Pollack Guest Essay

“Dad, are white and blue Hanukkah’s favorite colors?”

“Yes, Max. Please put on your shoes.”

It is a morning like any other morning, only more so. I am, once again, desperately trying to get Max out the door in time for car pool; Max is, once again, desperately trying to disprove the existence of linear thought.

“Dad, what is the country with the white and blue flag?”

“That’s Israel, Max. It’s where the Jews live.”

“And fairies.”

“Fairies, Max? Maybe you’re thinking of Ariel, not Israel.”

“Of course not! Ariel is a mermaid, not a fairy. Mermaids live in the ocean. I don’t like the beach anymore because rember that time I got sand in my blue bathing suit with the dolphins on it? You left that bathing suit at the beach, dad. What were you thinking?”

What, indeed.

Now that Max is in kindergarten, at the same school as the kids across the street, we thought we’d gain a few hours a week by carpooling with the neighbors. Big mistake. Nothing in life makes it clear how unfit you are to be a Regular Parent than car pool. All of your ex-hippie, go-with-the-flow parenting philosophies go out the window when it is 7:35 a.m. and you see the neighbor and his kid headed for the car, right on time, and you are nowhere near anything approaching that elusive, unattainable state of being known as Ready To Leave The House. This is all made more impossible by Max’s refusal to accept the concept of having one conversation at a time.

“Max, no really, shoes, buddy. Shoes. Let me help you with your shoes.”

“Becca has two watches. Can I have two watches? I need to bring this telephone to school.”

And this is one of our more successful conversations. For reasons I cannot fathom, just as Max has started learning to read and write – a thrilling, mind-bending experience for a parent, because nothing, nothing, nothing prepares you for the joy of getting a note from your son that says “dad i lov you,” even if that note is unfortunately written on the front of a proposal that’s due today and you have to go to Kinkos to make another copy —  just as he has started learning to read and write the English language, he unfortuantely has forgotten how to speak it.

“Max, look, Emma and Peter are out of their house. We have to go right now.”

“Bloo daba ra dimba!” he says, his eyes aglow with the joy of uttering such a  brilliant bon mot.

What is this language phenomenon? Does anyone have Eric Ericson’s phone number? Maybe he can explain it, big shot child psychologist that he is. Oh, wait – Eric Ericson’s dead. I’m screwed.

The neighbor is making the universal symbol of what-is-wrong-with-you-people: He is looking at his watch. To make sure we haven’t missed this, he checks it again, frowning at the realization that it is at least 20 seconds later than the last time he checked.

The neighbor’s children look wistfully at our house, wondering why we are endangering their education and their futures with our recurring inability to get out the door.

Who the hell decided the world has to start so early in the morning, and with such regularity? I make a mental note to take out a bank loan and start the Flextime School for the Temporally Challenged. Kindergarten will have a telecommuting option. I will make a mint off of parents like me.

It is time for the nuclear option. “Max, if you do not get dressed right now I am taking away your Hot Wheels cars. I mean it. Let’s go.”

The joy is gone from Maxie’s face. His shoulders droop in resignation. He drops to the floor and puts on his shoes.

My face flushes at the sight of this miserable, defeated, obedient child. I desperately do not want to be that parent. I want to be the Harpo Marx of parents, making impossibly funny faces and throwing papers in the air. Now I am the Margaret Dumont of parents, stern and dull and sucking the air out of the room.

Max puts his backpack on, and lets me off the hook. “Sorry daddy,” he says. “I love you.” I get a hug, and he turns, and runs out the door. He stops. He turns back. “Do I get to keep my Hot Wheels cars?”

“I think I have two new ones for when you get home.”

“Woo-hoo!” he shouts, and gallops gleefully away.

Eric Ericson says that for a child, identity consists of building the bridge between the inner and outer world. I think it’s the same for a parent. Some mornings, that bridge seems impassible. Thankfully, Max reminds me how to cross it. And, more importantly, how to cross back.