Eight years old, 3rd grade and a Brownie meeting after school. I was rockin’ my sash, only a couple of patches to go and then I could start working toward the pins! It was going to be a great day, at least I really really hoped it would be a great day. The stress from the previous night’s conversation still sat unsettled in my stomach; like one of those butterfly kits you can get in the mail. For a week or two you watch the caterpillars do their thing and then one morning, POOF! You have a bunch of confused and/or happy butterflies flying around in their little green net – that was my belly.
“Hey, dad. Do you remember that you are the snack parent for tomorrow’s Brownie meeting?”
“Um, what are you going to bring?” Little background information here; I had asked my dad many times prior to this particular evening what he was going to bring for the snack. It’s the Brownie meeting snack. Every Brownie knows how important this is! The next day you want to hear whispered rumblings at lockers sounding like this, ‘That was the best snack! Jenny’s mom is so cool! She brought homemade rice crispy bars…’ Anyway, something like that!! However, my dad being my dad, always replied with a mildly agitated ‘We’ll See.” Always with the We’ll See!
Magazine went into lap and glasses down to nose tip, “Well Jess, I went to Benjie’s Delicatessen and made sure to buy enough creamed and pickled herring for all the girls. I will bring crackers too so they can put the herring on crackers if they want.” My dad then winked; New Yorker and glasses went back up into position. I stood still for a bit; panic and laughter fighting each other for the win – this was not the time for a dad joke!! I ran to the fridge and looked in every nook and every cranny – no herring.
Three O’clock rolled around and it was time for all fifteen tiny decorated potato sacks to march into the cafeteria and sit in our ice breaker sharing circle. The only thing I remembered from this particular sharing circle was that my friend Caren’s parents got a new hot air balloon; a real life, humongous and glorious hot air balloon. They used to enter this hot air balloon into contests around Wisconsin. I got to go to one of these contests. Even now, decades later, when I am in a bad mood I think of the sky that day. I have never seen anything like it! An explosion of color and design as far as the eye can see; it was like a birthday party for the clouds! Truly amazing and breathtaking – I digress. WHERE WAS MY DAD????
As we concluded this part of the meeting I heard my dad’s shoes coming down the hallway – his work shoes were very clippy cloppy and had a particular sound to them. Sweat began to pour down my neck and my potato sack was getting stuffy. He walked in with a very large bag, taller than I was. Please please please do NOT be filled with herring!
It was finally snack time and with bated breath and crossed fingers I only hoped for the best. My dad asked for volunteers and the two girls he picked had to hold a huge poster of a tooth. Next to the tooth were words that described the parts of the tooth, Enamel, Dentin, Pulp and Bone. He went on to describe why it is so important to keep every part of the tooth clean and healthy. Then he asked for two more volunteers and reached into his bag. He handed the girls handfuls of toothbrushes and toothpaste and asked them to please give each Brownie and troop leader one of each. Then he proceeded to hand out sugar free gum, cut up pieces of fruits and vegetables for everyone, and also added cookies for desert. He told every Brownie to put their toothbrush and toothpaste in their locker and brush their teeth after lunch every day. After the meeting I watched as my friends gave my dad hugs and said thank you and the troop leader let everyone run to their locker to put away their new gift of dental health. I held my dad’s hand tighter that afternoon as we walked out of school. I was so proud of him. The locker talk the next day would be AWESOME!
I think about this memory a lot and when I do I think about parenthood and about how sometimes it doesn’t go the way we plan. Sometimes two parents unexpectedly turn to one. Sometimes there is a plan to purposely turn two parents into one. Sometimes a spouse, partner, husband or wife, who is not directly connected with the actual birthing and postpartum experience, has to be the main parent whether they want to or not. As a teacher, parent and doula I have seen all sorts of situations where there is a lone, scared, exhausted and many times unprepared parent.
My dad gave me wings that day, but they turned out not to be the nervous wings of a butterfly – they were the wings of an eagle who could soar high and be brave. I know for a fact my dad had a team of helpers by his side; many of you reading this may have been on this team.
We cannot forget about the other parent; though one gives birth the other is waiting in the wings with fears, concerns, questions, hope and love. With support backstage can become the spotlight.