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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Neither a Lender nor a Borrower be*

When he appears at nearly 10 o’clock on a Saturday morning, when we have already achieved steady state. They are all fed, clean and most importantly of all, dressed. Their father is not dressed, even though the long hand is seconds away from 10:00. A robe does not qualify for ‘dressed.’ Nor is he clean. He is already brewing his weekend headache due to caffeine withdrawal, but I am without mercy. I push a mug of black coffee in his bleary eyed direction, with verbal prompt, “there you go dear, that should help.”

I recall the chap in the restaurant the previous night. He sat at the counter with his pal enjoying a beer, when we arrived to collect our take away, which is called a ‘take out,’ in America. A Friday evening chill out, where chaps chat. My spouse was still at work.

It was an exceptionally brave move on my part, not spontaneous of course, but the bribery component was in place. A treat for her, had to be balanced against the pain threshold that her brother’s could endure. One parent, three children. Even a year ago this would not have been a remote possibility. A tiny little step, 'go to a restaurant to collect a take out,' something that most people wouldn't so much as blink at. I am no longer blinkered, I have cast them aside and I'm ready with my whip, lasso and sugar lumps, or rather, Goldfish crackers.

The men sat, drank beer and awaited their food. I was in sheepdog mode whilst the checker made out the receipt, by hand, slowly. There were only a few people in the restaurant but the candles were lit on every table. The boys, because they are small boys, needed to blow out all the candles. I needed them to refrain from fulfilling this quite reasonable desire. Most especially, I needed them not to lean over the diners’ table and spit in the vague direction of the candle, since lip closure and spit production are ongoing campaigns.

They wear a combination of mischief and hyper-vigilance on their faces. The checker takes my very patient credit card from the counter and runs it through her machine. It looks like slow motion to me, but I think that perhaps I am permanently stuck in fast forward.

I hear one of the guys recount his day and plans for the weekend, “then the kids have got their Walkathon at school tomorrow, should be kinda fun…..” The word ‘Walkathon’ brings one of my sons to heel. He parks himself on a stool next to one of the dads at the counter. He hunts his lexicon for social chit chat friendly words, as his feet pound the kick board under the counter. The top of his body is elbowed casually on the counter, an easy stance, the nonchalant man about town, for half of him. The two halves of his body fight each other, frenzied activity versus calm and friendly.

The checker hands me the slip of paper to sign. I need to escape as fast as possible as my ‘holding pattern’ is beginning to crumble. So far it is a success. Out of the car, into the restaurant, wait, patiently, whilst being entertained if rather inadequately, positive feedback and praise for control, loose lead not a choke hold collar, permit constant movement at the cost of refraining from doing other things that would be more noticeably odd, keep pleasant sane smile on face at all times. Seconds pass.

I watch the boys move swiftly around the square tables in the pattern of a maze, but they’re not running. They both obey the 'one finger rule.' A finger from each hand can touch things, but only inanimate things. This is our compromise over the compelling need to touch anything and everything, usually at a high often dangerous speed. We apply the rule as sparingly as possible, because it is an added burden on top of all the other things that they try so hard to do and not do.

We have been within these four walls for approximately 4 minutes, we’re up against the clock as the candles still flicker.

The whole exercise is one huge bribe for food. The French fries wait in the car for Junior. They cool. We have advanced beyond M&M’s, it’s like graduation but greater. This is so much better than a few years ago. A few years ago this would be the equivalent of emptying a cage of chickens into the room to flap and squalk and run around to cause mayhem and consternation, where every trip, voyage or visit was a venture into the unknown.

There are still lots of unknowns and hidden triggers that lurk to trip them up, but as the checker passes me the bag of food over the counter, it is the white flag of surrender, a visual cue that they notice and voluntarily flit towards the door, together, in unison, like the well trained troops that they are.

Only ten paces to the car, but it’s dark and damp. The doors open on command as two dive in to escape the chill. I lean inside to turn on the ignition and warm up the car as the third one collapses on the sidewalk to scream like a banshee. So close, so foolish.

I chuck the bag onto the passenger seat and step back to the soggy one, the incoherent one caught in our very own headlights. It looks like an apoplectic fit because now he is wet from the contact with the ground. Whatever it was, it is now ten times worse, a clash of tactile defensiveness and whatever it is, that I don’t know, for the moment. I won’t know ‘it’ for a few moments more, because he cannot tell me, because he has no words.

When the flailing dies down it is safe for me to intervene and scoop him up. He sits on my lap in the driver’s seat sobbing and soggy. We all wait. They wait patiently and silently in the back, as their legs kick the seats to two separate rhythms.

“Can you tell me what it is dear?” We wait a bit more, before he is able to tell us, faulteringly, “I fink you are go without me.”

But that was last night. A late night. A difficult and long night, the sort of night that tires you out.

Now, this morning, I have been in my usual holding pattern for just over four hours. We will all go to the Walkathon.

I will join them in an hour. I will stay at home for sixty minutes, in the peace and quiet with a book. If you enjoy the friendship of your other half, it is worth maintenance for a union to survive. Neither a marathon nor a sprinter be, accept enjoy the solitary.

"neither a borrower, nor a lender be"

"Neither a borrower, nor a lender be" says that it is best to not lend [money] to other people and to not borrow from other people. When we lend something we risk losing both the thing we lend and the friendship with that other person. {from Hamlet by William Shakespeare; Polonius speaking: "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend"} Example question: "Could you lend me twenty dollars?" Answer: "Sorry, neither a borrower nor a lender be." This says that you value the friendship and you don't want to risk hurting the friendship with a loan.

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