Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Ice Cream & China

I got home from work still deep in thought. I stepped from the garage to the yard and walked over to the garden to survey the romaine, the spinach, the early shoots of asparagus.

I dropped my briefcase in the grass and bent over to pull a weed, thinking about a phone call from earlier in the day. As I did, I heard the ice cream truck turn onto Cherry Street. The familiar blooping, doinking sound of Pop Goes The Weasel echoed among the houses.

I flinched.

That’s because for years that sound would soon be followed by the sound of kids - my kids, running and screaming for me. “Dad, can I have a dollar?’

Jack, our now 19-year-old middle child was always the most desperate. He’d appear before me in a breathless panic. “Please, please, please,” he’d whine, doing a funny little dance like he was running in place and shaking his hands as if to dry them off.

I usually handed over the dollar.

Jack would appear later with multi-colored pastel sherbet smeared around his mouth from a Teenage Mutant Turtle pop with gumball eyes.

But today no one is running for ice cream. Jack and his brother Cal are off at college and their younger sister is at track practice. The ice cream man passes by and disappears down the street. This once lucrative block is now a bust for ice cream peddlers.

I pluck my briefcase from the grass and head into the house still thinking about Jack’s phone call earlier in the day.

He said, “A professor recommended me for a trip this summer to do some writing and blogging”

“A trip where?” I ask.

“China,” he replies.

There is a long silence.

That’s a whole lot more than a dollar. A whole-lotta dollars in fact.

There’s nothing in his voice to suggest he’s doing that little ice cream dance. No hint that he’s flinging his hands about waiting for the money. His voice is cautious and apologetic. He knows he’s asking for something big, something bigger and more important than a frozen treat.

“I understand it’s a lot,” he says. “It’s okay if you say no. I’m just wondering if it’s possible.”

Yeah, it’s possible, I think to myself. But at what cost? I worry over the money. Worry that instead of working the summer to earn money for his textbooks and gas he’ll be doing something expensive. And to be honest, I lament not having him around all summer.

When Jack and his older brother Cal were small, we bought a rental property with a loan from my parents. It was to be the boy’s college fund. Once last year when Cal called from college to ask for money, he asked me, “Dad, where exactly does this money come from?”

“Remember all the years you picked up walnuts over at the rental,” I tell him, “all the times you mowed the lawn, cleaned the gutters, helped me reroof? That rental is where the money comes from.”

There was a stunned silence at the other end, though I’m sure I explained it repeatedly when he was 8, or 10, or 14 years old - when he was mad about having to go there and work. Either he forgot, or the meaning never sunk in.

A couple hours later he sent me a text message that read, “You’re so smart. Thanks for being such great parents.”

Well I had great parents, too and they made it possible for me travel abroad when I was in college. They didn’t really want to, but they did. It was one of the most valuable experiences in my life. One I’ve always wanted to provide for my own children.

And so we do provide it. Jack will go to China. The rental property works it’s financial magic once more. I guess I always knew I would say yes, but was just trying to figure out how to get there.

A few weeks after Jack’s call, Greta and I joined him in Muncie for lunch with his professors and the other students going on the trip. A Chinese family cooked a hot-pot dinner for us. We sat around a table dropping shrimp, crab, pork, green beans, cauliflower and mushrooms into a bubbling wok filled with herbs and spices, then plucked it all back out and onto our plates. It was fabulous. They talked about where they would travel over the summer, Hong Kong, Beijing, the Great Wall, and Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

Jack’s excitement is palpable. Like George Bailey pacing the train platform and lusting over travel brochures in, It’s a Wonderful Life, Jack has been chomping at the bit to get out into the world. Knowing that and being able to make it happen is gratifying. It’s harder to give than ice cream, but way more rewarding.

1 comment:

  1. Hard work is so important and I love hearing that your children are going to be so blessed and appreciative to understand that picking up walnuts when they were young equated to the successes and experiences of their future. What an awesome thing. I'm inspired. :)

    ~Kiley Ohl