The Little Big Things

I landed my first job when I was fifteen years old. After years of babysitting for neighbors, I marched into my school district office, requested a work permit, and headed straight to the local mall, where I was employed part-time until I left for college.

I have always worked. Always. Except for when I had my third child and I gave up trying to make it all work and left work behind for a bit. It was hard. I missed work.

When I started back up with paid employment in 2016, as Millie was turning five years old, I decided to open up a local bank account. We had an account where Bob worked in the city but it made sense to have easier access to our money locally, too. His pay went into that account and my pay would go into this account. It didn’t matter that everything mine is his and his is mine. It just mattered that after a dozen years of managing every aspect of our budget, investments, and overall financial health, I would be once again contributing to our budget, investments, and overall financial health.

It made me so happy to go back to work – to have an account that reflected my work.

On new bank account day, I gathered up all of my new job deposit information and headed to the bank branch bringing Bob in tow. I knew he needed to be on the account, too, in case I ever died tragically in some Joanna-appropriate manner (which, would be, like, trespassing on someone’s property to get a better look at their house or something). So, Bob was with me at the bank branch and I asked that he be added to the account but it was absolutely clear that he wasn’t the one opening the account. It was me! I was opening the account! With my new job money!

Imagine my dismay when the account statement arrived and I saw it was addressed to Bob. His name was the primary on the account. My name was secondary. The checks arrived and Bob’s name was listed first, too. This was especially grating as I’m not entirely sure Bob even remembers HOW to write a check.

It was such a little thing – the manager opening the account for me but listing him first. Her not bothering to ask who should be the primary account holder. Her assuming it would be my husband. The man in the equation. It seems so inconsequential, my rage. Like it shouldn’t even matter. But, it did matter. It mattered to me. A lot.

It mattered so much that it made me want to close the account.

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A week or so ago, I bought a new car. We’d known for awhile that our minivan needed to be replaced but Bob and I were unable to decide on what kind of car to replace it with. Finally, after way too many months of indecision, Bob arrived home declaring that the minivan needed to go! It was time! The impasse must end! So, I said I would take care of it. I’d figure out a new car I thought we could both agree on.

The next morning, I notified work I’d be late and I drove to a dealership a little ways away but one I knew that had the model and color I was interested in seeing. I’ve bought a few cars over the years so I knew how it all worked and I knew how much I wanted to pay and I knew how all car salesman have treated me in the past so I arrived with an all business demeanor absolutely loaded for bear.

It was a gorgeous day and the salesman I approached was lingering outside in the sun. I asked to see the car I had found online and he said, “Sure,” without even once looking around me to see if my husband was behind me. When I sat in the car, surveyed the cargo space, had him point out where the closest USB ports to where my children would be seated were located, he kindly showed me all of the features without even once asking if my husband would be joining us. When I asked him for his best price, let him know he was in competition with another dealership, told him I could close the deal on the spot, he never even once asked if I needed to consult with my husband. That night, I got to surprise my husband with a new car, in the make he had wanted, and I have to say it was a very Lexus-December-to-Remember type thing but without the red bow (or the Lexus actually).

It was such a little thing that the salesman at that dealership wasn’t asking. He could have easily asked. Could have easily assumed that I couldn’t do it on my own. But, he didn’t. He never once assumed that there was anyone else in the car buying equation but me. That mattered to me. It mattered a lot.

It mattered so much that it made me want to buy a car.

I’m not really entirely sure what my point here is other than I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important our words are. How much weight they carry. What we do say and what we don’t say. What we do ask and what we don’t ask.

It’s hard not to think about it when things seem so broken – the vitriol amongst us at a fever pitch. It’s hard not to imagine that some of that could be fixed or mended with a better choice of words.

Being inclusive, reserving assumptions, watching our phrasing are all such little moments. Little opportunities to do better by someone, for someone. I hear people complain and bemoan the extra steps it takes to be cautious and mindful with our words. That those little things shouldn’t matter. I think they do matter. I think they matter a lot.

What if all of the little things add up to much bigger things?

The One In The Middle

Charlie turned ten years old last week. He celebrated with a birthday on Tuesday, a field trip on Wednesday, a day spent at the office with his father on Thursday, and a weekend camping trip.

When I woke him up for school yesterday morning, he protested his need to attend by explaining, “But, there’s nothing happening this week.”

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Charlie always needs to be doing something. When the weekend hits, Bob and I look at each other and ask, “What’s on Charlie’s list?” We’ll jot down things inside the house that need fixing, things outside the house that need planting, things around the house that need… Charlie-ing.

When we tear him away from a small screen on Saturdays and Sundays, Charlie will spend his time on projects. Always tinkering. Always doing.

It came as a great relief when finally – at long last – Charlie grew heavy enough to mow the lawn. See, his diminutive stature was so diminutive that the lawn tractor didn’t recognize that anyone was sitting on the seat of the mower when Charlie would climb aboard and, as a safety precaution, would automatically cut the engine. Oh, how we rejoiced when Charlie weighed enough to keep the motor running. Now, he mows, too. It’s on his list.

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Charlie’s big Christmas present this past year was a brand new orange kayak. He had whittled his wish list down to the aforementioned kayak, a metal detector, or a ventriloquist’s dummy. We went for the kayak.

If it’s something to be done out of doors, Charlie is in. He putters around the pond in his kayak. Fishes there, too. Hikes the neighborhood, ensuring the paths are clear. Uses a bow gifted from his uncle for target practice in the backyard. Polishes his BB gun. Starts a fire in the pit on a chilly spring night.

The natural world matters to Charlie. He saves a turtle stuck on the sidewalk. He studies the sky when a storm approaches. He peers at the stars through his telescope.

Charlie is our Outdoor Boy. Always, always planning his next adventure.

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Two summers ago, Charlie went through an intense round of testing to figure out why school wasn’t clicking. To better discern why learning was so difficult for him. It was a laborious process for Charlie but through that testing we learned Charlie has a significant learning disability. His testing revealed deficiencies across the board – in all areas except one – his vocabulary. He scored “superior” in that area.

“Well, that makes sense,” we mused, thinking of Charlie’s incessant talking and story-telling. If votes were tallied, Charlie would be the People’s Choice winner in this family. He is beloved by those he’s met and those he hasn’t. He’s always drawn others in with his stories, his words. The test results confirmed both what we’d known and what we’d feared.

I wish school were easier for Charlie. I, selfishly, wish it were easier for us, too. Charlie is a challenge. He’s got years of hard work ahead. Bob and I do, too. As parents, we’re conditioned to tell our children they can do anything they set their mind to. But, it’s not that easy. It will never be that easy for Charlie.

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On vacation recently, our family took a Humvee tour through the dunes on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. By chance, Charlie got to sit in the front seat of the Humvee, across from the driver. He was delighted. Absolutely delighted. He also thought I had arranged it that way and I may have been slow to admit it was a happy accident. It was fun to be Charlie’s hero for a little bit.

He played it cool sitting in that front seat. Disguising his eagerness and excitement with a calm demeanor. He didn’t want the driver to know he was ecstatic. He’s maturing and changing. He’s ten after all.

Turning ten years old means you’ll have to hear more of Charlie’s delightful stories directly from Charlie now – not necessarily from me, not necessarily in this space. It’s time.

And, Charlie has plenty of his own tall tales to tell. He is full of adventure, that one. We should all wish to get to go along.

 

Things That Will Definitely Most Likely Happen While I’m Out of Town

Let me preface this by disclosing that my husband has always been the most capable father. No duty of parenthood is too much or too overwhelming for him. He’s never shied away from the tough stuff. When the kids were little, it was middle of the night bottles, unreasonable tantrums, snot of a color not found in nature, explosive poop situations – Bob handled them all. Well, most of them all. Sometimes, the explosive poop stuff was a two-parent job. We always had a safe word when in a situation like this. I’m pretty sure most parents probably have this, maybe? A word you holler when faced with a predicament that is entirely too much for one person to manage? Ours was “backup.” We’d yell, “BACKUP!” when the situation was too horrific for just one adult. “Backup! BACKUP! BACK! UP!” It’s a marriage mandate that the other parent starts running immediately.

Anyway, my point is, Bob is perfectly capable but also he is not me. More than thirteen years of co-parenting with him has taught me this.

I’m traveling for the next five days which means Bob is free to parent in his… style. This also means, certain things are virtually guaranteed to happen in my absence.

1. A kid will throw up. This is number one on the list because it’s just science. I can’t explain it but one thing that is absolutely, positively, guaranteed to happen while I’m out of town is vomit. The very second the door latch clicks on a parent headed out on a trip, someone’s stomach begins to hurt. It’s like death and taxes. The last time this happened, Bob texted me a picture of throw up on Charlie’s bedroom floor so don’t ever tell me that romance is dead.

2. It’s a given that Bob will let the two youngest kids sleep on my side of the king bed every night while I’m gone and I’ll return to weird kid crud and my pillow will smell funny. There will be granola bar wrappers in the sheets. I’ll find Barbie parts and, seemingly self-replicating, stuffed animals all over the comforter. (But, seriously. Where do the stuffed animals COME FROM?) Brushing aside almost a week’s worth of kid flotsam before climbing into bed will not spark joy.

3. The two already overripe avocados in the produce basket will still be in the produce basket. Just five days ripier.

4. Bob will let the kids rent a movie on Amazon to watch that is either

a. One we already own on DVD or

b. Available for free on Netflix.

5. Every piece of storage Tupperware we own will be in the refrigerator. Every. Single. One. One will hold a single strawberry. Another, a single lemon slice. One will be crammed full with half of a pizza from the first night I was gone. One will, inexplicably, be an actual stainless steel cooking pot with a lid holding leftover oatmeal WHICH, BY THE WAY BOB, A POT IS NOT AN APPROVED LEFTOVER CONTAINER TO BE PLACED IN THE FRIDGE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT.

6. I’m going to be honest and say that the groceries could go either way here. Bob will either

a. Not go grocery shopping, just winging it until my return so the morning he runs back to the safety and quiet of work and I’m standing in front of the fridge trying to pack three lunchboxes and the only thing I can find is a Tupperware container with two mushrooms inside, I’m cursing him, his offspring, and his entire family line or

b. Bob WILL go grocery shopping with the kids and we already know how that will turn out.

7. There will be a full load of clothes in the dryer. There will also probably be stacks of folded clothes on the dining room table, too.

8. Bob will buy random things for the kids at Target, Dicks, and/or Walmart. So, true story about Bob. A few months ago, while on my way to work, I asked Bob to hit up Home Depot for a new garbage can. It was a relatively painless task and I even gave him a store credit to put towards it that we needed to use up. When I got home later that day, there was – and I’m not even exaggerating a little here – a pile of lumber in our foyer. Naturally, I was all, “Hey, can anyone provide some insight on the 2x4s blocking the front door?” From the basement, I hear Millie reply excitedly, “Dad’s building me a balance beam!” I deep sighed and replied, “Come again now?” But, it was true. Bob had purchased $80 worth of lumber, screws, and bolts to build Millie a balance beam of her very own. So cool, right! Such a Fun Dad. Counterpoint though, balance beams aren’t made out of raw lumber because: splinters. “We’re going to sand it REAL good,” was the absolutely expected reply when I expressed concern. When I asked about the new garbage can, Bob said he got overwhelmed buying the balance beam stuff and didn’t get the garbage can. “I also forgot about the store credit, sorry,” he replied while shrugging his shoulders. I can’t wait to see what I return to on Sunday. I can only assume Charlie will finally own that chainsaw he’s been after.

9. Like vomit, I anticipate a trip to urgent care for someone while I’m gone. This happened the last time I went out of town and I just figure this copay is inevitable. When I left this morning, two of the four family members I left behind had bad colds and a third is recovering from pneumonia so the odds are pretty good on this one.

GODSPEED AND GOOD LUCK, BOB.