Friday, September 21, 2007


My alarm went off as usual, cutting into my dreams at 5:15.

Sometimes I have to reconstruct events: my placement, my reactions, my mid-night reasoning. This morning I awoke wedged between Daughters A and B, with Daughter B snuggled up tight in the crook of my arm and Daughter A hogging the covers, her back to mine. Why was I here?

Bits resolved: Daughter B's nighttime shrieks had resulted, it seemed, from Daughter A's refusal to cede any bedcovers. A cup of water cooled the frustration, diverted attention. Then the grasping arms, the snuggle request. It all came back to me, and I fell asleep once again.

Daughter A was poking me. "Papa. Papa, wake up. Papa. Papa, will you take me running with you today?" It was now quarter to six. "Hold on." I had planned to run to my office. My latest route was a perfect half-marathon, taking me through several city squares and then in along the river. Beautiful. I was wondering whether the ROTC boys would be out again. "Hoo-ah," I was thinking to myself. I was practically to the office.

"Papa, wake up!” It was now 5:46, and I was still in bed. Dilemma. It was Friday, after all, one of the two days I allow my eldest to join me and, as she calls them, my "running-friends." But that would not get me to work.

"It's too late," I tried. "They've already started running. Besides, I was thinking of running to work today."

"But Papa, it's Friday. You are supposed to take me with you on Fridays."

"But it's too late."

"I don't care. We can go on our own, just you and me."

I could not make this stuff up. Who am I to squelch a pre-dawn request for PT? Other parents cannot get their young fatties off the couch; my offspring fail to grasp the concept of fatigue. And, after all, I live to serve. Why am I here? I am here to direct, guide, and train the next generation of leaders, to


"Okay, okay. Give me a minute. Go get dressed."

Prepping in the a.m. is not a problem for me: a pair of socks, a pair of shoes, a pair of shorts, a single singlet. How much more elemental can one get? Daughter A returned in a pink terry ensemble with a purple feather-knit boa, pink Crocs and a blue bicycle helmet (indeed, she does not per se run with the group, instead she rides one of her several dump-sourced bicycles; however, she completes the full six miles and never complains, is unfailingly cheery, and chirps "hello!" to all passers-by). She explained that the scarf was to keep her neck warm, but that she did not really like the color as she did not think it went well with her outfit. Have I mentioned that she is seven? Have I mentioned that she often states an intention to become an entomologist?

I attach various reflectors and blinker things to her various limbs. She began to twirl, "Look, I'm a siren." I was going to explain that the siren is an audio device, but perhaps she meant siren in the Greek sense. And I knew what she meant, and she was accurate.

It was too late to chase down our running-friends (who fawn over Daughter A's determination and goodwill). We headed for the river, starting downhill toward Main.

"Stop. Stop. Hit the brakes. Stop! Stop stop stop stop stop stop STOP!" My daughter whizzed down the hill and across Main Street, blinking like an aircraft coming in for a landing. I sprinted after her, ordered her to the side of the road, and grabbed her bicycle.

"Why did you not stop? Why did you disobey me?"

"I tried to stop. The brakes wouldn't work. There were no cars."

What followed was a brief, reasonably logical discussion, a test for faulty equipment. The beginnings of a lecture concerning my fear and anger were cast aside for straight out admonition:

"And what am I supposed to do if you get squished? If you get squished, I am hurt many times over: first, because you are squished, and that in itself would kill me; second, third, fourth, and fifth because Mama would kill me, probably literally, and worse, do so rightly. Do you hear me?"

"Yes, Papa."

"Test your brakes first thing, and now and again as you go. Maybe it was the dew." (Or maybe it was that my daughter weighs about as much as my leg.)

"Yes, Papa."

We ran along the river for a bit, then into some of the nicer neighborhoods. I was silent, but Daughter A, a reasonably proxy for Chatty Cathy, kept up a stream of commentary. "Crummy" is her new pejorative, as in "these houses are nicer than our crummy house. I guess they hired the good painters, not our crummy ones who smoke and leave cigarettes in the driveway and yell and do crummy work."

"Their work isn't crummy, actually."

"Yeah, well, their cigarettes are crummy. And they leave juice boxes all over the place. And they're loud."

What she says is true: I have recently had my understanding of the need for US immigration broadened. It is not so much that immigrants will do the jobs that Americans no longer want to do, it is also that they do them better, and more cheaply. And more quietly. And sober.

Given that we had started late, we only went about four miles, finishing just in time to have departing running-friends beep their horns and wave.

"Papa, did you bring your credit card."

My seven-year-old understands cash, credit, and savings. Sometimes, a bit too much. She likes to end our morning runs with a hot chocolate and, if she can wear me down sufficiently, a sticky bun. I send her in with the card; she stands in line with grownups, assertive and unself-conscious. She can almost see over the counter.

The weather is cooler now as we head into autumn, but often folks hustling off to their jobs cast a questioning eye on a fine-featured child--delicately nibbling at a sticky bun held in but two, maybe three fingers--perched next to a still-huffing man adrip with sweat. Tough. My child; my life.

Later we play "Go Fish" (she wins). Daughter B is awake now, and complains that I never take her running, and that if she is asleep I should just bundle her into the jogging stroller and push her while she sleeps. She and I play "Chutes and Ladders, Jr." (not enough time for the more honest "Snakes and Ladders"). Daughter B gets my cereal while Daughter A makes my coffee. Daughter C is by now in my lap, trying to squeeze all the air out of me. She is very strong. It is eight o'clock.

By the time I leave the house, Rocko is removing some old concrete; the other workmen are yelling at each other; one is puffing a cigarette. Across the street, the Brazilians are hard at work, quietly. Down the street, a huge crew of Greeks has arrived; they will have my neighbor's entire house scraped by the end of the day. One of my workmen heads off to get coffee.

My daughters trail me to the end of the driveway, then line up in descending order for their kisses. I am late to work today. So what.

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