A Note for Your Mirror

Dear Will:

The other day I took my three kids to Cold Stone for some ice cream while my wife Dana was at her ballet class. The four of us—Luke (15), Bryn (11), Seth (7) and I sat at the table outside snarfing down our ice cream and working together on an ill-conceived crossword puzzle Bryn had to turn in at school the next day.

While we discussed the possible solutions to yet another poorly-written clue, a woman sat down at the table with us and asked to borrow my cell phone. She made a bizarre call, ostensibly informing her son that she was calling him on someone else’s phone and therefore would talk to him later. (Huh?) Then over the next several minutes she commented on my “incredible eyes,” asked if I go to church, and then finally, as I was heading to my car with my children, inquired whether or not I was married.

It was only then that I realized that this woman had been hitting on me.

My 15-year-old, of course, thought it was perhaps the funniest thing he had witnessed since kindergarten. He quite accurately pointed out that I am one of the least likely candidates for any woman’s attention: I’m bald, middle-aged, and travel with a pack of sniping children. I’ve been married for over 20 years. It has been so long since I considered the possibility that anyone might want to flirt with me that this moment seemed like something out of “The Twilight Zone” or “Candid Camera.” He and Bryn laughed and teased me about it all the way home. It was hilarious.

As we unloaded the car, however, I discovered that Seth was in tears. These weren’t the dry tears he has mastered as part of his daily tantrum routine. These were the big, plop-on-the-ground-and-form-puddles kind of tears, complete with the trembling shoulders and uneven breathing that can only be associated with genuine, heartfelt sadness. None of us had any idea what had put him in this state.

Fortunately, by now Dana had returned home, first to hear Luke and Bryn’s report on Dad’s unlikely encounter at Cold Stone, and then to give the kind of comfort to Seth of which only a mother is capable. She held him for a few minutes while he sobbed, telling him that, whenever he felt ready, she hoped he might tell her why he was so sad. So it was that when he composed himself a little, he disappeared into the study, where he wrote the following note:

“It’s what Dad and the others were talking about.
I want you as my mom and NO other!!!”

As you might suspect, once Dana read Seth’s little note she gathered him up once more to reassure him that she is the only mother he will ever have and that she and I would not want it any other way. It had not occurred to the rest of us that this incident had been anything but funny, but to Seth, even joking about some other woman with his dad—no matter how preposterous the notion might seem to just about anyone else—was no laughing matter at all.

What a nice reminder Seth gave us of the importance of a happy, stable home. Not that ours always is either happy or stable, mind you, but even so: Seth would clearly prefer the status quo to any other configuration one might devise. Would that every father had a copy of Seth’s note taped to his mirror to remind him that what kids need more than anything is a safe, familiar place to call home, a place in which they are surrounded by all of the people they love the most.


Jet Lag and a Trip to the Zoo

Dear Will:

Last week I found out I have to fly to Korea—one of those glamorous business trips during which you spend as much time going and coming as you do working. Should be awful.

Then I found out it is worse than I thought. The only way to get there in time for the meetings is to leave mid-day on Sunday, September 5. And when I arrive it will be Monday night. Labor Day will have disappeared altogether.

Cheer up, they told me. You get that day back on the return. That’s nice in theory, of course, but the truth is that I will have lost a 3-day weekend that I’m never getting back. And on Tuesday, while I’m schmoozing Koreans in Busan, my five-year-old Seth will be attending his first day of kindergarten. There’s something else I will miss that no crossing of the dateline will ever give me back. Let’s just say I’m not happy.

Seth, to his great credit, will hardly notice. The excitement of his new adventure will surely not have worn off by the time I drag back home on Wednesday night, just in time for . . . Back to School Night at Luke’s high school. I anticipate that the teachers I meet that night will find me charming if but a bit unkempt and maybe catatonic. What is it they say about having only one chance to make a good first impression? Luke’s teachers are sure to be dazzled.

Originally we had planned to spend Labor Day at the San Diego Zoo, but instead we’re going down on the Saturday before. No big deal except it means that I will miss my beloved UCLA Bruins’ opening football game, which I will tape and now watch—what?—a week later. Or probably not at all.

What a rough life I lead.

In contrast, my wife just had her third knee surgery last week. Afterward, the doctor informed her that her cartilage is so badly deteriorated that within a few years she will likely have to have knee replacement surgery. Elsewhere, a dear friend is facing a tragic divorce (is there any other kind?) after nearly 30 years of marriage. And another good friend has seen everything he has lived and worked for taken away from him after a series of bad choices and horrible decisions. His life is a wreck.

And here I’m complaining about jet lag and a trip to the zoo. Makes me so ashamed I’m tempted not to send this letter. But by now you probably know me well enough that my pettiness doesn’t surprise you. So . . . instead I shall take deep, cleansing breaths and try to maintain a little perspective: my kids are happily enrolled in excellent schools; my work is going so well that somebody on the other side of the world wants to pay for a couple of days of my time; and I live so close to one of the world’s great zoos that I can do it in a day trip. And besides, my Bruins are supposed to lose, so maybe I’ll be glad to have missed the game anyway. I’ll still miss that first day of kindergarten, but such is life. Right?

Here’s hoping that my miseries are always this profound—and no more so. And hoping that all is well with you.