The Precipice of a Smirk

Posted on August 30, 2011 by


One day last December, just before Penelope headed out the door with the kids and a lunchbox, I noticed she’d left a grocery list sitting on the counter. Normally the great cycle requires Penelope to leave the grocery list on the counter, go to work, contact me and ask me if the list she remembers is complete so that I too can forget the key item, that one reason she was going to the store.

You might assume that the lunchbox was for the girls, but it was Penelope’s. We stopped feeding our daughters once they were weaned. Now they have to fend for themselves. Things got kind of hairy when the younger, who is now one, got old enough for solids, but when she caught her first squirrel, and got that taste of blood, she became unstoppable. But I digress.

While looking at the list and thinking of the lunchbox an idea struck, a radical one. I could put the list in her lunchbox. I could write a note on it.

Life and love is about balance. On that day balance demanded that I write a simple, straightforward, sweet note. No single entendres. No doubles. Definitely no triple dog entendres.

Of course, the note was a big hit. Love without contrast is murky and boring. I found a moment in which to offer contrast, to balance the scales. If you do not take time to balance them, you cannot then tilt them in a direction of your choosing.

Then there was Christmas vacation, which did feature several viewings of Christmas Vacation.

Christmas is my time of year. I take a time off and relax with my family. It mutes the commercialism of it all and makes it more about the immediate present around me. Not present as in baubles, but present as described by Screwtape:

The humans live in time but our Enemy destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity.

As a result, I find myself quite relaxed during the season. Everything slows down a notch, including the gears. What the hell? about a trifle becomes so what, it’s a trifle. At such moments, the frame becomes unshakable. Calm precedes and defeats the storm. Penelope, in the face of womanly pressures to have an absolutely delightful, warm, and welcoming home for the visitors, does not react similarly.

Normally, I fight the elder daughter to bed. It is a complicated dance of stories and attempted distractions with the occasional puzzle. During this dance Penelope does the day’s cleaning. We both still work and, despite my repeated attempts, have failed to teach the dogs to clean and do laundry. They are fairly adept at foraging the random deposits of crusts and noodles my younger daughter leaves behind, but they have to beat my younger daughter to those morsels and she is fast.

One evening, the elder wanted Penelope to put her to bed. Rather than doing any cleaning, I fixed a cocktail and did absolutely nothing. Really I was just waiting out the dance so I could pounce. When Penelope emerged, looking quite frazzled, I attempted to move in. She sidestepped and headed toward the kitchen. She started cleaning. I continued my silent approach. She stopped cleaning, looked at me, and said, “You couldn’t clean the kitchen.”

Perhaps I should mention at this point that I did not, as it were, actually go to work on that particular day. Penelope did. The girls and I were too busy playing to clean and after such a grueling day I needed a moment to unwind. Nonetheless, I put my superior needs aside and made an attempt to help. I was told, not angrily, that I was disrupting her rhythm and that she’d be finished in short order. I did do a few things. Toward the end, her anger had waxed again. I knocked a magnet off the fridge. I picked it up and got, “You know, if it’s not too much trouble, you could put that back on the fridge.” There was an edge to the sarcasm.

More frequently than I like to admit, I react poorly to such phrases, but on that day I was cool. I was a duck. The edge was water rolling across my back.

I tossed the magnet back on the floor, looked Penelope in the eye, and said, “Could you pick that up.”

There was no hostility in it. No undercurrent of anger. It was accompanied neither by a full-fledged grin nor a smirk. It was purely lighthearted. It was the sly smile that indicates orbit. It was the steal that brought the atmosphere back under my control.

As a man whose early memories are steeped in ’80s greatness, I cannot help but quote Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Or, as Screwtape put it, “Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them.”

Find your present, your moment and take time to enjoy it. Do not waste such opportunities on pettiness and pointless anger. Lead the way to peace and all the chaotic pleasure it affords.

Posted in: Relationships