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Discipline by Zen

That thing where you threaten to pull over the car, and then you do? I did that.

We were traveling north on I279 and I pulled over near Bellevue, PA, turned into a Ryan Homes development and stopped the car in front of a clone home with a small yard and admired the fact that the whole plan had buried utilities while my children cried in the back seat of my minivan. It’s a Toyota, leased. Carpet is covered in Cheerios (Joe’s O’s, actually, the house brand from Trader Joe’s). My brother told me if we ever veer into a ravine, we would have enough carbs from the layer of toasted cereal to hold us over for about a week. I’m sure there are also plenty of half chewed gummies and that disgusting Laffy Taffy that nobody can ever separate from its wrapper smashed into the rug. We’d be good for sugars. For protein, I always keep a few tuna-in-a-pouch things in the glove box. Last I checked (this spring), they expired two years ago. I’m sure they are fine. I mean, how bad can expired fish be if it is inside a sealed foil bag inside a glove box inside a minivan four or five summers in a row?

But we are not in a ravine. We are up on a hill, probably what was once a farm north of Pittsburgh. My wife’s son just leaned over in a rage and scratched his older sister. These kids aren’t mine. Not any longer. I am not even present. I am present, as in when my wife is placing her cellphone in front of my face saying, “here, look at this picture” and then, “you have to see this one, too,” and “but wait, look at his hair in this one” while I nod and grunt, trying to look over the iPhone’s notch (OMG the notch is so distracting isn’t it?) at my laptop so I can get back to The Important Work Daddy Does (I am unemployed) and she says, “are you even paying attention to me?” I’ll try to be more present, darling then I go get her a glass a wine, which I have learned is an acceptable peace offering for such situations.

But I am also in a very zen place right now, something I learned from my morning meditation routine — was it from one of those apps? Or maybe it was something I listen to on YouTube with my phone down and eyes closed where a woman with a voice trained to lilt between pitches and who doesn’t verbally execute her “x’s” so “relax sounds like “rela_”, which is super distracting if you think about it. As her voice flows between keys of partially completed words, she teaches me to regard my thoughts as though they were balloons and I can let them go to float away, one by one, until I have no thoughts left, only the empty calm of my inner peace.

Outside, in the real world, not YouTube, a lady is loading something into her CRV wearing incredibly tight pants and I wonder how could she possibly think those tight, pocketless pants were practical on a CRV loading day, but the pants become a balloon and I let it go. My stupid smart watch tells me my heart rate is back in the seventies and my brain registers that I am no longer seeing clouded black masses at the edges of my vision. Maybe it’s safe to drive again.

I wave away the rest of the balloons my zen avatar is holding, smug smile on his face because he knows at least he has a job as an avatar. My consciousness comes back into me sitting in the car in front of someone’s house in the middle of a housing plan and I lean back to tell the kids something wise and stern that will stick with them for the rest of their lives and make them better people. My wife’s daughter is already murmuring apologies because she is the peacemaker of the two. My wife’s son has his lower lip out, indignant that such woe should befall him. He is the self-righteous lawyer. He’s only six, but just wait. This junior has esquire written all over him. I know my brother would turn the car around and the trip would be over, but the whole point of going to the place we are headed to was so I could pay money and sign some liability waivers and the kids would leave me alone for a few hours. You know, so I could do The Important Work Daddy Does. I say, “I’m sorry I raised my voice. Do either of you have anything to say to daddy?” and my son says, “That’s not OK.”

They say discipline is hard. And the proper doses of it while kids are young can save them a lot of grief and struggle over the long term of their lives. I cut that balloon and let it float up away into space and aim the car back to the I279N ramp. We’re going to the trampoline park and I’m getting my free coffee and paying two bucks to sit alone in the public use robot massage chair with the greasy, uncleaned headrest. That’s what I’ve been reduced to, but I’m clinging to those tiny joys and I hope that someday, between the balance of remembering that time daddy pulled the car over and some warm fuzzy recollections of being set free for hours to bounce their silly little heads off at an amazingly fun trampoline park, they’ll settle into a life filled with gratitude and charity. As I pull away, I ask the young lawyer, “Do you know what grace is?”

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