I am ecstatic to introduce you to Jessica Rapisarda for the Dads Are Awesome! series. Not only is she an awesome human being, but she’s also a darn good writer as well. Jessica wanted to be Donna Summer when she grew up. So, naturally, she studied poetry. Failing to take her rhymes all the way to the bank, Jess gave in to motherhood, humor writing, and snack chip addiction. She blogs about parenting, guilt, and other redundancies at Welcome to the Bundle. She has been featured on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, MSN Living, Mamapedia, and more. You can also find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.
1984 was a tough year. I had a bowl haircut, I read dictionaries for fun, and I lost my mom to cancer. I wanted so badly to feel normal. After school let out for the day, I’d hang back from the mass of kids swarming the parking lot of St. Dominic’s Catholic school. I studied the crowd like I studied the dictionary, eager to learn something new, something that might make me just a little bit cool. And, to me, the 8th graders were a bottomless font of cool. I let my socks slouch like they did. I doused myself in Love’s Baby Soft cologne like they did. I tried to talk like they did, even though most of what they said was a complete mystery: Why were they always discussing the time of the month? And what made a kiss French, as opposed to American or, say, Mexican?
But if 1984 was a tough year for me, it had to be downright unbearable for my dad. He was suddenly the single father of three little girls, ages 8, 6, and 2. But even through the grief and the fear and the exhaustion, my dad made time to play – to toss a softball in the backyard, to hold impromptu Michael Jackson dance parties in our living room, to go to the park. Our favorite destination was Baltimore’s Burdick Park, just a block from my grandparent’s row home. On the outskirts of the city, it was a few bucolic acres of oak trees and wide, grassy fields. The park featured a much beloved twisty sliding board, rows of swings, and enough 80s-era metal playground equipment to simultaneously break the bones of a hundred different kids. It was paradise.
So on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon, my dad packed us into the Chevy Chevette and headed to Burdick. Kids lined up twenty-deep for the sliding board and the swings were occupied, but my dad was unfazed. He challenged us to a game of tag.
While my youngest sister, Sarah, contentedly ate playground mulch, my middle sister and I crouched at the ready.
“On your marks. Get set. Go!”
Kim and I rocketed around the see-saw and toward the park maintenance building.
“I’m gonna get you guys!” my dad shouted, sprinting after us.
“No way!” Kim shouted back as she suddenly peeled off, cutting through the middle of a basketball game.
Left alone, with my dad gaining on me, I double-timed it toward the corner of the maintenance building. As he neared, my chest buzzed with adrenalin. I’d covertly eaten two packages of Little Debbie Swiss rolls after lunch. My head buzzed with white sugar. Time and space took on a fluorescent, Kubrickian quality.
I turned boldly toward my father and called to mind a word I’d heard the 8th-grade girls lob at the 8th-grade boys — a word with heft, a word with a short fuse, a very cool word.
“Get away from me, you pervert!” I yelled. Then I disappeared around the side of the building.
A young mom pushing a stroller stopped dead in her tracks to stare at me.
“Ha! You’ll never catch me, you pervert!” I screamed as I rounded the back of the building.
“Pervert, pervert, pervert!” I chanted as I took off toward the merry-go-round, drunk on speed and the vocabulary of abandon.
A group of kids near the monkey bars fell strangely quiet.
My dad finally caught up with me as I reached the merry-go-round. His face was red. His mouth looked stiff. “Geez, he’s taking this game pretty seriously,” I thought, just as he grabbed me by the arm.
“Let go of me, you pervert,” I laughed.
With his eyes wide, he leaned down and hissed, “For the love of Christ, Jessie, shut up!”
Suffice it to say that our day at the park ended then and there. On the ride home, my dad wanted to know where I’d picked up “an expression like that,” but I guess he was just too tapped out to explain what the word actually meant. I had to sleuth out the definition on my own during recess later that week. It was a gut-churning revelation.
After thirty years, I still remember how my dad hustled us out of the park that day, his hand held gently at my back, urging me to walk a bit more quickly. I remember hearing him sigh as he sank into the driver’s seat, pausing before he put the key into the ignition. “What are ya gonna do?” I heard him mumble to himself. I didn’t know what any of it meant. And neither, I guess, did he.