Apr 24 2014

Unlike tests, kids aren’t standardized

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

April 24, 2014

Misguided movement puts testing above all

As new parents, we approach the work as we would any new job. We’re eager, excited, a little awed we got the job in the first place, yet ready for any challenge. Over time, though, we get bogged down, don’t we? There is the morning routine and the constant list of needs and demands from the administrators, our children.

It’s like that with any job, but maybe none more so than teaching. Have you ever talked with someone new to the profession? It’s infectious. They’re going to change the world one student at a time with a package of Crayola crayons and a piece of chalk.

But then something happens come spring. Beginning next week, our kids will be taking the TCAP standardized test to find out where they stand among their fellow students across the state. For many teachers and administrators in the school system, this is the speed bump on the road to education. Treating our kids like data on a spreadsheet is where the process begins to break down.

Kids are nothing if not nonstandard. They are wonderfully, blessedly unique in their gifts, their approaches, their thinking and their play. But there are children in our city who are new to the country, who have yet to master the language and customs. There are those who woke up without a meal, who may have gone to bed without a parent in the house. And there are those afforded every opportunity to succeed.

To measure them all against one another is to do them an injustice. To attach such importance to those tests is to hamstring our educators.

Such is the weight of the outcome of these exams — the high percentage of the child’s overall grade and the performance evaluation of the teacher — that there is little choice but to “teach to the test.”

I’m subjected to a performance review of sorts every school day. My 7-year-old daughter will let me know in the mornings if I chose the wrong uniform top for her, and she critiques the lunch I packed at the end of every day. I laugh it off, a hazard of the job.

But what happens when it isn’t a mere glitch in the bossy personality of an adolescent and is taken more seriously? I shudder to think of someone’s job evaluation coming down to how well my daughter might grasp the difference between answer C and answer D. I shudder to think that someone might judge my performance as a parent, and whether or not I’m allowed to continue, based on the fact that her socks don’t match today.

In the next year or two, the Common Core curriculum will be adopted and, with it, a standard that is unattainable for many in a misguided effort to raise the bar across the board. It’s an initiative with the propensity to do damage to the least prepared among the schools in our system.

Education historian Diane Ravitch, in a speech last January to the Modern Language Association, said, “I fear that the Common Core plan of standards and testing will establish a test-based meritocracy that will harm our democracy by parceling out opportunity, by ranking and rating every student in relation to their test scores.”

As spring blossoms, we should hope our kids do as well, that their senses are awakened and curiosity piqued.

Not all of our children are destined be artists or industry leaders, start a technological revolution or discover the cure for a disease. But we have to want that for them; it’s our job.

And we have to hope, more than anything, that they’ll be something more than standard or common.

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Apr 10 2014

Strangers in subculture of parenthood should change that

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

April 10, 2014

No rule that in parents’ subculture we remain strangers

Every morning, I take my daughter to school. Every afternoon, I pick her up. And every day I see the same parents again and again. In the mornings, we’re usually tired, having gone through the 10-round struggle of getting the children up, pleading with them to eat something — anything — finding that shirt without the missing button, the socks that don’t irritate their toes, the misplaced binder.

Once we’ve made lunches and gathered up homework, that moment of dropping the kids at school feels like a mini vacation, the chance to breathe before the rigors of work, the complaints of bosses and the conundrum of where to eat lunch. We only want a few solitary minutes.

The stress shows in our faces as we arrive at and then leave the school grounds. We nod to each other, if we make eye contact at all, and might feign a smile if it isn’t raining and if we know that a still-hot cup of coffee awaits us in the car.

Despite the consistency of our muted interactions, we remain strangers in the subculture of parenthood. If we know anything about the other parents at all, it’s the name of their child and what grade he’s in, the fact that their daughter missed two days of school due to head lice or fever. All we know is what our own kids tell us.

And still we nod, we smile, we collectively roll our eyes at the challenge that is being a parent.

But Memphis is a small town in some ways and we’re bound to run into each other away from school. With no kid holding their hands, no pink and purple backpack slung over their arms at Whole Foods or messy poster board blown about as they make their way to Café Keough downtown, it’s as if seeing someone you’ve only ever seen with glasses on without them for the first time. They look a little wrong, don’t they? Maybe a bit ill.

It’s two degrees of “Don’t I know you?” We meet without a child and we have no idea who the other is or from where we know each other. We’re there, in the taproom of Wiseacre Brewing Co. or having lunch in Overton Square, and we come face to face with someone we know that we know, but can’t quite place the face or the name. It’s like as a child when you saw your father, always bearded, suddenly clean shaven. It was like a stranger in the house.

We should say hello at school. Be the first to say, “Good morning, my name is ” It only takes a minute, and we’re going to see each other for 180 days every year.

We’re all in this together, this parent subculture. It’s not the punk subculture of high school, or the jock subculture, band or drama club. This one is permanent, like it or not. It’s difficult, it’s messy and it is every single day of our lives.

So let’s stick together. That way, when we see each other out, away from the kids, we’ll recognize each other straight away and maybe we can raise a pint to toast our free time, because Monday morning comes all too quickly.

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Mar 27 2014

Dad takes on poster board lobby; next glue stick magnates

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

March 27, 2014

Words of scholars writ large on poster boards

It seems as though all of the homework my kids have been assigned this year requires poster board.

Has anyone else noticed this? I think you have because when we arrive at school in the mornings, I see all the other kids with their own homework. It looks like an armada of tiny clipper ships, their blue, red, black, white and yellow sails billowing and blown off course.

Social studies, science, math, history — it’s all being done up in 84-point type to fill these 28-by-44-inch boards. Some recent projects have included a report on Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph Bunche, geometric shapes and book reports. One poster, inexplicably, was about commas.

Why? To negate a teacher’s failing eyesight? To encourage kids to think outside their crayon boxes?

I bring the conspiracy theories outside of the comments section and right here to blame the poster board industrial complex. Those barons of wood pulp who eschew the standard 8½-by-11 sheet of copy paper, the college-ruled and three-hole-punched notebook pages of my youth. They’ve weaseled their way into the schools, probably at the legislative level in Nashville, to ensure that all assignments everywhere require an enormous, difficult-to-carry stock of lightweight cardboard.

It’s the controversial move over to common foam core curriculum in our public education system.

Perhaps this column should be completed and submitted to my editor on a poster board. I’ll type parts in varying fonts, print it, cut it all out and paste it on the slick side of a piece of poster. I’ll make notes on index cards and glue them on as well. I will utilize a vast array of Magic Markers.

I don’t normally do my work on poster board because I’m an adult and it would be a silly way to complete an assignment. I probably haven’t created a poster in nearly 30 years.

In an increasingly digital world, these assignments appear downright analog with their scribbled-out mistakes, torn edges and curled corners. Hasn’t everything moved to PowerPoint presentations? Aren’t they the poster boards of the future?

I don’t recall Steve Jobs, in his theatrical releases of new hardware and software, ever gesturing toward a poster he made in his dining room the night before the presentation was due. There is no iPosterboard. Is there? Jobs would have seemed a relic of the past; he would have appeared to have caught Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

As our world shrinks — global industries and networks a click away, communication devices held in the palm of our hand — my kids’ homework is getting larger. It’s taking up vast resources of paper, poster, glue, scissors, tape, crayons and time. It’s not a 19th century slate, but neither is it a 21st century smart board.

It is tactile, I’ll give educators that. It’s hands-on. For many of us, I think we’ll agree, it’s the parents’ hands all over it. It’s a scramble to get these projects completed and in some sort of presentable order. For some it’s hassle; for others it’s a nostalgic turn to youth when a poster was the best means to reach a lot of people about civil rights or anti-war sentiments. Now, though, it’s all math equations and Oxford commas.

OK, this rant is over. I have to run up to the Walgreen’s for more supplies if I’m going to finish this column — poster board, index cards, construction paper, glitter … don’t even get me started on the glue stick cartel.

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Mar 12 2014

Myriad choices send dad home empty-handed

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

March 13, 2014

Myriad Choices send dad home empty-handed

Given the choice of grocery shopping or working, I’m lying on the couch right now with a legal pad and pencil, coffee by my side, and writing this column.

In the meantime, my wife is being faced with choices — paste or gel toothpaste, shampoo for body or curls or dryness, the small, medium or large jar of peanut butter, and round-top vs. whatever that other kind of bread is.

All of the choices make me crazy and indecisive, which is why I’m on the couch. It’s also why I’m given only limited access to Kroger. I can stand in front of 20 linear feet of lunch meat for a half-hour and leave empty-handed.

America is the land of choice. In this country, you can choose to be a surgeon or a house painter, a musician or CPA, Muslim or Catholic, live on the West Coast or East, write in cursive or print. The grocery store is like a tiny democracy with its myriad options and possibilities from the land of milk and butter, to the shores of poultry and pasta.

It is overwhelming. And more than our founding fathers, such choice is a testament to those who have chosen marketing as a profession. Ever since hometown hero Clarence Saunders opened the first Piggly Wiggly at 79 Jefferson in Downtown, putting the product at the fingertips of the customers, marketing geniuses have scrambled to help us choose which bottle of ketchup is better than the next (hint: They’re exactly the same inside; the only difference is which end you rest the bottle on — top or bottom).

When my kids were babies and up all night afflicted with mucous and fever, I would invariably be sent on a midnight errand to Walgreens for something liquid and pink and age-appropriate. I would invariably forget exactly what it was I’d been sent to retrieve. Those were long evenings spent reading the backs of bottles and boxes for anything that would trigger my memory.

I would return home with something purple and highly narcotic. Inundated with options, I’d chosen poorly. My wife and baby displeased with my choice, I spent the rest of those nights in a hazy fog of sleep brought on by whatever pediatric elixir I’d bought.

Could there be that much difference between this toothpaste and that? This bottle of shampoo with guava and that one with avocado? Probably not.

I have a brother-in-law who once refused to shop at a certain store because they carried only three types of grits. That’s not so far-fetched, though. One of the reasons we choose to live in the South is for its variety of grits.

It isn’t even limited to what goes into or on our bodies. Bathroom cleaners offer the same array of variances. Scrubbing bubbles or foam? Blue or clear? Pine scent or no scent at all? It makes no sense to me.

Packaging, pennies and peer pressure are what drives us at the store. I find the options silly most times, frustrating at others, yet it beats the alternative.

In Memphis these days, on any given weekend, we have a choice of sporting events, outdoor festivals, music shows and places to gather. These are options unavailable decades ago. Even if those choices confuse and confound, and I end up lying on this couch all weekend because I just can’t make up my mind, it’s nice that those choices exist.

And you really can’t go wrong with a Grizzlies or Tigers game, with dinner at Local Gastropub or Tsunami, a stroll around the Memphis Zoo or the Memphis Botanic Garden. The wrong choice there doesn’t carry the same weight as, say, a gel toothpaste when your wife specifically said paste.

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Feb 27 2014

Calm seas ahead for ‘S.S. Hoarder’

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Feb. 27, 2014

Calm seas ahead for ‘S.S. Hoarder’

In my youth, I harbored dreams of sailing the world. It’s a dream that didn’t end with the birth of my first child when other responsibilities become so much more immediate. It didn’t sink with the birth of my second or third, nor when my fourth came aboard.

From the relative safety of landlocked Memphis, I was able to let my sails fill with the far-fetched idea that I, and my crew of four, would someday visit the sandy beaches and protected bays of Portugal, Fiji, the Maldives or any number of Caribbean islands.

The only alteration in my plan over the years involved the increasing size of the imagined boat. Not by much — a foot here, a foot there. One more berth, an extra life jacket.

Never mind the fact that I don’t sail. Not in practice, anyway. In theory, in my imagination, I’m setting a course by the North Star, cutting my jib and trimming my sails. But it’s a dream, and dreams are rarely practical.

Yet recently, pragmatism became the very anchor to stall the S.S. Imagination. We moved to a new house. It wasn’t a move to the blue water of Antigua or even onto a 42-foot sloop. It wasn’t three time zones, but a mere three streets away. And yet, despite such a short jaunt, the physical means necessary to move this family of six half a mile might have taken an armada.

We have too much stuff.

Like so many in today’s society, we consume, and we keep, and casting off what is unnecessary becomes unthinkable. We cleared out closets and then moved on to cabinets. We scavenged under beds and in the attic, rifled desk drawers and tackled whole rooms. We found Davy Jones’ locker, a dead man’s chest and a bottle of rum.

The idea of ever paring down our lives enough to fit it all on a single boat became laughable. A wicked pirate sort of laugh that devolved into a salty sob carried away on the wind with my dreams.

The act of clearing out what we didn’t want or no longer used was cathartic. The Salvation Army and Goodwill received boatloads of goods that will hopefully be put to better use. But it felt like deck chairs thrown from the Titanic.

We have way too much stuff.

Amidst our mess, though, we did uncover some buried treasure: photo albums, childhood toys that had provided my children with security, art projects made by tiny hands and mementos gone missing. These things are the lifelines of parenthood, the flotation devices to help buoy us when the seas of parenthood become rocky and threatening. These were good omens, our red skies at night.

The new house is slowly becoming shipshape. While it may not move at 20 knots, boxes are still being unpacked and stowed, the purge is ongoing, and the S.S. Hoarder is floating lighter than before. With all hands on deck, we’re weighing anchor and setting a course for the island chain of Less-Is-More.

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Feb 13 2014

Dad tells the ‘moles’ to forgetaboutit

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Feb. 13, 2014

Dad tells the ‘moles’ to forgetaboutit

As parents, how many of your conversations with other adults are peppered with your children asking “What?” when they don’t catch the thread of a conversation or miss an aside? My kids have a knack for inserting themselves into any conversation, rapt with attention as though the topic might revolve around them.

Everything revolves around them, though, doesn’t it? Our daughters and sons are the suns of our universe. That’s according to their understanding of science, and they aren’t all that good at science.

I’ve had to start scheduling a meeting with my wife for time alone to discuss the issues of the day — finances, kids’ behavior and subsequent punishment, social matters. Without a closed-door meeting, our business becomes part of the public discourse.

Short of a conference booked days in advance, our conversations sound more like those from gangster films, both fictional and law enforcement surveillance. We fall into “Goodfellas” speak: “Remember that thing we talked about last week?” “The money thing?” “Yeah, that.” “The house thing or the car thing?” “The grocery thing.” “Yeah, yeah, I made that happen already, it’s taken care of.”

We’re being watched and overheard, and there have been occasions when, a lá “The Godfather,” I’ve turned to my daughter and said, “I’m going to speak Italian to your mother.”

We don’t speak Italian, but my daughter doesn’t know that.

Our kids look at us, confused and left out. “What?” they ask. “Forget about it,” we answer.

It isn’t that we’re talking about them. Not necessarily. Not all the time. It’s that there should be some expectation of privacy even with four children underfoot. We talk around them, we resort to e-mail and text messaging — often from within the house, even across the room — to impart information.

This is the age of information. My children’s generation may be the one with the most access to available knowledge. At the touch of one of their sticky fingertips, they have Google, Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, YouTube and an infinite number of media outlets. At the merest thought or curiosity, the answer will appear before them, in the palm of their grungy palms.

But are they the most curious generation?

My kids seem to be. And they’re most interested in what it is that their parents are up to, what we’re talking about, what it is we’re planning. So they lurk, and they hover, and they question us about our conversations.

At a reading hosted by Burke’s Book Store last week for novelist, physicist and MIT professor Alan Lightman, the author asserted that within the next 100 years people will probably have microchips embedded in their brains for the sending and receiving of information. My children are getting a jump on that, such is their need to know. They’ve bored into my brain, stepped up their surveillance game, and eavesdrop with the resourcefulness of a 21st century federal agent.

I can’t be the only one out there who has fathered a family of moles. If you’re in the same situation, meet me at Louis’ Restaurant in the Bronx to discuss it. But come alone, and don’t mention that other thing. You never know who might be listening.

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Jan 30 2014

Parents should nurture children’s seeds of talent

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Jan. 30, 2014

Let kids make art; great ones all start somewhere

I was a chauffeur for a limousine service in Panama City Beach, Fla., in the mid-1990s. One day I got the call to pick up a film crew at the private airport and escort them around town as they scouted locations. The client turned out to be director Ridley Scott and his team looking at possible sites for what would become the movie “G.I. Jane.”

What struck me as we drove along the beach and toured a nearby Navy facility was how Scott and crew bandied about scenarios as if they were making the story up right there in that 15-passenger van. If you’ve seen the movie, you might conclude they were.

My oldest son, Calvin, and his friends recently had the assignment to produce Act III, Scene III of William Shakespeare’s “Othello” on video for their pre-AP English class at White Station High School. They spent weeks on it, the production time alone deserves an A-plus, and their parents deserve credit as wardrobe consultants, craft services, location scouts, funding and transportation.

One blustery day, as I drove them to Elmwood Cemetery, they were wrapped up in Shakespeare’s tale, dissecting the scene for the drama of it, for camera angles and effects. It was great to see such devotion to a single project. Would they show the same gusto for chemistry or algebra? Probably not. But there very well might be lessons in time management and collaboration learned from hours of planning and discussion that will benefit them in those classes and beyond.

The arts have the ability to elasticize the mind and shake loose the binds from so much focus on schedules, policy and standardized testing.

Prolific author Neil Gaiman, in a 2012 commencement address given at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts, implored its graduates to “make good art.” It was a simple request, and quite obvious considering the audience, yet it resonates.

Kids should make art. Whether in school or out, they should make art.

Shelby County Schools announced last week that it would offer every child every meal every day. The healthy development of our children is society’s responsibility, and we should feed their bodies food just as we should feed their minds with math, and we should see that their souls are fed with art.

The 28-minute Othello scene (with gag reel) is immensely entertaining with fine acting and clever camera work. The soundtrack — just as Shakespeare must have intended — is by the likes of Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and Rupert Holmes.

I’m sure the opening weekend box office was a smash; I know I watched it twice on YouTube.

Driving the production team of Calvin, Ben, Quinn, Austen and Isaac was quite different from chauffeuring Ridley Scott. The high school students couldn’t afford to buy my lunch as Scott had, nor were any of them smoking the size cigar that he was.

But you have to start somewhere, and that start, more often than not, is in school. The seeds of talent sprout at an early age, and we as parents should try to be aware of it and nurture it and facilitate our kids’ interests any way we can.

Sometimes it means making sure they’re stocked with pencils, paints and paper, and sometimes it means providing a substantial meal. It might mean driving a team of nascent filmmakers across town, or just encouraging them to “make good art.”

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Jan 16 2014

Daughters’ rivalry riles dad

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Jan. 16, 2014

Daughters’ clashes defy efforts to make peace

The definition of the word “rivalry” is “the act of competing as for profit or a prize.”

That would explain my confusion, then, with this situation of being a parent to more than one child. I always thought of sibling rivalry as brothers and sisters trying to one-up each other in their grades or extracurricular sports or for their parents’ attention and affection.

The rivalry between my daughters involves prolonged battles of control over the remote, in who touched whom first, and who is most annoying or most difficult. There is no profit. There is no prize.

A new bar has been set for competition around here, and it’s different from the clashes between famous siblings such as Venus and Serena Williams or Peyton and Eli Manning. Those kids, I’m sure, can each afford to buy their very own remote controls.

Mixing my 7- and 11-year-old girls is a volatile chemical combination with a potentially explosive radius that measures from the living room to my office. They rival each other for most sarcastic and loudest, most victimized and angriest.

I’m not sure what the recipe is for peace, either. We’ve tried timeouts and taking things away. We’ve promised rewards and promised full-scale punishment the likes of which they’ve never seen. There are times when their mother and I rival them for loudest and angriest.

Still they argue their points: “It’s not my fault It wasn’t me It was her Make her stop ”

I asked my sisters, who are also four years apart, if they had this intense of a rivalry as children. They both admit they did. They shared a room growing up as my daughters do, and many of their disputes, they say, were territorial.

Land control has long been at the root of disagreements. There were no mineral rights to battle over, though. No oil beneath their high-pile carpet. But there was the ever-present danger of one’s Cabbage Patch Kid being left on the other’s bed, or the breaching of borders with a Barbie Dream House. These were tiny molded-plastic acts of war.

Back in my daughters’ room, someone touched something or moved something or just won’t stop listening to Taylor Swift so loud (I picked sides on that one, I’ll admit).

The thing is, my sisters are the best of friends now. I tell my daughters that someday they will be too, and point to their aunts as examples. They can’t see it, though, not through the slammed doors and tears. Peace is something that comes with time, I suppose, and with age.

It also comes with distance. My sisters live exactly 979 miles apart now — Elizabeth is in Memphis, and Katherine is in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. They finally have their own rooms, and those rooms are in different time zones.

So I’ll continue assuring my girls that their bitterness won’t last, that their petty differences will seem silly to them as adults. But perhaps I should also buy them a map and have them choose their respective cities. I’ll give them that map, close the door softly, and leave them to argue over who gets to look at it first.

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Jan 2 2014

2013 highlights are in the eyes, and ears, of the beholder

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Jan. 2, 2014

2013 highlights are in the eyes, and ears, of the beholder

My daughter and I had a tea party the other day. She’d received a tiny play set for Christmas and, as we sipped a pretend brew with our pinkies in the air, we reminisced over the past year. Rather, I reminisced while she served and answered my interrogation.

“What was your favorite thing about 2013?”

She thought, sipped, declared a fake cookie delicious, and finally answered that it was getting her ears pierced for her birthday last May. It was no Grizzlies playoffs, Overton Square renovations or school consolidation, but it was a good answer, a milestone for her.

I’m normally not one to make any end-of-the-year lists of superlatives. Odds are good that the best book I read last year wasn’t published in ’13 and that my favorite album of the year wasn’t even recorded this decade. The best restaurant of the year for me was the last one I was in that my four children were not. But this time of year begs nostalgia and impels us to look back.

And to look forward.

This coming year will see my oldest son turn 16 and take his first solo spin in the family car. That will be at the top of the end-of-the-year list for scariest moments of 2014, I’m sure. Another son will see his odometer flip over to teenager with all of the aches and pains of growing bones and inner turmoil. That should place a close second on that scary moments list.

I’m not one for resolutions either. The attempt to better ourselves should be continuous and not dependent on a new calendar page. It is impossible, though, not to get swept up in the rushing current of self-improvement.

And as long as we’re planning ahead, the bigger the better, I say. New job? Career? A life-altering move across country? Vow to learn how to paint, make sushi, play an instrument, fly an airplane? Will this be the year I run a marathon?

This business of growing and evolving is good for us as individuals and the community in which we live. Every January brings us something new, something unplanned and unforeseen because the whims of children can’t be captured on any list.

It’s smart to look ahead, but it’s also good to slow down for a bit and consider where you are right now. Stop and have a tea party with a 7-year-old. Ask what it is that has made her happy and what her hopes and dreams are for tomorrow. Ask for another cup of tea and be sure to compliment her on her earrings.

As I sat sipping tea with my youngest daughter, I was happily in the moment while looking forward to the possibilities ahead. As a parent (and with apologies to T.S. Eliot), life isn’t measured in calendar days and months, but in tea cups and meals eaten by a growing teenager, by tantrums thrown, milestones and laughter carried across the house.

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Dec 19 2013

Sleepovers offer reprieve for weary parents

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Dec. 19, 2013

Sleepovers offer parents full reprieve

For those who aren’t raising a “spirited” child, there is no way to understand the power of a simple phone call or text to change the course of a day, if not an entire weekend.

“Can little Susie spend the night?”

It’s the sleepover, that magical night of furlough. It’s as though the governor has called with a full pardon and the noose of parenthood has been lifted from our exhausted necks. The sleepover is what allows us to unbuckle and move about the cabin at will.

My daughter’s name isn’t even “Susie,” but I’m willing to let her go with whomever this is on the other end of the line if it means I can eat dinner out without so much as a glance at the children’s menu, if I can watch prime-time television without interruption, if I can read through an entire chapter of a book without a single footnote of exasperation.

I see all of this as possibility when my wife reads the text and then holds it out to me like the winning lottery ticket, the glow from the phone warm and welcome on my face.

“Who is Susie?” I ask.

“Tonight, our daughter is Susie.”

And we’re off to the races. Or to Overton Square for a cocktail at the newest bar. Or to the opening reception at an art gallery. What do people without such a child do? Movie? Dinner and drinks? Or maybe just sit in my house and listen to so much silence all around me, stream a movie without the buffering of need that presents itself every 10 minutes. Who knew the volume on a television could go down?

What about simultaneous sleepovers with all four children? Let’s not even get my hopes up. The three children left behind are inconsequential in the spirited sense, anyway. Mostly self-sufficient, they can reach the food and operate a microwave with minimal trouble. They’re content with their own books, their own television shows and, truth be told, with the silence granted by those other unselfish parents.

It’s reciprocal on our part as well. We’ve bestowed such child-free nights on others with a simple text requesting their own little Susie’s presence. It is an awesome power to be able to resuscitate another couple’s life and imagine the economic stimulation we’re injecting into the local entertainment economy.

My wife’s phone is scarcely back in her purse before tires screech in the driveway and an urgent knock sounds at the door. We open it to find someone else’s sweet and spirited child on the front porch, a toothbrush dangling from a cord around her neck and pillow under her arm. The parents are already in line for popcorn at the nearest Malco theater.

We don’t blame them; everyone needs a break. It’s hard and tiring work being a parent. And it’s good to be the compassionate governor for a night. We’ll get our turn again in a week. Two weeks? Please?

You never know when the call may come; it’s like a shooting star or a celebrity sighting. It shouldn’t be taken for granted because it could be revoked at any time. Until it comes again, I’ll be reading little Susie a book, singing her a song, telling her a story or . . . was that my phone?

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