Emma on meatless Fridays: ‘I didn’t sign up for that!’

A grandchild’s statement spurs thinking on a number of things we ‘didn’t sign up for’

By George Valadie

I wasn’t the first to say it, certainly wasn’t the first to think it. But I wish I had. Because I’ve repeated it often.

“If we had known grandkids were this great, we’d have had them first.”

We have four. Two are here in town; the other two live too far. Anywhere that’s not here is too far.

Brady came along first; he’s 10 now, a super sensitive kid, smart and perceptive about everything except perceiving what he himself is capable of doing. A little more confidence and a little less anxiety and he’ll accomplish remarkable things.

Finley is 6 and three-fourths. Her mom said when she was born she foresaw a future at the ballfields with gloves and cleats and postgame Cokes. Nope. The girl’s a dancer and a gymnast. And a drama queen. Daylong recitals are now what their future is about.

Fischer is 5 and short for his weight. Like his dad, he’s in love with animals and four-wheelers and getting dirty. If it’s dead and in the street, he’s probably bringing it home. Golf is his new thing; he sleeps with his putter.

Emma is 8, a princess and a free spirit who would wear make-up and pink hair to school if they’d let her. And she’s absolutely sure she’s the funniest person she knows.

Not too long ago, Emma and her mom, Katy, were driving along when the conversation unfolded somewhat like this:

“Emma, I know we don’t have them very often, but you like hamburgers and hot dogs, don’t you?”

“Yes, I love hot dogs, and Dad is the best hamburger cooker around! Mom, we should invite BB and Grumpy (my wife and I) to a cookout.”

“OK we’ll do that for sure. I think they’d like that.”

“OK then, we’ll do it Friday. Sounds like fun.”

“Emma, we can’t eat meat on Friday.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, in our Church, we don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent as a sacrifice for Jesus.”

“Well, I didn’t sign up for that!”

She’s 8. And she was serious. Repeat it out loud with a little snark and some attitude, and you’ll have a look at my daughter’s future.

“Well, Emma, what DID you sign up for?”

“I told our religion teacher I was going to listen to you more and mind you better.”

“How’s that working out?”

“Not so good.”

“Well then, we won’t have meat on Friday.”

What do they say? Kids say the darndest things.

But here’s the thing: have you ever felt like Emma?

Have you ever found yourself in the middle of life and suddenly thought to yourself . . . Well, I didn’t sign up for that?

Finley’s mom got an e-mail informing her that their most recent dance recital would involve three outfits and eight straight hours in an auditorium on a Sunday afternoon. She smiled at Finley but texted us: I didn’t sign up for that.

When moms and dads choose Catholic education, they also choose tuition and uniforms and field trips. But then along comes auctions and candy bars, selling concessions and building scenery, and helping with their homework—but not too much. How often are we tempted to say, I didn’t sign up for that?

We’ve experienced other surprises.

“I used to love this job, but working from home all the time? I didn’t sign up for that.”

“I know things are tight—I’m happy to have my job—but you want me to do that guy’s job, too? I didn’t sign up for that.”

“You want me to teach to the online kids at the same time I’m teaching the kids in front of me? I didn’t sign up for that.”

“You want me to come to school in a pandemic and have kids in the same room as me? I didn’t sign up for that.”

Similarly, we knew married life wasn’t going to be all candy and roses. We probably knew it wasn’t even gonna be honey buns and clean T-shirts. Not every day anyway.

But that’s OK. It’s not daily life that’s the problem. It never is.

It’s always the unexpected realization that is reason for our pause.

The lie you never saw coming, the bad habit that’s only gotten worse, the attitude you thought you could overlook but has never gotten any better. Yes, I took a vow, but I didn’t sign up for that.

Adults aren’t alone. Teenagers face it, too.

They love being in love. Having a boyfriend or a girlfriend seems to make life better or happier. And who doesn’t want his or her child to find someone special? But when their date wants to try something uncomfortable: “I didn’t sign up for that.”

When their text group goes rogue and starts making fun or bullies some poor kid—“I didn’t sign up for that.”

Little ones don’t even get spared. The cool kid says, “Let’s don’t play with her.” You don’t have to be an adult to feel that’s not right—I didn’t sign up for that.

The question is—each and every time—so what do we do now? No, you didn’t sign up for it, but here you are.

Faced with a decision, there’s usually a right and a wrong answer. In fact, there’s almost always a right and a wrong answer. And we’ve known which is which since we were Fischer’s age and played in the dirt.

The challenge lies in the choosing. Doesn’t it always?

How do we keep a friend, a job, a spouse and be the person we know we should be?

Is it obvious? Yes. Is it easy? No. But then He never said it would be.

I wish I had more than that for you. I don’t. I’m no better at it than anyone else.

Thankfully, though, not all such choices are critical.

We’d been married four months when we got invited to our first Halloween costume party as a married couple. Nancy wanted to dress as a bumblebee and wanted me to dress as a sunflower. Absolutely not, no way, not gonna happen—I didn’t sign up for that.

Turned out my yellow petals were pretty cute.

Dear God—You came to earth to die—and you actually did sign up for that! No one has ever loved us more. Amen.


George Valadie is president of Notre Dame High School in Chattanooga.

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