Just to be on the safe side, Henry had emailed Max an ad showing a father and son team in matching bathing suits.
“Hey, Mom, I think Dad wants me to buy him this bathing suit.” Max yells to me from the bedroom. “Maybe we should get it for him.”
Henry doesn’t expect a gift from any of us, and usually there’s nothing he wants. But this year I decide to buy him a linen shirt that he‘d seen and liked, but hadn’t wanted to spend the money on.
Max manages to find a great card with a picture of father and son donkeys on the front. The son’s front hooves are resting on the father’s rear end. Inside it says: “Happy Father’s Day from your little pain in the ass.” Henry and I both laugh.
As always, Sarah picks out a sentimental card in a lime green envelope (because green is her favorite color). The card expresses her gratitude for her Dad’s love and support and thanks Henry for helping her overcome many of her challenges. All of the empty spaces are filled with her loopy, hard-to read-script, along with colored-in hearts. At Henry’s request, Sarah happily deciphers it aloud.
Kon Tiki” is based on the true story of a group of Norwegians who sailed across 5000 miles of ocean in a balsa wood raft (a facsimile of those built 1500 years earlier), proving that the Peruvians had colonized Polynesia, rather than the Asians, as anthropologists had insisted. This adventure story—complete with sharks, storms and a deadly reef— is exactly the genre that Henry loves. Survival stories are what Henry enjoys most, maybe because he views his own life that way. Supporting special needs twins, putting them through college, and staying married to the same woman for 25 years definitely qualifies as a modern day survival story.
“Of course I remember.” Unlike Henry, I’m smiling. “They went off to have fun, and you and I got to take a vacation alone.” Better still, I had time away from the language therapists, the learning specialists and micro-managing the busy lives of twins going in very different directions. Luckily, both of my kids loved their respective sleep-away camps. This made it much easier (at least for me) to let go and enjoy some time on my own.
Father’s Day is not perfect. Sarah has a mini-meltdown. She is determined to have a conversation with me about improving her social skills, but I am trying to finish work on the computer before we go out for dinner. Sarah accuses me of “never talking to her except at meals” (completely untrue) and not trying to help her understand the difference between an interjection (a relevant or necessary interruption ) and an annoying interruption that’s not on topic and could wait. By the time I calm her down and explain the difference, I have reinforced the interruption by giving her a lot of attention, something the behavioral therapists spent years teaching me not to do. Oh well.
“Remember when you asked if you could take Marguerite home after graduation,” G-ma begins to reminisce with Andy, “and if we minded taking home all her luggage instead? I’ll never forget that day as long as I live.” She shoots Andy an evil grin.
“Neither will I!” Andy replies in a playful tone, as we all laugh nervously.
“It seemed perfectly normal at the time,” I add. “But in retrospect….”
Fortunately, G-Ma is in excellent spirits even before her apple martini arrives. At 86, she is still sharp as a razor, and will happily criticize any acquaintance or make a dig that starts an argument with a family member. We never know what she’ll say next—or how loudly. She is going deaf, but can’t wear a hearing aid “because it’s nerve deafness.”
“I saw Ellen (our cousin’s ex-wife) going down the street today and I almost didn’t recognize her,” G-Ma gossips. “Not only has she aged, but her whole face droops. She looks like a basset hound.”
We all laugh. Those of us at the table who know Ellen always thought she was a sour puss and never liked her much, even when she was married to our cousin. So far we’re on safe ground. Like Sarah, G-Ma particularly likes my attention, so the next sighting of someone she knows and dislikes is directed entirely toward me. “Remember Irene?”
“She’s the mother of one of my elementary school classmates.” I explain to the rest of the table. “None of the other mothers liked her because she was a busy-body and tried to get one of my friends expelled. My mom always thought Irene looked like George Washington. “She probably still looks the same, right Mom?”
“No, actually she’s gotten very thick around the middle…”
Sarah manages to be a good sport about being on a diet. While everyone has veal parmigiana, she sweetly orders her chicken paillard, steamed spinach, and diet soda. She skips dessert, and the rest of us decide to skip dessert too.
Father’s Day has gone pretty smoothly. Nothing spectacular has happened, good or bad. You might even call it ordinary. But for our family, with its challenging cast of characters, “ordinary” is a big win.