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Two Inches

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Two Inches

Nothing gets my hackles up like unnecessary cleaning.

By that I mean . . . my cleaning and watching the other people in my household sitting on their duffs eating snacks that get crumbs on the newly vacuumed floor and then asking me if they can turn up the TV because…you know…that vacuum is loud, Dad!

The proverbial straw that broke my metaphorical camel’s back was the upstairs bathroom.

Let me explain to you why that’s the case.  Since I was about 2-years-old I have had asthma…which goes back to a time when nobody knew what the hell asthma was.  I grew out of the majority of the issues.  Where I used to have to take medication every day I only carry a rescue inhaler when things are really bad.

Mold.  Mold makes it really bad.

So with that context, you can see what bothers me about cleaning the bathroom.

Bear in mind, I have a bottle of Tilex and a can of Comet in the kids’ bathroom permanently.  That’s so they can spray it down and prevent the mildew and mold.

So when I had finished with vacuuming, cleaning the counters, picking up backpacks and old homework assignments and grumbled, got angry and yelled . . . I found the bathroom.

The drain, even with the screen I’d placed on the bottom of the tub . . . was plugged.  Bear in mind, of course, that my sons have very, very short hair.  Their sister, on the other hand, has long, thick hair that she refuses to have cut.  So when I had to stop down, go to the store, get a snake and drain cleaner and come back . . . I was already fuming.

That’s when the clump of hair mixed with mold and mildew flew out of the drain.  The mold spores flew and I . . . just couldn’t breathe.  Not emergency room kind of attack but chest hurts, gasping a bit, now hyperventilating from anger, too.  It was fortunate for my daughter she was at a friend’s house because I had gotten to the point where I was fuming.  I bleached, scrubbed, and finished the bathroom.  I got a new shower curtain . . . again.  I replaced the screen on the drain.

Then I calmed down and came to a decision.

My parents were the King and Queen of creative punishments.  I decided . . . this wasn’t a punishment for my children.  This. . . was an opportunity.

When my daughter got home I informed her what would happen.

“Two inches,” I informed her.
“Two inches of what, Dad?”
“Two inches will come off your hair the next time I have to snake the drain.”
She started to get her ire up and was about to shout when I held up my hand.
“I’m not yelling.  I’m not mad.  Your hair style is in your hands.  Clean up your hair after your shower.  Snake your own drain.  Spray down the area or at least open the window and turn on the fan . . . and we won’t have a problem.  If not, you lose 2 inches.”
“But DAD!”
“I’ll make you an appointment . . . I’m not going to sneak into your room at night and lop it off with my scissors.  It will look nice.”
“She always cuts it too short!”
I smiled.  Her older sister smiled, too.
“Well then . . . you have a further incentive to keep the bathroom clean.  This isn’t a threat, it’s a promise. You have the control of this in your hands.  Look at it as an opportunity to learn some responsibility and see the result of your own actions.”

She took a breath and . . . surprisingly . . . was okay with it.

“Okay,” she said.  “That’s fair.”

Even I was surprised at the response.  She leaned over, gave me a kiss . . . and went upstairs.  I was happy.

Then I noticed . . . she’d left her dinner dishes on the table.  Guess I hadn’t added that to the list.

Bobby Pins Are Like Rabbits

The bi-weekly consternation for me has nothing to do with female hygiene products.  It doesn’t come from the lack of creative meal ideas from my kids – and that’s a constant consternation.  It’s not even from the hormonal “Daaaaaddddd!” that my middle child loves to throw at me now.  It’s from a small piece of ugly metal.

The things should make me happy.  Ever since she was old enough to get a haircut, my oldest daughter, Abbi, has had her hair in a little “Bob” haircut.

Abbi with her Bob haircut
Abbi with her Bob haircut

But you may not realize that that “Bob” is also responsible for one of the banes of my existence.

It’s a small, double-sided, bend of metal with a plastic coating on the two ends.  One end, in fact, is zig-zagged, not unlike the cut of a house key while the other is flat.


That’s right.  I’m talking about Bobby Pins.

The “Bob” haircut, believe it or not – developed in the Roaring 1920’s – is responsible for the invention of the so-called Bobby pin.  (Also known as the “hair grip”, “kirby grip” or “granny clip” (go figure on that last one since the Bob was a decadent hairstyle in the ’20s!)).  My preference of a name, however, is “bane of Dad’s existence!”

It is a marvel to me that this tiny, curved, marvel of the Jazz Age could cause me such consternation.  Here’s the thing, though, for my daughter, there are never any around.  My oldest goes through them like they’re made of some sort of fissile material and crazy nuclear physicists from a foreign country are plotting to take them one-by-one from our household.  Add to this the fact that my middle daughter, who balks worse than Bret Saberhagen (Yeah, I haven’t watched baseball since the Royals won games…sue me!) when I mention that I want to cut her hair even an inch, has to use them now, too.  Not because of a Bob haircut but because she has that horrible teenage girl’s tendency to let her hair fall over half her face.  I warn her that one day she’s just going to walk into a tree because she’s got worse tunnel vision than the Odyssey’s cyclops that way.

So the solution?  That zig-zagged piece of metal up there.

But where my daughters seem to be constantly complaining that they can’t find any of the said same Bobby pins . . . I can’t seem to get away from them.  They’re like rabbits!  Two of them are in Abbi’s hair and by day’s end five of them are on the floor.  Just this morning their brother, Noah, put a handful of them he found near the couch on the bookshelf in our living room.

Worse still, though, is the fact that the vacuum cleaner hates the things.  I don’t mean a mild dislike, I mean crunching, grinding, metallic screaming noises that are followed by chokes and dust clouds.  Why?  Because the pins get lodged in the small hose that leads from the base of the cleaner to the housing where the dust is collected.  As a result, about twice a month, I end up taking the vacuum apart.  I then have to destroy a wire hangar and bend it into a strange shape that’s not unlike a giant version of a Bobby Pin and clean out self same hose.

A pile of filthy, dusty, greasy chunks of metal sit on the floor of our home . . . and then I hear “I CAN’T FIND ANY FREAKING BOBBY PINS! UGH!”  This is usually followed by “Dad, can you pick up some Bobby Pins for me on the way home tonight?!”

I sit, staring at them like Bugs Bunny up there, staring at the monster, and consider, for just a brief moment, that I have enough of them here to put onto an old Bobby Pin Card.  It would be so easy. . . some soap, a quick wash through the dishwasher. . . they’d never be the wiser.

But I know my children.  They’d be “too slippery” or “too harsh” or God knows what else.

And I look at the damn pieces of metal and toss them, unceremoniously into the garbage can, knowing full well I’ll duplicate this routine in a couple weeks.

After all . . . never seem to have a shortage of the damn things!

The little things make all the difference

Just a Little Bit by T-Bone Walker

The Christmas play with all 3 little ones in the crowd

I got an email yesterday from someone who made me think a little bit about how much we miss Andrea. The question was whether I knew what I had until it was gone. I, being the middle-of-the-road-neutral journalist basically waffled and said what really is the truth: yes and no.

I think if you read the entries up to this point, I make very clear that I wouldn’t be where I am without Andrea. I know, without question, that I was so very fortunate to have had this amazing, wonderful woman in my life. When I met her she was this brilliant, blazing woman who was so attractive and so amazing and she ended up with me. Without a doubt in my mind, I got the better end of that deal. In a sea of men who were more attractive, more confident, stronger and nicer she still waded through them all and picked me. She plucked me out of my own mediocrity and helped me to see that there was so much more out there and I could be part of it.

But the little things . . . the pieces of her that permeate the cells of our daily lives . . . those are the things I miss. Did I realize at the time that her choices of decorations and design of our home and the clothes that she helped me pick out were things that made my life better? Absolutely. Did I thank her for them? Probably not near enough, but there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t let her know that I was a better man for having met her. I may regret a lot of things, but I know that I wasn’t going to let her think I wasn’t grateful for where I am now.

But I also know there are things that she just took care of. There are things that are simply beyond the comprehension of a guy to know.

Last night was the kids’ Christmas play. On a good day I’m behind the 8-ball, during Christmas it’s like I have scratched on every shot. I don’t have all the presents wrapped. I don’t have the house cleaned up. The laundry is piling up. The boys and Hannah went through huge growth spurts and their clothes simply don’t fit. I had to run to Target and buy clothes for all of them. For the boys that’s not a problem. A white dress shirt, pair of pants, maybe some socks and shoes, but I’ve never been good with the girls. Not really.

I got the wrong sized pants for Hannah. I bought two shirts because I wasn’t sure which would look good on her. The boys I had shower, got them dressed, did their hair, they looked great.

But I have no idea how I would have managed last night without my oldest daughter. My wife always had the kids looking brilliant. Hannah would have looked like a doll out of a Christmas pageant. She would have had a beautiful dress that matched the colors the play needed and she would have had curly, amazing hair and accomplished it even while the girl screamed that she didn’t want to look so girly.

Last night I was totally at a loss. I had the boys to get ready and only Hannah’s shirt worked. Abbi drove her to Target, got pants and had her try them on, got home, helped her get dressed (and wear the clothes right as in girls’ waists are much higher than a boy’s so stop low-riding your pants!) and then braided her hair and flat ironed it so that she looked beautiful. Much like her mother, we had less than 30 minutes to get to the program so she wore what she had in her room and headed out the door. She even managed to convince Hannah to wear a little mascara so her eyelashes would stand out.

These are the things – the everyday little things that I have no idea how to do and likely never will – that I never thought about and probably never would have. She found the right clothes. She found the right presents. She just helped make sure we succeeded. Last night, but for the effort of the whole group, we would have failed, miserably. As I’ve been fond of saying before: we’re stronger together than we ever were apart. I look at Abbi doing her sister’s hair, the smile on both their faces, talking about how Mom used to pull the tangles out of their hair, or how last year she helped do this thing or that thing and I was both proud and sad.

The program was a Christmas program. It was short, the Nativity story acted out by junior-high kids who were alternately thrilled and mortified to be up there, and sung by every grade from Kindergarten up.

It was brilliant.

You’d think seeing my kids singing on the altar of the church would have been what made me emotional, thinking about how there’s one large piece of the puzzle missing. But it was actually the kindergartners and the 1st graders that did it. Understand, when we moved here, Abbi was little and Hannah was in kindergarten. In that very church, in those very pews, we watched those kids every year, hearing those same Christmas carols. When the little ones would come out Andrea would get all a-flutter and slap my leg, screaming “they’re so damn cute!” and squeeze my hand. Every year. Without fail I would roll my eyes but secretly love it. This year they came out and it wasn’t there. The crowd went “ahhhh”, and Abbi said how cute they were. A mom next to me held her husband’s hand, and I knew that these kids were here being positively brilliant and I didn’t have her here to share it with.

That’s what I miss. It’s not that “I want someone to share it with,” it’s that I want HER to share it. It was a little thing, but it’s gone. I got through Hannah, then Noah & Sam’s classes, and was melancholy. But the little ones came out, their tiny voices filling the air, and I remembered all those amazing nights, when my kids were those little voices and it made me truly happy to be a Dad. Truly happy to be married. Tonight, I only get one of those things.

So all I asked was for her to give a little bit. She gave far more. She gave me big, amazing things, life, confidence, spirit and a voice.

So back to the question. Did I realize what she gave to me, or is it “you don’t miss the water until the well runs dry”? It’s both. I was so aware, particularly in the beginning, that Andrea was brilliant and that she made everything amazing. But I miss the little things I just never gave a thought to as well – the hair, the clothes, the decorations. We did all of these things together. Did I thank her for all those tiny little things? No, not nearly enough. But we were a team. A brilliant team. She came up with ideas and I helped to implement them. We talked about everything. When she bought those clothes she told me about them. When Abbi wanted a dress for homecoming and Andrea wouldn’t budge because it was too expensive . . . I caved in and bought it anyway. We had give and take. We worked off each others’ strengths.

Better still, she gave me love. She gave me so many little things that I miss more and more every day. I didn’t want much, I just wanted a little bit. And she gave me so much more.