The Pink “Lunch Box”

bag

When I’m out with my youngest I get this line all of the time:

That’s such a cute lunch box.

The variations:

Pink is such a good color on you.

Are there princesses on there.

Why are you wearing that? *defensive glare*

Every person who delivers his or her gem of a line kills me a little inside. Fortunately, my youngest doesn’t notice. My eldest, however, she now turns to me and shakes her head saying, “Daddy, it’s not a lunch box.”

“I know,” I tell her, but I really don’t.

Because it’s not a lunch box, even though it looks like one. That’s the point. Sure, it would be easier for people if the bag were bright red and had DIABETES stenciled on the front, so it was clear that this child-size bag I’m toting has a medical purpose. But I’m not so concerned about making things easy for other people. I have one person whose life I’m trying to make easier, and if that means slinging her pink, white, and blue camo around my shoulder, then that’s all there is to it.

For my critical audience, please note:

  1. It’s not a lunch box
  2. I’m not trying to be cute
  3. The color pink is not a barometer of my sexual identity (and if you honestly still think this way, grow up)
  4. My daughter can hear you

That last point is the most valid. Because even if this were a regular lunch box, wouldn’t it stand to reason that I’m carrying it around for a purpose, and that the purpose may have something to do with the small female who is with me? And if that’s the case, then making a crack about me helping my daughter is a bit unnecessary.

Sure, I could save myself the trouble of these intrusions by having my daughter carry the bag or by getting a neutral color. But she’s three-and-a-half feet tall, weighs a little over forty pounds, and LOVES the color pink. She’s already carrying around the burden of this disease. Do I want to load her down with more, or tell her she can’t like what she does? No, no I don’t.

And this drives me a bit crazy on a personal level as well. I’ve dealt with the same as a teen and as an adult. People still ask about my “vanity bag” or “shaving kit”. Always with a wink and a smile as if this is the funniest damn thing that has ever occurred–a male, with a bag. It’s mind-boggling to me that anyone feels comfortable enough to say something. I’ve always been instructed to mind my own business, and I guess I’m just looking for the same in return.

Because if this continues, I’ll stop wanting to be polite. I’ll stop responding with my trite answers:

“Why, thank you.”

“Yes, pink shows up my eyes.”

“Of course princesses, what else?”

“It’s beautiful.”

I’ll slip in a jab: “Would you prefer if I keep her alive while wearing another color?”

But I know it will be at that point, when I slip, that my youngest will turn to me and say, “Be nice, Daddy.” Because she’s been listening the entire time, and she knows to mind her own business and to be kind to others. She’s been to Kindergarten, and therefore, knows everything.

I only wish others would remember.

*If you know someone with a young child with diabetes, share this article with them, and then the next time you’re out together, shoulder the bag. You’ll see.*

open bag

Summer Blunders in Parenting

Man's arm sticking out of window of moving car

In case you haven’t been drenched in sweat or rain recently, or rain and then sweat, followed by more rain, guess what? It’s summer. June was very dour, but July, my God, July is pissed off. And so here we are in the throes of this unpredictable season and I realize just how much I mess up the little things that make it enjoyable.

Mind you, I mess them up for my daughters.

Take, for instance, the pool, and the need to keep your eye to the sky. We have been in it constantly when there haven’t been ominous clouds. Yet I managed to mess that up by telling my daughters how lightning affects the air around you, especially your hair, right before it strikes (see pic below):

lightning

And so both of my daughters sat around a covered table during a recent storm with towels wrapped around their heads saying, “Is my hair standing up?” “Am I next?”

Good thing I didn’t mention how shoes could help if you were struck, or they’d be wearing sneakers at all times, even while sleeping.

Then there’s the classic drive with the arm out the window, letting your hand become a bird, or a plane, or whatever you imagine it to be 🙂 The other night, after picking up my daughters at my in-law’s, after my wife and I had been out to dinner, after I’d had an adult beverage or two, I sat in the passenger seat, letting my hand take flight. From the backseat my eldest said, “Your hand’s like an eagle.”

I laughed and then spied the take-home Styrofoam container with my wife’s pasta. I grabbed it and held it out the window, saying, “Check out this eagle.” I shook it as if in flight, until my daughter yelled, “Ahhh! What is all over me?”

Somehow my wife managed to keep the car on the road while I checked. Yeah, that Styrofoam “eagle” must have fallen apart mid-flight, spilling his innards into the air, only to have them sucked into my daughter’s window and onto her lap. Sorry, Grace.

Farmers’ markets are everywhere here in Upstate, NY. Our town is no exception, setting up shop along the river every Sunday. Recently I wanted to make smoothies and thought it would be a great opportunity to support local and get excellent produce. I convinced the girls to come with me one sweltering Sunday, and we perused the stands and found perfect strawberries and blueberries. The girls stared in mild awe at the farmer behind his crops as I went to pay. Their awe turned into embarrassment when I had no cash. They kept their heads low as we slunk away, my eldest saying, “We’re going to the grocery store, aren’t we?”

Yes, yes we were, and for their own benefit, because those storm clouds, they were rolling in.

Motivation

My eldest daughter turns eight today. A little less than nine years ago my world came to a grinding halt when my wife asked me to stop at the pharmacy. I was twenty-five, recently married and searching for a house. And, of course, I was working on becoming a writer.

I distinctly remember a conversation my wife and I had about a month after the realization that we were going to be parents had settled in. We talked about the changes coming, our lack of preparedness, and our overall thrill. And then my wife said, about my writing, “I know this will change everything for you, the amount of time you will have, and I’m sorry for that.”

I was crushed. Not only because she was right, but because I was so transparent. I was, indeed, scrambling to figure out how I was going to be a father, husband, homeowner, teacher, AND writer. More than that, her words hurt, because being sorry wasn’t anywhere near what I wanted her to be feeling. The conversation altered my perspective, because I knew right then that for my marriage to work, and for me to be the best father possible, I needed to straighten out my priorities. Writing mattered, but not nearly as much as family.

Somehow we made it through those zombie days of infancy, and through it all, I kept writing. My schedule shifted to early mornings, because it was a race to see if I could write before the morning feeding. Once our daughter was old enough, and slept through, I’d become accustomed to the hours and kept them. They served me well as three years later, we had our second daughter and two years after that This Side of Normal was published.

However, being a parent to an infant is difficult, but being a father to two toddler girls is wonderful and all-encompassing. My wife and I are both educators. We understood the importance of those early years, how vital they are to building the foundation of personality and intelligence and security. To say I struggled balancing that demand and my writing is an understatement, yet one very important element crystallized: my motivation.

I was tempted to quit writing after This Side of Normal. My next work didn’t sell, the publishing industry was changing and I wasn’t sure if I had what it takes to succeed in this business. But both of my daughters, when the saw the cover of TSON, would say, “That’s daddy’s book. Daddy’s a writer.” How in the world could I ever say to them, “Well, I used to be.”

And so I forged ahead, not solely for me, but because of how I felt after that initial conversation with my wife, after the grind of writing while half-awake, the excitement of seeing my work in print, and for my daughters.

This kind of story is not unique. People work hellacious hours at jobs they despise for the sake of their children. Some work two or three jobs to provide. I have to believe that they feel as I do, that this work is not about me anymore. It is much bigger. It is about us.

I would not have that motivation without my wife and daughters. The roadblock my wife thought children might be has become the best kick in the pants. I love writing. I love my daughters. I cannot imagine a world without either. I get up early and write to the last minute before work, and I think about the craft all the time. And I parent. I am their daddy who writes. This is my life.

So thank you, Carrie, for putting it all into perspective.

And that leads me back to Grace, the birthday girl, to whom I also want to say, thank you. Without you, I would be a shadow of the man I am today. My wish for you is a life that provides insight into just how amazing you are. Enjoy this birthday and every one over the horizon.