The period from late November, 2012 until mid-July, 2013 was something like a period of mourning for my family, especially my daughter Jessica and me. We could find no Twinkies for sale in stores.
Hostess Brands had gone out of business because of bankruptcy. No more Ding Dongs. No more Ho-Hos. No more Zingers. And, saddest of all, no more Twinkies, called a “Golden Sponge Cake with Creamy Filling.” To Jessica and me, it represented much more than a 150-calorie snack to pack in the lunch box.
No, it also represents healing and humility, forgiveness and reconciliation and love. Please let me explain.
Jessica, the oldest of our four children, never was a morning person, at least not in her earliest years. She started sleeping through the night when she was six weeks old, generally slept at least eight or nine hours, then still needed a three-hour nap most afternoons. That was perfect for Donna and me; I was working almost every night, and we had our next two children before Jessica reached her third birthday.
So it made sense to us that when Jess started preschool we would enroll her in the afternoon session. And when she moved onto kindergarten, she was in the afternoon class there as well.
Inexperienced parents that we were, Donna and I didn’t think about what all this would mean when the inevitable happened: full-day school. Alas, that came to pass with our family’s entry into first grade. Yes, Jessica was the student, but grade school meant adjustments for everyone in the family. No more patience at bedtime and slowly starting the day each morning; no more naps for everyone in the afternoon. Jess needed to be in her classroom every day at 7:45 a.m., and we lived about 20 minutes from school.
Amazingly, the first month went so well that you would have thought we had been doing it for years. I drove her to school. Every morning I would pull into the parking lot and, instead of just dropping her off the way most parents did, I got out of the car and walked my little girl to the front door of her classroom. I always kissed her a kiss good-bye, and I felt good about her coming day. She was enjoying school and doing well. If everything about parenting would be this easy, I thought, then we were going to have it made for the next 18 or 20 years.
Then the calendar flipped to October. And Daylight Savings Time ended, meaning we turned our clocks back. Easy suddenly turned into impossible.
Jessica was tired. Donna was tired. Our two other children’s sleep routines were thrown off, and I felt like a zombie getting up so early every day.
We plunged into the nastiest episode one October morning. Getting Jessica out of bed, then dressed, then fed with breakfast, then out the door proved the most daunting of tasks. Every step required a powerful effort. We finally made it to the front room, finally had her dressed, finally were ready to head for the car. All that remained was brushing her hair.
We might as well have needed to climb Mount Everest. Jessica wouldn’t let Donna or me brush it, yet she wouldn’t do it herself. She was crying, Donna was frustrated, I was screaming. At last I flung the hairbrush onto the couch, only a couple feet from where Jessica was sitting, and said, “Fine, then I’ll just take you to school with your hair looking like that! Let’s go!”
My daughter and I walked out. We endured a ride in total silence to school. I didn’t even turn on the radio. Not one word was spoken between us until we pulled into the parking lot where, instead of getting out of the car to walk into the school building with her, I simply said, “Good-bye, Jessica,” and watched her walk in by herself for the first time.
I drove back home in complete silence as well. But guilt and an overwhelming sadness began to fill my heart. As I showered and prepared to go to work, I thought of how hard it must be for Jessica dealing with a full day of school for the first time in her life, all the changes she had been facing, how if I was tired then certainly she had to be.
Before I drove to the office, I stopped at a convenience store and bought a pack of Twinkies. I went back to school and poked my head into the principal’s office. “Can I go down to Jessica’s classroom and talk to her for a minute?” I asked, and she waved me down the hallway. I walked down, knocked on the door of her room and got the attention of her teacher. “May I see Jessica, please?”
My little girl and I quietly sat down on two chairs in the hall. I turned toward her, took her hands in mine and looked directly into her eyes.
“Jessica,” I said, “I am really sorry about this morning. We were all really tired, and I shouldn’t have lost my temper that way. Sometimes mommies and daddies make mistakes. I hope you can forgive me.”
I pulled the Twinkies out of the little bag in my hand. “Take these with you for lunch,” I said. I was crying. So was she. (Heck, I’m crying again as I’m writing this.) “When you eat them, I want you to know that I am sorry if I upset you, that I never want to upset you or hurt you, and that I love you very much.”
I gave her the package of two Twinkies and a huge hug, then told her she should get back into class. As I walked back down the hall and soon drove toward downtown St. Louis for my day’s work, I felt a burden had been lifted. Tears continued to flow, but they were tears of gratitude for the opportunity to be Jessica’s dad, tears of joy for feeling forgiven, tears of humility that I had been man enough to recognize my weakness and mistake and then allowed God to move me.
Jessica and I have clashed other times the last 20 years or so. Sometimes I’ve been right, sometimes wrong, sometimes we both were stupid and stubborn. I have given her peace offerings of Twinkies several times — once I bought her an entire box! I think she has learned that it’s human to make mistakes, that it’s OK to need forgiveness.
She is a mom now. I hope she always understands that saying I’m sorry and feeling love through reconciliation can taste as delicious as a little cake with tasty cream in the middle. And I hope she can help pass that understanding to Colin, her oldest son. He’s getting ready to start the second grade in a Catholic school. By the end of the year he will receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time.
He already loves Twinkies.