Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Meditations on a Classic

It's a busy time for us these days. Besides trying to find a home we can afford, both JP and I are completely swamped with work. We're both trying to stay on top of the household chores, but we're both tired and neither one of us is sleeping well.

With all this in mind, I found myself idly surfing the 'Net for something amusing, casually looking for something to make me smile. While the linked video is a bit old, it still makes me smile. The YouTube version is a bit grainy, so you may want to check the download links at the blog of the original animator, Victor Navone.

If you've not seen this before, I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Do you have a classic clip to share? Post a link in the comments.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Birthday Shopping

We have Kara for the weekend and I'm writing as the girls are going to bed. Or rather, I'm trying to write while they're trying to not go to bed. It's 10:00 p.m. and they've both been up and down multiple times.

Yes, it's chaotic...and perhaps even a teeny bit trying. It's all good, though. I'm smiling and shaking my head as I roll my eyes. I breathe deeply, making sure to let any frustration flow out as I tuck them back into bed yet again.

As I think about this particular form of chaos, the kind that makes you feel kind of good as it exhausts you, I find myself thinking of a different kind of chaos, one that doesn't let anyone feel good.

Kara's third birthday was the last her mother and I celebrated as a couple. On the Thursday evening two days before the special day, "Pamela" was bedridden with the flu. She called me into her bedroom to tell me that she thought Kara should have a tricycle for her birthday. (We'd slept in separate rooms for about two years at this point; her choice, not mine.)

She'd been thinking about this and had seen the perfect one at Toys-R-Us the previous weekend. (Coincidentally, I had also looked at tricycles at Toys-R-Us the previous weekend.) She couldn't remember the name of the bike, but she remembered the price and, based on her general description, I was pretty confident I knew the model she had in mind, a Supertrike III. She wanted me to go buy one on my way home from work the following day.

At the time, we lived in a suburb south of Seattle and I worked in the city. I left work at noon the next day to leave enough time to swing by the mall, get the tricycle, and put it together after I got home. When I got to the store, though, they were out of the model I thought Pamela had in mind.

I thought this was odd because she had said they had plenty in stock, but I figured it was "one of those things." I went to the customer service desk and asked if they could call around to some other stores and see if anyone else had the tricycle in stock. To her credit, the young woman behind the desk gamely called more than a dozen stores and asked, in that cryptic code chain stores use when referring to inventory, if they had a Supertrike III in stock. Time after time, she was shot down...until she finally reached a store near a mall north of the city. They had one, but it was the floor model. I asked her to have them hold it and ran to my car, eager to race northward to claim my daughter's prize.

Seattle has one of the most horribly designed freeway systems in the country. Whenever there's the slightest problem, it leads to gridlock. Someone's blown tire can add an hour (or two) to your commute. As I drove the downtown corridor, I noticed a south-bound backup that stretched from the Seattle Center exit to the exit for the mall I was driving to. As I wondered at the cause, I started plotting alternate routes, hoping to avoid the bulk of what looked to be a 90 minute ordeal at best.

I reached Toys-R-Us, checked out the floor model to make sure it wasn't dinged, smudged, or otherwise shopworn, bought it, figured out how to fit it into my car, and started heading back toward the freeway. I didn't remember my alternate routes until I hit the end of the on-ramp and found myself ensnared in a two and a half hour battle to get home, a trip that (in normal flow) would've taken about 45 minutes.

By this time, I was an hour later than usual. Dinner had past and Pamela was in a foul mood. She still wasn't feeling well. I thought the success of my mission would take a bit of the sting out of my tardiness. It didn't.

In fact, she took one look at the tricycle I had bought and told me that it was the wrong one. I was pretty surprised by that, for I had been quite sure I'd understood her when she described the one she wanted and it was the only one at the price she mentioned.

She tried to explain how her vision differed and she was not impressed by the length I had gone to get the tricycle. To her mind, it wasn't the right one and that needed to be fixed. She said she didn't understand how I had screwed up, for there were several in stock when she'd been at the store the weekend before.

I asked her which store had she gone to and she mentioned one at a mall a bit south and west of us, one several miles south of the store I'd been to when I'd been window-shopping. "Ah," I though, "Now, I see." I promised to fix it the next day.

The next afternoon, I attempted to just that. It was tricky, for Pamela was too sick to run interference with Kara, so I had to care for Kara during the day. She still took afternoon naps at this point and when she went down, I raced toward the new store to exchange the Supertrike III for the new model.

They handled the exchange graciously and I looked at the other models they carried, trying to resolve the sketchy descriptions I had with the physical dimensions...and the prices...of the toys in front of me. Unsure, I picked out what seemed to be the most likely candidate, a Supertrike IV (which cost $20 more than the first one). I dashed back home, hoping to get there before Kara woke up. I'd have to assemble it myself, but I was pretty certain I could do that after Kara went to bed that night.

I made it, though barely. When Pamela came downstairs to look at the picture on the box, she glared at me and told me I'd gotten the wrong one...again. I was dumbfounded. While I thought she was little harsher than necessary, I chalked it up to her illness and apologized as humbly as I could. I asked her to help me understand her idea more clearly. Could she please tell me more about the one that she wanted?

She provided a few more details, enough so that I was finally sure that I understood what she was after. I called the store to make sure they'd be open late enough; they would. Dinner came, then bath time. And, finally, bed time. As soon as Kara seemed like she was out for the night, I lept into the car and flew back to the store.

The third exchange went quickly. Luckily, the third trike (a Supertrike V) was also a floor model, so I wouldn't have to stay up terribly late trying to put it together. I could tell the clerks were thinking I was one of those clueless fathers, trying desperately to be a good dad while failing miserably. To be honest, I thought the same of myself. I couldn't understand how I'd screwed up so badly. I felt relieved, though, as I knew I had finally gotten the right model.

I was nearly giddy when I got home. I bounded upstairs to tell Pamela the good news. She wanted to see the new bike, just to make sure I'd gotten the right one. She hobbled downstairs as if it were her last act on this Earth and coughed heavily as she half-staggered, half-fell down the stairs.

When she peered into the back of the car, she didn't say anything. She simply held out her hand for for the keys. When I handed those over, she asked for the credit card. When I handed that over, she climbed into the car, drove back to the store, and exchanged the tricycle for the one she really wanted.

While she was gone, I reflected on what had turned into a 36 hour ordeal. What had I misunderstood? What had gone so terribly wrong? How had I screwed up so massively? I'm a smart guy, aren't I? I generally "get it" when people can't articulate the idea with words. So how had I misunderstood things so badly, especially when I had such as a clear idea of what she'd described to me?

About 45 minutes later, Pamela arrived back at the house without a word. She threw my keys and credit card to the floor and clambered back up the stairs in stony, though pained silence. I was crushed and confused. I knew I had disappointed her terribly, but didn't know how or why.

It took a few minutes, but I finally gathered up the courage to look in the back of the car to see the tricycle that she had been trying to describe to me. My jaw dropped when I saw it, for it was a Supertrike III, the very same one I had purchased the day before.

(And, yes, I have the receipts to prove it. I'm keeping those in case it's ever necessary to provide evidence of what can only be called a really, um, "messed up" communication process.)

I don't know how much of the process was calculated, but I'm pretty certain that Pamela was not being completely up-and-up throughout it. When Kara's birthday finally arrived, she (Kara)was elated and wanted to open presents; Pamela was grumpy and tired.

Pamela came downstairs and Kara opened the first few presents. Within a few minutes, though, Pamela became agitated, upset, and (frankly) bitchy. She was clearly bent out of shape and flounced dramatically back upstairs after about ten minutes. I found myself minimizing her behaviour to Kara while carrying the remaining presents upstairs. We arranged the remaining gifts around Pamela's bed. Unfortunately, about halfway through opening the first present, Pamela begged off and banished us back downstairs.

So...Kara and I opened her remaining presents...including her tricycle...by ourselves--without Pamela's involvement. To this day, I don't know why Kara's tricycle turned into such an ordeal. To my mind, there's no reason, other that what my Grandma (my dad's mom) would have called "just pure meanness."

As things turned out, I only saw Kara ride that tricycle twice.

There are events in our lives that are what I call "pure crazy-making." I don't have a strategy for understanding them, let alone one for handling them. All I can say is hold on to your instinctive sense of "rightness" and recognize that what may be happening may have absolutely nothing to do with you. I don't know what was going through Pamela's head throughout that ordeal, but I do know that my initial actions were right, good, and appropriate.

I'm not perfect, but I also know I'm not the schmuck Pamela tried to make me feel I was. Thankfully, I'm pretty sure that Kara thinks more like me than her mother. I hope so, anyway.

Photo credit: JSC Rademakr