There are times when my wife is cooking dinner that we will witness a moment of intense realization, usually in the form of shrieking from behind an open refrigerator door. The whole house will discover that we are critically deficient in an important meal ingredient.
“No! We’re out of butter!”
Or “No! We’re out of chicken stock!”—still don’t know what this is.
Or “No! We’re out of eggs!”
Or “…an entire main course with sides and assorted beverages!!!”
By the time I hear the exclamation point at the end of her sentence I’m slipping into my shoes; like Superman in the phone booth, it’s hero time. I’m already plotting my course for maximum efficiency.
Down the stairs. Out the door. The store is 1.1 miles away, but at this hour take the side road. Is immediately parking in the first available parking stall faster than drive-stalking someone to a closer one? Yes! Once through the sliding doors hang a right to sweep the aisles but steer clear of the register lane openings as they my be clogged with people. Chicken stock is probably somewhere in the second half of the store. Read the aisle signs. Choose the one with the most “like” ingredients. I don’t see any “Chicken Bonds” listed so I’ll shoot for the soup aisle, since I believe it’s more liquid in nature, like Chicken Noodle Soup. Play Where’s Waldo until…found it! Sprint-walk to the less busy self-checkout area, debit card in hand. Scan the item and be deliberate about placing it in the sack. But not too hard, and not too soft either. You want to please the weight-scale gods so they don’t strike you with lighting in the form of a “Please Wait for Assistance” error message. Everything rides on this! Then, if the gods are satisfied, head out the door, hit the side road again and, home. Walk through the door carrying salvation.
15 minutes, tops.
I have visualized, now it’s time to attack. I throw on my coat and set my plan into motion. I take the stairs two at a time, reach the—
“Can I go with you?”
My daughter’s question has stopped me cold.
The military uses the term “force multiplier” which refers to something that significantly increases the combat potential of a force; usually larger weapons and such.
I’ve been a dad long enough to know that kids are “time multipliers”. They significantly increase the time it takes to do…ANYTHING THAT YOU ARE TRYING TO DO! This wasn’t a years-long revelation. I learned this leaving the hospital with our first child. You mean I can’t just hop in the car anymore? How many straps do I have to buckle on this thing? How do they buckle again? *refers to the manual for the third time*
I let go of the door handle. I turn to my little girl. My stomach sinks.
She’s wearing her gown pajamas and a smile.
The amount of work required to bring her to the point of leaving the house is utterly breathtaking.
In one hand is a 15 minute trip.
In the other hand is 15 minutes of just looking for shoes.
My well-oiled plan built for maximum efficiency.
My well-oiled plan, strapped to a warhead; my daughter’s finger hovering over the large red button.
I remember what it was like wanting to run errands with my parents. Sure there was the hope you’d snag a candy bar out of the deal, but that wasn’t the main motivation. Because I would even tag along to the hardware store with my dad, or some other candy-less desert.
I loved being with my parents on an outing.
Outing?! What am I, in a Mary Poppins movie?
I just wanted to spend time with them and do something that had the faint taste of adventure.
So I look at my daughter and see into the future. I see the searching for shoes, the sniffing through piles of clothes to find the cleanest shirt, the scrubbing her face with a wet wipe to remove remnants of her lunch, the hunting for her coat that is not hanging up like it should be, the searching for shoes that we’d just found NOT 60 SECONDS AGO. I see the future, I see a time multiplier.
But I also see something else.
I tell her to push the red button.
She lets out a squeal and a flash of blinding light later my beautiful plan has been reduced to particles in a mushroom cloud. Goodbye beautiful plan, we never knew you.
We start looking for her shoes.
Because it’s not just chicken stock or butter that is at stake here. Running an errand with my daughter may be an essential ingredient in the recipe of her life right now. An ingredient with a limited amount of time to add to the mix. Someday she won’t ask to go to the store with me. I guess I’m hoping that it’ll be because she’s gone to college, and not because she kept hearing “no”.
Will taking her along quadruple the time? Sure. And often both of my girls will want to go, in which case an exponential increase occurs. Soon I’ll have four kids asking, “Can we come?” Of course I’ll say, “We won’t be eating dinner until tomorrow morning then, but sure. Let’s do it. Wake me up when you’ve all found your shoes.”
I just want to make sure that I’m not leaving anything off the shopping list, because I’m realizing that some ingredients are important, while others are quite essential.
And what on earth is chicken stock?