A moment of reflection.
Let me tell you about this one night stand. She was beautiful. She was at least 30 years old, but she didn’t look it. She had really strong legs and I knew she would look fantastic next to my bed. I made the decision right then and there that I was going to pick her up. But I had no idea how complicated it would get.
Collecting the antique mahogany nightstand from my parents’ house, that is.
My senior-citizen mother and father recently moved to my neighborhood and I knew that there would be no shortage of stories. [Hey, I smell a book! Or is that just old people?] Whether my parents are moving to a new state, a new house, or from the hallway to the living room, there is movement of furniture. It’s just something they do. My brothers and I spent a full 12.7 percent of our childhoods keeping our knuckles away from doorjambs and listening to the words, “Not your left. MY left!”
This time, it was my fault. My parents were downsizing, so they had an extra set of bedroom furniture at the same time I had an empty guest bedroom, and I accepted their kind offer of donation. Unfortunately, during the original exchange we somehow ended up with only one of the two nightstands.
However, our guest room was in a transition (a.k.a. “horrid”) stage, so I forgot about it. We just stuck a little circular table with a glass top where the second nightstand should go. When I finally got around to hanging the bedroom mirror – which, based on weight, is made of the same material as Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir – I planned to get the matching nightstand to justify the effort. My mom was happy to oblige, but since she needed something to put spiral mint candies and water glasses full of teeth on, I offered the circular table in exchange.
The night I decided to do the furniture switch was a school night, so I only had a few hours to swing by with the kids for some chitchat and a beer. When we arrived, I took the little round table out, including the separate glass top and the two tablecloths I had brought. Knowing I would probably stay too late and have to rush out, I used the other hand to clear a little space in the back of the van where I would put the nightstand. You know — the other hand that should have been supporting the glass that stayed put just fine with one tablecloth but became Greased Flying Death when held between two tablecloths.
I dropped the tabletop no more than two feet, but it could not have made a bigger explosion of glass fragments if I had hurled it at the bumper of my van with Captain America strength and accuracy. My parents’ white cement driveway looked like Christmas morning, with a wintry mix of sleet and snow, all made from little table shards.
I keep saying “little” table, because the actual diameter of the glass circle was 24 inches. When I dropped it, it covered closer to 24 acres of space, in pieces the size of one of your chubbier atoms. [You thought I was going to say “the size of Ant-Man,” didn’t you? Hey, it’s not all Avengers jokes, people!]
The easiest pieces of shrapnel to clean up were the ones embedded in my son’s bare leg, which instantly showed droplets of blood. He was too busy laughing at me to think about how his basketball injury had just turned from shin splints to shin splinters, or how he was going to have to hunker down inside my parents’ house to build a crude arc reactor to power his calf muscles. [OK, it is all Avengers jokes, people!]
My parents live in a quiet, but well-populated, suburban neighborhood, and everybody seemingly started coming home in their suburban cars and walking their suburban dogs the moment I dropped what my dad called a “tabletop weapon of mass destruction” on their suburb. In the grand scheme of things, there are much worse things a person could do, but I just wanted to get a dustpan and sweep it all away. I couldn’t imagine being more mortified. But then I remembered I had to get the dustpan from my parents.
I briefly considered picking up every individual piece by hand to avoid a scene, but I realized that I wouldn’t have time, since my son had to be off to college in just five short years. So I sucked it up, rang the bell, and picked glass out of the poor boy’s leg while we waited.
After some requisite teasing, my dad fetched a dustpan and a broom and came out to embarrass me. Or, as dads call it, “help.” If this wasn’t bad enough, I remembered that my father had just recently returned my shop-vac, which was back at my house, several miles and Severe Tire Damage away.
“Don’t worry, my neighbor will definitely have one,” he said, and headed off down the street to increase the drama. By all means, Dad, alert the neighbors that didn’t hear.
In the four hours (i.e., 90 seconds) he was gone, I swept frantically, watching the teeny glittering shards getting stuck in the broom or bouncing over the dustpan like Mexican jumping beans, but rarely landing in the dustpan. I wasn’t making much progress. So I grabbed an extension cord from the garage and attached it to the shop-vac when he returned. Luckily, the shop-vac had a horsepower rating of “Shit-Ton.”
I commandeered the vacuum, because there was no way I was going to let my dad clean up my mess and double my guilt. This proved to be my biggest error in judgment since The Great One-Handed Table Lift of 2012, because my dad proceeded to help by POINTING OUT INDIVIDUAL SHARDS.
“Not there, there! You’re stepping right in it. Would you do me a favor and vacuum this part before you go tracking it on your shoes? Not this part, THIS part!” Et cetera.
This went on for about a fortnight, and I don’t think I need to tell you what happened next: my mom came out to “see how things were coming.” She immediately adopted the exact same managerial pointing strategy. How things were coming at that point was like this: I had discovered that not only was the glass in a 24-foot driveway diameter in microscopic pieces, and under my tires, and in the soles of my shoes where my dad had warned me not to walk — but it completely permeated about six inches of lustrous, thick grass next to the driveway. I couldn’t flip the pieces out with the dustpan brush and it was too dangerous to grab them individually.
So I did the only thing I could do: I used the shop-vac. Now, I don’t want to perpetuate any stereotypes here, but this is probably a good time to mention that I’m Polish. Some day I will get up the courage to do a YouTube search for “Polish man vacuums lawn with two supervisors.” I hope those two kids with the iPhones at least caught the part where I smiled and stage-gestured toward my mom, as if to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a big round of applause for parents!” But I didn’t have time to search right then. As I said, it was a school night and I still had a nightstand to pick up. Plus, I now had an article to write.
When I thought I was done, I started to put away the vacuum, but my dad grabbed it up. Frustrated, I walked over to where he was standing, and I noticed that from that part of the driveway, the sunlight was reflecting off the pieces of glass better. And as I realized he couldn’t see them from his angle, I did the unthinkable. I started to point out individual shards of glass to him.
When I finally got inside to retrieve the nightstand, I realized there were no dentures, or even grandma candy. The nightstand contents seemed fairly normal; just some tissues and books. Is it possible that I’m getting old? Well, yeah. But more than that, I realized that at certain times in our lives, we start to see things from a different perspective and they suddenly become clear as glass. We don’t always see our parents at the right angle, but when we do, it’s important to stop and reflect.
So as I sat there next to my dad, who was content to stay with me as I drank his beer and wrote this article on my mom’s laptop, I promised to remind myself that although we may never stop being embarrassed by our parents, their intentions are good, and they’re a lot smarter than we think. They could have left my son bleeding on the lawn. They could have left me out there until dark, cleaning up my own mess. But they did what they were supposed to do: help their children.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Ladies and gentlemen, let’s have a big round of applause for parents.”