The Fixer

“Dad said to tell you not to worry, it’ll all be fine.”

“Of course he did,” I thought knowingly. “He always says that.”

Still, I couldn’t help but smirk as I felt my shoulders relax and my breath come more evenly.  He was so good that he could calm me down just by relaying a sentence through my mother. Dad said it was going to be ok so, inevitably, it would be.

When I was a kid, my dad was everyone’s go-to person for all things traumatic. Headless dolls, knotted jewelry, hurt feelings, sputtering engines- anything you threw at him was not returned until it was as good as new. No matter what else was on his plate, he pushed it aside for anyone who approached him with anything from a broken car to a broken heart.

But, over the years, I’ve watched him become tired. I’ve watched him battle cancer and lung disease. I’ve watched him fight through the urge to collapse when the pain in his knees becomes unbearable. I’ve watched him grow older.

And so, over the years, I’ve worried, and I’ve prayed that he’d retire from being everyone’s go-to guy, and I’ve tried to call less often with my problems – he’s popped the hood on enough of my cars and dried enough of my tears. The guy deserves a break.

And I guess in the midst of all those years, something else happened. I became The Fixer.

I’ve become the fixer of dolls, the mender of ripped blankets, and the binder of cracked books.

I’ve become the organizer of play-dates and sleepovers; the event planner of barbecues, birthday parties, and holiday dinners; and the mastermind behind surprise date nights, weekend getaways and summer road trips.

I’ve become the scheduler (and often the chauffeur) for pediatrician appointments, dental procedures, veterinary surgeries, and car check-ups.

I’ve become the maker of the weekly menu and the personal shopper who can traverse the aisles of 3 grocery stores in a single lunch hour.

I’ve become the stylist of toddler hair, the manicurist of tiny fingers and toes, and the “I can’t fall asleep, Mommy” reader of countless books and singer of countless songs.

I’ve become the dance party coordinator, the popcorn popper, and the “of course you can sit on the counter and keep me company” baker of all things chocolate and fabulous.

I’ve become the soother of diaper rash, the groomer of water-averse dachshunds, and the cleaner of scrapes of all shapes and sizes.

I’ve become the go-to person.

But this particular morning, I fell a bit short.

I braced myself as I heard the sickening thud of my children tumbling down the stairs; I took a deep breath as I watched them emerge in the hallway, tangled up like two cats that had just been in a brawl. I untangled legs and arms; I checked for injuries; I carried them gently to the couch; I wiped up blood and tears and applied Olaf boo-boo ice and monster bandages.

I clenched my teeth and shook it off when our 40lb puppy came skidding around the corner to bring me her favorite toy, legs flailing, and knocked me over like a red-headed bowling pin.

I steadied myself when I skidded on a patch of black ice on my way to the car and almost slammed into the garage door face-first.

It had been a rough morning, but it would be fine. It would be fine. I could do this.

Then I put the key in the ignition.

Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.

Nothing.

Suddenly, my magic was gone.

I couldn’t do this.

I needed my go-to person.

“Dad? I’m so sorry, I know it’s early, but my battery is dead and I have a meeting at 10am and I need to get Grace to school…”

Thirty minutes later, there was my fixer, strolling across my driveway, greeting me with a hug, a smile, and a “Good morning. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of everything.”

And he did.

But of course, he first had to greet my very excited and surprised daughter, say good morning to my very excited and surprised dog, and let me know that “I picked up a replacement for that broken piece on your front door” and “hey you know the base of your cabinet in the bathroom is loose. You could just use glue- let me know if you need some.”

I stood in the bay of his shop as he walked over to my car with my new battery, which was waiting for us the moment we walked through the door because he had called his boss to save me time. I watched my daughter’s face pass back and forth between amazement and total adoration while he moved swiftly around the bay, working under the hood, putting air in my tires, and checking the tail light that I admitted had been burnt out for a few days (or months…).

I stared at him, dumbfounded, when I tried to give him my Visa and he just waved his hand and said, “You’re all set, love you, Happy Valentine’s Day.”

I laughed when, five minutes later, as I was trying to calm my daughter, who was wailing, “I want to stay with GRANDPA TODAY!!!” he came to the car and said, “Sorry, I forgot to give you directions to your job.”
“Oh, Dad it’s ok, I have a GPS-“

“Ok but here, let me tell you anyway.”

I laughed again when, not even 5 minutes after I walked into my office, I got a text that read, “I got headlight and brake light bulbs for you; maybe stop by tonight and I’ll change them.”

I am, in fact, a very good fixer, and not to brag (ok I want to brag a little), I’m an expert juggler.  I can juggle my children, my career, my husband, my family, and my friends’ needs like The Cat in the Hat juggles the ship and the cup and the book and the cake and the fish in the bowl and…all the other stuff he juggles (before he falls). But at the end of the day, even us go-to people need go-to people of our own.

At the end of the day, we all need someone who will let us breathe for a few minutes while they handle all of the grown up stuff. Someone who will lend us a little of their magic when ours isn’t enough.

And I guess no matter how old he gets, or how tired he is, or how early in the morning or late at night it may be, my dad will always have enough magic for me on those days when mine runs dry; those days when I need him to come over, hug me, and make everything alright again.

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Living

I really don’t know what to do with myself lately.

I see recipe posts on Facebook and think, “How can people have an appetite?”

I get notifications about Broadway productions and comedy shows and think, “How can people laugh?”

Last weekend, as I browsed the remote control cars at the Disney Store with my son, he asked if he could let go of my hand and just walk next to me. I had to explain that no, he needed a good grip on my hand so that if someone tried to steal him, I could pull him away. I remembered my mother having that same conversation with me almost 3 decades ago. I suddenly felt the same gut-punching feeling I’m guessing she had when she explained it to me as she squeezed my tiny toddler hand in hers.

My Valentine’s Day gifts from my husband were a phenomenal vegan dinner, homemade chocolate cake, and concert tickets. I plastered a smile on my face as I chewed chickpeas, swirled sweet potato wedges through hummus sauce, and internally panicked about who would remember to read “On the Night You Were Born” to my children each year on their birthdays if something happened at the concert and I didn’t make it out.

Yesterday I started planning our summer vacation; as I was looking up attractions between Cleveland and Chicago, it popped into my head before I could block it- “Please let us all make it to summer vacation.”

When did we reach this point?

When did everyday tasks like dropping the kids off at school or entering a crowded theater become the catalysts for breaking out in a cold sweat?

When did we get to this crossroads of “I want to experience life” and “I think it’s best for me to reside under my bed for the rest of my days…?”

How do we navigate through this reality of fear, anxiety and helplessness?

Needless to say, I’ve been in a bit of a dark place. “Hey, I should blog today!” has been relegated to the depths of my mind, somewhere between “I should get up at 5:30am to exercise” and “I should give up wine for Lent.” Who the hell cares about a blog right now?

Yes, I follow current events. Yes, I vote. Yes, I take the time to educate my children about the correct way to function in society, to respect everyone with whom they come into contact, to express themselves in a healthy manner, to let us know if anything ever seems “off” to them. Well, moreso my son- for now, if my daughter keeps her pants off her head, eats the banana but not the peel, and doesn’t spit on anyone, I call it a good day. But we’ll get there with her, I promise.

But I still feel so…useless. How is anything I’m doing the least bit effective at changing an entire society?

Well, today I saw it.

As I was power-walking to the diaper aisle of the grocery store during lunch, I almost skidded into another shopper who, I noticed while trying not to plow into her, had the most stunning, unique hair color. Before I could stop myself I blurted out, “Wow. I love your hair. It’s so different and bright, it’s gorgeous!”

She stopped in her tracks and stared at me.

I stood there awkwardly balancing 2 boxes of applesauce and package of chicken sausage, very aware of how borderline creepy I must seem….but I didn’t get the weird, uncomfortable response I was expecting.

Beautiful, vibrant, kick-ass hair girl lit up with a beautiful, vibrant, kick-ass smile. “Thank you so much!” she replied. She was still smiling as we walked away from each other and continued our respective Supermarket Sweep-style grocery store runs.

I had made someone happy- I had brightened someone’s day. And all I did was almost hit them with a box of sausage and yell out a weird compliment.

On my way out I stopped at the coffee counter, ordered a latte and started chatting with the barista (I’m a talker- I don’t leave a restaurant without knowing my waiter’s entire life story and wishing his grandmother luck with her upcoming medical procedure). I said something about my kids and- boom- her face lit up as she started talking to me about her grandchildren. We shared a few laughs and wished each other a wonderful day, and she smiled warmly as I strolled out of the store with my diapers, my applesauce, my sausage, and my iced decaf coconut milk latte (I have ALL the allergies).

In the span of about 5 minutes, I had brightened two people’s days. It took zero effort.

On my way back to the office, I remembered something one of my college professors had told me in the wake of 9-11: “No matter what is happening in the world, life continues along the shores.”

Life continues.

So I guess I might as well start participating in it again.

Maybe the best treatment for this constant fear of the ugliest parts of this world is to spend our days pointing out the beauty in it. Maybe while we’re advocating for change on the highest levels, we can start by changing the way we interact on every level.

Because maybe when you give someone an unexpected bit of happiness, it turns their day around. Maybe it leads to them turning someone else’s day around. Maybe a chain of unexpectedly pleasant days makes people’s heads clearer. Maybe we stop thinking with fear, and start acting with reason and purpose. Maybe we start to see change on a higher level. Maybe.

Maybe I sound ridiculous and naïve.

But maybe not.

Maybe my efforts will make no difference. But I’m still going to keep lifting people up whenever I see an opportunity. I’m going to plan my summer vacation. I’m going to that concert. I’m going to keep donating to every GoFundMe that’s sent my way, and complimenting every cool hairdo I see. I’m going to keep offering to reach the highest shelf for people in the pasta aisle. I’m going to keep sharing my little life on this blog because hey, maybe it’s making someone’s day better. I’m going to keep taking my kids to donate clothes and toys so they understand that civilization depends on kindness and altruism. I’m going to keep leading them by example (although, no matter how many pairs of pants I DON’T put on my head, my daughter isn’t catching on yet)…

I guess at the end of the day, the best way to change the world is to be a part of it.

I guess improving something by being present is better than improving nothing by hiding in a corner.

I guess it’s time to start living.