Rendered Fat Content


Henry Fuseli: Der Wechselbalg (1781)
"She owns her choice …"

Granddaughters have by long tradition been the most troubling of relatives. Grandsons can reliably become meatheads without surprising anybody, but granddaughters seem mercurial, capable of material changes without any warning. Our GrandOther proves no exception. The Muse and I had noticed since we returned from exile that The Other had changed, with less energy focused upon sugar, spice, an everything nice and much more on puppy dog tails and worse. She seemed much more capable of morose and mouthy, often without apparent regard to who her words might wound. She seemed defensively haughty. We figured it might just be evidence of a phase or something. Aren't eleven year olds allowed phases? My duck feathers mostly shed her venom without it wounding me much. About the fiftieth time a granddaughter proclaims that she'd rather be dead than be with me, though, the story gets to feeling old.

And so it was that I agreed to pick her up after the second day of the new school year and transport her to The Villa where she could wait for her dad to get off work and fetch her home.
I know how embarrassing it can be for anybody to see someone's family, especially at school, especially especially at middle school, but there I was, striding across the campus to catch The Other's attention. I'm more of the 'kids find their own way to and from school' school, but this being the first week and bus schedules still mysterious, I'd agreed to fetch. Me and most of the rest off the Western world, it seemed by the backup of suburban limousines clogging the lot. Teachers had donned bright vests and carried traffic signs, directing traffic like at major league baseball games. It was trouble from the first moment. The first word out of her mouth was 'why?', and not an inquiring kind of why, but the whiny kind that no explanation can ever possibly satisfy but only spawn another 'why?", an infinite why? loop.

Why can't I just take her home?
"I'd rather be dead than be here with you."
That wasn't the agreement I made with your mother?
"I'd rather be dead than be here with you."
Why can't she just walk home?
"I'd rather be dead than be here with you."
Because I have been chartered to take you to the villa.
"I'd rather be dead than be here with you."
But she left her phone at home! What will she do there? Die?
"I'd rather be dead than be here with you."
If I could just drop her off at Home Despot, she felt certain that she could walk home from there.
"I'd rather be dead than be here with you."

The drive into town was distinctly unpleasant for us both. I stopped at the bank to get some cash and could not figure out how to use the cash machine, which gave me three receipts without delivering any money. I went inside the morgue-like bank to ask questions, leaving TheOther unattended, with ample window for her to escape if she chose to. I returned to find that she hadn't. The pleading continued, as did the demeaning comments. She hadn't escaped but she'd still rather be dead than be there in the car with me. I had another errand to run. Did she want to come in with me? No! She'd apparently also rather be dead than come into the butcher shop with me. Jeesh!

I returned a few moments later with an ultimatum for her. She could either show me an ounce of due respect and appreciate that I'd spent an hour of my afternoon fetching her from school and stop griping or she could, as she had been threatening, start walking home. She looked surprised, a little shocked, perhaps, as I clicked open the door locks. "Okay, then," she said, as she turned toward the door and exited, wearing extremely uncomfortable shoes and carrying a 384 pound backpack, and very likely having not a clue which direction home was from there. She slammed the door and I pulled away from the curb, not even checking the rear view mirror. I drove back to the villa where, after checking in with my contractors, I texted The GrandOther's mom, dad, and grandmother, figuring that I'd be in big trouble this time.

The Muse appeared from her basement Zoom® lair and said that she's head out and see if she could find her. "Fine," I thought, as our painter gave me a fresh assignment. I returned to the basement to don my Handyman Dave outfit and get back into the thick of our Refurbishment. The Muse texted a half hour later that she'd found her. By then, her dad had left work and had also started cruising likely paths. She had almost made it to The Villa, the place she'd earlier declared she'd rather be dead than visit. Maybe lost could also motivate a visit in a pinch. The Muse found her shocky, clearly terrified. Earlier, before she'd ditched, The Other and I had been talking about getting lost, with me bragging that I'd been lost in some of the most beautiful cities in the world: Paris, London, New York, and Rome, but that I had always managed to get found. In fact, I'd learned that getting good and lost was perhaps the very best way to get good and found. Here was The Other, found again, but not a foundling so much as a Changeling this time. She'd had the scare of her life.

She was contrite and remorseful when The Muse escorted her to my sanding bench in the Pop-Up Paint Shop. She apologized, seemingly sincerely, and promised to be better in the future. I will welcome this change. It had been wearing on me that The Other felt comfortable telling her grandfather that she'd rather be dead than be with him. Hey, I buy her ice cream and I will be dead soon enough without a whippersnapper wishing herself gone first. I told her that I hoped we could learn something from this experience.

It was not my indifference that encouraged me to leave an eleven year old to her own devices, but more my vested interest. As The Muse reminds me, sometimes the best direction is just agreeing with wrong-headed ones to let them teach themselves a lesson. Certainly my most powerful learnings have come from my own hand, often after cutting myself off from every alternative friend. I was there with her in spirit. I figured that she'd come out the other side of it, perhaps a wiser person. I take no credit other than to say, and rather proudly, that I managed to get out of the way. She tried to blame me because I'd unlocked her door when inviting her to choose. Nobody bought that excuse. She owns her choice and I pray that she remembers the terror she felt when she first found herself good and lost, before The Muse good and found her again.

Granddaughters have by long tradition been the most troubling of relatives.

©2021 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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