Remember Me.

My eldest daughter, Annalise, is a February 29 Leap Baby.  Whenever one of her “real” birthdays occurs, once every four years, my tendency has been to pull out all of the stops.  I remember what pulling out all the stops meant on her second “official” birthday (8 years old).  It meant spending a whole day in the kitchen preparing an incredibly labor-intensive cake.    

I am told that the Yiddish word, “putchki,” refers to doing something that requires lots of fiddling and fussing.  When we celebrated my daughter’s second birthday, I made a chocolate birthday cake for her that was incredibly delicious, but very…putchki.  The recipe called for over a pound and a half of melted chocolate, a quarter cup of unsweetened, powdered chocolate, almond liquor, five separate phases, and a day’s worth of fiddling in the kitchen.  The level of putchki required to sustain this exotic culinary life-form immediately placed it on our family’s endangered food species list.  I immediately relegated the recipe to my daughter’s favorite dessert of all time in a cupboard in the back, in the corner, in the dark.  As far as my family was concerned, this dessert had gone extinct.  

And so, why, you may be wondering, did I spend another Sunday several years later,  putchkiing in the kitchen on the exact same cake whose existence was thought to have been stamped out by gastronomical natural selection? Here’s the story to that second cake.

The answer can be found in my Church’s Gospel reading for this Sunday (Luke 23: 35-43).  In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus was crucified between two criminals.  One of these lawbreakers utilized the opportunity to spew a little more venom on the world before he met his maker.  The other, “The good thief,” rebuked the first misanthrope, uttering the famous phrase, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Like an insect caught in amber, an instant in these two men’s otherwise anonymous lives was captured.  Henceforth, they would be remembered forever on the basis of one brief episode in their lives.  

It strikes me that all of our lives are like that.  Human beings are meaning-making creatures.  Every moment of every single day, we are unconsciously weaving narratives around the people and events of our lives.  Every-so-often, a signature event takes place that unconsciously puts a period at the end of our story for someone else.  In other words, episodes of someone in our lives often serve as lenses through which we view that person.  Some episodes are so profound for us that they can come to sort of sum up the meaning we make of that other peron.  And here’s the scary part, we don’t get to pick the episodes that are utilized to sum us up for someone else.  

Which brings me back to the origins of my second putchki-cake-baking-marathon.  The seed for that cake was planted exactly six days earlier.  On the way to school the previous Monday, a series of unfortunate events conjured up my inner Count Olaf.  Annalise was acting like a normal ten-year-old.  She was being mean to her little brother over-and-over again.  When my attempts at asserting authority were ignored, as men in these circumstances are want to do, I became the tantruming version of King Triton from Disney’s, “Little Mermaid.”  By the time I had finished my roadside tirade, Annalise was thoroughly upset, and almost late for school.  On the way out of the parking lot, I remembered that the upset child, who just left my car in tears would now be sitting for a Spanish exam for which she had been studying for the better part of a week. 

With that realization, a good healthy sense of sorrow surfaced in me.  I remembered my place in my Leap Baby’s life.  As her father, my job is to be a template for her.  I knew that one day, if she elected to pursue a vocation as a married woman, she would unconsciously be bouncing this and that suitor off of her image of the first man in her life…me.  I didn’t want my daughter accepting volatile, and unpredictable anger in men.  I wanted her to have internal instincts that insist upon nothing less than a man who can promise to love, respect, and cherish her because he is emotionally and spiritually mature and in charge of himself.  Furthermore, I didn’t want to be like the bad thief in this Sunday’s Gospel forever viewed through the lens of bad behavior like this.  I didn’t want any episode like the one on that past Monday to be the prism through which she viewed her dad.  I knew the work I had to do.

After a day of self-reflection that included conversations with a couple of respected friends, including my spouse, I came up with a plan.  After school, I picked Annalise up and took her out for a cup of hot chocolate and ice cream.  I apologized for my behavior.

Then I accepted an apology for her misdeeds of that morning, but refused to accept the false claim that her misbehavior was responsible for my emotions.  “I am responsible for my emotions,” I explained.  We agreed to more hot chocolate dates together.  And then we selected the amends that I would perform to symbolize my sorrow, and restore the trust between us.  Annalise remembered the chocolate putchki cake from years ago.  

A day in the kitchen was a small price to pay to frame up an episode that my daughter would be able to utilize to focus on the essence of her father.  Reconciliation never tasted so sweet.  

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