Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mentally Flossing My Own Teeth

I was pulling out my daughter's tooth, dreaming of the Karaoke competition next week, mentally flossing my own teeth.

You constructed a human-sized hamster wheel and spend weeks running in it. There is no way the hamster should have all of the fun.

I am running after the bus, sweating profusely, speaking in tongues (note to self - trying using fewer tongues).

You are walking on a sandy beach, looking for crab shells. Your grand plan is to make a life-sized crab-styled mosaic art piece of a girl jumping on a trampoline.  

I count my toes, then recount them and finally count them a third time. After a nutritional snack, I repeat. Later in the day, I am clearly bored by this activity, so I start counting my fingers.

You are climbing a tree. Each new branch you step on feels like a new height achieved, a new step, a higher bar. You feel such a sense of accomplishment and  strikingly pretty.

The grass seems to move rhythmically in the wind, almost like the dried grass skirt of a hula dancer. The leaves blow to and fro in the air. A thin layer of dust is blown off the basketball court. I sit there taking it all in, playing with my Barbies.

You are so cool.

I imagine that I am a rabbit and that the little girl standing at my door trying to sell me Girl Guide cookies is a ravenous fox. She seems fairly perplexed when I vigorously hop away.

You park your car and race to your house to answer the phone. As you fumble with your keys, you break into a Broadway-style song-and-dance.

I am learning Latin in the bath so when I sink my enemies boats I can gloat properly.

You are in Rome looking at magnificent art work. Next week you plan to go to your mother's house to mock her. Then you will return to Rome looking for a hug.

I sit on my chair laughing and laughing and laughing. Tomorrow I will try to laugh standing up. If that works I will sell my chair.

Water drips from the kitchen tap while you try to sleep. Drip, drip, drip. Finally, after what seems like hours, you turn on the tap in the bathroom full blast drowning out the drip. Ahhhhh, peace at last.

I move in slow motion. When will the madness end, or at least speed up again?

In your dreams you are being tortured by a horrible prison guard who is barking at you for answers. You awake, startled, surrounded by stuffed animals, longing for some lemonade either for drinking or for setting up a lemonade stand as it is quite clear that business would be great.

I am walking down the street in front of my house, eyeing everyone who passes by either empathically or pathetically based on what I think they need at the moment. This fun activity quickly leads to a killer headache. 

After months of planning you break into the library in the middle of the night and set up a huge fort made out of books. Your initial idea was to make a dominos-like display but you are trying to become less predictable over time.

I am trying to lead life more fluorescent-ally. 

You have this great idea to buy bags and bags of marbles and then mail them to me marble each day. I am forced to go buy bags to put them in and I know that was your plan all along. Touché.

I am starting to worry more and more, and I wonder if I should just give up. As a last ditch effort, I drop everything and spend the afternoon on the bench press to work on my pecs because that is what He would have wanted.

You start to act like a king all the time, wearing a crown, acting pompous, using an excessive amount of nutmeg.

I am riding on the back of a motorcycle whipping around tight corners in the Brazilian forest. Where am I going? Who is chasing me? Who is driving the motorcycle? Damn I smell good.

You buy a huge block of ice and melt it with an iron. You immediately realize the error in your ways and attempt to refreeze it. You've never made this mistake before, and you may do it again because it was actually quite fun.

I am sitting in my room doodling. What starts out as mindless, aimless, meandering drawing slowly turns into a succinct and eloquent solution to the problems between whales and seals. A radical solution that the world is just not ready for yet.

You are filled with equal parts remorse, middle-aged ness and nausea. You are nothing if not good at balancing your feelings.  

I decide to start making my own clothes out of sheep's wool. I start with a sweater, then a pair of socks, some pants and finally a hat. I am so proud of my new duds. Life is incredible! New friends, VIP status and a big raise, but inside I know it is so wrong. A few days later I give myself a shear.

You look into my eyes and smile. I look at your smile and we break into a spontaneous waltz.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Drum by the Window

He badly wanted to lean on someone for support, but despite their best efforts, his wall did a better job and never let him hear the end of it.

She stepped over the line. She stepped over lots of things, including lines. Her trusty pencil and her walking shoes were her two most prized possessions.

He hated bonsai trees and all that they stood for.

She decided to ignore her best judgment and, instead, took her best friend's advice by putting "that" in her pipe and smoking it. Aside from the near-debilitating cough and occasional disconcerting thick black drool and series of hyper-annoying facial ticks, she was loving everyone minute of it.

He spent the day peeling potatoes, drinking mulled wine and plotting revenge, or in other words, Thursdays.

She always preferred the path of greatest resistance because, although it was very slow and full of friction, she felt that it built character and she was in desperate need of more character especially after all of those years travelling on really easy paths.

He climbed to the top of a tall hill and enjoyed a long, good laugh at all of the smaller hills nearby.

She spent considerable time each morning grooming herself, then grooming her cat, and finally spending a large amount of time looking at herself in the mirror just knowing that the person looking back at her was finally starting to look more and more like her cat. And now, on to step 2 of the plan.

He arrived at the party and checked both his coat as well as his ego at the door as he just loved the combination of being slightly chilly as well as being incredibly selfless.

She bolded and italicized a large number of words in her word processing as she believed it helped the words appear more thrilling and practically leap off the page. In her quieter moments, she often escapes to a fantasy world inhabited by bolded and italicized words that, while thrilling and leaping up and down, were incredibly boring to hang out with.

He spent the better part of his teenage years walking to the beat of his own drum. It was the drum his mother had bought him when he was 12. It was the drum that was always sitting there, in its spot, by the window. It was the drum that, when struck just so, created a beat. A beat that, after all of those years, he could finally walk to. A beat that gave him life. A beat that made him a man. A beat that made him whole again. It was that drum. The drum by the window. Thanks mom.

She cut out strips of black paper. The next day, she cut out strips of white paper. The third day, she cut out strips of gold paper. "There. Who has more strips of paper now, dad?" she remarked with  jealously as she knew he still had more.

He walked into the building hoping that they had removed and placed their shirts in a pile as asked, to make his weekly "literal taking shirts off their backs" collection easier. He once figuratively attempted this, but ended up on a small plane headed for Brazil. 

She spent her days admiring her golden locks, just longing to be fleeced knowing full well that she had no real idea what that really meant.

He really wanted to run away and join the circus, but it just seemed too obvious and stereotypical as EVERYONE he knows had already done that.

She badly wants to scream out "ME!" whenever her roommate inadvertently calls out "Who let the dogs out?" or "Who keeps on screaming?" or "Who borrowed my phone without asking?" or "Who got blood all over my phone?" or "Who called for an ambulance?" or "Who got da funk?"

He had an overwhelming desire to prune something, anything, just not those plums that were, for all intense and purposes, begging to be pruned. It just seemed wrong and a bit disturbing.

She took a long walk in the woods on a cool, crisp winter's day leaving fresh footprints in the white snow. She was surrounded, on all sides, by tall, majestic trees in all of their beauty. As she walked on, she breathed in the delicious mountain air and felt at one with the nature all around. How she loved the woods on a winter day such as this. Closing her eyes, the world seemed to disappear and time slowed to a halt and she smiled, as she felt so at peace. And then, she became acutely aware that she was the only one in the woods at that moment who was not covered with bark.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

My Speech at My Sister's Wedding

Good evening everyone. Welcome to Niki and Aram’s reception. My name is Tommy and I am the brother of the bride which is, sadly, a historically undervalued and underappreciated position, until today.

I will also be your Master of Ceremonies. When Niki and Aram first approached me about acting as their emcee, I paused and considered running as it was two against one, but I decided to hold my ground and play dead which didn’t work as, much to my surprise, they aren’t bears. I know, I was as surprised as you are. I then responded as any proud and eager person with my level of education and articulation skills could, I barked like a seal. Aram, you should know, that seal barking is quite the tradition amongst the men in our family going back many generations though my understanding of the original Hebrew texts, to be totally honest, is non-existent at best.

But, seriously, I was literally as proud as a peacock to be chosen –that’s right, that proud. This emcee gig had me instantly at a level of euphoria that is the reason my wife has her paramedic friend on speed dial. I considered covering myself with thick layers of creams and lotions, so that if the evening didn’t go as planned, at least people could take turns sliding me around like a human curling rock.  Human curling rock is, quite coincidently, what I affectionately called Niki as a young girl. I was dangerously nearsighted.

For many years now, I have had but one goal that has helped give me the motivation to keep going when times got tough: to bring something, anything down from the inside and failing that to emcee Niki’s eventual wedding reception. I know what many of you are thinking – wrong tie – and also, is he really planning on killing two birds with one stone? Bringing something down from the inside while emceeing this reception? The short answer, no. The long answer, nooooo. But yes, I do plan on killing two birds with one stone, if those two birds are Niki and Aram who I am “killing” with this “stone” of a speech.

I am living a dream right now as I’ve wanted to follow Niki around with a microphone and commentate parts of her life so badly for so long now. By the way, early reviews of this speech from the critics are in and they are calling it “the best speech since sliced bread” and “a call to arms” and “proof that exposure to large amounts of industrial strength glue is bad.” I like to think my job has been well done if Niki and Aram are smiling - not under duress this time, as this evening is all about them (and a little about me) as we celebrate their union. I also want to argue that we are also celebrating their intersection – don’t spend too much time thinking about that – I didn’t and I said it.

As you can plainly see, I am overjoyed for Niki and Aram. Or at least I was. Not that I’m making excuses, but I just spent the past 9 months living in such a state of extreme joy and it is just really hard to maintain that level of stress on my cheek muscles and brow area. And as happy as I am for the newlyweds, I must admit that my second thought upon hearing the wonderful news of their engagement was how is this a positive for me, Tommy? I know how selfish and horrible that sounds, as I recorded it at listened to a few dozen times. But all of you out there who claim to not be thinking about how you too can use this wedding for their own gains, either monetary or spiritual, are completely lying to themselves and everyone they love and care about. I, for one, refuse to lie to my loved one any longer.

But is that too much to ask, that the marriage of two other people who are both not me nor marrying me make my life noticeably better? Shockingly, some would argue ‘yes’ and that I need to get off my high horse once and for all as men of 46 shouldn’t spend so much time on a play horsey anyways to whom I reply, “whatever Niki and Aram.” But all joking aside, I am so happy for Niki. I will now resume joking.

I know for years Niki was looking and looking for Aram, even with her glasses on intermittently and once using a high-powered telescope that I “borrowed” from the local observatory, but he proved elusive. And then Aram finally decided to show up and their paths crossed sort of like those of two nearby large celestial bodies that would cause the cataclysmic end of our world, only with significantly less destruction.

Though Niki’s adorable belief that everything would work out in the end occasionally wavered, she continued to believe in the age-old clichés that good things come to those who wait, that someday her prince would come and when a door closes a window opens. Little did she know, but a window was open the whole time thanks to yours truly who was just messing with her, opening random windows, letting the breeze in and leading her to buy tons of new sweaters and blankets that she didn’t need. Joke was on her. And now they are married and the joke is on me. Ha ha ha, really funny guys. I, for one, hope they don’t get too cocky and let this day of adoration go to their heads and we find them walking around acting all cool and stuff, like they are better than everyone as that would get insufferable, believe me, I’ve been there and I know.

But, what is marriage? What is it really if not a joining of two, hopefully healthy, mostly youngish, people who feel a love for one another that is infinitely more love than they feel for a good cup of coffee, to which some people would say “shouldn’t you know, you are married?” to whom I say “quiet kids, daddy is doing his speech right now.” It brings me great joy to welcome Aram into our family, which is quite exclusive I must add, I now see you as the brother I never had or the brother I once tried to bribe with...oops, that’s a bit too weird, scratch that.

Let me wrap this up by proposing a toast to the married couple. To Niki and Aram, may you have years and years of love and happiness and wedded bliss. May you also continue to find opportunities for me to write speeches and then perform them in public that will allow me to shamelessly plug my wonderful blog (search for Tommy Paley on when you have time). May you continue finishing each other’s sentences, aggressively if necessary, and counting to ten in unison just to prove that you can. May you never cease being unrelentingly silly together for the rest of your lives only taking breaks when chopping vegetables using sharp knives and using the washroom as that is not a time to be silly I was told in preschool. To my wonderful and amazing sister Niki whom I am infinitely proud of, congratulations from the bottom of my heart. Also in the bottom of my heart, according to Wikipedia, are my ventricles.

To Niki and Aram! 

Their Love

He loved her like others loved the rain although he wished she stopped literally showering him with water unexpectedly.

She loved playfully chasing after him in a field of spring flowers up until her allergies caught up with her or until he handed over the allergy medication.

He loved watching her eat despite her protestations that it was creepy and weird especially when he insisted on recording it for exactly those reasons.

She loved invading his space on the couch utilizing the most modern warfare techniques and strategies that she could reasonably afford given their tight budget.

He loved standing in long lines with her because of her unique way of making all lines paradoxically appear circular.

She loved that he never gave up until he actually turned molehills into mountains.

He loved the period of peaceful serenity each morning just after she woke up and just before she started screaming at him for putting lipstick and blush on the dog again.

She loved making him lunch for all of the wrong reasons.

He loved taking her on long romantic walks to his favourite spots while she argued that his definition of romantic needed a complete overhaul.

She loved helping nurse him back to health when he was sick, but she refused to have him sit on her lap while sucking from the bottle.

He loved spending weekend afternoons watching paint dry, while she absolutely adored painting him.

She loved packing up all of her belongings, leaving abruptly and waiting down by the train station that he built for her in the backyard as she needed a place to play make believe with all of her dollies.

He loved her way with words in all of its nonsensical, raving and quite worrisome detail.

She loved smashing his sand castles and then intimidatingly standing over him celebrating the fact that her castles were now clearly bigger.

He loved her smile and her laugh and, to a somewhat lesser degree, her unrelenting and quite brutally sarcastic satirical love letters.

She loved his carefree and whimsical approach to life except in those moments when he was operating heavy duty machinery.

He loved sitting next to her at the table both because it was her, but also because it was just a really fine table which displayed expert craftsmanship.

She loved when he first referred to her as his peach, though as time went on, it became more and more concerning especially considering the crazed smile on his face whenever he said it.

He loved walking a mile in her shoes equally because of the perspective it gained him as well as the comfort that custom-made insoles provided.

She loved his bear hugs which were now thankfully given using 50% less bear.

originally published in The Bitchin' Kitsch 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Emergency Staff Meeting

Okay, okay settle down. Quiet please.
Thanks for coming to this emergency staff meeting, everyone. Now that you are all here, I will say that the use of the word ‘emergency’ was almost definitely overstated and used primarily to get your attention. In the future, I will reserve that word for actual emergencies like we’ve had in the past like that flood, the most recent grease fire and the leech infestation which I am told is close to being resolved. For the hundredth time, I am sorry about those damn leeches.
But I really needed for us to meet, so I am glad you are all here. Yes, even you Gretchen. That was a joke I made last month about wishing I could use an over-sized eraser to remove you, before buying an actual over-sized eraser and chasing you around the kitchen screaming “out, damn spot, out!” I know it wasn’t a funny one, mind you, but it was a joke. Let’s get started.
It has been obvious for some time now that staff motivation is at an all-time low, so low that it often appears that many of you don’t want to be working here at all. Some of you have actually gone as far as literally not working here any longer, or just hiding in the washroom constantly complaining of debilitating stomach cramps. On an aside, we’ve finally received word from corporate that they’ve adjusted the recipes to address the issue of widespread debilitating stomach cramps. A bit late for my piano recital, but better late than never I think we’d all agree on.
But yes, you have made it abundantly clear, either in email or on pretty cool graphic t-shirts that you all chipped in to make, that you aren’t excited or thrilled or inspired when you are here. This has to change. Now, I have tried, you know I’ve tried, to “kick you all in the butts” and “prod you with hot irons” and “rattle your cages” to no avail especially after the word got leaked to the press about the cages. I even tried offering you more money or extra breaks or even access to unlimited free mustard between the hours of 4 and 6 and nothing has changed aside from a thin, and completely unwanted, layer of mustard on my car each evening.
Customers have been noticing your low desire to work here too, for some time now, commenting on homemade customer satisfaction cards that the staff “clearly hate each other” and “seem to be going out of their way to get fired” and “look like they’re in pain especially that one guy who almost definitely is in pain unless he’s some sort of actor and then give that guy a part already and if he isn’t then someone please call a medic”. One customer said that the low morale of the staff inspired them to write a poem that they submitted to a local poetry contest where it received honorable mention, but that is just one small positive from this situation among a sea of negatives.
“Why is the motivation so low?”, I’ve often asked myself while walking my dog before remembering that I don’t have a dog and wondering who's dog this is that I’m walking. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this problem before eating some nachos and taking a shower, before remembering that it is my job as your manager to do something about this before we get a visit from the higher ups.
So, you may be wondering, what is Larry the manager going to do? I keep telling you that my name is Harry! You may also be wondering if I’m going to shave my mustache which is long past the point of being “in any way attractive”. Finally, you may be wondering why there is a bucket on the stool next to me, or why I am am partially obscuring your view of this fantastic bucket? It is to be some sort of prize or incentive or even punishment? Is the bucket slowly going to take over as manager? If you are wondering about any and all of these topics, I, for one, am pleased as filling the heads of my staff with wonder was one of my goals for this meeting. And no, a bucket isn’t going to be your new manager as good and potentially outside-the-box an idea as that is.
I can almost hear the questions now:
“A bucket? Does he seriously have a bucket up there?”
“Is he going to use this bucket in some sort of convoluted analogy that initially appears to be deep, but in the end falls way short as a means to inspire us?”
“Did he forget his actual, and probably lame, idea at home and is now embarrassingly trying to sell us on this bucket as a means to motivate us?”
“He does realize that if he stands next to the bucket that while he is talking we are all subconsciously comparing and contrasts the two which is a lose lose situation for him?”
“When he is done, I hope one of us gets to take the bucket home, or at least get to borrow it for the weekend.”
To which I answer “yes, yes, yes, no and perhaps”
This bucket that you see before you may appear, on first glance, to be empty. On second glance, still empty. For those of you who continue to glance after a second time, all I can say is “it’s empty, Steve!” The bucket is meant to be empty and we are going to fill it, together, not with anything tangible or real, but with something to save this restaurant we call home and I fully realize that I am the only one who actually calls it home ever since my landlord changed my locks.
Now I’d be lying to you if I told you I had an easy solution to our problem here and I promised at our last staff meeting that I wouldn’t lie to you any longer unless I could prove that it somehow saved your lives. I also promised to provide nothing but easy solutions to all problems or else I’d shave my mustache finally. You know, I wish I could wave my magic wand and turn you into the happiest and most inspired restaurant staff in the country. I also wish I could walk up and down Main Street waving my magic wand without fear of reprisals.
I know many of you are sitting there looking up here at me and my bucket regretting dropping out of school. Well think of how I feel? I’m a fully grown man, by some standards, standing up here with a bucket in front of a group of people he’d love to call friends and maybe even invite over on the weekend for a movie night if they weren’t busy or anything and if his landlord wasn’t a big jerk. You don’t think I feel like a loser? You don’t think I still feel like the same little boy who used to cry on his mother’s lap after yet another harrowing day at school being teased for carrying around an imaginary bucket to share my imaginary toys with my hopefully soon-to-be real friends?
I also need to address the pink elephant in the room and no, I’m not talking about Heather, this time. In my defense, and I know many of you, obviously including Heather, haven’t totally forgiven me for mistaking her for a pink elephant back in December, but I swear that my glasses were heavily smudged and I honestly thought it was some sort of random dress-up day that I’d missed the memo on. The sensitivity training that occupied the past 9 Thursdays from 6:30 till 9pm were completely justified. No, the pink elephant I’m now referring to, is Frank.
I know how much you all miss Frank. I miss him to, aside from the fact that when he left for greener pastures — alfalfa farming to be exact — I did benefit by getting his position. But, he was amazing. I’ve tried to follow in his footsteps, but that dude walked a lot. There was just something about his smile, which seemed so genuine, and full of naturally white teeth. And the way he spoke to you like you were an actual human being with real feelings that he came across as if he really cared about. He also would never have treated you like you were elementary school kids by employing the use of a bucket in any way and I already partially regret the whole bucket thing, but we can’t go back in time or else I would have applied to theater school as my therapist/father figure recommended.
All I can say is, you can’t keep trudging around here like you are in prison. Prison is a whole lot worse I’m sure you’d say after our visit to one last month for comparison’s sake only. For those of you who had your parents call me to “stop threatening you”, I get that I may have crossed the line. But I need you to pretend to like each other. I need you to pretend that you want to work here despite the permanent tattoos and quite well-produced viral videos you posted online. I need you to pretend that you don’t feel like you have irrecoverably screwed up your lives by working here, though, I can’t fully guarantee that you haven’t. Finally, I need you to also take turns shining this bucket as I promised to return it to the store fully shined once we were done with it.
To be totally frank and I don’t mean totally Frank, as my impressions are this side of unwatchable, if you can’t summon up some actual motivation to work hard then heads may roll. And yes, that is a figure of speech, but the point is that changes may be in the works if we can’t turn those frowns upside down while leaving the rest of your faces the way they are already pointing.
Remember, these words, this meeting and, more than anything, this bucket. Never forget the bucket! I don’t know why, but this bucket holds the key to a brand new day for all of us here at this restaurant. Your job, on top of doing the work you are paid to do, is figuring out how the bucket can do this.
Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your evening.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

A Week Without Our Kids

Our kids were gone for the week.

Wait a second, I didn't accurately express that.


Cue the confetti drop.

It was the last week of summer. A week we'd all been collectively anticipating for months. The dates on the calendar on the fridge had been circled in three different shades of red for months. In a few short days, the school year full of hectic busy-ness would return.

But not yet.

"Where had our kids gone?" you may be wondering with concern. Had we shipped them off to a week-long prison, I mean camp? Had we arranged for one long sleepover with friends who had neglected to read the fine print on our contract? Had we told them to go play outside and lost track of time?


One set of grandparents had actually requested to have the kids for the week which we gladly agreed to after first making sure that they were feeling okay. When we hung up the phone we laughed like two criminals who had pulled off the heist of the century. We cackled like two witches who'd mixed the most excellent devious potion. We giggled until our kids looked at us suspiciously wondering what, indeed, was that funny.

One moment they were here kissing us goodbye as we packed bags full of clothes, books, snacks and stuffed animals. We kissed and hugged and wished them well. We shed tears.

And they were gone.

Let the party begin!

Somehow the kids had made their way to their grandparents and we were free. To make it easy for you, I'll now eliminate all unnecessary words and punctuation from the previous sentence - kids left, we free.

Yes, we were free - not that I want to equate raising our kids to being incarcerated, but...not sure how to finish that sentence, so let's move on.

We stood there, the two of us, in our now empty and eerily quiet living room, stunned and utterly unprepared for the moment. I made a mental note to jump for joy later on that day in front of the mirror when in full control of my limbs and facial muscles so as to truly capture the moment.

Once the dust had settled, we looked at each other, sat, and wondered what we should do first as we prepared to shake off the shackles of bedtime stories and dinners prepared just so and insisting on rooms being cleaned up. For one whole week there would be no fights for the remote or crying after family games or petty arguments to break up, or at least none involving children for a change.

Seeing as both of us were still on holidays, the choices were seemingly unlimited. For once, we could almost do whatever we wanted for 7 whole days including, but not limited to, building a killer fort with couch cushions. I was about to smack myself in the face repeatedly, but my wife beat me too it. Ouch.

I don't want to give the wrong impression, at least not right now, but it was initially a tad overwhelming. To state the obvious for the record, we love our kids. As busy and crazy as our weeks are together, I wouldn't trade it for anything, aside from slightly less whining. And it's not that I can't pick and chose how I spend my free time, but, as a parent you are used to having so many restrictions.

Afterschool programs and lessons and meal times and homework and shopping and sports and bedtimes and don't forget about quality family time. When you add that all up, carry the one and then subtract from the total it doesn't leave a whole lot of time to do too much for yourself especially if your math skills are rusty. For the two parents to actually spend time together outside of 9:45-10:45 at night after the kids are finally asleep, the dishes are done, the living room tidied enough to live in again and the parents with only enough energy to lay on the couch would be amazing.

We sat there, huddled together for warmth before remembering that it was summer, and alternatively stared at each other and the blank TV screen. What to do and where to go first? How to best utilize the week without blowing the bank, or blowing the bank without being caught? How crazy and outlandish should our plans be?

The questions assaulted my brain as did the pillow my wife was playfully hitting me with while we sat there with this wide expanse of unscheduled time and no one to look after. It had only been a few minutes and yet it already felt so strange. And somehow being this strange person in a strange land, felt like deja vu for me. Like I'd been here before, years ago when I was a younger, less-wrinkled version of myself.


Then it dawned on me, it was just like the time right before we first became pregnant. 33 and 31, relatively young, and free. Technically my wife was the only one pregnant (she called dibs), but I like to refer to us as "we" for tax and insurance purposes.

Back in those days, life was full of impromptu trips to random destinations. We'd spend whole afternoons strolling around looking in shops and having coffee and selecting ingredients for a meal we'd cook together while enjoying jazz music and white wine. We'd spend afternoons throwing frisbees in the park without any idea what time it was as there was nowhere to go and nowhere to be.

At the drop of a hat, we'd race off to listen to live music or hit a tennis ball or watch a movie or all the above at the same time. Though busy in life, it felt like there was time. Time to sleep in, to "waste" an afternoon laying on the couch or in a lawn chair somewhere. We were always able to operate at our own speed, mess with the schedule, do what we wanted when we felt like it, before kids.

Then the kids arrived and everything changed. Mostly for the best (remember we love our kids), but as busy parents we often longed for some of the life we'd left behind.

And now, 10 years later, we had a week to recapture all of that.

Before you think that we didn't, we did.

We went for lazy lunches and lounged at cafes for hours on end, I wrote and she read and we actually took yoga classes together. Matinees were watched, puzzles were collaborated on and games were played.

We were out for dinner one night and ran into a couple we know who were struggling with their two little kids. It was a scene we had acted before many many times. The parents were being pulled in a millions directions at once by their two little ones. They looked at us and we at them.

"Where are your kids?" they asked with curiosity and exhaustion. The answer was given and the looks we received were ones of incredulity and jealousy as having any amount of free time seemed like a concept so foreign to them that it was as if we were speaking a different language or that we were aliens offering them a free ride on our spaceship.

We'd been there. We knew how they felt. We had longed for free time and now we had it. And, though we had a wonderful week, it did feel foreign and strange and weird. As much fun as we had together in our freedom, the whole time it felt like something huge was missing.

My afro from my 20s. I mean, the kids - definitely the kids.

It's true, we missed our kids. It was like two pieces of a very simple jigsaw puzzle were missing and the puzzle was just incomplete. For the better part of 10 years, we'd always been together; playing, reading, eating and everything in between. We are a family that spends a lot of time together and now we weren't. It just felt odd.

Not that this odd feeling prevented us from living it up as much as two forty-something homebodies could live it up, but throughout each day the following thoughts and queries were spoken:

"I wonder what the kids are up to?"
"Wouldn't the kids like that?"
"I miss them."

The house was too quiet. Evenings without bathtime and bedtime and reading time felt unusually long. No good night hugs and kisses and "I love you mom and dad" as one last treat before the day ended was strange. Mornings without a little one walking quietly up to me as I slept saying "can you wake up with me now?" just felt odd.

And then it hit me. I was seeing into the future. A future without a full house.

This week was sort of like what it will be like when our kids have grown up and moved out. When we aren't a young family any longer. When there are no mouths to feed and cuts to bandage and homework to help with. When our kids have grown up become adults and have moved out. When this week without kids at home becomes the long-term reality of our lives.When we are old.


This week alone both reminded me of when we were younger while also giving a glimpse into what it will be like at the other end of the rainbow one day. I saw that that life, as great as it is right now and as much as we wish for time to slow down, will continue to march towards the end of this stage. That all of the wonderful and amazing things we all do together do have expiration dates. Time marches on and kids do grow up.

We'd had a wonderful day together; lots of laughs and chances to fully relax, yet at the end of this nice day, we sat there in our slightly-depressingly empty nest, and I felt sad that this thoroughly enjoyable phase we are so fortunate to be in, will inevitably come to an end.

But not yet.

Clearly, this week would end and our buoyant and joyous kids would bounce and scream back into our world. This week would end and our lives would once again be filled with laughter and crying and frustratingly-annoying sibling squabbles and fights before we knew it. This week would end and it would quickly seem like nothing but a figment of our imagination. This week would end and we'd long for some free time without kids.

And as we spent the last evening, eating our final dinner and watching a movie completely of our choice at the ungodly hour of 8:00pm, we wished we'd done more with our time. Buyer's remorse?Had we done all we could have done? Did we fully utilize our time in such a way that we'd have no regrets? What did it say about us that we weren't completely able to let loose and enjoy ourselves without our kids? Had we become lame? Had I lost my separate identity over time and fully become Tommy, the father who couldn't exist and function on his own?

And then they came back.

Full of stories and items grandma bought for them and questions and energy! Wanting to go out and stay in and be driven places and to see friends and have meals cooked and on and on and on. And though I would have loved for a few hours on a Sunday just to do whatever I wanted on my own without a soundtrack of complaining or whining or pleading, I was so happy to see them and never wanted them to leave again.


The Calm Before the Storm: A Short Story

It is morning.

I sit at my desk, though I'm constantly being reminded that the desk is not technically mine by my boss who seems to be a little too happy that it's his. I breath in as deeply as I can without disturbing my next-door neighbour who is very sensitive about excessive breathing. I always bug him that in a previous life he must have been a bat which, for some reason, always makes him look so disarmingly sad.

Another busy day with near-rabid clients all wanting more and more and more almost literally ripping me to shreds is about to begin and I just can't wait! I know what I signed up for - salsa lessons on Thursdays - and I also love my work. It just feels important despite my office being between the bathroom and the storage closet. Ever the optimist, I boast to my colleagues, that in the likely event of a flood, only I'll have the best access to a mop and bucket. Maybe it was the significantly large amount of time I was forced into playing make believe Noah's ark games as a child and into my adulthood, but I am constantly on red alert for the next flood.

But now, at this moment, I am enjoying the last few minutes of calm before the storm, which is always a challenge, as approaching storms remind me of the anxiety-producing bedtime stories my older sister insisted on reading to me by candlelight no matter how much the dripping wax burned my upper lip and how well the slightly-too-bright fluorescent lights worked in my room. My sister went on to enjoy an illustrative career as a candlemaker bringing my parents, and our small town, much pride while still giving me the shivers everytime I smell wax or have dripping wax land on my upper lip which is depressingly often.

It is a regular, everyday, not-worth-writing-home-about-but-not-that-I-let-that-stop-me-haha-mom-and-dad-I-hope-you-love-all-of-the-letters-I-send-you-on-a-daily-basis-about-nondescript-periods-of-time morning. Some years back my parents attempted to place a restraining order on my ability to send letters and were laughed out of court. The cash I spent hiring a group of aggressive, over-the-top professional laughers for the occasion was money well spent as was that corned beef on rye that I taunted my roommate with as way of celebration.

As crazy as it sounds, with the exact amount of crazy depending on the company I'm keeping at the time who typically fall between kneeling down to smell flowers when there are no flowers around to assigning unique names to each of  50 different peanuts before consuming them all while bawling, I love mornings. I love them the same way other people love their cats that continually scratch their couches as if on a mission to remove all upholstering. I love mornings, but they've made it pretty clear the feeling is not mutual and that I need to stop already and move on or else they'll have to alert the authorities.

No matter how it looks, I didn't always love mornings, and I'm quite aware of how it looks as I spend significant time looking at it each evening while meticulously combing my hair while listening to Wagner. That's right, as I'm always telling anyone within earshot which I make easier by carrying around my own amplifier on weekends, when I was a younger, more marketable and less brittle version of myself, I couldn't stand waking up. Actually, the waking up part was okay, but I refused to stand unless ordered to by a lady with perfect posture and a haircut to match who spoke with a proper British accent accompanied by a spot of tea. Not a cup, but an actual spot as I am trying to cut way back on my tea consumption before I become known as "that guy".

For those who aren't around while I am sleeping, which is hopefully everyone but the man in the poncho whom I occasionally pay to watch me sleep, I have always been quite adept at laying down while awake, despite the fact that those world records keepers always refuse to answer my calls. But as both I and my prized cheddar aged, more and more meetings and appointments and work happened before lunch that I needed to feign consciousness for or, if I was in the mood, actually be conscious for. I did try, for a short time, being unconscious at work which, while providing hours of hilarity for the boys in the mail room, was frowned upon by my superiors who were the women in the room directly above the mail room.

One day it hit me. Unless I wanted to drift through life as an unemployed drifter who enjoyed some drift-net fishing on the side just as my highschool yearbook had predicted I, out of our grad class of 250, was the most likely candidate to do, I needed to change. Yes, I realized that I needed to change everything starting with my pillow case. My mom argued, quite over-the-top vehemently which, if you know my mom, is standard operating procedure, that my pillowcase was the least of my worries. My mom, cutely, is always either vastly underestimating or greatly overestimating the psychological and emotional impact that linens have on me.

But I figured things out and quickly transformed from a sleep-all-morning-on-the-kitchen-floor-caked-in-tortilla-chip-crumbs slacker to a rise-at-the-crack-of-dawn-and-chomp-at-the-bit-night-mouthguard-wearing go-getter despite what all of those naysayers were saying about me. Those particular naysayers are horses. True, those months mostly spent in my unfinished basement that I had re-purposed into the padded cell of my childhood dreams were as transformative as they were damaging, but just like my daycare provider used to tell us during afternoon snack, drastic times call for drastic measures.

In the blink of an eye - multiple blinks if I'm being honest - it was like I was a different person, with different sweater tops and my friends seemed different too, taller, more mysterious and into Greek food. In some ways it was like someone had forcibly put wool in front of my eyes right after making me sit through hours of excruciatingly boring shearing only to remove the wool and run away giggling like a wild pack of schoolgirls, while in another more accurate way, it was nothing like that at all. No wonder my roommate is always complaining of headaches even after I begrudgingly removed all of the wonderful asbestos that I claimed gave our place a certain je ne sais quoi feeling from days gone by.

For a few years I went to school, before deciding to actually enrol in courses as it was getting very boring just hanging out. I graduated near the top of my class thanks to my new hat at the time and my good fortune to always show up late when they decided to make human pyramids. And here I am. A veritable success in the most limited definition of the term without sounding sarcastic. Gone are the days of wondering where I was going in life which seemed to be dominated by walking cautiously on a series of poorly lit paths at dusk. These days I never leave the house without my trusty lantern as well as a trunk full of backup lanterns just in case an impromptu lantern party breaks out.

I look at my daybook and scan down the huge and daunting list of appointments while silently applauding the use of page numbers. I had written in a thick red marker for some strange reason giving a fairly regular list of names a huge and daunting feeling to it for dramatic effect and so that the markers I had spent my weekly advance on wouldn't just sit there gathering dust. I mean I wanted them to gather dust so I could avoid feeling like I wasted money on the new duster I bought, I just didn't want the markers to solely gather dust as that was what the scissors were for. It would be a cold day in hell, I was always muttering to myself, before I'd use those scissors. My daybook, interestingly, had been an odd, yet practical gift, from my estranged uncle who is an odd, yet practical gift of a man whom my aunt always lovingly and cryptically referred to as the human embodiment of a daybook.

As I gathered my thoughts and remembered how I got here - it was two rights, followed by a left, followed by three lefts and finished off with a huge roar and fist pump that freaked out a group of new mothers pushing strollers enjoying a seasonally warm morning, I reminded myself of the plan for the day. My bosses were always reminding me in eerie, yet standing-ovation-worthy unison to toe the company line which I begrudgingly did. I thought it was just an old expression until that one day, when I arrived at work, and saw this ridiculously audacious line that the bosses had painted as if to prove a point or just because they love painted lines. But, there was no way I was going to simply do what "they" wanted and I went as far as refusing to unless someone left me a briefcase with unmarked bills under my pile of decoy briefcases I keep out back just in case. The bills, plain sheets of white paper, were as unmarked as they could have been and I was impressed that they took the time and effort to placate me.

After a slow start that I attributed to leg cramps though industrial strength glue might be more accurate, I started climbing the company's ladder rung by rung while also receiving promotions and raises that were completely unrelated to my love of climbing the rope ladder they had installed in the company gym. In little time I went from the assistant to the mail clerk to his co-assistant to someone worthy of sitting down during the day at an actual desk. And to think my first girlfriend believed that no one would ever pay me to sit at a desk. The random and diverse things she thought would never happen to me would have been enough to fill exactly two pages of her diary, which they did. I remember the day she ran out of ideas and how she wept as the other 98 pages of her diary would have to be filled with pictures of farm animals that she clipped out of magazines. I missed her sometimes before I recall how painful our separation was. I still can't believe she actually bit my leg.

The crew had all arrived by now and each of us were primed and ready. Some of us had chosen to wear deodorant for the occasion, while others had chosen to surround themselves with things that smell awful, thus appearing better smelling relative to those objects. I sit at my desk looking at the wall openly admiring its verticality. I hoped my envy isn't too pronounced or if it is, that the new girl isn't standing outside my office gaping at me with her a-little-too-cute mouth right now and permanently etching me off her list of eligible bachelors if she even had a list in the first place that I was fortunate to make. Why she'd have an etching tool on her person is another great question that really has no good answer, unless she comes from a long line of etchers, and even then. This new girl is the latest model off of the assembly line of cute girls hired at the office who somehow appear less cute after lunch.

As I enjoy the last few moments of calm, I smugly lean back on my swivel chair and allow myself a small, yet infinitely satisfying, chuckle at my ancestors who never got to experience a chair that swivelled. And then, mid-chuckle, I am slapped hard upside my cheek by reality who always slaps a touch too hard. Today is going to be rough, like a storm at sea, or a storm on land. There would be a line of angry, demanding customers who were only slightly better than a hoard of angry, demanding customers mostly due to their ability to organize into a line, thus making themselves seem more approachable. These customers would want refunds and apologies and free pens or, failing that, a sincerity that I usually only reserved for my grade 8 math teacher because she unapologetically gave me free pens from time to time.

"Everybody ready?" the boss called out as she did on a daily basis without ever opening the question to the floor for debate and discussion. For months I had been a little worried about the guy next to me who closely resembled a rabid dog only with drastically less ear hair, until one day it hit me that I should remove the plastic before microwaving and consuming my breakfast burrito. One last glance at the blank space on the wall right above my computer and then back at my computer and then up at the blank space again as if searching for inspiration or a computer, and I was truly ready for whatever this day would bring as long as it wasn't horrible indigestion.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Dear Kids

Hey Kids, it’s dad.
I just thought I’d write you this short letter to let you know how much I love you and care about you. Seeing you grow from babies into these two amazing kids is such a powerful and tremendous experience for me. Being your father is easily one of the best things that has ever happened to me and I thank you for helping make my life feel so wonderful and complete. Each and every day, I am so appreciative that you are my kids.
While I have your attention, though, there are a few…small areas that are on my mind, ones that could use some minor improvements or fine tuning on your parts. Only if you have time, of course. No pressure. And I’m definitely not meaning to sound annoying or like a nag or that I’m angry or frustrated, because who could be angry or frustrated with kids as wonderful as you are…most of the time.
But, it would be great if you could read, discuss these items among each other, and sort things out a bit. Not huge things, mind you, because remember, overall you are amazing and wonderful. Never forget that. I’m just saying that we all have things to work on — look at your dad! If someone took some time to write me a letter like this with things for me to work on it would be much longer. No need to nod your heads so vigorously.
Anyways, if you aren’t too busy laying on the couch watching TV or eating the food that I joyously prepared for you while you also relaxing on the couch, it would be great if you could peruse this letter and consider my suggestions. Only if you have some time. No stress.
Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but you can each be slightly grumpy in the mornings. Not that I’m being critical! Believe me, I get it — mornings are tough! To state the obvious, no one enjoys having a great sleep in a cozy bed cut short. Having said that, it would make your dad so happy if the second you started interacting with other humans in the real world (namely me), if we could all just be in a good mood. I’m okay with tired, I’m okay with bored and I’m even okay with some well-timed sarcasm, but grumpiness makes me sad. You don’t want a sad dad, do you?
Breakfasts, especially on school days are slow! Hey, I get it — what passes for kids’ TV these days is hilarious and captivating. Some great work is being done on many accounts. And, as we all know, the real issue here is that your dad even allows you to watch TV in the morning on a school day in the first place. What sort of idiot is he (compelling question for a different day)? But look, no one enjoys cold eggs and no one enjoys being yelled at “why aren’t you eating?” and “could you please eat?” and “why won’t you at least take a bite?” while they gape mindlessly at the screen. So, it would be really peachy if you could just find some way to eat breakfast in a more timely fashion.
And I know we all want to look our best, so selecting the perfect combination of clothes as well as meticulously cleaning your teeth and brushing your hair is a top priority. I, for one, should spend more than the three-to-five minutes I spend on these tasks. So, I completely get that some time is needed to be prepared to set a foot out of the house (and exponentially more for two). But, when I’m racing around doing a million things and I see you standing there in front of the bathroom mirror almost literally brushing one hair at a time or ever-so-slowly trying on your third outfit with the toothbrush dangling out of your mouth, I go a bit batty. “There goes good ol’ crazy dad,” you must be thinking as you treat each individual tooth like a precious diamond as you remember the dental hygienist recommending. If you care for my sanity, could you perhaps pick up the pace just a tad?
Easily one of my favourite moments of the day is when I pick you up from school and I get to see your freckled smiling faces once more except for those rare (often) meltdowns in the car. I know you are tired and I know school is exhausting and I also know that it takes a lot of effort to “keep it together” all day when out in the public. But, sweeties, daddy is tired and exhausted too and he’d love nothing more than a quiet “how was your day?” and “what did you learn at school” drive home. Not that I don’t want you to share honestly, but if it could all be done at a lower decibel level with no crying and kicking my car seat or to at least give me a short warning signal so as best to ready myself for the (your) storm, that would mean so much.
Also, at least once every few days, one or the other of you has misplaced a favourite article of clothing or a much-needed lunch bag or some homework your teacher will kill you if you don’t hand in. And somehow, even though I was at work all day and clearly am not to blame (for this), it is all my fault? Now don’t get me wrong — I don’t mean to sound like I’m complaining or criticizing you at all. Completely not the point of this letter. You are both amazing! And forgetful from time to time. Again, I’m far from perfect myself, but if you could take more care, watch your things, maybe glue or tape or even staple important things to your body it would help. Daddy is trying to be funny, aside from the not-losing-things-anymore part.
You are each other’s best friends and nothing warms my heart or puts a tear in the corner of my eye then to see you sitting next to each other on the couch reading or on the floor playing a game or being kind to the other for no special reason. If only those moments could last the whole day! But they don’t. Something always comes up that shatters the peace. Now, I wasn’t born yesterday (clearly) and I fully understand you can’t get along all the time with someone you live with, and sometimes a little frustration is warranted, but dad would be gaining many fewer grey hairs each day if you could just get along. This means thinking before your hit, taking a deep breath before you yell and remembering your sister loves you and that your dad may be on the verge of a mental breakdown.
I hope this is going okay so far — you know how much I love you and never want to hurt your feelings, but while we are on the topic of fighting, it makes me tense with frustration when either of you are going out of your way to purposely be difficult. In case you aren’t quite sure what I am referring to, here is the scenario. Your mom or I will be asking for your help around the house or trying to get the family ready to go out and everything is going swimmingly and then, without notice or any obvious reason, one of you decides “hey, let’s just arbitrarily stop listening and following instructions just for laughs”. Not funny, but still adorable, but, to be clear, definitely not funny. And nothing can continue until one of you decides to let it. I’m sure the power and control is delicious and I hope you get to enjoy that when you are parents one day, but for now, make it easy for your dad, pretty please?
At the risk of feeling like I’m piling another one on my list of complaints, nothing puts a damper on a perfectly nice evening than a long, drawn-out bedtime. We all know that staying up is fun and five more minutes never really hurt anyone even when five really meant ten or fifteen (sounds like a prison sentence, doesn’t it?). And you raise some well-thought out and semi-articulate questions such as “Why are you being so mean?”, ”Why do you guys get to stay up so late?” and “You just want us to go to sleep so you can spend time without us.” We’ve done so much with and for you all day, so it would be amazing if you could hop upstairs like the cute little bunnies you are and go to bed. All of this ideally would happen without you having to be tucked in, kissed good night, had your water bottle filled up, your nighttime music changed, your pillow fluffed again and again and again till somehow, it’s morning already.
And at the end of yet another day, your mom and I flop down next to each other on the couch, utterly spent and we look back on the day that was. I hope you know how much we love you and wish you could somehow grow up a little more slowly as the teenage years and all of that excitement (wheee!) is just around the corner. Sure there is some frustration and some tears and some arguing from time to time and sure you two could be easier on each other and on us and sure you could cut back on the crying and yelling and hitting but never forget how amazing you are and that I still love you tremendously.
Your dad, Tommy

Friday, January 6, 2017

How to Survive Making Breakfasts and Lunches for Your Family

I oversee the food for my family of four.
I plan, I shop, I cook, I feed, I pack. And then I eat.
It’s a full-time job.
And of all of the meals and snacks and “I’m hungry”s and “feed me, now!”s I get, the morning shift is the toughest. It holds a special place in my heart; the left ventricle.
So many mouths to feed, so little time, so many small tasks, so asleep still.
Each day looks like the straw that broke the camel’s back, and yet, with one eye open at best, I come through in flying colours and I look spectacular flying in colour.
Not only do I get all of those breakfasts and lunches cooked, but I am good at it. Surprisingly good, if you are one of my critics.
How did I prepare for this challenge?
Well, years of working on a line in a restaurant and teaching school have given me the organization and preparation skills I needed to excel. And I shouldn’t forget all the hours directly observing my parents navigate similar waters.
In one sense becoming the dude making the food was the role I was born to play. In another, infinitely more accurate sense, it was an extra in a poorly-funded B film.
So, if you are a parent and have been tasked with providing nourishment (and not solely the metaphysical variety) for your partner and your offspring, then read on. If you are not a parent, but plan to become one and are interested in one aspect of how your life will irrevocably change, read on. If you are not a parent and don’t intentionally plan on ever becoming one, but enjoy a good laugh at other’s expenses (namely me), then you too should read on.
Here is how to prepare breakfasts and lunches for a family in the morning while maintaining your sanity or at least not losing too much of it.
The Calm before the Storm: How to be Ready Before the Morning Arrives.
1) Preparation! I can’t stress this enough (due to time constraints), but being prepared is key in the same was an actual key is key to opening a locked door. You must be ready at the drop of a hat to make any meal at any time. (Note: ban all hats.) To get prepared, start by drawing a picture of a cute squirrel. Now tear that paper up. You don’t have time for that crap! You must be on your game at all times. You must operate like a chess grandmaster — multiple moves ahead and an unhealthy obsession with trapping the king.
2) Seriousness! This job you have signed up for (always read the small print) is 24–7 365 days a year. There are no vacations or sick days or time off for good behaviour. You must be ready to jump up in the middle of deep sleep and perfectly boil an egg or butter some bread or butter an egg if your kids are weird. The toaster is always plugged in. The kettle always a click away from starting to boil. This is not the time to develop a sense of humour and give the wrong person the wrong container of cut up fruit or leave crusts on a sandwich because you think you are funny.
3) Plan! Each Sunday morning, sit down and plan to the most infinitesimal detail exactly what each human you are legally required to feed will require for substance. Then laugh for a while, giddy with the power, before allotting some extra rations. You plan because there can be no surprises! Not on your watch; not next to your watch; the inclusion of a watch at this point is a distraction you don’t have time for. Every possible meal-time request must be anticipated and shopped for. Your ability to know what they want before they ask for it will be called “eerie” and “woah” and “stop reading my diary”.
4) Knowledge! Get to know your family, both as actual humans and as robots, just in case. Sure, you knew them before, but for you to prepare their food, you must be as one with them. Study them. Follow them around at a distance with the binoculars and night vision goggles you requested as presents. Document their each and every move, strength and weakness, and emotional and physical responses to various stimuli. Only then can you properly feed them.
5) Preferences! In a perfect world, each person would eat the same thing and be the opposite of picky. In a perfect world I’d also be taller, have a darker complexion and speak with a deliciously hard-to-place accent. Take notes on each person’s food likes and dislikes no matter how asinine, perplexing or hilarious they may seem. Debate throwing those notes away and having some fun, before remembering that you can be replaced. If it helps, think of yourself as a highly-flammable scarecrow surrounded by crows who possess the knowledge and skill to use lighters — worked for me!
6) Memorize! You must be keenly aware of where everything is in your refrigerator, pantry and freezer. And I mean everything. Every grain, ounce and gram must be accounted for. Then forget everything you learned and memorize it again. And again, until you want to scream. Then scream. You, and you alone, are the master of this kitchen and only you can perform the tasks you perform. This is important — by no means can anyone else possess the knowledge of what is actually in all of those unlabeled Tupperware containers in the freezer.
7) Arrange! Despite what others tell you, this is your kitchen, unless you are at their house and then it is their kitchen. Don’t argue this point. When at home alone, take out all plates and bowls and utensils and spend some quality time together — hugging and issuing compliments is encouraged. Rank your pots and pans in order of size and likeability. Make sure the more frequently used foodstuffs are easy to reach as you don’t want to embarrassingly pull anything (“you tore your calf doing what?”). Arrange the plates and bowls in such a way that would make your mother proud if such stuff did, which it doesn’t.
The Storm: The Morning is Here.
8) Confidence! Like an elite athlete or Hollywood star, a certain amount of self-esteem is needed to perform this task. I aim for somewhere between off-the-charts and insufferable. You must believe your own hype or else you have no chance and may very well be eaten alive (to this date, that hasn’t happened, but why take the risk?) Enter the kitchen boldly. Own the room. Remember, you are the straw that stirs the drink; the flame that ignites the fire; the chicken and the egg. Bwaaach.
9) Focus! You don’t have time for distractions! It doesn’t matter how bad a sleep you got or how many nearly-debilitating allergies you are dealing with. Around every corner is a trap that may try to throw you off your game (your phone, the TV, your collection of hilarious wigs) — ignore them all! You must make the food for your family. You don’t have time for niceties and clean shirts and proper grammar. You definitely don’t have time for spilled milk or burned toast or scalding your hand. You must maintain singular focus on your task at hand or else you will fail. You will not fail.
10) The Set-up! It is highly important to wake up early to have the kitchen to yourself. This will give you time to visualize success while enjoying some “me time” which should entail a high-fibre homemade muffin and some r/jokes. Then, as if flipping a switch (by all means, flip an actual switch if that helps), you jump to action and boil some water. Why? Maybe you are preheating Thermoses, or making some tea or obsessively boiling water for the access to free steam. As the clock strikes the exact time (and not a moment sooner) the kids must be woken up, quickly pull out the ingredients that are needed for the battle ahead before racing upstairs to wake/scare/dump water on the kids.
11) The Dance! You are a dancer! Once the kids are awake and out of their rooms, the dance begins as you waltz, jive, two-step and crunk your way from the freezer to the microwave to the pantry to the stove to the kids to the cutting board and on and on for the next 45–60 minutes without pausing to think, dry your brow, contemplate life with bigger bushier brows or eat. The TV is on and your kids sit there gaping, stationary and mostly asleep while you sashay and bellydance around the kitchen putting on an incredible show that goes entirely unnoticed.
12) The Race! One kid likes toasted English muffins (not too crispy!), the other likes a cheese omelette (not too brown!), the first kid wants juice (not too much!), the other wants juice too (a little more than her sister!). You nod and grunt (as a nod to your cave people ancestors) and continue to race to the large freezer to desperately locate some lunches for the others that they won’t stick their tongues out at. Your arm and hand and half your upper body descend deep into your freezer as you dig around blindly as if a small child selecting an exciting prize with the only difference being that freezer-burnt macaroni and cheese or something that may be meatloaf is the prize.
13) Doing the Wave! You race back to the stove and toaster, get their breakfasts, literally throw their food at them and begin to frantically and quite demonically microwave leftovers. As the time counts down on the microwave and before you must leave for work, you are cutting up fruit, wishfully placing raw veggies in small containers and bribing them (and killing a small part of yourself) with small packages of cookies or fruit gummies. Plead with them to eat faster! Exhort them to finish their lunches this time or at least tell you if they hate the food. Drop to your knees and beg them to clean up their dishes. Make plans to hire a personal chef when you win the lottery.
14) The Home Stretch! The clock has hit 7:30am. It is ‘bout to get real. Cram random items into the blender for smoothies and delicately constructing your partner’s breakfast while taking some joy in debating whether to actually hide some jalapeno slices in her eggwich just for giggles. Wolf down your own breakfast (time spent observing actual wolves eating helps with accuracy) as well as signing agendas and fieldtrip notices and spelling tests and checking math homework and literally pushing the kids out the door. Any and all face washing or tooth and hair brushing are optional.
15) Congratulations! Like a star of a sports team, bask in the adulations which are completely of the silent and imaginary variety. Raise your tired arms above your head like a victorious general home from the war. Give some over-the-top fist pumps followed by some animalistic roars. Allow yourself to be overcome with emotions for once again succeeding in conquering this momentous challenging task. You are valuable, you are needed and you, and only you, made breakfast and lunch for your family. Allow a small tear to drop down your cheek. And then another and another like it is raining. Stop playing with tap water, it’s time to go to work.