Invitations and Showing Up

I think I’m on the right track.

I had a few opportunities with our daughter, to see her and her classmates in action. For one, there was a school field trip. They needed chaperones, and I remembered well that my parents used to pitch in. My father ended up being run through numerous times (make believe, of course) as a volunteer in a sword-fighting demonstration at the Higgins Armory Museum in Worcester, Massachusetts. My mom, on the other hand, made a name for herself among my classmates by following the wrong car as we made our way somewhere in a caravan. That was back when parents just brought their cars to drive kids places and the liability issues that we have today weren’t exactly as hard on school districts… or at least it would seem. Sometimes I’m amazed they still do field trips—so risky!

But it gave me an opportunity to see how our daughter interacts with her fellow students. Maybe it’s a bad example this year because she’s in a class with some really rambunctious kids (both boys and girls), but you can see, even on a field trip, how behavior of a few can influence the interaction of the group. A teacher isn’t teaching much in the way of the subject matter if she can’t get more than three sentences out without having to switch gears completely to mete out discipline. I know they’re young. But I see the results somewhat in her lessons. She’s rushing. And I know she is because I remember feeling the same way at her age: Done is just as good as done right.

That doesn’t work on a boat. It’s focus, but it’s a different kind of focus, one that allows inward as well as outward observation. It’s good for everyone to get that change in scenery and just be there.

The same week of the field trip, our daughter had a birthday party on Saturday. The party was to be at an indoor water park at a fitness facility nearby. Plenty of the same kids were going to be there and when I heard about the party I knew I would be there too. Maybe you think me overprotective but the risk of leaving her there, merely for an hour and a half of free time is not a good tradeoff. I saw another dad from our party clue in a lifeguard to a boy who may have been drowning. I missed it but in the aftermath it was pretty obvious he was in trouble and literally out of his depth. I was glad to stick around.

But it was on the way to the party after picking up a gift at the local toy shop (shop small everyone!) we got stuck in a little traffic jam as a funeral procession stopped traffic as it made a left turn in front of us to pull into the cemetery. As car after car made its way across our lanes and I glanced at my watch, our daughter piped up, “How many people did they invite to this thing?”

It made me laugh. And think. And I said, “People don’t really get invited. They just come. There’s a notice in the paper and the people who knew the person tell other people that the person died. And they just come.”

Invitations and Showing Up

Putting It All Together

Funny thing how opportunities arise unexpectedly, especially when children are involved. Let’s face it, kids can be mercurial, and I think a part of that springs from their innate sensitivity to the world around them.

The opportunity that came to mind was that recently, while visiting relatives, I was offered a second-hand propane Weber grill. Now if you know me and my proclivity for cooking, grilling year-round is a big part of that. I couldn’t say no to the offer, even though the thing had been well used, and was old when my brother-in-law acquired it, and so on (reason after reason not to take it). It worked perfectly, and is even painted dark green to match the shutters on my house (or so I mentioned to my wife). Ah, my wife. Of course she has a role here. After all we had taken her new, pristine car on the weekend away, light-tan interior and all. The thought of shoehorning a sooty, dismembered grill into it made me cringe. As usual she was completely onboard, with a slow shake of the head betraying her good-humored disbelief.

Of course the grill fit. And though some of the loose parts jangled a bit on the way, we had an uneventful and traffic-free journey home.

My daughter, over the course of the three hours in the car seemed to grow very interested in the grill jutting into the back seat. And so when I arrayed the various parts on the patio at dusk after that long drive, she insisted on throwing on her cowboy boots (easy to slip on) and finding a baseball cap (I was wearing one) to help me. And suddenly what I thought was going to be the next day’s project began to come together in the fading light.

The supporting frame and legs of this grill are easy to assemble and have bolts that fit into threaded holes, and my daughter wanted to put a couple of them in herself. I showed her how the bolts go in easily when you have them lined up properly, and of course, by hand, that they won’t go in at all when they’re cross-threaded. I showed her how to try turning it (she has a natural understanding of right-hand thread and which way to turn bolts, faucet valves, and everything else that I wholly lacked at her age), and when it didn’t go in easily and immediately, to back it off and adjust the angle slightly then try again.

It’s just easier to show someone than to explain it (or, it turns out, to write about it). And it’s gratifying to see how she got it, and picked it up so quickly.

This is a very, very small version of what I hope to do with my daughter and the boat: To get her excited about the prospect of doing something together, and learning along the way.

Putting It All Together