his hands, his head shakes back and forth.
“What is it Best Dad Evar?” The narrator shows genuine concern.
“You’re not going to believe this.”
“Try me.”
“That was an email from my brother.” He pauses for a long moment. The narrator chooses to quietly wait, realizing that the final shoe has dropped. “As if I don’t have enough to do in my life, now he wants me to babysit his fucking car!”

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bedtime #GBE2

The lights are deliberately low at Best Dad Evar’s home. The hallway filled with framed family photos, and occasional crayon marks and furniture scrapes is particularly dark, as it leads to the children’s bedrooms. Everything in the house is dark and quiet... for the moment. The silhouette of our hero appears in the doorway at the end of the hall, then tiptoes out, one step, two-
“Brrrriiiinggg!!!” The telephone loudly announces that some fool is calling at bedtime!
“God damn it!” Best Dad Evar grunts through gritted teeth. He lopes across to the phone and roughly pulls it from its base before the second ring.
“Hello!” He hisses into the receiver. A voice can be heard on the other end of the line, but its words are muffled. Best Dad Evar rolls his eyes. Next he nods.
“Well, we just got the kids to bed, but... well, now’s okay.” It must be clear to the person on the other end of the line from his tone that it’s not okay, right? Or maybe not, because whoever it is, they keep talking.

“Uh huh.” Best Dad says quietly, moving quietly into the kitchen to ensure that his half of this conversation can’t be heard in the back rooms. Anything to avoid disrupting the now (hopefully!) sleeping children.
“Mmmm.” He says.
“Oh... yeah.” He says.
“That sucks.” He says. His fingers are now tapping on the counter impatiently.
“Well, why don’t you-” He stops as the voice on the other end of the line breaks in, interrupting. Best Dad now glares ahead. Eventually the voice stops.
“Well, I gotta go.” Best Dad says.
After a moment he says, “I have some things to do to prepare for tomorrow,” explaining himself to the doubter on the line. The voice continues for another minute or two.
“I’m sure it’ll work out. I’ll talk to you later, okay?” Another minute of chatter ensues from the phone as Best Dad glares at it. At one point he holds the phone away from his ear and makes a face at it.
“All right, well I really have to go now.” Finally the other party relents and Best Dad says goodbye and hangs up the phone.

“Wow, Best Dad Evar, what was that all about?” The narrator asks now that Best Dad has settled in to wash the dishes.
“Oh, it was my brother again.”
“Does he always call-”
“At Bedtime!” Best Dad exclaims, throwing his hands up in the air, sending soap suds flying toward the yellowing ceiling. “Can you fucking believe that?! How many times have I mentioned to people that we try to keep everything quiet and calm at bedtime?! It’s not like we’ve ever changed when bedtime is, have we? Everyone knows when bedtime is at our house. But every other night that god damn phone rings at 8:15 or 8:30!”
“Well, why did he call? It must have been important.” The narrator says. Is that mock obliviousness in his voice or imbecilic sincerity?

Best Dad raises one eyebrow and his lips curl into a smirk. “Bull shit!”
“What?” The narrator sounds wounded, but he could just be playing along.
“It was some spat with his girlfriend.”
“His on-again off-again girlfriend?”
“Did you know that already?” Best Dad sounds impressed.
“No, based on what little you’ve told me about your brother, I guessed it.”
“Yeah, well. It was some stupid shit that won’t matter day-after-tomorrow. But he just had to call me to ask what I thought about the whole thing.”
“I notice you didn’t really tell him.”
“And he never really gave me a chance to, did he?”
“No, it sounded like he was just talking non-stop.”
“That’s because the only thing he wants is for someone to listen to him talk. He doesn’t really want anyone else’s help or advice. He just wants you to listen and agree with him and his ideas and plans.”
“Speaking of ideas and plans…?” The narrator wonders.

“Whatever do you mean?” now it’s Best Dad’s turn to mock obliviousness.
“The favor, I want to know what the favor was!”
“Ooooooh, you want to know about the faaaaavor.” Best Dad pauses for dramatic effect. “You’ve been itching to know about the favor.”
“Well, yes, Best Dad, I'm very curious about the favor.”
“A little mystery like that burns inside you, doesn’t it. Soon you’re longing to find out what it is, smoldering with curiosity. It could be something stupid or mundane.” He says raising his eyebrows playfully.
“But knowing your brother, it’s probably not.”
“Well, you’re going to have to wait a little longer. He talked a lot, but he didn’t mention it.”
“Damn it!”
Best Dad laughs heartily, amused that even his personal narrator swears.