The Brush

I guess I knew it was bound to happen.  I just figured I had another year or two until it did.

Today after a long absence I returned to school as a lunch room parent.  With the book, work and the charity, I haven’t been back to Gracie’s school since she resumed almost 6 weeks ago.  Now going back for the first time in months, I realize how much I missed it.  Since Elena was diagnosed, Mondays at 12pm were school days.  When Elena was sick, nothing else mattered.  Servers could crash, trucks could breakdown and employees could quit, but nothing stood in the way of my duties as a father.  I may have arrived 10 minutes late and ran to the door, but once inside the phone stayed on my belt as I picked up the basket of plastic silverware and condiments and spent an hour with “my kids”.  Then, after losing Elena, it was about Gracie.  As a kindergartner, this was one more excuse to be with her.  One more chance to capture what I had lost.  One more chance to remember what was important.

Somehow lunch with my girls always reshaped my priorities.  After an hour of opening ketchup packets, cleaning up spilled yogurt and instructing first graders on the proper use of “please” and “thank-you”, no other challenge seemed quite as important.  And it was all because of how it ended.  As the bell would ring, Gracie would hold my hand as we walked to the line and then kiss me goodbye and followed the line back into the building.  And although it would only be for two hours before I would be back again to pick her up, somehow it was what I needed to remember that I was not a manager, an owner or even a businessman – I was a father.

Today it was more of the same.  Three ketchup packets, yogurt on the floor and plenty more first graders that had forgotten the lessons of “please” and “thank you”.  Still, it felt comfortable – even relaxing to be back and to remember what was once lost.  Elena’s classmates are now third graders and I can still imagine her sitting amongst them passing secrets and giggling while I’d beg her to finish eating.  Gracie would be at the other table doing much of the same, every once in a while sneaking a glimpse of her sister to see what she would be doing next year.  And I would be in the center, never realizing how lucky I was – that is, in fact, if I ever came to lunch in the first place.  But I guess that’s the irony.

So when the bell rang I figured it would be just like last year.  Gracie grabbed my hand and pulled me to the line, rushing to keep up with her friends.  I said good bye and she waved.  I tried to kiss her cheek and she brushed me away.  Apparently second grade is when it starts – or maybe when it stops.  So instead I got a punch to the shoulder (the one she bruised last night during her latest karate practice session) and a wave as she headed back to class and back with her friends.

I guess I knew it wouldn’t last.  It didn’t.  And a punch is never better than a kiss.  Still, it’s the lunch I treasure over all and next week I’ll be back.  Six ketchup packets, corndogs and yogurt on the floor – what a fantastic way to remember what’s important.

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