Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Storytime 1.0

It is not unsavory or uncomfortable subject matter that makes this story hard to tell, in fact it's nearly frivolous at face value.  That being said, it is still difficult to write because it has scope, implications, depth.  It is difficult to write because it isn't very linear, it is contingent on knowing what came before, it's complicated.  Yeah, I am gonna try to tell it anyway.

(Oh, and what I'm hinting at  is it may take a while to read, like maybe nine minutes.  In pursuance of The Laws of Literary Decency, consider yourself forearmed.)

It is all basically Marci's doing, sort of, well she was out of town and I felt sorry because the boys were sad and...  No, that's no way to start a story.

There are many things in the in the great story of growing up that are difficult for grownups to understand, to remember.  We may see our beloved mini Tonka trucks and smile at the sweet melancholy they evoke, but we don't remember the devotion and satisfaction those toys brought us...  Well that's thick, and dull.

I don't think anything the boys make around here isn't seen by me.  I read wadded up papers, I look in notebooks, I have even taken something out of the trash to read.  So when I noticed this behind the wood basket, I wondered:

I have to tell you I had a vague notion on this one because Nick had sort of been furtively working on something and I asked him what, we said it was nothing and I went back in the kitchen.  When I returned, it was gone and he looked, well, sorta smug.  So when I saw it there I thought I might know what it was.  I was right:

I think it is a preliminary list, but, it's really not much is it?  It seems like happy kids don't want so much, sometimes, except, they don't want things to change.  That's the one thing I can't give them, to promise stability is to promise falsely; things will change.

Anyway, I scanned it and put it back, maybe he'll forget about it or maybe he's planning an addendum.

I guess there is a little more backstory here, Mom was out of town at a convention over the weekend and the boys, especially N were taking it hard this time.  In the interest of their happiness, and we needed milk and meat, I took them to the store -  Meijer, sort of a super-store chain.  After I got the meat and milk I let them go to the toy aisles.  The passed those up and headed to the area where the Wii games are.  After some discussion we decided there wasn't anything we couldn't live without for now and headed towards the checkout

In front of the self checkout is a display with Pokemon cards.  They stopped.  I continued to a checkout lane.  I went back to see what they were up to and found them deciding what ones they would get if they could.  I told them not today and said we had to get moving.  They reluctantly hung up their choices and mumbled off.

There is this thing that our twins do, they stick their heads nearly together and speak quietly.  It infuriates me, mostly because I feel left out.  Well they did that all the way out to the truck.  I opened up the back to secure the meat and milk and, as I put things away, the plot thickened like gravy.

"Hey Dad, remember the other week when we helped paint the playset?  And you gave us five dollars?  Well, not five dollars for both, well, we both got five, I mean we didn't have to split it, and you gave us..." Nick sort of spews all at once.

"We each got five dollars."  Zack clears things up.  "Go on, Nick."

(Now don't think I don't know what's going on, I feign ignorance sometimes.  Besides, I wanted them to ask, it's part of life.)

"Yeah, I remember something like that.  Why?"  I ask.

Zack this time, "Well, we were wondering, and you can say no, but we were wondering..."

"Hoping, actually,"  Nick qualifies.  (Using the hope card so early, well played little Word Ninja, well played.)

"... if maybe we could use that money to buy those packs of Pokemon cards," Zack finishes.

"We have at least five dollars and the cards are only four dollars and seventeen cents, that's with tax,"  (wait how does he know that?) "so we know we have enough and you said we could, that we could use it to get what we wanted you said so we..."  He trails off.

Zack takes up the cause.

"Dad, I know we have enough and we could just go home and then come back and, you know, get them?"

"Well my goodness, you guys have given this some thought."

"That's what we were talking about on the way out to the car," Nick points out unnecessarily.

Now during this time I have been rummaging through my purse and have located a ten dollar bill.

"I'll tell you what boys, that seems like a pretty good idea but, I have here a ten dollar bill, we'll use it to get the cards and you can give me the five dollar bills you have when we get home."

"Four dollars and seventeen cents, Dad," Nick points out, again.

"I get it, that ten for our two fives," thank you Mr. Math.

They begin to get into the truck.  "What are you doing?" I ask.

"What? Wait, you mean now?"

"Yeah."  (Jeeze guys, catch up.)

Now improvise in your mind, hugs, effusive thank-yous and odd sort of Irishy-jig dancing and you'll get the picture.

Well, we headed back in and the boys find the cards they wanted and also point out to me the big decks that are eleven ninety-nine (without tax).  Now I'm thinking this whole scene has been really cute, they've been sweet and seem very excited about the prospect of new cards.  I also remember that the first thing on Nick's list, as you may remember, was 'Pokemon.'  The more expensive packs have a lot more cards in them and have a game board and coins and tokens and all kinds of fun-sounding stuff.

"Alright, I'll tell you what, you can get the big pack and I'll make up the difference," I tell them.

And right here is where it gets a little complicated, convoluted, wonky even.  Nick put away his small pack, grabbed the big one.  Zack has his in his hand.  Nick then says that he wants the smaller pack and Zack seems to agree.  We purchase the smaller ones and go on out.  In the parking lot I tell the boys that they don't have to give me their five dollars, that I will treat them to the cards.  They excitedly tear them open and the conversation no longer makes any sense to me.

Flash forward about three hours, I am starting dinner and Nick is watching TV and Zack is on a computer game.  Nick looks up at me as I walk in on them and he has an odd look on his face.  I ask him what's wrong and he says he just misses Mommy.

I turn to leave and he says:  "I'm sorry Zack, I didn't know."

He goes over to the couch and whispers something.  I ask him what he said and he mumbles it was nothing.  Oddly, Zack doesn't seem to know what's going on either.  I turn to leave and then turn back.

"Is there something I need to know, Nick?"  More mumbling and head-shaking.

A few minutes later I come in to tell them to finish up and get ready for dinner.  There is a sadness in the room and Nick's eyes are rimmed in red.  Zack looks a little shocked.

"Nick, if something is bothering you then I need to know," I say as I kneel in front of him.  "Is there something bothering you?  What about you Zack?"

"No, it's okay, Dad."  Nick says between sniffles.

I finish getting dinner on the table, a favorite of the boys, mac and cheese and hot dogs with carrot sticks and some little tomatoes.  I call them and they file in like they'd lost the big game.  Honestly, at this point I am baffled and I pride myself in sensing what's going on with them.  Nick sort of half sobs through grace and Zack is actually sitting in his chair, which is rare.

Insert pregnant pause here...


"Yes, Nick?"

"Remember when we were at the store and we were getting the little packs of cards, the four seventeen ones, and you said that we could get the big packs and you'd make the difference and we got the small pack?  Well," full sob, "I didn't get it, I didn't know we could get the big one, and I thought you wanted us to get the little one and I didn't understand that you would have got the big ones and that is why I said I'm sorry to Zack."  Full tears and sobbing.

"You just now figured that out?  Oh, honey, I'm sorry..." I say to him feeling his pain.

"Yeah, I just didn't get what you meant."

"So, you chose the little ones because you didn't understand that I was saying you could get the big ones?"

I tear splashes in the mac and cheese, "Yeah... I really wanted the big pack."

Regret.  Buyer's remorse.  The familiar pang of life's unfairness.  To me at least.  But not for them; not on my watch.

"Well," I say, "that doesn't seem too fair does it?  I'll tell you what, we'll go back and get the big packs.  It's not your fault you misunderstood me, you shouldn't have to be so sad over a simple mistake."

Looks of understanding begin to show through the faces of sadness.

"When?"  they ask simultaneously.

"Right now," dinner was being generally ignored and Nick was in no shape to eat.  "Let's finish up here and then we'll go back."

Remember the little imagining you did before, jiggy dancing, hugs, thank-yous?  Square it and you might begin to understand what happened next.

And then, they actually went on to eat a little more dinner, happy and relieved.

Now there is a little more to this story, the true part (that makes it sound like I've been making all this up) the pure center of the thing; its essence.

"Dad, if you want we'll give you our five dollars... well... each, like both of us give you our own five dollars and... you get it, right?"  Nick offers.

Zack looks at Nick a bit annoyed.

"Nick, listen to me, that's a nice idea, but I don't think that would be fair, or right.  Just like I don't think it's fair that you got the cards you got over a misunderstanding, a mistake.  And since I'm talking about it, you know, things being right and all, I am proud of you for telling me what was wrong, telling me the truth.  What I don't understand is why Zack didn't say anything in the store?  Did you understand what I meant?"

Zack answers, "Yeah, I just got the one's Nick wanted to get.  He was sad about Mom and I didn't want him sadder."

"I see.  And what did you say to Nick when he said he was sorry?  You don't have to tell me, I'm just curious."

"I didn't really mind really, at least we got something."  Good old Zack, pointing out the happy obvious.

Nick sits, thinking and then says, "Dad, I still don't get why we can get the packs and not pay you."

"Well, I wasn't gonna make you pay for the four dollar and seventeen cents ones was I?"

Heads shake.

"Well, it doesn't seem fair to make you pay when in the store I said I'd buy the more expensive cards.  You shouldn't always have to pay for misunderstanding things.  That's basically a sort of accident," I tell them.

"So, I get it.  Nick, it wasn't really your fault," Zack, once more, nailing it.

Nick visibly is relieved, his face lights up, the dark clouds lift and, a look of recognition flushes his face.  I've been trying to get him to understand this for ten minutes now and, finally, recognizing the feeble seedling of the tree that is justice, he seems, well, stronger.

Seeds, seedlings.

"Thanks, Dad."  Nick whispers through a smile.

Sometimes, rarely really, we get to see the seedlings of the ideas we so carefully sow in our children and yet, in this conversation I see so many of them .

The inexplicable pain that is Empathy.

The tears that are Sympathy.

The calming salve of Righteousness.

The faith that is Decency.

The nudge at the heart that is Honesty.

The brothers of strength; Integrity and Character.

The strange power that is Courage.

You see these ideas, ideals really, grow in your children.  You think about how they came to them and, at first, it occurs to you that you taught them these things, as if that were possible.

And then you begin to think that you showed them these things, which is what I thought I'd done, and maybe, when they were little, I did that, modeled for them, showed them.

But now I realize what I think I have been doing:

I have been mirroring them.

Showing them themselves.

The end result: 

Thanks for stopping by.


  1. Both of my kids (young adults) have been dumped recently. Would you please come by and explain that no one intelligent would dump them? That it's not their fault? And then, please take them to Meijer to select new and better partners.

    Janie L. Junebug

  2. I love Janie's response. Lol. Wouldn't it be great if we could right every wrong and fix every heartache? At least they'll always know they can talk to you, and that you'll be there for them.

  3. Those lucky, lucky boys. Way to go, Mr. P!