A friend who went to a baseball game told me that what he enjoyed most about the evening was that he didn’t know how it was going to end until the end. It was more interesting because of the suspense. My life is rampant with just those kinds of unknowns.
Last summer we arrived home from vacation to find our refrigerator lifeless and the food inside ripening to a new strain of penicillin. I took a deep breath as I called the repairman, expecting a verdict of RIP. Wondering how we would manage the expense of a major appliance, I thought I heard a faint number come from the repairwoman’s lips: “Thirty-nine ninety nine.”
Is she telling me the year when we will finish payments on a new refrigerator? No, she said the bill came to $39.99. It took a moment to sink in. I didn’t know anyone did anything for $39.99 anymore. Not only that, she is cleaning behind my refrigerator. A dozen magnets, kids’ pictures, paper bags, and the cardboard that was stuck in the fan emerged from the dusty depths of darkness. It was with positive elation that we paid that bill. It was a close call.
When we were camping in Yosemite, it was difficult to clean up from the meal, enclose all food in the bear-proof boxes, make the kids’ beds, and get them in pajamas in the brief waning light between dinner and total darkness. I was busying myself with these tasks as banging and shouting in neighboring campsites announced the arrival of a mama bear and her cubs.
Later that night, my sister-in-law heard a noise outside her tent; she crept outside and shined her flashlight around the area. Seeing two eyes behind the wheel of one of the cars parked nearby, she thought that perhaps her father had gone to retrieve something from the car. Apologizing for shining the light in his eyes, she said, “Sorry, Dad, I thought you were a bear.” She was about to go back inside her tent when a final sweep with the flashlight revealed a second set of eyes climbing through the window, and she decided that her mother probably wouldn’t do that. Shouting and shining for all she was worth, she chased the bears out of the car. My children slept peacefully in our tent while I listened and trembled. Another close call.
There are times when I would like a guarantee – notarized – that my children will end up as decent, loving human beings. I just want to be able to read the last page. Then I am perfectly willing to put up with the whining and waiting, fighting and failing. Or at least I think I am. Yet can I really imagine a third baseman who, on knowing the outcome, gave the very best he had to a game whose fate was already decided? Or if I had read the last page of a gripping mystery, would I really bother with all 26 chapters leading up to it?
Probably not. I suppose that if I did possess a written guarantee on the ultimate character count of my children, I would be tempted to skimp on getting them to do their jobs or their schoolwork, on demanding that they treat each other with respect; or I might be a little lazier about curbing my temper. As it stands, the uncertainty keeps me on my toes, if not on my cuticles. Of course, there are no guarantees about the outcome of our childrearing efforts and we can’t know in advance how our children will develop. But we can swing the odds in our favor by keeping a clear focus on how we would like it all to turn out.
If in the final inning, any of my children make it across home plate in a way that I would wish, it will have been a game worth watching.
By Laurie Odhner
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