My friend, a.k.a. Soon to be Writer of Her Own Woman Show, and I sat in the cafe, checking in with one another as we do, catching up. A man walked in with a little boy and ordered, his back to us while the little boy stared at us, twirling his sunglasses. There was something so adult-like about him, but childish just the same. Adorable.
"He's so cute," my friend said, louder than she needed to tell me, raising her voice to tell the boy, the Dad. The Dad turned around slowly and as he did you could see the boy in the man, the man in the boy. They were near mirror images.
"Who, him?" he asked, skeptically. It was hilarious. We died laughing. It worked on so many levels. The Dad wanted the compliment for himself, needed it after a long Monday morning trying to get himself and his toddler up and out. He also probably wasn't appreciating at the moment how adorable his son was, tired and taxed as he was by him. He looked a little sheepish as we laughed, not knowing whether he was the butt of the joke or part of it. This is where a gold star comes in handy, shows a person you sympathize with their plight in the best of ways, that you appreciate what they're dealing with and that connection is what made the exchange funny.
He took his gold star appreciatively but, as my friend pointed out later, was unsure whether to place it on his own briefcase or on his son's lunchbox. This issue comes up a lot with overtaxed parents. They need the star, want it, but feel guilty not giving it to their kids. In this situation, it's never a problem, I always give a star to both. But in regular life it's not that easy. Sometimes you have to choose who gets the attention and the praise, whose rights get precedence over whose. Sometimes, often, parents and children lock horns over whose music gets played, who gets to use the blow dryer first, whose problems get talked about first and for how long. It's a constant question and, it seems to me, it goes on forever with families. Ugh. "Life isn't fair," my mother often said when we would complain that she got what she wanted and we didn't. It's a balance, I guess, a hard one to strike.
Later, after errands and phone conversations and the gym, I was walking home and ran into some friends, Chef Dave and his lovely wife and their beautiful babe. He made fun of me, as usual, for my carefree lifestyle, said something along the lines of "Oh, yeah, you don't work." I begged to differ. "Oh, I work," I said, and his wife piped up: "You work?" she said. I just laughed.
I have to explain myself a lot since I quit paying employ, but the truth is, I am working harder than I ever have, in part because I am doing things of my own choosing, I am committed. My writing, of this blog and of other work about my life and events in it that I am painstakingly sorting through, is the most challenging stuff I've ever done. It is hard to look honestly at oneself and one's past and to figure out how to proceed into the future, how to get happy and stay happy and raise happy kids and keep up a happy marriage, if we can even begin to guess at what "happy" means, if that is even the goal. I am working on this, keeping of fit mind and body to help me in my figuring, to help me be a better mother and wife and daughter and sister and friend. Striking a balance during this time between the figuring and writing time and keeping up with my kids' schedules and spending quality time with them is nearly impossible. I always knew it would be. Working at a real job was, in a lot of ways, much easier. I could distract myself from my own life writing about Pop Tarts advertising. I had editors breathing down my neck to make me do it. I might get fired if I gave up. No one would care if I gave up now. They've already written me off. I'm not doing anything already. I'm not "working."
Grabbing a quick lunch, a kid with pants falling beneath his underwear and big diamond earrings in both ears was scouring the magazine rack for a magazine. I couldn't help myself.
"Parents," I piped up.
"Excuse me?" he said, turning to reveal a killer smile, a great open face.
"I think you should read Parents," I said.
"Oh, I don't have any kids yet..." he said.
"I know, or I guess I don't know but I figured," I said. "I was just joking."
"Well, my girlfriend and I are talking about it, thinking about it," he said. "I want kids."
"It's fun but it's hard," I said. "It's a lot of work."
"That's what everyone says," he said. He picked up Parents and read it while he waited, interested, engaged. I heard him tell someone about something interesting he had learned about kids.
After he got the smoothie he'd ordered and headed out, hiking up his pants, I gave him a gold star. "This is for when you do have kids," I said. "Good luck."
"Thanks, thanks a lot!" he said.