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Kids Make You Wistful, Then They Make You Wise

WELCOME THESE MOIST IRISH MONTHS
And now we enter April, and the trees in our little town are giving off estrogen, as is common this time of year. It’s a light dusting, covers the cars, the mailboxes, the kids. Most people think it’s pollen, but it’s actually estrogen. I mean, I don’t have any scientific proof. I just know.
“It’s right to praise the random, the tiny god of probability that brought us here,” penned the poet Jacqueline Berger.
Amen to that. And by tiny god, I think Berger means mothers, estrogen, and various other important romantic potions… Korean hot sauce, a slurp of Trader Joe’s wine.
Point is: Estrogen is a musk in our little L.A. suburb. Almost a pheromone. This isn’t just anywhere, you know.
Meanwhile, tee me up these moist Irish months — April to May — when baseball beckons and you could make a salad of your long Irish lawn.
In the crook of my arm — like a football — is a very large, very spectacular breakfast burrito, the greatest warm product to come out of California since Cheryl Tiegs (Alhambra High, if I remember right).

Photo courtesy Jessica Erskine
A breakfast burrito, made glorious by the melding of molecules.

This burrito is still cooking a little in its foil as I carry it home, the flavors melding, the molecules marrying. The anticipation of a top-shelf breakfast burrito might be the closest thing we have to Christmas. Total joy in a warm tinsel wrapper.
By the time I get home, I am almost aching to eat it. Instead, I put it in the warming drawer for my college son, Smartacus. Like I need another breakfast burrito? I’m one burrito away from oblivion (though I might have one later with an ice-cold beer).
Smartacus leaves soon, heads back to the University of the Trees. I am a little sad, but not as sad as in the fall. Each parting gets incrementally easier. The New Normal. I hate New Normals.
My kids call me a grump. I call myself a realist. The steamy truth is somewhere in between, the flavors melding, the molecules marrying.
My son, 19, packs a suitcase the way he eats — quickly, as if fleeing a bank heist. Then he stuffs his stuff into his carry-on, leaning into the zipper.
“Dad, I’m done,” he says.
Yeah? No. I’ll let you know when you’re done. Keep eating.
Generally, I don’t think I’m bossy enough with him, but with his mother gone, I don’t want to be a tyrant. I want our fleeting time together to be a treat. I want it to be junk food.
Truth is, kids never enjoy their parents as much as their parents enjoy them.
Truth is (Part II): Smartacus has found some fun new sidekicks up there in Oregon, where he will spend these next two Irish months. In Oregon, all months are Irish months. It’s like a Middle Earth of trolls and leprechauns, creeks and bridges. I honestly don’t know what he sees in it.
By the way, I never see his grades. Colleges won’t show you their grades. Dear parents, if you’re prepping your first kid for college in the fall, you should understand that now. College is finishing school, meets the Army. And they will never reveal their grades. It’s like a conspiracy.
Sure, colleges will flag you when tuition is due — don’t fret that. They’ll remind you almost hourly to pay their inflated tuitions.
Hey, Dean Wormer, you just had to have that rec center, right? And that new journalism lab…the luxe dorm suites…the pizza ovens. Funny how colleges, bastions of Bolshevik thought, have become the biggest robber barons in America.
Oh, well. Who am I to judge? I’m just a dad in the kitchen, watching his kid wolf down a burrito, in giant heaving gasps. He eats like he packs. He eats as if the cops might be closing in.
“Dad?”
“Huh?”
“We’d better go,” he says.
Look, I’ll tell you when we’re going. OK, we’re going.
As a friend noted, we cry when they leave and we cry when they come home.
“Poetry,” Robert Frost said, “begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong…”
Kids are poetry. Damn them. Poetry, every single one.
Listen, I can’t say enough good things about kids.
“Have some kids,” I advised a young husband the other day.
They will wreck your mornings and ruin your afternoons. Inevitably, they will break the bank.
But have some kids. I highly recommend it. Because life doesn’t have enough heartbreak and longing on its own.
Kids make you happy, then they make you poor, then they make you wistful, then they make you wise.
So ask yourself: Do I really need all that in my life?”
Yeah, maybe.
I don’t have any scientific proof. I just know.

Chris Erskine was a columnist for 25 years at the Los Angeles Times. His work now appears here weekly. Email him at Letters@ChrisErskineLA.com .

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