Confronting the past, in jack-ass form

On a recent spring day, when it was a little too chilly to spend time outdoors comfortably, Joe, Lily, Neve and I headed to a nearby shopping mall to buy a few gifts. Not long into the trip – which involved going up and down escalators several times (escalators are for Lily, as they were for me as a child, a thrilling amusement park ride) – Lily spotted the play area and made a beeline for it. Neve had fallen asleep in her stroller, so we decided I’d follow Lily while Joe finished his errands with Neve.

I halted Lily at the play area’s entry point, reminding her that she needed to remove her shoes. She asked for my help, so I squatted to pull them off; but in that same moment, I also got that feeling you get when you’re low to the ground and someone moves into your line of vision. I looked up. And when I did, I locked eyes with a man I’d known since he was a not-so-nice young boy in elementary school. He hadn’t lost any of his hair (curses!), but had shaved it down to little more than a shadow; his eyes still had that same condescending, humorless, looking-past-you-to-someone-who-might-matter expression; and in terms of his body, this former football player (of course) looked like he was still in rock solid shape.

The two of us stared at each other a beat or two longer than would complete strangers. I was making absolutely sure he was who I thought he was, and vice versa, while in the same moment, we both made a kind of unspoken pact not to acknowledge each other verbally. Why? We weren’t friends; we weren’t going to be friends; and pretending otherwise achieved nothing. So I finished getting Lily’s shoes off and sent her toward the equipment to play, while I settled into a seat on a nearby bench.

While watching Lily trying to walk along the edge of the play area’s rowboat, as if it were a balance beam, I stole glances at this man and his young son, who kept running to his father to eat a spoonful or two of ice cream from a cup. The man was dressed in dark jeans and a dark shirt that flattered his body, and his boy wore a clean, polished-looking play clothes. I started to spin a tale in my head, wherein this was the man’s only time each week with his son, thanks to a bitter divorce. (Cue it: “And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon…”) But who knows? This storytelling impulse is just something we tend to do when a person who was unkind to us during our childhood has the nerve to age beautifully. Continue reading

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Oof. (Or, anatomy of a really crappy morning)

I’m not sure what else to title this post, since it deals with the seemingly endless and impossible struggle I had with Lily on Tuesday morning.

Things started calmly enough. Lily had slept in a bit, and Joe had to get to an 8:30 a.m. meeting, so he only had time to bring Lily downstairs and serve her her standard breakfast order (Cheerios).

As usual, she was only moderately interested in eating – the world is a palace of constant distractions for a 2 1/2 year old – and while she’s done well using a “big girl” juice glass of late, she stopped paying attention long enough to drop, and consequently shatter, one that morning. I picked up all the pieces I could find, making a mental note to vacuum around the area later, and stayed calm while telling her that that’s why she had to be careful with the “big girl” glasses; they can actually break. (You know. Like Mommies.)

Soon after Joe left, Lily pulled her chair to the nearby stereo to engage in one of her favorite pastimes: pulling CD cases out one by one and handing them to me while also insisting on taking some of the CDs out and putting them into the stereo (where she randomly pushes buttons until the stereo does what she wants). I hate this game. And because Joe had had to leave before she was dressed, I was suddenly feeling quick-to-anger. So when CDs came toppling down, my voice rose, in volume and register. “Lily, PLEASE BE CAREFUL.” And when she told me to pick something up, without saying “please,” I yelled, “For the 5,000th time, how do you ask nicely? I really don’t like to be ordered around like a servant!”

I knew I was being irrationally short-tempered. Here Lily was, in a good mood, and I was steaming. But I couldn’t help it. I was just destined to have a shorter-than-usual fuse that morning. Continue reading