Some days I don’t have the resilience it takes to endure the reckless cruelties a pre-teen dispenses almost without thinking. “You look like a turtle,” she said on our way out the door to cheer practice. I was wearing the green felt beanie I bought at the army surplus store in Pomona, January 2009, to prepare for my first winter retreat with the youth of Claremont Presbyterian Church. It’s not my only winter hat, but it’s the one I’ve worn the longest.

It now litters the parking lot of a Jewel -Osco in Old Irving Park.

Some days I don’t have it.



Two things I contribute to most conversations I’m in:

  1. “That reminds me of an old SNL bit . . . “
  2. “I heard this on a podcast . . . “

I’m not sure what it says about me that my major sources of knowledge and insight are dated comedy bits and whatever I heard in my podcast feed this morning.


Answering Machine

Twice in the past month I’ve had a call returned at least a week after I left a message on a home answering machine, and both times the caller has apologetically explained that they check their landline messages only rarely.

Technology changes. I used to maintain this as a point of professionalism: call the home phone during the day and leave a message. It allows a person to respond in their own time, unlike a mobile phone call, which is more intrusive and demands immediate response. Never text.

But the default has clearly shifted now to calling the mobile phone first, and the stigma around texting someone in a professional capacity is dissipating. I’m learning.


Dollar Tree

As soon as Daughter got home from school yesterday she started asking if we could go to the Dollar Tree. Her friend’s birthday is tomorrow, and she wants to assemble a gift bag for her. Also, on the way home, we need to pick up flour, sugar, butter, and eggs so she can make a birthday cupcake.

This is my kind of errand.

The Dollar Tree is a mess of dollies teetering in the aisles with boxes and once-shelved items strewn on the floor. Twice while we’re there a box falls over onto a shopper. Two frazzled employees are doing their best to hold it all together, and shoppers seem surprisingly unbothered by the mess, gently kicking items out of their way as if they were sliding garments aside on a clothes rack. I think I’m the most stressed person in the store.

That’s partly because I’m with an 11 year-old who is clutching exactly $11 she intends to spend on this birthday basket. She is systematically striding through the debris, making a mental list and expressing her every thought out loud. She made some general suggestions on the walk over–hair ties, Takis–but when I point those items out she has a reason at the ready why they’re not suitable. “She likes candy better.” “Pink isn’t her color.” I take two cleansing breaths and decide to let this take as long as it takes; we have nowhere to be and she has no homework for tomorrow. I’m kind of fascinated, actually.

We end up in the checkout aisle with a pens, Twix, hand lotion, a small stuffed animal, scrunchees, conditioner, a card, and a drawstring backpack to hold it all. In front of us is a man buying a bag of frozen french fries accompanied by two jars of minced garlic and two shakers of garlic salt, and behind us is a man on the phone with “Babe,” as in, “Babe, have you ever considered that you have enough charisma to start a cult?” Daughter’s got her dollars at the ready, but so do I. I’m certain she’s busted her budget.

“$10.46” says the checker. Daughter is exceedingly satisfied to hand over her money and receive back her 54 cents change. We step outside into the post daylight savings dark, and I silently wish for every person we pass on the sidewalk a friend who will spend $10.46 on them at the Dollar Tree.


I Am The Status Quo

You won’t feel the change from newbie outsider to invested insider, because it probably doesn’t happen in a single moment. But you will feel the recognition of it having occurred. You will find yourself facing some change to the status quo, a status quo that once felt both alien and inevitable, and the status quo will suddenly seem fungible. You will feel things about the change, including, possibly, resistance. And in that moment you will know that you have become the status quo.

That’s not bad, necessarily. As with almost everything, representing the status quo comes with both responsibilities and benefits, risks and rewards.


The Baker, part 4

A hazard of online grocery ordering is that sometimes you don’t check the size of an item carefully before you click “buy,” leaving you with a 6 oz package of tortellini or individual bag of Doritos where you’d clearly intended to buy a bigger bag. The website doesn’t ask: “You sure about that?”

So when she understands that she needs the five egg whites I unceremoniously tipped into the sink, she is immediately calmed by the realization that there is, for some reason, a carton of 15 eggs in the fridge. By the time I return to the kitchen to rescue the project she’s already got fresh egg whites in a bowl and is beating them with the electric mixer, seated on the kitchen floor.

The thing gets into a cake pan and then the oven with remarkable efficiency. I wash her dishes and wipe down the counters, feeling less like a put-upon parent are more like a baker’s assistant, happy for the privilege. She sets the timer for an hour and exits the kitchen to victoriously get ready for bed. Even for a strike-cancelled school night, it’s late.

She will see it through, though, and so when the cake is still gooey in the middle after the timer sounds, and when it still isn’t done after an additional 10 minutes, nobody is going to bed. It’s 11:00 before she can declare it completed and taste a token of her work. I should be annoyed that the evening–my evening–got pushed so late by a spontaneous project, but I’m not. I wonder if the number of late-night pound cakes baked isn’t a measure of the fullness of a life. I think she understands this better than I do.


The Baker, part 3

I’ve never made pound cake, but that hardly matters to her mission. She has set about making it, shuttling back and forth between the red hardback tome splayed open on the counter top and the pantry and between the pantry and the refrigerator. I said I’m not doing any more kitchen cleaning tonight.

I’m not doing any more kitchen cleaning tonight.

I’m not doing any more kitchen cleaning tonight.

She comes to me with a rumpled sugar bag. “Is this one cup?”

“I don’t know. You should measure it.”

She comes to me with a rumpled flour bag. “Is this enough flour?”

“I don’t know. You should measure it.”

Minutes worth of undeterred, focused work elapse in the kitchen. I’m several paragraphs into my magazine article before the first serious obstacle presents itself. “Dad, how do you separate eggs? The recipe says to use eggs that are ‘separated.'”

I’m not doing any more kitchen cleaning tonight, but only if I get involved here. I explain the simple egg-separating technique, but her face is registering more confusion than confidence, so I offer to show her with one. That’s it. She sees one and she’s got it. In a couple minutes there is a bowl of yolks and a bowl of whites. She asks if I’ll mix the yolks into her batter while she adds them one at a time.

I’m not doing any more–

Once we’ve beaten in the yolks, she asks what to do with the whites. “I don’t know,” I answer. “Probably get rid of them.” And just like that the egg whites slide down the drain.

She’s got it from here, and it’s time for my shower, so I leave her to it. No sooner have I closed the bathroom door, though, do I hear the project’s first panicked exclamation. “Oh no!” she yells. I wait for more. Nothing.

“What is it?”

“We were supposed to keep the egg whites!”


The Baker, part 2

She wants me to approve more time on YouTube, so she can find a cupcake recipe. Denied.

“Use a cookbook,” I suggest, suspecting this may put an end to the idea to bake something altogether, suspecting the idea was to secure another hour of phone time.


She disappears into the kitchen, and I can hear her pull a book down and open its pages. I suggest she locate “cupcakes” in the index, but she insists that she needs the table of contents. I don’t dispute this decision, and I decide, in that moment, to let her do what she will and to stop making suggestions.

Several minutes later I can see that she has arrayed all her ingredients on the countertop, and I decide it’s okay to ask one more question. “What are you making?”



The Baker

“I’m bored.”

I’ve just settled into my reading chair with a cup of that pumpkin tea from Trader Joe’s that I love after cleaning up the dinner dishes when the sixth grader, mindlessly circling the dining room table, makes this announcement. The New Yorker is open on my lap

“Do you want to play a game?” I ask. I would gladly set down my magazine and leave my reading chair to revisit an activity she used to love but has seemed to grow out of.

“No. I want to bake something.”

I suck in my breath, and before the words can get themselves in decent form they come reflexively out. “It’s late and I just finished cleaning the kitchen.”

She pauses and cocks her head to the side a bit. “What time is it?” I look at my watch.

“It’s 8:30.”

“Oh, that’s fine. I don’t go to bed until 10:00.”

She has chosen to focus on the objection that mattered least. And she’s not wrong; school has been cancelled for tomorrow already. I got the automated phone message three hours earlier. It’s the ninth day of the teacher strike, and by now I don’t even answer when the call comes. I recognize the number and I know.

“Okay, but I’m not doing any more cleaning in the kitchen,” I yield in my “I’m-very-serious” voice. She intones the requisite promises to not make a mess.

I sigh into my tea.


Content vs. Packaging

If you don’t feel good about the content, nail the packaging.

The clock ran out on my sermon preparation time this week, so it was a jittery Sunday morning filled with interior visions of pulpit calamity. But I was robed up in plenty of time and my stole was perfectly even.

Another way to say it: act the part.