I had fallen asleep on the couch. Well, not fallen asleep. I had gone back to sleep on the couch. I had originally fallen asleep in bed with Lorri. But one of the near guarantees of using sleeping pills is that anything more than four consecutive hours of sleep is a relic of the past. Having fallen out around 11, I rose for an episode of Mr. Sunshine and a Weight Watchers ice cream bar around 3. I fell back to sleep around 4ish and opened my eyes for good around 7. Lorri was still asleep, as she doesn’t go into the office on Fridays, and I headed to the bedroom for some morning snuggle time. As I pulled back the covers on my side of the queen sized bed, I became aware that there was not one, but two, heads poking from beneath the comforter on the opposite side. Clearly, at some point, Ryan had awoken and called out for mommy, earning a personalized escort to our room. Additionally, she was naked. Not unusual. Ryan is naked more often than she is clothed. Especially at night. She always begins the evening in jammies, but they rarely make it through til morning. In fact, on nights where Ryan is whining and moaning and resisting sleep with every fiber of her being (which, incidentally, is most nights) the way to know that she is about to fall unconscious is the point at which she decides to begin frantically stripping off her pj’s.
I wedge myself right up next to my wife and daughter and begin to softly scratch Ryan’s back and give a light squeeze to her tiny little tushee. I love her little butt. This is a precious thing in that it is quickly waning, and once gone, is never to return. That is, healthy boundaries dictate (at least to my wife and I), that within a year or so (maybe less), no more tushee touching. That’s how it is with Sydney, whose tush I both miss and am quite aware is no longer a tush- it is her backside. Her derrierre. A private part. A part that she needs to know is precious and not for men to have their hands all over. And her daddy needs to help model that. So my fleeting moment with Ryan’s buns are special. Lorri and I are softly chatting on either side of our quietly snoring daughter, when her sister comes strolling in, loping slowly and rubbing the crust out of her eyes. She makes her way to my side of the bed and I edge to the left and peel the covers back, invitingly. She climbs in, places her head on my chest, and snuggles in close. She begins asking questions about the sleepover occurring this evening with her friend, Janelle, when Ryan (clearly having woken) chimes in with proposed dinner ideas and game options. At that very moment, Ripley, our fourteen year old feline, jumps up onto the bed and settles herself on top of my chest. Four girls. One on top, one in each arm, and one tousling my hair from the left. It is nirvana. But it is more than nirvana. It is the only nirvana I have ever dreamed of.
I am reminded of fifth grade. Mrs. Berquist. Our spring project, involving research, an essay and a collage was a response to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I completed the project. I am fairly sure that I did well. At least well enough to be released into the waiting arms of junior high. What’s interesting is that I have no recall as to what career I chose for the project. None. It might have been president. It might have been forensic pathologist. It might have been beekeeper. I genuinely have no idea. What’s even more interesting is that I absolutely remember why it is that I don’t remember. I don’t remember because it was a lie. That much I know. I just made something up. Something random. Something that sounded benign enough that it wouldn’t raise any eyebrows. Because the real answer was too embarrassing. It was sure to bring mockery and gales of laughter. Plus, Jennifer Kelly had already taken it. She had signed up for “wife and mommy.”
I’ve never been career motivated. I’ve never had dreams of anything which would bring much in the way of financial reward. In spite of this, I have found a multitude of ways to earn green paper. I’m quite intelligent. So I can accomplish with minimal effort what tends to bring heavy brow sweat to the average human being. But I’ve never been ambitious. I don’t seem to have much in the way of vision. My dreams never involved power or prominence.
Here is a dream I had repeatedly through my younger years:
It is a dream I do not appear in.
The woman who was to be my wife is at the beauty parlor (Yes. The beauty parlor. This was seventies after all.) She is seated. Two of her girlfriends flank her on either side. Each of the women have their heads inside of one of those big dryer things (Do they still have those? I don’t really know what they do.) After a minute or two passes, my wife excuses herself to use the restroom. Immediately upon her departure, one of her friends turns to the other and whispers,
“Do you know her husband? He is SO good to her.”
That’s it. That’s the dream. I must have had it thousands of times over the years of my childhood.
And I dreamed of being a daddy. The very best daddy there was. A daddy who was funny and playful. A daddy who all the neighborhood kids wanted for their own. A daddy who was hands on. A daddy who knew when the homework was due and what time dance class ended and when the last bath was. A daddy who always had an ear for his children and well thought out advice when it was sought. A daddy who provided his children an unswerving sense of safety and solidity.
That’s all I wanted. And with each passing year of my childhood, and eventually my adolescence and early adulthood, I became surer and surer that my dream would remain a dream until I let it go, allowing my dream to become a regret.
I don’t know if I ever thought it in those words. It was more of a vague feeling I tried to ignore. While I am confident my family was never actually happy, our exteriors were mostly in place, initially allowing my fantasies of an ideal nuclear family to gestate. Although, with each passing year, it became clearer and clearer to me that we were strewn with dysfunction and, consequently, so was I.
On some level, I guess I always understood that it is impossible to pass on what you do not have yourself. So what did I have to pass on which might allow my dreams to materialize?
What could I give a wife? Adultery? That’s all I knew. My father. Both my grandfathers. My uncle. Many of my parents friends. The men cheated. It wasn’t an indiscretion. It was built into the moral code. You fuck who you want. Just keep it on the side and out-of-the-way of the family unit.
What could I give to children? Secret keeping? Third party communication? Co-dependency?
Therefore, even though I had no trouble drawing willing females and all my equipment appeared to be in working condition, my dreams felt more like fantasies.
And yet, here I was.
38 years old and lying in bed on a damp Friday morning, with every dream I ever had ensconcing me with sweetly sour morning breath. Except for Ripley. Her breath always smells that way.
The quiet was delicious. Like a warm bath strewn with lavender. I was aware that what I was about to say would kill it. I was a little reluctant. But I simply could not help myself. “You know,” I said curiously, “I’m amazed that no one has said anything about fairies.” Both girls simultaneously bolted upright with eyes the size of dinner plates and joined in a mad dash to their respective bedrooms.
You see, two fairies were due to have visited the night before.
One will probably be more familiar to you than the other. That would be the tooth fairy. She was scheduled to make her sixth visit to Miss Sydney, who had extracted her most recent incisor during the previous mornings tooth brushing. She was doubly excited considering that the long dangling tooth had been causing her some discomfort. As has been the pattern, she put the tooth in a small plastic sandwich bag complete with a note that read:Dear Tooth Fairy, Here is my sixth tooth. I hope you like it. Love Sydney
I love this stuff. It’s so much fun. Taking on the role of tooth fairy gives me the dual bonuses of engaging my creative side and making my little girl smile. After she had fallen out, sitting upright, complete with the most recent edition of Diary of a Wimpy Kid strewn across her chest, I shut her light, lowered her head, covered her up, and took said plastic bag from beneath her pillow, replacing it with her tooth booty.
For this particular tooth, the tooth fairy had left one pack of sugar-free gum, a lollipop, four quarters and a note which read:Dear Sydney, Tooth number six. Holy macaroni! Thanks for not making me wait too long for this one. Looks like you and Daddy are almost finished with the third Harry Potter book. Watch out for Sirius Black! Tee-hee. And keep those teeth coming. Love T.F.
She bounded back into the room with a big gap-toothed smile excitedly recounting for us what she had found beneath her pillow.
Close on her heels was her little sister with a lollipop and a note of her own- care of The Earring Fairy. Yes, that’s right, The Earring Fairy. There were also little white radios hanging from her earlobes where there had previously been little yellow corn dogs. Which, essentially, was the reason behind the creation of The Earring Fairy.
To explain this, I’ll need to take you back a few months to a cold Sunday in early January. Lorri had taken Ryan over to her friend Charlotte’s house so that the girls could play while Lorri hung out with Charlotte’s mom. Sydney and I were hanging out in the playroom competing in tennis on Wii Sports. I was doing a bang-up job of staying competitive while still allowing her to win. All of a sudden, there was a loud bang followed by a “Syyyyyyyddddddnneeeeeeeyyyyyyyyy!!!!!”
It sounded like puma coming down the stairs. The play room door burst open with Ryan breathlessly proclaiming, “Sydney. Guess what? You’ll never guess. It’s the bestest thing. Charlotte got her ears pierced! And she said that it didn’t even hurt!”
It took about 17 seconds from that proclamation until the following proclamation,
“Daddy! Mommy! We want to get our ears pierced!”
And so it was. Lorri and I had not put much in the way of age limitations on ear-piercing. We had always told the girls that when they felt like they were ready, we would gladly take them. Up until now, both girls wanted no part of it, sure that anyone poking holes in their ears would be a horrifying experience. Charlotte’s proclamation that it was pain-free completely took care of that reservation. Lorri’s preferences veered more toward waiting longer, but her main concern was that the rite of passage be special. I told her that, from my vantage point, the whole family venturing out the next evening to the mall felt perfectly special. She tentatively agreed and I told the girls that the boss had given us the go ahead.
We had been informed by Charlotte’s mom that when she had Charlotte’s ears done, the store had provided two clerks offering the opportunity to have both ears done simultaneously. This sounded very much like the path of least resistance. So, we were quite disappointed to hear, from the lone employee working in the store, that the aforementioned service is offered only on the weekends. We both had some fears about the girls, Ryan in particular, freaking out after the shock of the first ear. But we had clearly passed the point of no return. The plan at this point was, basically, for Sydney to go first and depending on her reaction, we supposed, more would be revealed about Ryan.
Sydney was a trooper. Once the girl had the dot properly placed on her right ear, she raised what looked like a staple gun, encapsulating Syd’s lobe on either side, and hit the trigger. Syd’s whole body flinched a bit and her eyes welled with tears. The idea of fleeing the store with her left ear hole-free was clearly running through her head as a viable option. So, swiftly and gracefully, before any minds could be changed, the girl pushed through the flesh of the left lobe and it was done. Sydney was shaking, overcome with the intensity of the moment and her tears began to fall. Lorri and myself quickly went into action praising her to the heavens for her courage and shoving hand-held mirrors in front of her that she might marvel at how pretty she looked. Order was restored fairly quickly, but not quickly enough to avoid Ryan from beginning to percolate with reconsideration.
She said that she didn’t want to do it. We said fine. Then she cried and said she wanted do it. We said fine. Then she began to melt down. She didn’t want to stay and she didn’t to go. I pulled Lorri aside:“Here’s what I think. She really wants to have earrings. She’s going to be devastated if we go home with only Sydney’s ears pierced, especially when the whole idea originated with her. Then we are going to have weeks of jealousy and fits because she doesn’t have her ears pierced and it’s not fair and on and on and we will probably just end up back here. Unless she is adamantly in favor of leaving, which she is clearly not, I say we make this happen now.”
Lorri wasn’t sure about this course of action, but seemed to think it was better than the alternative. So I pulled the girl aside and asked:“Just out of curiosity, what do you generally do when a girl flips out after the first ear?”
She replied:“Happens all the time. When that occurs, you are faced with two choices. You can either go home with one hole or hold her in place while I do the second one. If you can hold her still, I assure you, I’ll get it in.”
The thought of strapping my little girl down while a hole is forced through her ear was more than a little bit nauseating and I was liking this whole earring deal less and less. But the ticket had been stamped. We were all in and the finish line was near. I hopped up in the high chair and put Ryan in my lap. This gave her enough confidence to carry forth. She was shaking and grabbing a little handful of the flesh on my right thigh for all she was worth. I had my hand around her tummy and her arms were at her sides and, therefore, within the circle of my arm. Point being, I had it set up where if she began to squiggle and squirm after the first ear, all I would need to do is tighten my arm to keep her still. I was hoping to avoid this. But, alas, it was unavoidable. After the pop of the first ear, Ryan went ballistic. She was shrieking and the act of holding her in place while the second hole was punched haunts me still.
The praise and mirror viewing options were not nearly as effective with Ryan as they were with Sydney. Lorri was walking up and down the aisles with Ryan screaming, “I knew it! I knew it was going to hurt! I knew it! You lied to me! I hate having my ears pierced!” It was somewhere between awful and comical. We paid the seventy bucks and headed for the exit.
By the time we arrived back home, Ryan had mostly shifted from anger to excitement alleviating at least some of the guilt Lorri and I were experiencing. Both girls had chosen posts with their birthstones and they both looked exquisite. We took pictures to be sent out to all the respective family members and the girls spent the next few days showing off their new acquisitions to anyone who glanced in their direction.
They tell you in the little direction pamphlet that the original posts need to stay in for eight weeks before you can start changing them out. So, to say the least, the girls had been waiting with bated breath, for that amount of time to pass. And once it had, we ventured back out to the mall to peruse the vast selection.
They had a wide array of these little six packs of earrings on sale. Each pack had a theme. Sydney chose a rock -n- roll set which included a pair of guitars, a pair of volume knobs and a pair of guitar picks. Ryan went with the fast foods collection replete with hamburgers, french fries and pickles. They were so hot with anticipation we barely made it out to the parking lot. Lorri somehow gotten co-opted into changing out the earrings in the car before we went grocery shopping. This allowed the family to essentially stage a re-creation of the original experience eight weeks previous. Apparently, after the original posts spent that much time in the earlobes after the original poke, a certain amount of scar tissue tends to build up causing one to, essentially, have to re-poke through the hole. Once again, Sydney struggled some and Ryan struggled mightily. So much so, that Ryan ended up coming home with her ears adorned by one pink post, one teeny corn dog and a face hot with tears. Which brings us to the earring fairy.
That night, Ryan had fallen asleep in our bed with her head on my chest. Lorri looked at me and said, “What if I tried to change out the other earring now. Do you think she would wake up?” I answered, “No, I don’t. And that might be the most brilliant idea I have ever heard.” So with the precision of a surgeon, Lorri extracted post and inserted corn dog. It was a thing of beauty.
The next morning, Ryan awoke the same way she does every morning; with a call for Daddy tent time. Every morning, once she awakens, I climb into bed with Ryan and throw the blanket up over the two of us and we snuggle and smooch and chat until she is ready to be taken down to the kitchen for breakfast. So there we are, hanging in the tent, when I look at Ryan’s earlobe and say, “Hey. When you went to sleep last night, didn’t you have only one of your corn dogs in?” With a look of astonishment on her face, she throws off the covers and dashes over to her Dora the Explorer vanity table to look in the mirror. “Daddy, my other earring is in! What happened?” I hadn’t planned to not tell her that Lorri and I had done it, but the look of pure amazement on her face led me in a different direction. “I don’t know honey. What do you think happened?” “Daddy,” she answered, “Do you think it was magic?” “I’ll tell you what I think, sweetie. I think it was The Earring Fairy.” Her eyes grew wide with wonder and she asked, “There is an earring fairy?” “Of course,” I said.
And before I knew it, she was flying out the door of her bedroom headed for the bathroom where Lorri was dressing for work. “Mommy! Mommy! Look! Look what happened!” And without missing a beat, my fabulous wife, with a glorious nod to our symbiotic relationship, answered, “Wow! It must have been the earring fairy.” And so a new tradition was born.
Of course, then came a wrinkle. That evening, we called the girls up for brushing and flossing, and little miss Ryan comes strolling proudly into the bathroom proudly brandishing a small sandwich bag. “What you got there, monkey?” “Earrings for the Earring Fairy to put in.” And there they were. She had gone into our bedroom, opened up the jewelry box, picked out a new pair, put them in a bag, and informed us that we needed to help her write a note so that the earring fairy would not be confused. We looked at each other, realizing that our brilliant idea was on the verge of becoming a nightly headache. But we made our own bed. So we helped her write her note, and under the pillow went the earrings.
As I sat down with paper and markers to play the role, I had an idea:Hi Ryan- It’s me, The Earring Fairy. I love your name. I’m so excited that you left me such cool earrings to put in your ears. Your note was so awesome! I can’t believe you write your letters so beautifully. By the way, I am only in Wheaton on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday, so those are the days you can leave me earrings to put in for you. Otherwise, you’ll have to ask your mommy and daddy, ok? I love you- The Earring Fairy
I walked upstairs with my note, just as Lori was exiting Ryan’s room having done her part of the task at hand. She read the note and said, “You are a genius.” I slid the note under Ryan’s pillow and the wrinkle was ironed out.
Which brings us back to the bed this morning. Ryan had abided by The Earring Fairies request and waited until Thursday night to ask for an earring change. It just so happened that Sydney latest tooth fell out Thursday morning, setting the stage for dueling fairies. This time around, in addition to providing her sisters pair of little guitar earrings, Ryan asked if The Earring Fairy could provide her a picture of herself. This had Daddy up for quite a while trying to draw an appropriate portrait. If I do say so myself, it was pretty damn good. Plus, to make sure she didn’t feel too jealous of her sister’s tooth bounty, I threw in the lollipop.
So, there we were. Me, my beautiful bride, and our deliriously happy children.
Eat my dust, Jennifer Kelly.