My week with the girls
Our school system has an incredible experiential education program. Kids take trips to cool places and learn things that are impossible to teach in the classroom. On many trips parents get to go along, too. This is a blessing, and a curse.It’s a blessing if you get to go. Two years ago I tagged along on my daughter’s fourth-grade trip to Mesa Verde. Time flew by! There was so much to do that I doubt anyone could do it all in one summer, but it was fun trying.It’s a curse if you don’t get to go. This year it was our 10-year-old son’s turn to go with his class, and I was outmaneuvered by my wife for the honor to accompany him. I was to stay at home with our two daughters, ages 11 and 6, and the dog, taking care of meals, the house, grocery shopping, making lunches, school events, along with paying some attention to my regular paying job. This would be, I was certain, the longest week of my life. There would be so much to do that I doubt I could take care of it in a lifetime, and I’d probably die trying.It took all the way up until the night before my wife and son left for my prophecy of pain to begin taking shape. The house was a whirlwind of packing, sorting and anxiousness about the week ahead. Around 10 o’clock my wife pulled out my schedule for the week. It read similar to the instructions on how to assemble a backyard gas grill. An excerpt: “Max and Mom to school by 6:45 a.m. Lucy and Jane catch bus at 7:30. Jane needs a lunch, unless her class goes to the Herron Park. Check my e-mail first thing, her teacher will let you know. Lucy having Pizza with her base camp, needs $10. Both take bus home, arrive at about 3:40 p.m. Lucy to baby sit, unless she goes to ballet with Kari, then call Aunt Charlotte and ask her to pick up Jane. Make sure both know to go to the carpool lane. If so, you can work later and pick her up on your way home. Remember to buy some fruit for lunches. Feed pets. Oh, and not sure what to do about the dog, maybe you can take her to the office … ?” Now, I’m normally a confident guy, but I can’t put all this together. I don’t have the right tools!Regardless, the alarm sounds at 5 a.m. and the campers scurry to get to the school on time. I wake up and sluggishly put something together for the girls’ breakfast and send them off to school. Rather than take the dog to work, I decide I’m going to the office half-day and then bring work home so that I’ll be there when the girls get there. It’s such a nice day that I even ride my bike into town to relieve a little stress.At the office this scheme works so smoothly that I spend most of the morning waiting for it to unravel. I know that pulling the wrong string a little too hard here or there will create more holes in this master plan than there are in a new pair of Gucci jeans.But, nothing of the kind happens. I get home from work at 1, play with the dog, work a little more, and am here to make a snack for the girls when they get home. They go out to play for an hour or so while I finish a project, then I make dinner while Lucy does homework and Jane puts a puzzle together on the kitchen table. I am dumbfounded at the order that exists in the universe.The rest of the week goes just as smoothly. I enjoy the time alone with my girls. It makes me see that I have grown out of the habit of being here so much as they have grown older and less dependent. I recognize something that is slipping away so gradually that I hardly even noticed it was going. They, and I, need this now as much as ever.On the last night, I am preparing to grill hamburgers that the girls requested. We want to really do them up, so I slice tomatoes, onions and avocados. I clean some lettuce, peel cheese and fry some bacon. From the fridge I start piling condiments on the table that we’ve only used for special occasions. There are banana peppers, pickles – sweet, dill and relish – jalapeños, barbecue sauce, regular and spicy ketchup, and four different kinds of mustard.As I’m doing this, Lucy says, “Dad, I’m really going to miss this week. It’s been fun.””But, we didn’t do anything special.””Yes we did.” She smiles so innocently that I can picture her face as a baby. I pretended that it’s cutting the onion that moistens my eyes.As we finish our heavenly burgers, Lucy laughs as she notices that the lid on the dill pickles has an expiration date of August ’05. I had three of them. Then I notice that the jalapeños were “best used before January 2006.” Jane catches on and sees that the spicy ketchup went stale in June of ’04! We go through all of the condiments on the table and find a total of six bottles of extras that are no longer fit for human consumption. I head to the fridge and pull out another half-dozen bottles of ancient salad dressings, olives, and A-1 sauce. We share laughter so deep and rich that it hurts. It is pure joy, a fitting way to conclude our week.That night I think about the condiments. They sat, and sat, in the fridge waiting for a special occasion. When that occasion came, it was too late. Time passed so quickly that it outstripped our ability to preserve them. I’ll be more careful from now on.Roger Marolt is anxiously awaiting the next experiential education trip at email@example.com. He doesn’t care if he gets to go or not.
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Commentary: “My granddaughter Charli, dressed in an ankle-length sun dress, sporting a fresh manicure and wearing light lipstick (her mother helped reorganize that), quietly welcomed me to the affair, maintaining an air of sophistication that surprised. She knew it was a big deal.”