Years ago, I mean 26-27 years ago, my wife and I took our two daughters out near Pittsburgh to spend a weekend with a couple we’d met through church, our old Catholic church. I’m talking ages ago, since my third and youngest daughter was not even a glint in her parents’ eyes then, and we stopped going to the Catholic church 16 years ago. I can’t even recall the couple’s names today, (Jim and Maryanne?) but they were kind and vibrant people who wanted to share life and their love of family with us. Their children were older, naturally, since they were maybe twenty years older than we were at the time. Still, their house teemed with toys and games and coloring books and left over cool stuff for kids to do. I vividly recall looking out their kitchen window as my girls played on swings and a sliding board. Erin was 7 maybe, and Grace was 2 or 3 years old. Erin was properly modeling safe, older child behaviors while Grace was rushing toward risky excitement, just the way her daughter Leah does today. As Erin carefully climbed the stairs to the tall sliding board, Grace gamboled up the slide like a monkey, holding the rails with her hands. In this one mental snapshot their different personalities are engraved on my father’s heart.
Friends of our hosts came for dinner and a meeting of the Christian Family Movement, I think it was called. They had known each other since the 1960’s and it showed in how they interacted so lovingly with each other. They all had stories of putting faith into practical application. Jim talked about befriending a widow neighbor down the road who had resisted mightily at first. His kids delivered her newspaper and shoveled her driveway and met her needs. Finally the old suspicious widow consented to their invitations to join in life.
That story impressed me so much that I determined to do the same outreach to an elderly couple on our street, the Johnsons, not knowing that Ruth would soon be a widow. I tried to model loving neighborliness to Ruth and Buck while he was still living. I cut their grass, helped stack firewood, shoveled snow, etc. Over the years my girls got some extra grandmothering from Ruth. They would run to her house to show her their latest guinea pig or sing songs with her has she plinked out a tune on an untuned piano. We still have the mechanical angel that sat on her mantel at Christmas that Jessica so admired. Ruth gave it to her before she moved.
But the story is getting ahead of itself. Back to Greensburg, Pa and the good CFM folks. In our lesson one of the men told a story that used props, little fuzzy monsters with googly eyes. I don’t recall the point of it all, but I do know that all the fuzzy monsters with googly eyes were given to my daughters when the lesson concluded. They thought they were in Oz with all the attention and gifts. We drove home in the early November twilight, grateful for the connections made and the model of family love given to our girls.
Erin and Grace played with their new toys over the next few days and nights. Erin in safe, older child mode. Grace, uh, not so much. The googly eyes became separated from the fuzzy monsters rather quickly, but these were still fun to stick on the end of a finger and wiggle so the “pupil” rolled around the white area. It was all fun and games until, well you know, until someone loses an eye.
I think it was a Thursday night. My wife was at some work related meeting and I had put the girls to bed, Erin quietly and effortlessly; Grace with more maintenance and direction and a billion more words. I settled into the pink corduroy chair in the living room to read the thin local newspaper. I had not finished page one when Grace came down the hallway. She had a finger in her nose.
“Daddy, I have a googly in my nose.”
“Honey, that’s disgusting. Don’t pick your nose. Now let’s get back to bed. I told Mommy that I’d have you guys asleep by now.”
I walked her back to her bedroom and told her to stay in bed.
“But Daddy, googly eye. I have a googly eye.”
“No buts, Gracer. You get to sleep.”
No sooner had I sat down again and picked up the paper than Grace toddled down the hall again, a little more animated. “Daddy, googly eye nose”, she said with her finger two knuckles up her nostril as she wrinkled her nose and made a face of worry.
“Gracie, I told you not to pick your nose. Now you have to go to sleep. Now! No more…”
Then she emphatically shouted, “No, no, Dadddy. Googly eye nose”, and pointed up her left nostril.
Fear came over me as I drew her into the light of the reading lamp and tilted her little head back. Impossibly high up in her nasal cavity a googly eye stared back at me, mocking my parental ineptitude. More than any other consequence I dreaded my wife’s wrath… “You did what?” while imagining a scene from the emergency room with child services employees ready to take my three year old into protective custody.
“Oh, no. Gracie, blow.”
“No, no, no. Like this.” I got a tissue out and demonstrated blowing into it.
What would happen if she sucked the googly eye into her brain? What horrible surgeries would she have to undergo because I had failed so miserably to protect her from fuzzy monster toys with googly eyes?
I thanked God for this minor miracle and hugged her with relief. I would have to tell her mom about it eventually but not tonight. It was just too raw and mucousy for discussion. I put Grace to bed for the last time and gathered up all the fuzzy monsters with and without googly eyes and put them in the trash. Truly, no good deed goes unpunished. Nor do endearing memories ever fail to stab at my old heart.