Notes From a Silent, Empty Room

Posted by jdg | Wednesday, November 09, 2011 |

I woke up feeling really good yesterday, which is almost always a sure sign that trouble lies ahead.

Ever since the end of Daylight Savings Time, it's been a lot easier to get the kids to school on time---or even early---allowing me to experience what it feels like to be a responsible father. Yesterday was one of those days where the kids seemed to wake up already dressed for school and I had their breakfasts on the table on time and nobody left the house with cream cheese smeared across their cheeks or melted M&Ms in their hair. We were absolutely poised for something to go wrong.

I am in an interesting stage right now where my daughter is in school full time and my son goes a couple days a week. Any free time I gain is so often taken up by petty errands and extracurricular school business that I still sort of have an excuse to avoid looking for a real job. During my "free time" I also like to procrastinate doing freelance jobs by cleaning the house. The other day I started refinishing the hardwood floors, so you know I must have had a particularly annoying deadline. I recently made the wildly-insane decision to cook a family dinner almost every day so we can all sit down at the table in daily recognition that my wife and I spawned two persnickety brutes who prefer banging their fists against the tabletop chanting for macaroni and cheese and Halloween candy every night rather than consume a healthy, well-balanced meal. I am gunning to become the first male winner of Michigan's Top Homemaker Award, you see, but I just won't feel comfortable nominating myself until I can get my kids to eat my pot roast.

If I'm not running errands or cleaning or cooking while the kids are at school, sometimes I just like to sit on a chair without having anyone scream at me.

My son has been a lot better about accepting that he must attend preschool this year. Last year I frequently had to peel him off me and rush away to the sound of him screaming, but this year he has a little pack of buddies and runs off with them as soon as we get to school without so much as a glance over his shoulder. Yesterday was different. Yesterday he decided he didn't want to go to school, and it took 45 minutes of intense negotiations just to get him to let go of my coat. Several times I was walking to the car when he ran up and latched on to my leg. Whatever, I mean we all want to be loved, but come on kid, there's a chair waiting for me in a silent, empty room. Eventually I convinced him to walk into class with his buddies, and as I stood there in the satisfying glow of watching him go I reached into my pocket and realized I didn't have my car key.

I spent two hours retracing my steps around the playground in a serpentine Family-Circus dotted line, trying to remember where my son's wildly flailing arms might have knocked it out of my hands. I scanned the playground covered in oak and maple leaves and dug through wood chips. A concerned parent reported to the principal's office that a deranged lunatic was wandering the school grounds. Eventually I gave up, abandoning the search (and the car) to make my way home and get the spare key.

* * * * *

Two Practical Jokes My Mother Played on My Father When I Was a Child:

1. My father restores antique cars for a living, and he often had to order parts from sellers in other states which were delivered via UPS. One guy in California was giving him a really hard time over a part he really needed and he complained bitterly about unkept promises and shipping delays. The next day my mother found an old beat-up muffler by the side of the road and threw it in a battered cardboard box with a fake shipping label and set it where the UPS man always left his packages. We watched from the window as my dad emerged from his body shop to joyfully find the box and then discover its contents and nearly explode with rage.

2. My father had a $5-a-week Super Lotto habit but would frequently forget to watch the TV when the numbered ping pong balls rolled into slots for the winning numbers. He would ask my mom to call some lottery hotline to get the winners, and she would dutifully write them down on a slip of paper so he could compare them to the five random numbers he'd chosen that week. On one Saturday with a particularly-big jackpot, she peeked at the numbers on his ticket and later wrote down one full set of his numbers as the winner, casually handing it over with a bowl of microwave popcorn in her other hand. She sat there munching on popcorn, watching nonchalantly while his eyes darted from his ticket to the "winning" numbers, filling with visions of the sudden, unimagined wealth now within his grasp while his throat groped for the syllables to express his excitement. Unable to contain her laughter, his reverie dissipated right then like any other working man's dream.

* * * * *

Last night my wife got home from a grueling day at work. She was in the office all weekend and has had early mornings and late nights as she prepares for a long-planned trip to Mexico, but last night she was tolerant enough to listen to me gripe about losing all my "me" time over a lost key, and the $265 replacement cost and the need to drive to some flat suburb with Heights or Hills in the name to find a dealership that could do it. I don't know where or how she found that key, but when I put my coat on this morning, it was the first thing I found when I reached into my pocket: a pocket I checked and emptied a hundred times in those desperate hours the day before. I even emptied that pocket before going through the metal detector at the courthouse. But this morning there it was.

My daughter blames elves. Or gremlins. I blame my wife, because the only other option is that I'm losing my mind. I don't care if I am a deranged lunatic or just the victim of a cruel jape, I'm just glad I could spend today sitting in a chair in a silent room rather than at some car dealership out in Farmington Heights.