SMALL WONDERS:

I lost.

That is to say, I came in second, which is loser to the second degree.

If you read this column last week you know that I was just in Palm Springs with 11 other infantile men in their early to mid-40s vying for a plastic golf trophy in that enormous frying pan that is the Coachella Valley. With my score mimicking the weather — 110 with a chance of thunderstorms and flash floods — I was a complete humiliation and utter disappointment to the golf instructor who worked so hard to give me that winning edge. Sorry, Rick. I let you down. It's not you; it's me.

So I sulk back home to my family, and they are ever so glad to see me. The children jump into my arms. I hear reports of tears and cries for daddy while I was away. I'm greeted warmly by the loving wife who has all the reason in the world to give me the cold shoulder after three days alone with the kids, but doesn't.

This comforts me some, but the sting of failure sticks with me like a putt clinging to the edge of the cup and refusing to drop in. Not even my 7-year-old's first lost front tooth, pulled while I was away, is enough to take my thoughts off myself.

“Thee, Daddy? I talk thilly now,” she lisps through the new gap in her beautiful smile.

But all I'm really thinking about is the fact that I couldn't hit a tee shot into the Grand Canyon if I were standing on its lip.

In the morning, both girls wake to find a dollar bill under their pillows. Yes, the 5-year-old got one too. It's our way of avoiding a Cain and Abel situation and stifling accusations of unfairness or loving one child more than the other. Pray for me when they are old enough to ask for a car.

The newly toothless daughter sat happily on the couch with her dollar, wiggling the other front tooth in hopes of future earnings. But the 5-year-old, she was amiss, uncharacteristically upset. Still half asleep she approached me with a deep, dark frown chiseled into her otherwise sweet-as-strawberries face.

“Not enough,” she said. I thought her head might spin around while vomiting pea soup all over me.

“Excuse me?” I asked in disbelief.

Then as straight as if she were asking for another piece of cinnamon toast, she demanded, “I want a twenty.”

Calmly, I went to the windows to check for any neighbors within earshot or perchance a passing police cruiser. When I saw that the coast was clear I drew the curtains, got down to eye level with my little Veruca Salt and lectured her, wagging finger and all, on a little thing called “Appreciating What You Have.”

Needless to say, such spontaneous, pre-coffee wisdom failed to be the enlightening and life-changing moment I'd intended. She spent the next hour alternately crying in her room and pouting on the couch.

Now, I'm not wrong for lecturing her. Ungraceful as usual perhaps, but well within my rights and responsibilities as a parent, and so I feel no regret for disciplining her.

That still small voice in the back of my mind that I'm told is God spoke up a little louder than normal, and it said this to me:

“It's just a plastic cup.”

I didn't like hearing that. It made me feel mean and angry inside; the kind of anger one feels toward oneself so we redirect it at others.

If we're all God's children, as we're told, and that still small voice is our parent, then I'm just a 5-year-old who wants something that his parent does not think is best. All prayers are answered, they say. But sometimes the answer is “No.”

I really wanted that trophy and especially the bragging rights that go with it. But then, with the subtlety and wisdom that I so lack as a parent, I was reminded that it's not about the plastic cup.

It's about coming home to see that front tooth gone, knowing her baby smile is gone forever and wishing you could have seen it just one more time. It's about the vise grip of a little girl on your leg the moment she sees you after crying for three nights because you weren't there to kiss her goodnight. It's about a wife who reluctantly lets you go away with the boys to play games, then listens like she's really interested in how lousy you played but still tells you how great you did.

I want a better job or a bestselling novel so I don't need a job. I want a vacation home in Cambria and a Jeep to drive up the coast in. I want to be a member at a private country club and at every wine club I can find.

I want a 20.

I sat the other night battling myself over what to write about this week, feeling like I had nothing left to say and agreeing with that other, really loud voice inside my head that was telling me I was a dry well. Just then a friend instant-messaged me on Facebook and reminded me just how lucky I am to be able to put words to paper and have you read them each week.

She said: “Stop stressing and get back to enjoying the gift God gave you. Go write and He will give you the words.”

It's about appreciating what you have.


?PATRICK CANEDAY is a Glendale native and freelance writer who lives and works in Burbank. He may be reached at patrickcaneday@gmail.com.

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