Sunday, November 6, 2011

A tea party sans rhetoric

(Stock.exchng vi)
It was a tea party, quiet and quaint, as a tea party should be. There were no angry adults decrying government and taxes, no political signs and no counter-demonstrators shouting their own angry retorts.

To my right was a fair-sized teddy bear, then a pint-sized version of Scooby-Doo, as well as a small, squeaky rabbit and a cotton candy-colored unicorn who is known to unfold into a pillow. Completing .the circle around the small table a la plastic storage container was my youngest, Abigail, who had taken great pains a day earlier to write up an invitation she decorated herself, asking me to join her precisely at 4:30 p.m. Saturday for a tea party.

Of course I had accepted.

As time passed Saturday afternoon, twice she postponed our little gathering — Mom was shopping and Abigail was waiting for her arrival with scones and the pomegranate juice that was to serve as our tea for this evening.

The setting was the floor of her freshly picked-up bedroom.

I’ve kidded for a long time that we should have spelled the last syllable of her name g-a-l-e, because if you turn your back on Abby even for just a few minutes, the result can resemble the aftermath of a gale-force wind, with toys and drawings strewn about as so much storm debris.

I must be careful about how I relate this joke: Not so long ago I did so during a family gathering and she ran from the room in tears, believing I was making fun of her. It took an apology and several minutes of hugs and reassurances for her to realize I really had not intended my words to be hurtful.

Abigail's penchant for digging out toys upon toys and procrastinating about putting them away has been an ongoing struggle with the now 8-year-old baby of our family. Still, it's been worse — several years ago, she went through a phase we thought would never end, changing clothes several times a day, leaving an ever-multiplying lumps of not-so-dirty clothing scattered about the house. But she is growing up, and as children often do, she surprises us from time to time.

Her invitation to tea was as much a blessing to spend one-on-one time with this precious heart as it was a time for her to surprise me and to display proudly her inspired undertaking to pick up and put away. The scones and pomegranate juice simply were icing on the cake.

So we settled down for a delightful couple of hours, Abby playing the perfect hostess, offering first the “tea,” then the scones (“You do like scones, don’t you, Daddy?” "You betcha, sweetheart!")

We have a small Disney TV and DVD player in the room she and her older sister share. It’s not hooked up to cable, but there are times the two of them will go upstairs to watch a Barbie or Disney flick when the rest of us are watching something in which they have no interest. Playing on the small screen now was Ramona and Beezus, a movie starring Joey King as Ramona Quimby, a third-grader, and Selena Gomez as her older sister, Beezus.

A subplot of the movie is her father’s sudden unemployment and his subsequent search for a new job.

“It’s my favorite, because it reminds me of you, Daddy,” Abby said when I asked her why she had it on during our tea party.

I was aware of the movie, and knew that she had come to like it a lot over the past summer for that very reason. Still, I was somewhat taken aback, especially when she told me she had watched it twice already this day as she was picking up her room.

A little more than 11 months earlier, when Sun-Times Media laid me off, I had arrived home in the early evening to be greeted by both my daughters. I’ve always believed the kids need to know what’s going on, so when they asked me why I was home so early, I told them I’d been laid off. AnnaBeth, who turned 11 last month, simply hugged me, knowing I was hurting. Abby, by contrast, was frightened — her young mind had equated my work and paycheck with the roof over our heads and started crying, afraid we would immediately have to leave our home. It was among many heartbreaking moments that day and served as a lesson to me. When my hours as a freelance copy editor for one job were cut and were eliminated for a second one, I made sure that I shared the news with her in little bits over the course of the next week. I did not want to alarm her again.

Of course Ramona and Beezus ends in 103 minutes, with Dad finding a job and the resolution of a number of conflicts, including Ramona’s sometimes tempestuous relationship with her sister.

Perhaps it’s her way of holding onto hope for a happy ending, but it also offers me yet another insight into her precious little heart.

Several years ago, I suffered a hernia that required surgery. The surgeon I saw — I believe he was younger than I — did not trust the modern, less-invasive arthroscopic procedure. So I had the full-fledged surgery, still on an outpatient basis, but with the warning I’d be on my back for a full day between the pain and the medications.

When I arrived home, my middle son David  helped me get into my bed and set up the phone so I could call his cell should I need anything. Abby sat beside me, holding my left hand in both of hers as I fell asleep. She was still there when I awoke three or four hours later, the same expression of concern on her face that had been there as when I had faded off to sleep. She was no more than 5 at the time and may have been just 4. Regardless, I found it remarkable that her little heart, so obviously full of love, kept her attention on me for what to her must have seemed like days.

The love she showed me that day was unconditional. Her little tea party reminded me of that.

I’m not sure how this chapter of my life will close. I’ve become an adept writer of cover letters, have been diligently checking out job boards and sending out resumes or filling out online applications as I wearily look for work. I feel increasingly frustrated, distrust the longevity of freelance work and struggle constantly trying to figure out what, if I have to get out of journalism, I am qualified to do with my skills. All the while I continue to apply for jobs that demand not only a journalism degree, but also experience I do not have in corporate communications or public relations, even though it closely mirrors the work I've done for so long.

I also wonder if it is time to find something, anything that will at least draw a 40-hour paycheck each week, even if it’s less than half of what I was earning at Sun-Times Media this time a year ago.

Christmas is right around the corner, too.

Nothing would please me more than to tell my wife, Lisa, and our children, “I have has a job again.” 

In the meantime, I cling to moments like Saturday’s tea party with Abby. It was bittersweet to be sure, but the joy that sparkled in my daughter’s eyes at having her Daddy’s complete and undivided attention for a couple of hours of her choosing is a blessing beyond worth.

I do not want to let down Abby, or AnnaBeth, or their much older brothers Brian, David and Daniel. I do not want to disappoint my wife again, as I have in the past.

They are my family, and I love them dearly. They deserve much more than that. God help me to provide it.