On any given day, on any team, one member is going to do the heavy lifting. You will do the heavy lifting tomorrow.
Got No Truck
I drive down Georgia Avenue towards DC nearly every day and meet one or more of these drivers each journey: 20 in a 35; Ride-a-Tail; Stops for No Discernible Reason; Slows for Turn But Does Not; Slows for Turn With No Signal; Swerves into Adjacent Lane Because a Bus/Pedestrian/Uber has Stopped in Theirs (Obviously); Crosses Three Lanes of Traffic to Get On Beltway; Turning Left from Lane Marked ‘No Left Turns;’ Still Reading Text 10 Seconds After Green.
These drivers make me angry. Furious. I gesture. I shout. I roll down my window to scream toothless threats into the wind until my face is wet with spit.
They’re doing this to me.
They are hurting me.
No, of course they’re not. Like me, they’re just trying to get through the day without falling through an open manhole or slipping on a banana peel. They’re thinking about work. Their sick Aunt. What to make for dinner.
I’m a person of greater than modest means. Still: Getting out of bed, making coffee, dressing myself & the kid, driving to school and then work, working, doing work that matters, reading a few pages on the can, trolling Twitter and FB for pictures of your beautiful tropical holiday between stories describing of our impending political/environmental doom, buying groceries, feeding myself, the family, bath time, 3 books and a song, paying bills and doing dishes, watching a little TV while locked into work email with a customer just starting her day in Asia, holding my tiny family close, clacking out 200 words… that’s all I can squeeze out most days. That’s success. I don’t owe the universe more than that.
Women who do it solo1, likely with more children and far fewer resources than my family, are the only people who can every rightly claim to be “owning” this life. That they don’t collectively say “Fuck this” and seize the halls of power is a testament to how steep – and exhausting – are the barriers we demand women surmount before the day even begins.
Some of you, though, are ethereal beings – pixies, imps, demi-gods – who can push out a novel or a business or music in the spaces between the events that take up a normal day. Do you have a staff? Shadow henchmen? Office space that sits on the periphery of time-space? Maybe you don’t. Is there an accounting at the end of the day that is suppressed, omitted from the public record? I’d guess yes.
In work and life, I can over promise and under deliver. Sometimes I try to connect with people and I fail. I try again and fail again and that failure carriers a great weight. We’re all just trying to muddle through the day. I’m (mostly) succeeding at my core responsibilities and the core is fucking hard.
You know that.
Driving down Georgia, I know nothing about the souls of those drivers, if they are good or bad people. I can think: “She’s self-involved. He hates his family. Maybe that guy’s a Adolf Hitler and Hugh Hefner chimera wrapped up in a $5000 suit, a JD and an S-Class.” But I don’t know. I do know that I am deeply distrustful of any system that applies a value to a human being. I do know that humans make mistakes and and are exclusively focused on just getting through the day.
You don’t know, either. You think you know the specific quality in people creates conflict, but you don’t know.
I forget anniversaries. I miss conference calls. I say the “right” thing the wrong way. I drift over into your lane while singing along to the Beatles. I am human. I make mistakes and spend 99% of my brain cycles trying not to trip over my own mess.
You might call this privilege. Ok.
Expecting perfection and attributing anything short of it to a trait other than “human” is to set yourself up for unending misery.
Good luck in 2019.
- Know it’s exclusively women. Take a good think on why you object, Men, when anyone makes that evident observation. ↩
Christmas is coming (in two months), I’m fat, I guess it’s time to celebrate?
The Wee Bairn and I went to a Starbucks this past weekend. Amy Grant was on the satellite radio singing about Yule Tide Carols. A barista stacked shiny red and green travel mugs near the register. Shouldn’t be suprised? Costco and Home Depot have had animatronic Santas on display since early October1. Getting this stuff gone and numbers in early makes Good Business Sense, I hear from people who don’t have to pick and pack or stand under a tiny speaker blaring “Santa Baby” folding Gap sweaters.
SWMNBB mentioned that JD McPherson had a new album of Christmas songs out. A couple of years ago, he released this track, which also appears on the new album:
Of course, after looking for this new music, I spent another several hours and $100 on a stack of additional Christmas CDs2. They’re coming in now.
Those who know me know I love Christmas songs, novelty and traditional, and enjoy sharing them with others. I will again this year.
Any suggestions or requests?
- I’ve seen a lot of seasonal anxiety in my trade, more than usual, during what is normally the busy period of manufacturers and retail. Looming deadlines for 45’s tariffs on Chinese manufactured goods are for juicing #s in shipping, imports, raw material exports, volume of goods, warehouse space, salaries for stevedores, and low-wage warehouse workers. When they’re put into action, and with the traditional slowdown in the Western and Lunar New Years, everything is going to come to a screeching halt. Merry Christmas! ↩
- That’s right, CDs. I buy physical media and rip them at a quality that I can’t download. And I still hold the disks if my PC and her backups going blooey. ↩
[Read the first part Present, In Line]
Patiently, the wee Bairn and I stood with the other families waiting to make our own pinewood windmill for Mother’s Day. I held her little hand and we talked: what would do when we got to the front of the line; what plants and flowers should we look for; should I get a new Weber gas grill.1 Even so young, it is one of the great pleasures of Fatherhood for me to watch the Bairn observe the world, people, and parents, create unique thoughts and ideas and state them. Our conversations make me smile and laugh and appreciate this tiny person next to me.
We’re not alone, obviously, so I’m on edge because, while the line is moving, and quickly, it’s chaotic and loud and there’s only one person holding back the tide of eager and aggressive parents and she’s either gonna get knocked over or run out of supplies before we get into the classroom. We should go elsewhere, I think, to Michael’s to get our own project, or pillage my home scrap pile.
We don’t. We stay. The Bairn likes people. A peek at my phone and I know that we had only been there a few minutes since we started at the back and the line halved. So what if they run out? I was enjoying my time with my daughter.
When we stepped in line, I saw that many kids had their own tiny Home Depot smocks on. When I registered the Wee Bairn (which I gather that no one else had done) the confirmation suggested she’d get one for attending. I asked the woman two places in front of me (because the guy just in front of us had shut off the world for his phone; more later) if A) we were in the correct line for the project, and B) if kids got the smock at the front. She looked at me, zero expression, said ‘Yes’ and then pulled out her iPhone. Conversation done.
The other families were the usual mix I’ve come to really appreciate in our East Coast Elite Bubble. Watching them was a little like my own version of Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
At the very back of the line was a Dad and son, white, dressed like they had just come from the back nine. He was loud (so loud), shouting, to no one in particular, about how long the line was and wondering why nobody was paying attention. Anytime a gap grew in the line, he’d point it out. “HEADS UP!” No one listened. “WHY IS NO ONE LISTENING!” Obvious to everyone else: he held no authority. His paycheck, dick, and skin-tone didn’t rate in that line. People were paying attention to their own kids. Trying to tune him out, like me. Eventually he announced his attention to pick up some wood from the cutoff pile and build their own project.
Disappointing his kid to own the libs, as they say on the Twitter machine.
There were many mothers in line, with friends and all of their children. When loser to the front, Dad and their older kids joined, swelling the line.2 The parents asked questions in Spanish; the kids answered in English. I wondered if they were the wives of construction workers and home builders, minding the kids while their husbands shopped for tools and supplies and checked out at the contractor line. Their kids were quiet and exceptionally polite. I’m not a big family guy, but I wish the Bairn lived closer to her cousins.
Everyone checks their phones.3, trying to tune out the noise of the store, the line, the creeping doubt about whether it was even worth it. Their children.
The father directly in front of us was scratching around gems in a Bejewelled-clone on his phone and holding for too long any place he could comfortably rest his ass, even as the line moved forward without him (HEADS UP THE LINE IS MOVING!, shouted the guy at the back before he split in huff). The kid spun in place, silently, in tight circles, while Dad zoned out.
Kid weaved between shopper’s legs. Shoppers with lengths of carpet, tiles, handsaws.
He tripped over a woman’s feet.
He knocked over 10′ lengths of wood trim.
Only when the kid started pounding on the metal door to the classroom did Dad look up. A Mom shouting “Who’s son is this?” He grabbed the kid by the arm, pulled him to his side, and went back to his game
All of this happened within less than 5 minutes. No time at all. And meanwhile, my kid, my Bairn, stood next to me with her hand in mine, also watching the people, asking about and waving to other kids, talking about what we were going to build and what we were going to do after.
If I had spoke to that father, if he had asked (it’s not my place to put pressure on another Dad; as I don’t believe any woman has the right to question how my wife mothers) and only if he had asked, I would let him know how much improved my life has been from just talking with my wee bairn, spending some time in my day to see the world from three feet small.
There are times when she lays out flat on the floor of the Giant Supermarket. When I’d like to pick her up, put her in the car, take her home, and lock her in her room until dinner time. But they are nothing compared to the sheer joy of watching her be excited by nearly everything that’s happening around her. The Bairn was excited, frantically so, to go with her dad to the Home Depot on a beautiful Saturday morning and make a present for her mama (which, incidentally, she kept for her self, so it was a good thing that Dad had many backups). And I was excited to hear the hilariously bananas ideas that come out of her little mouth.
We built the little windmill planter. No paint, but all of the stickers. I did most of the building; she held the hammer, too, while I tapped nails into place. The Bairn got a smock and a pin to take home. We planted some beans in the small planter cup and watered them. They sprouted, but didn’t make it to July.
A new mother mentioned, on line, how grateful she was when her husband came home from work with an iced coffee and took their child off of her hands for a few minutes. I wondered if the bar for successful fatherhood was really that low; that doing the bare minimum is worthy of ebullient public praise?
I guess the answer, at least sometimes, is yes.
Men can do better.
- The answer was ‘Yes,’ so I did and SWMNBB was very, very excited that grilling would no longer include time to get the damned charcoal lit. ↩
- The cranky, privileged version of me can get burned up at this sort of thing. But, really, would it be better to have all 10 family members in line at the same time? No. ↩
- I’m not immune from this disorder and even with 1001 really good and observant questions coming @ me from the Bairn, I slip. ↩
One week before Mother’s Day, I took the Bairn to our mutual favorite store: the Home Depot. SWMNBB has a standing appointment that cuts right through our Saturday morning and the Bairn and I usually spend that time at the downtown Silver Spring library or one of the dozen or so good county parks around our neighborhood and that was our plan for that Saturday.
The night before, however, I had received a marketing email from Home Depot outlining the DIY workshops they had available in our local. This included a selection of Kids only workshops, with one specifically advertised as a chance to build Mom something nice for Mother’s Day: a wooden windmill planter.
SHE loves the kid’s art and projects, so there was no doubt that this would be a Good Think to Do. But this Father and Husband is no dummy. A home-made gift from the hands of our wee one is necessary, but not sufficient. Flowers and breakfast and dinner1 are essential parts of giving thanks for the women who have sacrificed (bodies, rest, careers, autonomy, identity, etc.) to create shiny new people. But the Bairn loves projects and the Home Depot, so I thought it would be a good way to spend an hour or so, creating an object, together, for the most important person in our lives.
And it was.
I’m not sure why I expected this thing to be different from other so-called “free” Parent/Child events in the Washington DC metroplex , or why I believed 9am was an early start. When we arrived, we queued up at the end of a line. A long line, running from a classroom, past a hall of lockers, through double doors marked “Associates Only Beyond These Doors.” A long line of parents, their relatives and friends, with toddlers and kindergartners and first graders in tiny orange Home Depot aprons.
“Free” events create within me an extraordinary amount of anxiety (but so does crossing the street, so there it is). There is absolutely nothing that I want for so much for myself, for free, that I will wait longer than 5 minutes in a line. I’d just as soon pay for those movie tickets or signed Blu-Ray or sample bag of mid-grade shopping mall chocolate.2 With parenthood comes lines for activities that bring the Wee Bairn great joy. That brings us great j oy. So we stood in an absurd line to make Mother’s Day handicrafts, compliments of a multi-billion dollar corporation.
It’s not lines themselves that prime my anxiety pump. It’s the people, naturally.
The Social Justice Warrior side of my personality kind of likes the idea of lines, that people, regardless of race, creed, social strata, are forced to queue up in order of arrival. That we’ve all agreed that the person who showed up first at 4am deserves to be first through the gate and that the person who showed up 5 minutes after the gate opened risks only a shitty seat or empty hands. Lines are democratic.
But I’m not stupid or so naive as to believe that everyone knows that they are equal to the woman in front of them. And that little bugger on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, tells me again and again that the family in front of us is going to take the last one, the last spot, the last balsa wood windmill, and the Bairn will cry and I will be angry. Fuck them, he says. Jump the queue, he says. Or better yet, walk away, that’ll show em! Complain to the manager!
I shut that noise down. With great effort. That little man on my shoulder hunts Joy and Happiness and eats them with mustard. He breeds; I know how I acquired mine and I’ll be damned if I give the wee Bairn his clone.
Being present, mentally and physically, with my Bairn, in that moment, is the only way to crush that little fucker.
Not everyone knows that.
- On Mother’s Day proper I was back at the HD. I bought a new gas grill. Members of the public might assume that this was a gift only for myself. Not so. As the West Indian gentleman who helped me load the thing in my CR-V (and who would not take a tip) said “Looks like someones cooking Mother’s Day Dinner.” And dinners for the rest of time, my friend. ↩
- Boo in the Zoo ↩
Me, Saturday Morning, Bedroom, Putting on a Summer Hat
Bairn: Take it off, I don’t like it
Bairn: You look like a man.
Me: But I *am* a man!
Bairn: No, you’re “Daddy.”