“No you don’t!”
I had spotted my daughter Poppy mixing a glass of Ovaltine on the kitchen counter. “You’ll spoil this restaurant-quality meal. How many dads make a grilled undercut of pork with a fresh fruit salsa on a school night?” I admit I sounded a little nancy touting my culinary skills, but what’s a modern dad to do when no one notices his tenderloin anymore?
“Jody says that a glass of chocolate milk is the best thing for a runner as long as you drink it within an hour after cool down.” Dressed in warm ups, Poppy shot me a sharp smile that said, ‘I have a new boss now’ in about a dozen different languages.
Earlier this fall, my wife Lala and I had told Poppy she needed to do something active—take hip-hop dance, join a gym, jazzercise, her choice—and surprisingly she went postal on us and up and joined the cross country team. In my family, you only ran if you were chasing a ball or being chased by my dad and his wooden spoon of tough love.
So Lala and I kept our mouths shut, trying not to jinx whatever spell this Coach Jody had put on her. Watching Poppy lope along the arroyo on a Sunday or up steep city streets on a Saturday was akin to viewing Joey Chestnut downing 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes: We felt a mix of pride, shock and slight nausea. But slowly, along with the change in behavior, came the influence of a new guru in our little casa.
After an especially grueling practice, Poppy said that Jody advised a cold plunge. Having played soccer as an extremely out-of-shape adult, I knew the benefits (and the pain) of dropping into a tub of frigid water.
“Capital idea,” I said, trying to bond around the removal of lactic acid. “You know, I could stay in there for a good six minutes after a game.”
“Pfft,” Poppy scoffed. “Jody says optimum time is between 12 and 16 minutes. No more. No less.” She then grabbed her iPod and sweater and surged her way away from this blind spot.
Even though Jody has never been through our starting gate, his presence loomed over every domestic routine I thought we had finally gotten control. One night, I spotted light coming from under Poppy’s bedroom door. I knocked on the face of a pug taped to the center and let myself in. There she was happily reading a novel.
“I thought I told you to go to bed,” I said, thinking of the cranky mess Lala would have to wrestle with in the morning.
“It’s OK, Dad,” she said reassuringly. “Jody says that as long as you’re lying down, that’s an acceptable form of rest for your body.”
“It’s not your body I’m worried about, little Miss Stepford Wife.”
All this “Jody Says” business started giving us brain spurs. According to her new prophet, Poppy could no longer use the trampoline she had so desperately wanted since her feet would be “touching the ground too often.” Until the season was over, we’d have to watch her poor little brother London jump alone like a circus orphan separated from his extended family of acrobats.
Luckily, some of my students also run cross country and one day they let a Jodyism slip that would put me back in lead position. When Poppy got home that night, my pathetic attempt at love was not baby-back ribs but banana splits, arranged like two runner’s legs setting a personal record.
“Dad, banana splits!” Poppy yelled, dropping her team bag.
“Not for you,” I spat like the dessert Nazi.
“Aha! Jody says sugar is bad for a runner!”
“But, he didn’t mean, he just,” she stammered, and I let her sweat as long as it would take for me to run a cross country course.
Robert Wilder’s most recent book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. Daddy Needs a Drink appears the first Wednesday of each month in The Santa Fe Reporter.
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