Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Ultimate Challenge

My Dad was always issuing challenges to us growing up. "Quick! How do you spell formaldehyde?" "Quick! Name the work and the composer!" {Answer: Vivaldi/Four Seasons/Spring} "Quick! Name the books of the Bible!" {Answer: GenesisExodusLeviticusNumbersDeuteronomyJoshuaJudgesRuthSamuel
SamuelKingsKingsChroniclesEzra...}

You get the picture. Always throwing out challenges, trivia, questions, brain teasers, ethical dilemma hypotheticals, menial tasks to be completed, some vastly more annoying or infuriating than others. "Quick! Show me how you plant tomatoes for maximum fruit." {Answer: I don't remember}. "Quick! Show me how you change a flat tire on the car at 11pm with only the light of my keychain flashlight to guide you. I'm not raising helpless females in this house!" or "Hey-show me how you can stand for 3 hours holding a flashlight under the sink while I 'fix' the pipes and mutter endlessly about stupid f*&^%ng plumbing," or "Hey--show me that you can find a way to enjoy high school without the money, possessions and limited house rules of your friends."

Yep, some challenges were harder than others.

I've thought a lot through the years about why he did it. Maybe to teach us interesting stuff, to keep us on our toes, to make us stronger and wiser, to teach us to think on our feet, to prepare us for the big, bad world. Maybe. But I think it finally became clear to me this week, courtesy of The Bambina.

Tuesday afternoon The Bambina picked up my cellphone, flipped it open and said, “Bumpa!” which she used to do to tell me to call my dad so she could talk to him. So I tried to dissuade her a little by saying, “what will you say to Bumpa if we call? Will you tell him we love him and miss him?” “uh-huh. Bumpa.” So we should call Bumpa? “uh-huh.” So we "dialed" Bumpa and she started yelling, “BUMPAAAA!!!” which is what she’d do when we got my parent’s answering machine so he’d hear her and pick up the phone. As you can imagine, I literally had to leave the room so simultaneously painful and touching was the moment. I was so happy that he’s still in her head that she randomly wants to call him, and yet so profoundly sad and grief-stricken that we can’t just call him.

She did it all afternoon and kept saying, “Bumpa. Eyes. Bumpa Eyes.” I was asking her, “does Bumpa have eyes? Do you see Bumpa with your eyes?” But I never figured out what she was trying to say. A part of me wants to believe she’s feeling his presence and telling me that he’s okay. But good sense and logic would tell me that it's just me imbuing a 2-year old’s mumblings with meaning I want them to have…

Anyway, as I sat there listening to her yell, "Bummppppaaaaaaaaaaaah!" I wondered how I could keep her love for her Bumpa alive while managing my own grief in losing him. And then I realized that it's not really complicated at all: This is simply my father's final--and most daunting--challenge:

"Quick! Show me that you are a strong woman, a great mother, a devoted daughter to your mother, and a full-grown adult in your own right. Okay, good."

"Now show me you can do it without me."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hands down. Your best work ever, E.

sally said...

Really beautiful piece. I don't know you or your dad but I think I just got to knwo you through this really wonderful and touching essay.