Fathers and Sons, The Girls

Picture Day Redux – No Strings Attached

Mercifully (for me), this year, proceedings returned to their normal rhythms. Held at the respective studios. A two-day affair. Saturday = Waynesburg. Sunday = Washington. 

Last year quarantine forced the stay-at-home edition of Picture Day, whose gravity I was unable to escape. 

This year called for less desperate measures, leaving Karry and Emma to tag team this, their 12th edition of the annual amalgam of yelling, hair, make-up, costumes, and teenage angst. 

Preparations began weeks in advance. Came home one day to find Emma outside in the driveway with a pair of tap shoes and a can of neon pink spray paint. 

“Don’t ask,” was all she said. 

My Karry radar began ringing in my head. 

Me: You’re taking precautions, yes? 

She: I’m not making a mess if that’s what you’re asking. 

Emma has convinced herself that she rarely, if ever, makes messes. 

Her conviction is strong. She’d probably pass a lie detector. 

In truth — and I say this lovingly — she’s a disaster. 

Not nearly as much of a disaster as I am. Not even in the same disaster zip code. 

But, back to the driveway …. 

Many a time have I run afoul of Karry’s ‘exacting standards’ by unintentionally besmirching the driveway with various … effluvium (oil, grill drippings, etc.)

Me: Um-hmm. 

When I went out the following morning to fetch the paper, I saw neon pink paint stains where the driveway meets the edge of the grass. 

I gave Emma a heads up. 

To give her at least a head start on packing her bags, grabbing a couple cans of tuna and hiding out in the woods for a couple days until I can screw up bad enough to put Karry’s scent back on my trail. 

Kidding. 

Told her it was fine and that we’d pressure wash it away during spring cleaning in a couple weeks. 

“It’s not OK. Mom’s going to kill me.” 

I assured her such was not the case and that it was fine. 

Sometimes it’s acceptable to lie to your children.

However, I took preemptive measures. Texted Karry at work. “There’s some paint in the driveway from Emma spray-painting. I told her it was no big deal and that you wouldn’t get mad. So don’t freak out on her.” 

In short, I used up my small stores of investment capitol. 

“Thanks for letting me know.” 

DEFCON Level 1 – restored.

__

Preparations continued throughout the following weeks. Costumes steamed. Arranged. Racks assembled. Additional provisions procured. Multiple coats of spray paint added to the shoes and driveway, etc. 

The long runway left me ample time to fashion my personal escape plan for The Saturday. 

They didn’t have to leave until 1:15 p.m. 

Since I don’t sleep much, sleeping in until 1:16 p.m. was not an option. 

In the morning, Emma and I went for a drive. She has her permit and we’ve been using the weekends to log her requisite hours behind the wheel. Weeks into this, I give very few instructions. We chart our destination. She pulls us onto Main Street and drives out of town. 

She: Am I going the right way?
Me: I have no idea where you’re going. 

We then take a meandering route to 136, cutting through the Wal-Mart plaza. She peels off and starts to make a right, pausing at a merge point. 

She: What do I do here? 

Me: Well, there’s no yield sign or anything, so it’s a little ambiguous. As long as there aren’t any yo-hums making a left turn in front of you, you can go. 

My favorite part of being Emma’s passenger is that, with her hands at 10 and 2, she gets chatty (i.e. she can’t disappear into her ear buds, or her phone). I asked her about Karry’s mood heading into Picture Day. 

Emma reported Situation Normal. 

The conversation then turned to the many complexities that make our family’s matriarch a revered badass. 

Me: There’s no B.S. about your Mom whatsoever. She has clear expectations, and clearly communicates those expectations. She doesn’t have to yell. She doesn’t waste words. That gives her a natural gravity. People look to her for guidance and direction. 

Emma: Mom is not an ambiguous stop sign in the Wal-Mart parking lot. 

In our 30 years together, I’m not sure Karry’s essence has ever been more exquisitely distilled. 

My daughter. 

We’re home from our drive around 11. I knock on Peter’s door. 

He was in the midst of perfectly executing his Dance Picture Day strategy: sleeping until 3 o’clock in the afternoon. 

Me: Get up. Get dressed. We gotta go. 

He: Whaaaaaat?

Me: Gotta renew your license. Get your picture taken. 

He: (miscellaneous unintelligible grunting) 

Around 11:25 he’s staggering to the dining rom where I’ve summoned him. 

Me: Sign here and here. Your car? 

He: Nah. You drive. 

Made sure he had the registration form, his W-2, his social security card, and his passport.

Translation: Karry assembled everything. 

He gets in the passenger side and I follow the exact route we took four years ago when he first got his license. I pull us into the nearly empty lot. 

Me: You have your license? 

He: No. 

Me: What do you mean, you don’t have your license.

He: It’s in my car. 

Me: You are renewing your license. Why would you not bring your license?

(silence) 

He: I’m going to try anyway. 

Me: Let me know how that works out. 

He: You aren’t coming in? 

Me: No. 

He: Why are you even here? 

Me: (waiting for him to connect the obvious dots) Because your mom and Emma are getting ready for dance pictures. We’re going to lunch after this. If we eat like Vikings they should be gone by the time we return. 

He’s back five minutes later. 

He: I need my license. 

Me: Peeved. 

He: Sorry. 

I responded with the Head Shake/Exhale combo perfected over the 18 years we were officially responsible for my oldest’s day-to-day survival, during which variations of this exact scene played out hundreds of times. 

Now that he’s 20, I allowed myself a small smile that some things are forever. 

We retraced our steps, he retrieved his license, turned in the requisite forms, got his photo taken, returned to the car, picked our lunch spot, found a reasonably empty parking lot, grabbed a booth, and nourished ourselves over March Madness conversations. 

Sitting across a table sharing baskets of Cheddar Bay Biscuits with Peter affords the same rare and precious elastic conversational space as Emma’s hands on 10 and 2. He gets chatty. 

He mentioned that one of his favorite high school teachers recently left teaching for a job in his field of study. He was that special kind of teacher who lit fires in their students. Peter not only loved his classes, but respected him so much he sought his counsel when he was considering colleges and courses of study. 

He said he reached out to his old teacher when he heard the news he’d left the school. Peter told me his teacher had written him back …  and handed his phone across the table for me to read. 

In his note, Peter recounted the time he’d asked the teacher for a letter of recommendation for a college application. 

And his favorite teacher, the one he looked up to so much, the one whose classes he sought out … told him No. 

I never knew this. 

In his note, Peter recounted how crushed he was that his favorite teacher refused him. 

But he was writing to thank him for doing that. How it made him realize he needed to work harder. He wrote to let him know that he’s been applying himself in college and was doing well in his second semester of his sophomore year. He wrote to tell him that he made the Dean’s List last semester. 

The teacher wrote back to thank Peter. Confessed to him that him saying no was one of the two or three toughest decisions he’d ever made as a teacher. But he knew that if he had just written the letter, Peter would likely have kept himself in cruise control. He genuinely thanked Peter for his note, and for lifting a burden that he still carried. 

By the end, I was trying not to weep in my Cheddar Bay Biscuits. 

My son. 

We finished our main courses in a leisurely trot, and I had him back home by 2, more than enough time for him to get ready for his 2:30 shift. 

But as we pulled into the driveway, something was wrong.

Very, very wrong. 

Karry’s car was still there. 

An issue with The Shoes. The ones that Emma and Karry have been spray painting for a couple weeks now. 

Evidently, after the multiple coats of neon, the holes for the laces were painted shut.  They’d spent the last hour trying in vain to lace the shoes. And the harder they tried to muscle it, the more the paint cracked and chipped. 

DEFCON 5.

Also known as EFFBOMBCON.    

To paint the neon pink picture driveway here, mother and daughter an hour late dealing with chipped paint and un-laceble shoes is like that scene in the original Avengers where Black Widow is trying to keep Bruce Banner from hulking out while Loki is simultaneously stealing the Tesseract. 

This only ends one way. 

Hulk’s gonna Hulk. 

Except in this instance, there are two Hulks. 

I made the obligatory, sacrificial offer to help, which I knew could have just as easily been received as Flame Thrower Target  Practice.

“No,” they both said in a huff. 

Colossal exhale. 

So I grabbed the nearest parachute. 

Went to retrieve the grocery order. 

Grocery order = seamless. Remembering to pick up a prescription at the pharmacy so as to extend my trip by a few extra moments = seamless. 

Pulled back into the driveway. 

Still there.  

I equated my odds at surviving a second re-entry to running back into a burning building to retrieve my favorite box of matches. 

Carrying in the groceries, I enacted security protocol Eggshell Swaddling Baby Blanket Minefield Tiptoe Alpha.  

They were working in the laundry room, which is where the downstairs fridge is. Before entering I listened for any rustling around the corner before stealthily darting in, ninja-style. I gingerly placed the ½ gallon of 2% on its shelf and two-handed the silent closing of the fridge like I was diffusing a bomb on countdown. 

I was safely upstairs when I heard the car doors slam and Karry pull out of the driveway with an impatient engine rev. 

My wife. 

I sympathy stress ate the two Cheddar Bays Peter intended for later.

Another one in the books.

Say Cheese. 

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