<em>Spilled Milk</em>: I'm a Horrible, <i>Awful</i> Parent

Serendipity is defined as the unexpected phenomenon of finding something delightful or valuable when you least expect it.
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Rear view of a boy walking with two men in a park
Rear view of a boy walking with two men in a park

Serendipity is defined as the unexpected phenomenon of finding something delightful or valuable when you least expect it.

I love serendipity, especially when the something delightful or valuable is a someone. I met my husband 14 years ago in this magically haphazard way. And shortly after that, another key player in my life.

Years ago Greg, my TV agent, began telling me about Matthew, an old college friend of his from New York. When Matthew came to Los Angeles on business Greg insisted we meet. He thought we'd make a great homo couple. I'm quoting verbatim.

2013-05-06-SMMaySerendipityMatthew and I hit it off, but the big homo romance never happened due to coastal issues; I lived in L.A. and Matthew lived in New York. We became great friends instead. Back in New York, Matthew met Byron, who had the good manners to live within walking distance. Byron became Matthew's boyfriend. About a year after they met Matthew happened to be in L.A. again on business, and my agent-slash-Matthew's best friend from college Greg threw him party. At that party Matthew introduced me to his new boyfriend's sister, who lived in Los Angeles but almost didn't make it to the party that night because she had a cold.

Only she did make it. And that's how my TV agent Greg's college friend Matthew's new boyfriend Byron's older sister Lily became one of my best friends.

Ever since, Lily and I have met for lunch every Thursday at the 101 Coffee Shop in Hollywood. Thursdays because that's the only day they offer their spectacular fried chicken special. (Lily and I are both Southern.) We've been fried chickening for years now. We don't see each other anywhere else or on any other day. We only call to cancel, never to confirm.

But if it's one o'clock on Thursday, I show up at the 101 and there she is.


Lily and I have had an easy rapport from the beginning. We can talk about anything and over the years our conversations have run the gamut. How to make a bourbon old-fashioned, choose a cell phone, re-grout tile, find a mechanic. We've covered weight loss (mine), crazy neighbors (hers), politics and weight gain (mine again). Other topics of discussion have included Lily's engagement, our parents' health, and how to plan both cat funerals (mine) and human weddings (first mine, then hers).

But most frequently we discuss my parenting fiascos.

Over the years, with no children of her own to wreck, Lily has become a sounding board for my tales of parental failure, which have become a regular feature of fried chicken Thursdays.

They usually go something like this.

2013-05-06-SMMayFriedChicken.jpgTHE 101 COFFEE SHOP

BILL is sitting in a window booth. A waitress brings his iced tea, just as he ordered it, with four lemons around the rim. He pours six Splendas into the tea and stirs as he flips through the L.A. Weekly. Checks his watch.

A short while later, LILY approaches, wearing pearls as always.

LILY: Hey sweetie! Sorry I'm late.

She leans down, kisses Bill on the cheek.

BILL: You're always late.

LILY: You're late sometimes.

BILL: If I'm late it's because I know you'll be later.

LILY: (settling into booth) Well, I'm a late person. I just am. How've you been?

BILL: (long pause) ...I'm such an awful parent.

LILY: (brightening like it's Christmas) What happened?

BILL: I can't even say it. It's too embarrassing.

LILY: Come on, I'm sure it wasn't that bad.

BILL: It was worse than bad.

LILY: (locking him in a fake-sympathetic gaze as she fingers her pearls) Tell me.

BILL: Okay. Kelly's been traveling on business for a week.

LILY: That's stressful. Single parenthood. Go on.

BILL: It's bath time. The tub is running.

LILY: Oooo, I remember from babysitting. Kids are a nightmare at bath time.

BILL: I had to pee.

LILY: Of course you did. The tub was running.

BILL: So James runs in and starts yanking on my shirt -- as I'm peeing -- and sobbing that his sister told him The Velveteen Rabbit was stupid.

LILY: What?! The Velveteen Rabbit is not stupid!

BILL: That's what I told him. Then Elizabeth barrels into the bathroom and tattles that James found the leftover Halloween candy I hid in the garage and ate twelve Milky Way Minis after supper.

LILY: Shifting the onus.

BILL: Which he denies even though there are globs of caramel stuck to his teeth.

LILY: Lying.

BILL: Then Elizabeth says he tried to buy her silence by bribing her with five Milky Way Minis.

LILY: Blackmail. Are you still peeing?

BILL: Can you believe it? Yes, I'm peeing through all of this. So over my shoulder I tell Elizabeth to please give me some privacy, but not before asking if she ate the Milky Way Minis...

LILY: ...and she says no.

BILL: Then James starts to scream "Yes you did! Yes you did!" And she shoots back, "No I didn't! I did not, Daddy!" Which makes him scream louder. "Yes you DID! She's LYING, Daddy! And she made me give her all my candy-corn pumpkins! I want my candy corn pumpkins!" I finally can't take it anymore and yell, "STOP IT!"

LILY: But they didn't.

BILL: Of course they didn't. Elizabeth kicked it up a notch. "You don't even like candy-corn pumpkins!" Then James, who's totally hopped up on sugar, bursts into tears, "Yes I do! And The Velveteen Rabbit is not stupid! Tell her, Daddy, it's not stupid!!"

LILY: Well, he's right.

BILL: And that's when I just... (hanging his head) lost it.

LILY: (leaning in, eyes widening, hungry for it) How? How did you lose it?

BILL: I started jumping up and down. On the bathroom floor. Like I'm on a pogo stick. Screaming "STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!" At the top of my lungs. Up and down, beating my fists against my sides. All of a sudden I'm the youngest child in the room. I'm a toddler. 200 pounds of toddler id, out of control, screaming, "JUST STOP IT!... STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!"

LILY: Tell me you're not still peeing.

BILL: No, that's done. I don't think you can pee and jump. It's a biological failsafe. I'm just yelling now. Jumping and yelling, "STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!"

LILY: What did they do?

BILL: They stopped it.

LILY: So it worked.

BILL: That's not the point. I mean, yeah, it worked. Because they were traumatized. They just kind of stood there staring up at me, like anybody would who's just seen a yelling insane person who thinks he's a pogo stick. I'm such an awful parent.

LILY: You're not an awful parent. Kelly wasn't there to help, it was the end of the day, your kids were jacked up on sugar, you were peeing and you got overwhelmed. It's completely understandable. They'll get over it.

BILL: Don't try to make excuses for me. I lost control as a parent. At bath time.

LILY: Did they drown?


LILY: See? It could have been a lot worse. If you truly were an awful parent they'd have drowned. Didn't your parents ever lose it at bath time?

BILL: They never did the pogo stick.

LILY: Okay, fine... After the bath time incident, when James and Elizabeth were ready for bed did they still want you to tuck them in?

BILL: Yes.

LILY: Did you cuddle with them?

BILL: We always cuddle.

LILY: Did you read to them?

BILL: Not The Velveteen Rabbit.

LILY: Did they tell you they hate you?


LILY: Have they ever told you they hate you?

BILL: Yes.

LILY: Then they're normal. Did you feed them this morning?

BILL: Of course I fed them.

LILY: Did you get them dressed and pack their lunches and drive them to school?

BILL: Yes.

LILY: Did they mention what happened?

BILL: You can't mention a memory you've already repressed. Stop trying to make me feel better. I was a pogo stick, Lily. I'm not kidding. It's like I was spring-loaded. Picture Tigger from Winnie-the-Pooh. With rage issues. I almost smashed my head against the ceiling. And it's a really high ceiling.

And then it starts. Lily begins to dissolve into giggles. Soon she can't breathe. She's clutching herself and falling against the edge of the booth.

I just stare at her. "Why is that funny? I couldn't hold it together with my children. I'm a horrible, awful parent."

This makes her spew her lemonade across the table.

LILY: (now laughing so hard she's gasping for air) Show me! Show me how you were jumping up and down. Do the pogo stick. Get out of the booth and do it!

BILL: Why is this so funny to you???

There are many reasons I love Lily, but this odd gift she has for being able to diffuse my rants and make my flaws seem life-sized ranks near the top. She listens as I confess mistakes I'm certain will scar my children and instead of being mortified, giggles.

Then spews lemonade. Making me feel less awful. Every Thursday.

What better definition of friendship can there be? In those few minutes each week Lily lets me see my goofs through her eyes as the flawed little human comedies they are. She assures me I'm not an awful parent. Just a normal one, an imperfect fool like all the rest, doing his best with two little pistols who call him Dad.

But I have a feeling Lily's perspective may be shifting soon. Serendipity recently dropped someone new into her life.

A baby. I can't wait.


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This post is the sixteenth in a series of Spilled Milk columns by William Lucas Walker chronicling his misadventures in Daddyland. Your thoughts are welcome in the Comments section a little farther down.


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