Still Yelling

The local paper did a feature on Maury Feren last week. He's been working with produce for seventy years and sharing his tips on radio and television and in newspapers for as long as I can remember. The man spends his days looking at, smelling, and feeling fruit and vegetables looking for the best that nature has to offer. To me there is nothing more spiritual than that. Someone who takes the time to study and notice these things that we pop into our mouth absent mindedly.

But, as a woman I knew long ago used to say, that says nothing of his relationship with God. To her, religion was not so much about the world around her but about her and her God. In the newspaper article it is clear that both are important to Feren. He attends synagogue daily.

His wife died around the same time as Elena. She had Alzheimer's at the end and he spent much of his time with her. He attends services each day to give thanks and because "it gives me a chance to feel close to her spirit."

I've been trying to do that. Not at services. Not at synagogue. Not in a formal setting. I've been trying to focus on my reasons to be thankful and I've been trying to get close to Elena's spirit. I've been hoping that the hole I feel in my heart is just my way of carving out a space to carry her with me forever.

It still feels pretty empty.

Feren was a concentration camp liberator. At the end of the second world war he was one of those who arrived at the camps to find neat piles of rotting corpses. In Benjamin Gleisser's article about a food man in the food section of the paper he talks about what this does to a man. He quotes Feran as saying:

"The idea of believing in God troubles anyone who has seen the Holocaust [..] I like what Elie Weisel said. He yelled at God for 40 years; 10 years ago, he was tired of yelling and said 'I'm going to accept you, but I won't forgive you.'"

I'm still yelling. Not at God. Not at anyone in particular. Maybe that's the problem. There's no one to walk up to and say, "who's in charge here?" There's no one to inform that I've got a complaint.

There's an Eleanor Roosevelt quoted response to a request that she just "forgive and forget". She says that she can forgive but she can never forget.

Accept. Forgive. Forget.

Sigh. I'm still yelling.

Published in: on June 22, 2006 at 7:20 am  Comments (20)  

Clap Out

Kim and Maggie and I were walking home from Boulevard the other day from some end of the year event or other. Kim asked Maggie about some first grader who had come up to say hi to Maggie. Maggie told us who that was. Kim shook her head at our shy and antisocial child. How does she know so many kids at school.

"Well," Maggie explained, "all of the first graders know me since Elena died."

Just matter-of-fact. A simple explanation. It made me wonder about next year. After being in the same school for five years, Maggie now goes on these two year jaunts. Fifth and sixth grade at Woodbury then seventh and eighth grade at Byron.

Maggie wouldn't have been back in the same school building with Elena until her senior year in high school. Maggie is pretty sure that one of the years in high school is called "wintergreen". I think that's because I called her Junior Mint for years.

Once Maggie got too big to be called Junior, I would refer to Elena that way.

"I'm not Junior," she'd yell laughing, "Maggie is Junior. I'm pip squeak."

And she was.

Elena had talked about Maggie's last day at Boulevard for years. She'd looked forward to it. Not because Maggie would be leaving the school and her behind, but because she would get to help clap Maggie out.

Such a great tradition. There are schools that graduate their children from fourth or sixth grade. Shaker has the clap out. Looking back at Maggie's time at Boulevard, the school has excelled at easing transitions both for the kids and for the parents.

I took Maggie to meet her kindergarten teacher before school started. It wasn't a one-on-one meeting with just the teacher. There was a handful of families who attended the orientation. Alex was in Maggie's orientation group and five years later the two girls are still great friends. A year later the kindergarten teachers help the new first graders transition to first grade. The kids find their kindergarten teachers on the lawn and the kindergarten teacher walks each child over to their first grade teacher and introduces them.

Clap out is another great transitional tradition. After the entire school watches the fourth grade video, the parents of the fourth graders move out to the front lawn. The kids from the lower grades line the halls and clap for the fourth graders as they walk the halls of the school one last time. The whole school claps for the exiting class.

Elena couldn't wait for clap out. She was so looking forward to cheering on her sister as she left the school. She loved to tell people "that's my sister." People who didn't know would sometimes look from this undersized white child to the tall chinese girl she was pointing to and not make the connection.

 But that was her sister.

Elena would have been jumping up and down, as us short people do, trying to catch an early glimpse of Maggie as she came down the hall, heading for the door. She would have called to each of Maggie's friends that she'd come to know over the past five years. She would have shouted "whoo-hoo" and tried to wolf whistle like her aunt Jill. She would have then joined us on the lawn as we clapped for Maggie and interrupted the moment by telling us what her clap out would be like.

But Elena didn't join us on the lawn. She didn't jump up and down in the hall. She didn't whoop for her sister. Fortunately, all of the first graders who had come to know Maggie did. They passed on Elena's cheers and well wishes to Maggie and all of the other fourth graders as they walked by.

At the front door the teachers called out the name of each fourth grader as they left the building. The parents cheered. I looked at these nine and ten year olds leaving their elementary school for the last time. It seemed that no time had passed and yet they looked so different from when they'd entered as kindergartners. They had spent half of their life in this school. They'd entered with that cute and eager look of little kids. They left, still cute and eager, but with an eye on what they were becoming.

Afterwards, Maggie comes to find me. She wants me to take pictures of her with her friends. She takes me from teacher to teacher so that I can take a picture of her with each one. It's a walk down memory lane as she takes pictures with her kindergarten teacher Mrs. Rimideo, her first grade teacher Mrs. Chung (who was Miss Shorter then), her second grade teacher Mrs. Eagleton, her third grade teacher Miss Pospisil, and her fourth grade teacher Mrs. Spivey. These are the women who helped Maggie become this person that I love talking to. I don't know whether or not we would have chosen any of them for Maggie if we were given a choice. How were we to know that each would be perfect for her.

Clap out.

Kim and Maggie and I walk over to Elena's garden there on the front lawn of the school. Kim and I look at each other sadly. It's not just Maggie that is moving on from Boulevard. It's time for us to go too. We thought we had another three years in this wonderful, nurturing home. We thought we'd be back here for coffee on the lawn at the beginning of next year. We'd come in to help make chocolate with the second graders. We'd be back at the end of the year for Carnival.

And the year after that.

And the year after that.

And then we'd be there for Elena's clap out.

Maggie is leaving Boulevard. She's been clapped out. She's said goodbye. She's had her picture taken with her friends and teachers. She's enjoying her summer and looking forward to next year at Woodbury.

Goodbye Boulevard. Thank you.

Published in: on June 21, 2006 at 7:20 am  Leave a Comment  

Huevos Rancheros

My friend Jason celebrated his first Fathers' Day yesterday. I gave him the unsolicited advice that he should choose carefully what he wanted for Fathers' Day as it would likely become a tradition. He asked me what I would suggest and I didn't really know – I hadn't understood that "what do you want for your first Fathers' Day" also meant "and for every Fathers' Day from now on."

Kim asked me what I wanted. It was a month after her first pear crepe Mothers' Day breakfast and she wanted to make something nice. "What do you want?" she asked. 

"I don't know," I said.

Kim said, a little too quickly, "what about huevos rancheros?"

"What are they?" I asked.

"Eggs with salsa. I think they'd be fun to make. You'll like them. I'll leave out the cilantro."

"OK," I said. I didn't much care either way but if she wanted to make me huevos rancheros then that sounded like a good way to start my first Fathers' Day.

Kim looked in one cookbook and frowned. She looked in a second cookbook and frowned some more.

"What?" I asked. "Isn't there a recipe for huevos rancheros in either of those?"

"There is. But it's way too complicated. Forget it."

"Forget it?" I repeated.

"Yeah," she said, "I'm not making that."

She put the cookbooks away. It was still a good week before Fathers' Day so she had time.

A few minutes later she perked up again. "What about Quiche Lorraine?"

"Quiche Lorraine?" I echoed. "Isn't that harder than huevos rancheros?"

"I don't think so. You just buy a crust – "

"You would buy a crust?" I interrupted. "You would buy a crust for my Fathers' Day meal?"

"Well, yeah," she answered. With that she was off to read the cookbooks again. Once she had located Quiche Lorraine she frowned again. "Never mind," she said. "You're not getting that either."

"OK," I said.

"Well," Kim asked, "What do you want?"

"What about bagels with cream cheese, lox, tomato, and onion?" I suggested.

"Really?" she asked. "Is that all? You don't want me to cook something for you?"

"Nope. Bagels would be perfect." And I meant it.

I may have been a new father but I wasn't a new husband. So Saturday night before the bagel store closed I called Kim at her parents house. "Did you pick up the bagels?" I asked.

"Not yet," she answered.

"They close in an hour."

"They do?" she said. "I better get going then."

And so the next morning I woke to bagels for my first Fathers' Day breakfast. It was perfect. When our kids were young Fathers' Day and Mothers' Day are really a way for us parents to recognize each other in that role. It's a day for us to focus on and celebrate our spouse as a parent.

Each year we joked about huevos rancheros for Fathers' Day breakfast and each year I got bagels and lox. Each year I would remind Kim to pick up the bagels. That was our routine. How we celebrated that first Fathers' Day was how we celebrated every Fathers' Day.

Last year on Fathers' Day, Elena could barely contain herself.

"Daddy," she said, "guess what mom made for you."

"What?" I asked.

"Ummm," she said. She'd forgotten already. She turned to Kim who was behind her and asked "what's it called again?"

"Huevos Rancheros," prompted Kim.

"Yeah," said Elena. "And it's got eggs and salsa and tortillas."

After six years of bagels on Fathers' Day, Kim had made huevos rancheros.

"How are they?" Kim asked.

"Good," I answered. I always say good when she asks. She doesn't pay attention because she knows I'm just encouraging her so she'll cook more often. But she is a good cook, she just doesn't like to cook that much. "What do you think?" I asked back.

"They're ok," she said.

"You don't like them?" I asked.

"Not really."

And so this year we talked about huevos rancheros but Fathers' Day morning I had bagels and lox with onions and tomatoes.

I checked my email last night and there was a message from Jason. He was reporting back on how he had spent his first Fathers' Day. His son had gotten sick and puked all over him. Could be the beginnings of their Fathers' Day tradition.

Published in: on June 19, 2006 at 8:54 am  Comments (3)  

Father’s Day

Published in: on June 18, 2006 at 7:31 am  Comments (8)  

Deeper and Deeper

The first grader in the aisle seat is traveling alone. The man sitting between us helps him get set up with the headphones the airlines have given him. The boy tells the man in the middle that this isn't his first airplane flight but that it is his first flight alone. No music is playing yet. The boy takes the head phones off and quietly looks around. The man explains that the program will probably start once we take off.

I offer him the sports page and the comics from my newspaper. He politely accepts them and reads quietly to himself as we taxi towards the runway. I'm crying. A deep gut wrenching, throat constricting, nose running cry.

I turn away from the boy. I'm not ashamed. I've been crying shamelessly in public since the twenty-second of February. I just don't want to alarm the child. He doesn't notice. Neither does the stewardess when she offers me a drink and lunch. Neither does the man in the middle when he passes it to me. Maybe they do notice but think it's better not to ask if anything is wrong.

Would I have asked? You know, before. It's so hard to remember what I would have done before.

I do know that the man in the middle is getting on my nerves. It's not that he's doing anything wrong. He's just reading the paper and mostly minding his business. Somehow it feels as if he's in my space. Everything is too closed in. I don't like the way he's reading the paper. I don't like the way he's turning the pages. He's chewing his food too loud. He's breathing in my direction.

All of a sudden I hardly notice him. The moment has passed. It was me not him. Fortunately, I knew that during the episode.

Danese warned me that this was coming.

She said that months after her father died, she would have very intense crying spells in her office for no apparent reason. She didn't have to say it, but of course she meant for no reason apart from that whole dead father thing. And so I sit here in seat 5F not watching the movie and crying for no apparent reason. None except for that whole dead daughter thing.

The same thing happened on the flight to San Francisco. The woman next to me chattered on about how she had changed jobs from gymnastics to Spanish. I told her about Elena. This reminded her of another story. A relative of hers who had lost a child the same way. The stewardess announced that it was safe to use electronic devices and to move about the cabin. Out of nowhere I started crying. It was so sudden and deep that it took me by surprise. The woman seemed not to notice. The movie came on and she took out her headphones to watch.

Danese had warned me about that too. It's ok. It can't be comfortable for people to see strangers crying. Not a stranger that they can not to and move on. A stranger that they'll be sharing an armrest with for the next four hours.

The movies coming and going were fantasies. In one, Queen Latifah's character thinks she's going to die in a month and decides to spend all her money on a final treat. Of course, the diagnosis was wrong – she's not going to die and her new freedom allows her to get the man, the restaurant, and the acclaim she's always wanted. Along the way she tells off a Congressman, a Senator, and a wealthy business man. She ends up cooking with a fictional world famous chef and a celebrity chef appears at the end of the movie as himself attending the opening of her restaurant.

Just like real life.

I didn't even put on the headphones for the movie on the return trip. It's a mermaid movie. I'm assuming there's a whole fish out of water theme and a plot based on a need to get back to where you belong. But at it's core, there's this mermaid who turns into a woman through some plot device and and a point later in the movie when you are just getting used to her as a person she goes back to being a mermaid.

I learned much about mermaids just from glancing at the screen now and then. It seems that mermaids are topless and that they prefer to wear their hair so that it falls strategically covering them up for frontal shots from the camera. It seems that their boyfriends don't casually brush their hair aside to take a look, even when they are kissing. Mermaids also only toss their heads to move their hair out of their way behind them when they are transformed into women and are wearing human clothes.

All that aside. This underwater creature can become a person and then return to the sea. If I suspend my disbelief enough to accept that, why shouldn't I expect to see Elena waiting for me with Maggie when I get off this plane? My smiling, beautiful, little girl bouncing in her car seat unable to contain herself while I put my suitcase in the trunk. With her window down in all kinds of weather, calling to me to come greet her.

Beside her, Maggie would glance up from her video game and say "oh hi Dad" like she hadn't noticed me. Maggie would have called me on Kim's cell phone to say where they were and how late they would be. They might be sharing a bag of skittles or a tin of Altoids. Sharing means that Maggie gets to hold them and doles them out when it is time for another. Elena would start a story she'd been waiting to tell me. Maggie would roll her eyes and say "oh brother" and interrupt with commentary.

Elena would raise her voice and complain "you're interructing me".

Zero to sixty in five seconds. I'd go from a road trip without my family to being right back in the wonderful comfortable routine that was us before I could buckle my seat belt.

That, for those of you have asked, is what I would like tomorrow for father's day.

It might be hard to remember how I reacted to things before – but I wish I was back in that wonderful world again. It's time for me to go home again. Home to the world in which I swam freely with my mermaids.

Published in: on June 17, 2006 at 9:22 pm  Comments (19)  

Little Soaps

I'm heading home after a week of being away. As always I have a bag of little bars of soap and little shampoo bottles in my bag. I can't help it. It's one of my routines of being on the road.

When Kim is with me she just shakes her head. If we're in a hotel for a few days, then the second day the staff will often put new bottles of shampoo and new bars of soap in case I use up the first batch midway through my shower on the second day. I put these new bottles and bars in my suitcase and use the first day's offerings. Sure enough, on the third day we are rewarded with new supplies.

I bring my mini toiletries home and put them with my supply of soap and shampoo from other trips. I'm not a collector. I actually use them. Kim is more particular about the shampoo she uses and shakes her head at the latest little bottle that I have at the side of the tub to use over the next couple of days.

When I came home from a conference held at Disneyland, I brought the girls the Mickey Mouse soap from the bathrooms there. Mickey's smiling face was on the outside wrapper. Once you opened the wrapper there was nothing special about the soap. No Mickey shaped soap. No Mickey outline stamped on the surface of the soap. Just soap.

It never became a big thing with the girls. No squeals of "Daddy, what soap did you bring us this time." I think that would have cured me of my soap hoarding habit.

It's been a weird week away. This is my first trip to O'Reilly's home office in Sebastopol since Elena died. A co-worker gave me a huge hug when I walked in and then sat ten feet from me and sent me an email apologizing for not having the words to say. It's still ok not to know what to say. The hug communicates plenty.

It's very weird being on the road. It's as if I'm in this world where Elena isn't dead. Of course I know she is, but it doesn't confront me every day. I'm in hotel rooms that she never visited spending my days with people she never knew. Sure, many of my conversations with people are about how Kim and Maggie and I are doing – but it's not the same.

Each morning I've gotten up early to talk to Kim. This morning Maggie popped up in IM to talk about some movie she's seen the trailer for. I say "It looks just stupid enough that it will be a huge hit."

She writes back "Yah! Like Sponge Bob the Movie!" I love being able to talk to her like a person.

Maggie has been at her grandparents much of the week. There's something about connecting with her this morning that brings back Elena's absence. Elena would sit on the desktop, cross-legged, and watch Maggie while she sends instant messages. She would giggle at her sister and suggest things to write but she'd never take control of the keyboard herself. Elena would call me up and talk until she got bored. Then she's say "buh-bye" and hang up.

I pack my suitcase. I pack the computer last so that I can continue to chat with Maggie. I throw the last of the little soaps in my bag, say good bye, and head for home.

Published in: on June 14, 2006 at 10:18 am  Comments (4)  

The Race

Maggie's last day at Boulevard School included a recorder concert. She's been practicing a lot at home lately. I don't remember practicing an instrument that much as a child unless it was the day before a lesson or unless there were other threats or deadlines.

Outside on either side of the front walk were risers for the fourth graders to stand on. The map told us which side to stand on as parents so we could get the best view of our pride-and-joys. The teachers led their classes onto the lawn and onto the risers. Groups of three and four kids shared a music stand. Mr. Austin, who has clearly done this before, asked which child was responsible for turning the pages. He explained that at the Cleveland Orchestra the same person turns the pages in each group sharing the music. Teaching right up to the last minute.

The substitute music teacher came out to lead the concert. It takes a special person to teach a classroom full of fourth graders learning the recorder. Four classes just in the fourth grade and each class meets more than once a week. The teacher took the microphone and introduced the concert. When she finished talking about what we would here, she put the microphone down and turned back to the children.

Every one of the fourth graders was looking at their teacher. She raised her arms and held them in the air. The kids put their recorders in their mouths and stood watching her. She counted off the beat for them. They watched her do it. Their fingers were poised in the right position to play the first note.

She finished the count down and raised her hands in preparation for the downbeat on which the playing would begin. Their eyes all left her and moved to the music and they were off to the races. For the most part the kids didn't look up again until they were finished with the song.

The half of the kids on the right side of the sidewalk played together. They could hear the people near them and stayed in time with those close by. The half of the kids on the left side of the sidewalk played together as well.

The two sides did not play with each other. While the music teacher bravely continued to conduct, the group on the left pulled into the lead. At first it was hard to tell. But then the group on the left extended their lead. It sounded as if the music was ready to resolve itself into a well planned round. But then the group on the left kicked it into high gear. Perhaps it was that the group on the right was dragging. It was hard to tell.

This pattern repeated during each song performed. Sometimes the groups got out of synch to such an extent that the kids themselves heard that the other group was well ahead or behind their group. The teacher explained to the audience that it was remarkable that each group was playing consistently within their sections and that it was expected that they would diverge from the other group.

Maybe it was a metaphor for many other projects I've been involved in. Putting your head down and playing the notes. Acting locally and not noticing the global effects. Maybe not. Maybe it was just two risers full of fourth graders playing for their parents and friends.

Published in: on June 12, 2006 at 12:18 pm  Comments (5)  

When I Grow Up

Paula Poundstone says that adults are always asking children what they want to be when they grow up because they are looking for ideas.

Could be.

Wednesday I met my friend Paul for coffee. He's finishing up writing a book on Topology and is helping shape the Calculus book I'm currently wrestling with. It seems that every time we talk about the book I walk away with a fresh idea for a page or two. This time I decided that limits and continuity needed to live in different chapters.

In addition to mathematics we talked about everything from brewing beer to what topic he might want to study next. We sat together on his fiftieth birthday just talking and then he lit up. There was a spark in his eyes and he became more animated as he discussed a possible area of research he was interested in exploring. For the most part Paul is exactly what he wants to be when he grows up.

How wonderful.

Kim and I spent Thursday morning at Boulevard school for the end of year festivities. We went into the library to see the fourth grade video. Kim pulled me aside to warn me. In the library was a bookshelf of books purchased in Elena's memory. Above the shelf was the picture Mrs. Chung had taken of Elena on the playground.

It was soooo Elena.

Happy. Playing on the wrong part of a slide. Aware of the camera taking the picture. Mugging for the camera and communicating through the lens to the person snapping the photo. Blown up to an extra large size. This was the picture I'd seen at Dodd's a month earlier.

Maybe it was Kim's warning or maybe it was the fact that I'd seen the picture before but I wasn't surprised or upset. I stood admiring the picture and the books that people had taken the time and money to donate in her name.

The library was overflowing. Some of the parents went to the music room and others of us ended up in a classroom across the hall. The announcement on the speaker advised all classrooms to turn to channel 12 to watch the video. A dozen of us sat on kid sized chairs and looked up at the television screen. The front of the school filled the screen with the school song in the background.

A graphic announced Mr. Austin's class and one by one each child answered the question "what do you want to be when you grow up".

I started to cry.

I don't know why I titled this blog "Hope and Sadness" when I launched it the day after Elena died but this video captured both hope and sadness for me.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The kids answers were a mix. Basketball player. Policeman. Doctor. Lawyer. Author. Millionaire. Paleontologist. Garbage man. Football player. Rich. Teacher.

Maggie's class was the last to appear. She looked at the camera and said matter-of-factly that she'd like to be an artist when she grew up. I had no idea. I mean, I know that she loves art but I never knew that that's what she wants to do as her vocation.

I'm not holding her to it. I'm not greeting her on the day she graduates from law school or the day she becomes a social worker or whatever and say "so what happened to that whole art thing you planned on back when you were nine years old." It's just a data point. Whether she ends up doing art as her day job I just hope she'll always derive pleasure from it.

Mrs. Rimideo, Maggie's kindergarten teacher, gave us a beautiful piece of art to remember Elena by. She teaches as her day job but continues to enjoy working as an artist and learning more about art whenever she can. I don't know her well enough to say so, but it seems that Mrs. Rimideo is the person she wants to be when she grows up.

Hope.

So wonderful to hear each fourth grader imagine what they can see themselves becoming some day. So much hope. Whether they become their fourth grade dreams or not hardly seems to matter. There are so many jobs that they don't yet know exist.

Sadness.

What about the children who don't get to grow up? What becomes of their dreams? What becomes of our dreams for them and about them?

Published in: on June 11, 2006 at 4:51 pm  Comments (6)  

Elena’s Desk

Yesterday after school, Maggie and I cleaned out Elena's desk. Kim had talked with Mrs. Chung to see when the best time would be and Maggie asked if she could help. I met Maggie after school and we headed up to Mrs. Chung's classroom as the last kids were leaving. Mrs. Chung handed us a box and asked if we'd like her to do it.

"No thanks," I said, "Maggie and I will."

Maggie opened the desk and started to pull out the last pieces of Elena's physical presence in the school. There were clothes starting with a couple of winter hats. There was another pack of emergency clothes packed in a plastic bag. There was a sock full of coins for the counting exercises the kids did.

There were workbooks and school papers as well as books from home that Elena had brought in to share with her friends. There were notes to and from other children. Mrs. Chung gave us an essay Elena had written about herself with a picture of her from when she was a baby. A tiny little thing looking up from a circular baby blanket my mom had knit her.

We found a framed picture of Sophie that Elena had kept in her desk inside a frame that read "my best friend". We'd seen Sophie's mom on our way into the school. Seeing the picture made Maggie and I pause.

Our favorite item was a tiny spiral bound notebook. On each page was written the name of a classmate together with their telephone number. Elena had a little address book for her friends in school so that she could call them when she wanted to. Some had included their area code and some hadn't. A few only remembered five or six of the digits in their phone number. Having a network of friends she could contact seemed very Elena.

Maggie and I put the items in the box. Mrs. Chung brought over Elena's portfolio.

"I don't know if you want this," she said.

We didn't know either, so we took it and put it in the box. Maggie and I thanked Mrs. Chung and walked out of the school with the box full of Elena's stuff. We haven't packed up her room at home yet. I've pushed Kim a bit on this but I know now from this little experience of boxing up just some of her things that Kim is right. We aren't ready yet.

Maggie and I went out to the playground with the box. Maggie climbed trees and played on the playground while Elena's box sat quietly.

Published in: on June 8, 2006 at 8:49 am  Comments (9)  

Correct Change

Saturday was Maggie's last soccer game of the season. It was threatening to rain when we got to the field but within minutes the sky was clear and the sun was out. The possible lightning storms never appeared. It was a perfect day for soccer.

Maggie ran over to join her team while Kim and I followed with the orange slices for half-time and a couple of portable chairs to sit in and watch the game. As game time neared, the parents set up their chairs on either side of the field. People we'd gotten to know over half a dozen Fridays and Saturdays in the fall and the same number again in the spring. We'd hang out on the sidelines and offer encouragement to the girls for an hour. Another perfect Saturday here in the midwest.

It's not even summer yet and Maggie's skin is already beginning to glow. Just from recess and playing outside and every day activity, Maggie's color is beginning to darken. There is a radiance that you can feel all the way across a soccer field.

Her play is timid. She scraps for the ball and kicks it once but doesn't make that second strike that is so often successful at this level of play. A couple of girls stand out as playing exceptionally well. The rest are still having a great time. As always, we play half of the game against one team and half against the other team. Maggie spends much of the second game in goal and isn't really challenged.

I shout instructions and encouragement from the side. She pretends not to hear me. Maybe it's not pretending. When she was younger, I would stand behind her while she was in goal so that I knew she heard me. Now I just embarrass her from the sidelines just as the other parents embarrass their children.

No one brought a snack today. We're all heading over to a pizza buffet for an end of season celebration.

We're one of the first families to arrive. The coach and Kim pull several tables together so that everyone can sit together. I stand in line to pay for our family. I pull out twenty-one dollars. It always costs a bit more than twenty dollars for us to eat there if we get the buffet plus drinks.

The high school student at the register tells me the price is a little more than sixteen dollars. I look confused.

"Did you add in our drinks?" I ask.

Now she looks confused. "Yes," she tells me.

"Did your prices change?" I ask.

"Well," she answers, "they went up a little."

"Up?" I ask more to myself than anyone else. I hand her seventeen dollars and she gives me change and a receipt. I look at the receipt checking to make sure that she has charged us for the drinks.

She has.

As she hands me our drink glasses I finally understand. Now when I take out the whole family for dinner, there's just three of us.

It seems so stupid. I've gone out with just Elena or just Maggie or just Kim or some combination. But I always knew I'd be paying less because we weren't all there. I haven't gotten used to the fact that now, when we are all there, we aren't all there. All of us is three. All of us now pays a little more than sixteen dollars.

Drinks included.

Published in: on June 7, 2006 at 2:06 pm  Comments (2)