Sunday, May 27, 2012

Single most important variable

As those of you who read my little blog know (thanks by the way), I tend to notice little things and then pan them out to a universal scale and start prattling about big, heady universal truth shit. I also lean a bit toward the cynical side.

This can get tiring for both of us.

I want to talk about something else. . .

A few minutes ago I saw a picture of my youngest daughter when she was about 4 years old (she's now 12). This is it.

Last time I was coming home from the jungle I was in the domestic terminal at LAX and this little girl and her mom sat down across from me. Right as they got settled and put down their snacks, the mom jumped up,

"I left my purse at the counter! Wait here!"

So the little girl did.

As mom dashed off, the kid grabbed one of those cups with fruit and yogurt and a little built-in container of granola out of the snack bag. She was waiting for her mom to get back, but she wasn't waiting to get started on the yogurt.

She was probably a year older than that kid in the picture up there and the cup was kind of big in her hand. She wielded it with far more determination than dexterity and it took every ounce of restraint not to offer to open it for her. 

I know that I am a man. 

An adult. 

A stranger. 

. . . so I just sat there.

She managed to get the top lid off - the one that's like a drink lid. Then came the big challenge. The recessed granola packet, with it's impossibly thin plastic lip, compression fitted into the yogurt cup like it was installed by a plumber. She went right to it; trying desperately to get a working grip on that little edge and struggling mightily.

I looked toward the snack bar area where mom had dashed off to find her purse. I was hoping she would make it in time.

It was killing me. Mom was nowhere in sight.

Eventually she got a little fingernail under that granola lid while holding the entire yogurt composition sideways. I saw 5 seconds into the future. That moment when she overcame the friction that held the granola cup in place and it popped free, ejecting granola all over her shirt and the floor . . .

"Careful!" I said, in my most convincing Mr. Rogers. 

I couldn't help myself. 

"It'll pop out all at once and spill all over."

She looked at me and nodded,

"Oh yeah."

There was this twenty-something Asian Emo girl sitting adjacent to us listening to her ipod. I don't know if she heard the actual exchange, but she saw me talking to the little girl and she shot me a dirty look to let me know I was being observed.

Adult male, traveling alone . . . naturally, I'm a predator.

Shortly thereafter, the little girl managed to get the granola cup free from the rest of the yogurt. It did indeed pop out at the last second, but it was more of a controlled event. A few nuggets of granola were lost, but nothing major. As soon as it was free she smiled at me,

"I almost spilled it!"

"You did really well!" I replied.

Another dirty look from Ms. Emo. Whatever bitch. What are you listening to? Some "punk rock" song about teenage love? Ever heard of the Minutemen? Black Flag? . . . Fuck you.

She poured the granola into the yogurt and fruit, then observed the thin layer of yogurt that clung to the bottom of the cup. I could see her mentally wrestle with the question of whether or not it would be okay to lick the underside of the granola cup right there in the middle of the concourse. 

She wanted to.

Ultimately however, after a quick pan around she opted against it and placed the yogurt smeared cup on a napkin.

"Sometimes I forget to put it on a napkin" she admitted.

"Yeah, me too."

Then mom re-appreared in a flustered jumble. She had found her purse, thank God, but now she had to rifle through it to make sure no one stole anything. She was focused.

"Mommy can I have my orange juice?"

The mom did not slow down or look up.


"But I'm thirsty."

"Well, then you shouldn't have gotten that yogurt. The orange juice is for when you get thirsty on the plane."

My input was no longer in any way appropriate. Even the most benevolent degree of surrogate parenting from a stranger is completely wrong when the actual parent is present. I wanted to say,

"Hey lady, no one would have stolen items from your purse and then left it on the counter, they would've just snatched it. You left your purse and it was still there when you went back, chalk it up as a win. And by the way, there will be plenty of orange juice on that plane. She's thirsty now, so how about a little orange juice, huh?"

Not only would it have been inappropriate, but I didn't quite feel justified.

Her tone of voice, her posture, her disconnection and her focus on something ultimately insignificant when compared to the little gem sitting there with a lap full of well earned yogurt, was all too familiar.

You see that picture up there?

I was not there that day. It was taken at the Japanese garden at the arboretum and I don't need a 360 degree panoramic shot to know that I was not there.

In the old home videos that I found last month where both of my little treasures giggled and mugged and made little jokes - I was not in most of them. Not holding the camera and not in the background.

I was at work or I was asleep or I just wasn't there because of some other distraction. I probably relished the opportunity to do something else - something forgettable.

So I couldn't judge that lady. I knew where she was in that moment. She was at the airport, traveling with a kid, managing their belongings, narrowly avoiding the loss of her purse, double and triple checking everything.

I got it. I understood.

But from where I sat it made my heart ache. That little sliver of pride I felt for that random little girl, just because she overcame the precision engineering of a yogurt cup, made me contemplate all of the little accomplishments that I missed or didn't notice because my head was not in it.

Now I see that little kid in the picture up there. Her jeans are kind of short because kids grow out of things. They grow while you're not looking. They grow while you're not thinking.

I see that kid in the picture and I just melt.

I know the blog is called "The Calm Voice of Rage" and I think that represents me about as well as any 5 word phrase can, but if there's anything in the world that effortlessly vanquishes my most envenomated bouts of cynicism - it's children.

Loving our children is the most important thing any of us will ever do.

I hate how cliche it sounds, but honestly, if we succeed at everything else and fail to love our children, we accomplish absolutely nothing. If we fail at every endeavor, excepting the one to release kind, decent, thoughtful people who know they're loved into the world, we can die fulfilled.

In the battle of good over evil it is the single most important variable.

I can't go back and recapture every moment of yogurt victory and I can't rewrite every mistake I made as a young dad. All I can do is forge ahead, embrace the fantastic young women in my life and try not to be distracted by my metaphorical purse. 

It is my admittedly trite and sanctimonious recommendation that all parents, old and new,  do the same.

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