Being a parent, I’ve learned, means toughening up to rejection. When my three-year-old was still an unborn, backstroking glob of cells in my wife’s body and I was naïvely dreaming of all the picnics, bike rides, soccer games, family hikes, museum trips, and drunken video-game-and-pizza binges I’d share with my progeny, I honestly believed that my child would need me. Of course, this is not the case. Our kids only pretend to need us. I’ve long since worked out that I’m only here to reach the O’s from the top shelf, to block the rain and wind during a parking lot transept to the car. I live, it seems, to provide my son with highly contingent, partially nihilistic reasons for not buying ice cream. I only exist to wash his skid-marked underpants.
Though the slow tide of repudiation is programmed to be all our parental fates, there are times when, reminded of it, it stings. Last week at toddler soccer, my son rebuffed my attempts to kick the ball around with him as we waited for the other kids to arrive. “No,” he told me, pushing me toward the bench, “I want to play with the kids.” “But the kids aren’t here yet” I responded, backpedaling across the squeaky gym floor. “Just go, Papa,” he said. “Go.”
Considering how many times before class we’d kicked the ball and ran around together—especially when he was too shy to do so on his own—this hurt. Naturally, after slinking dejectedly to the bench and, as all the other parents do, glueing my digitally lobotomized mien to my smartphone, the sting wore off. But the rest of the day, I must admit, bore an orangish tint that was not sunshine, but an immanence of my parental oxidation, of my coming fatherly rust.
This is why I rejoiced this morning when my son told me he liked my pancakes better than Mama’s. I share that not to brag or exalt myself above my wife, who is a fine cook. Instead, its to delight in some regained usefulness. Sure, my current buzz is highly coffee- and syrup-driven, but it’s a warm feeling nonetheless. One that will carry me though what I now know will be a great day. For it’s ice cream for lunch and dinner tonight. Poop in the underpants? No problem. The cabana shirt of my imminent demise can feed the moths for one more day. I’ve got reasons to live, promises to keep, and fluffy pancakes to flip—at least until my son learns that frozen toaster waffles also exist.
And thanks to Todd, there haven’t even been rumors of my death. Or of my living. No mugshots, mayoral candidacies, or licentious tweeting. Not even a dust-up with my three-year-old’s soccer coach. Feeling fine, I’ve disappeared. Take away the consumption and complaining, and it’s easy to slide off the greasy planes of our post-knowledge existence. Nevertheless, my spam-follower count continues to soar. Thank you, Asdf11231431, for your kind patronage. Yes, I’ll strongly consider your sale on herbal Viagra.
While Todd has been slacking, Randy out in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, has apparently been busy. As some of you might recall from my previous post “Evermore, Sweet Maxine,” I’ve had an ongoing correspondence with him and all the kind folks at Swheat Scoop Cat Litter HQ for the past few years. My hand-written letters to their marketing department, where I’m sure Randy is still building his giant rubber-band ball, have come to define the give-me-free-stuff genre that has, during our effervescent age of incessant communication, spidered toward manifest obsolescence.
That webbie wobble inched further south when I learned just the other day that Randy and the Swheat Scoop gang would no longer be accepting mail-in frequent buyer coupons. Though there was no mention of my scrawling, supplicating chain letters in the press release announcing their decision to discontinue the program, I did notice, reading between the lines, insinuations to that effect. In fact, reading the coupon backwards, I see encoded there the old Yola-Saxon curse “Quoc ræyiiß,” which roughly translates into English as “Get a life ye losers and pay full price.” (Apparently, this was widely used during sheep auctions in the 18th century.) What this all means is that while my publicist continues to prove himself an inutile louche, Randy out in Detroit Lakes, architect of the frequent buyer coupon scheme, has not forgotten me after all.
On the land and in the seas, in the air and on the cosmic airwaves, ye and thee to which and hence this papa’s angst will never, ever be ceased. No, not even to you, my magnificently diffident Todd.
In honor of May Day I went downtown to join my angst-ridden brethren as they rattled the tinted windows at parasitic corporate coffee chain HQ. But when my bus finally cleared all the traffic jams, I found out, contrary to expectations, the anarchists weren’t all that angsty, nor particularly well-coiffed. Mostly they sat in a circle, playing a three-stringed guitar and drinking from communal jugs of generic cola, laughing as their heavily-leashed dogs wrestled to yet another slobbering stalemate. But before getting chased away by both the anti-globalists and the cops, I did get to belt out the stirring, heavily-accented version of “La Marseillaise” I’d been practicing for weeks. Dodging the pepper spray felt au courant, but the free lattés laced with salt peter were a little 1965.
Papa A has been hunkering down under the recent onslaught of Malawian spam followers, Midwestern trolls, and momentary lapses of unreasoning. Sleep aside, the mental riots persist. As Dostoyevsky wrote once on a postcard to his mother, “Beet soup is good both cold and warm.” This spate of hectic days still swarms like riot police on fruit-flavored 5-hour energy. But I say to all my anti-antiists, the soup is on the stove, ready to simmer. In the meantime, may the spammers be banned, the culture fetishizers jammed, and the coffee of all corporate raiders laced with anaphrodiasiacs as we poor laborers are with lack of sleep. Love is in fact the answer.
It was—I think—that pearly-toothed soothsayer Aloysius Van Cummerbund, inventor of that broad waist sash which has made many a portly man a bit more handsome on his wedding day, who once said, “Don’t try to fathom your sloop when there’s no water around.”
Here, beyond the Raj of Elysium, we’ve had plenty of rain. And last weekend after being cooped up all day with an energetic three-year-old, my wife and I finally deliquesced to the couch for a Saturday night movie only to find all the Suggestions Just for You tossed up by our online movie service starred either an animated primate, a flightless bird, or Katherine Heigl. Was there more cooking sherry in the cupboard?
I didn’t ask, and instead recalled the timeless wisdom of William Wandsworth Dufont, 18th-century box elder magnate and early suffragist, who wisely said, “Progress is a horse with six stomachs, so let’s eat!” My wife went to make nachos while I searched the international-romantic-thriller-comedy-in-poopy-underpants genre for something greater than hope.
By the time I’d found it, my wife had returned—almost miraculously—with hot snacks and cold beers. And as she settled in again beside me on our sagging two-cushioned love boat, my mind seized upon the wise words of Brutus the Younger, patron of gladiators and Nero’s second cousin once-removed, who said, and as I repeated aloud, “A fly in your wine at a banquet is neither a fly nor a banquet.”
No reaction from my wife, and after I’d shotgunned my 16 oz., she left my high-five hanging, but I didn’t mind. She was already hooked into Heigl’s emotional embezzlements unfolding at algorithmic edits on the flatscreen. It was good to see her tune out. It’d been a long toddler day.
But before I slipped into my own digital narcosis, I recalled a final bit of wisdom from my old Uncle Mariusz, who once escaped to Hollywood to stunt-double for Big Al on Happy Days after his wife, our dear Aunt Zofia, dyed her hair purple and finally won the pinochle championship. At a muggy Labor Day picnic long ago he confided to me, “Marriage is a just God’s way of unbuttoning his pants after too many knish.” It’s been a long time since Uncle Mariusz passed or I had a knish, singular or plural, but last Saturday night, the nachos were good. Spicy and very good.
Today’s the day, I said to myself as I rose from bed, weary yet bullish with purpose. But today’s the day it will happen is what I’ve been thinking since the holidays, when all this madness began, and still it hasn’t. During the dark days of January, I’d tricked myself into believing it would happen on its own. That all this losing was a fluke. You’re a winner was my mantra through February. This streak can’t last all through March. Yet into April, at great cost, it has, and that desire to win has become a compulsion.
Indeed, the idea of finally winning now dominates my mind, flapping in the background of consciousness like a black flag in the wind, holding all other cognition hostage. It’s there at night among the blue dots of the television screen as I stalk sleep. And when I awake, as this morning, first in my thoughts of the new day, there still: that need to succeed.
Today, however, was not the day. For the umpteenth time since Christmas, when his paternal grandmother gifted him this diabolical present, my three-year-old son again routed me in The Thomas and Friends Memory Match Game. Today’s score? My 7 pairs to his 29. Sure, it was an improvement on yesterday’s 33-3 trouncing. A modest upswing at best, though I do take heart: not only am I making advances, but I’m zeroing in on his strategy.
As Sun Tzu once said, know thy enemy, or firstborn, whomever taunts you more. So, I’ve begun to crack my son’s tactics by focusing on what he knows about me. First, he knows I’m dumb. Even during non-gaming events he uses his superior intelligence as leverage. Just the other day, in the grocery store, I found myself buying a large box of expensive Scottish sugar cookies after he reminded me they were mama’s favorite, which I later remembered was not true, as she can’t stand sweets and has never been to the Highlands. Second, he knows I’m old, and he exploits his youthful diffidence toward the REM cycle by depriving me of good shuteye as a means of further dulling my mind. Third, as a corollary of his youthfulness, his memory rudely outstrips mine. Before he could read, he would keep us awake by reciting at high volume the entire Dr. Seuss collection (or any of the 48 library books we have checked out at any one time) until, among those silly, lilting rhymes, I could hardly recall my name let alone what I’d read on the side of the cereal box at dinner.
At such a disadvantage, then, how can I dare think I’m about to finally turn the tables? Have I marked the cards? Have I been playing improve your memory games on the AARP website during his naps? Have I been to Lourdes? No, none of those. For I am neither crafty, internet savvy, or French-speaking. But I have, as of today, built up in the hall closet a stunning cache of those Scottish sugar cookies he once tricked me into buying, because I finally know that’s where he gets both his bottomless energy and boundless memory. And forty-six boxes into that hoard of high fructose corn syrup and empty calories, through the nausea and kilted jigs of seventeen-hour sugar rushes, I can feel my mind focusing, my spatial memory sharpening, knowing that the tartan light at the end of an upturned cookie box means victory soon will again belong to the bravest of hearts.
for the Scary Thoughts File
I’m slowly becoming Mel Gibson.