Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

By the Numbers, Page 3

Jen Lancaster


  That’s not the entire truth.

  Maybe I made the deal a little bit for me, if you factor in having to listen to Marjorie for the rest of her life, all, “Why didn’t you force her to shave?”

  Oh, Marjorie.

  As though forcing my daughters to do anything has been an option for at least a decade. Chris used to say that I spoiled the girls, but I didn’t spoil them so much as I bent to their will because to do otherwise would have been like crossing the path of a speeding train.

  The difference is subtle, but crucial.

  The negotiation cost me honeymoon tickets to Portofino, the foolishness scheduled for tomorrow, and a portion of my sanity, but I got the job done, like I always do, and that’s what’s important.

  Seems like grooming would have been one area where I could have enlisted Jessica’s help, but she’s so distant and oppositional. If I’d even mentioned the idea, she’d have taken the counterpoint, despite having written a whole treatise on waxing on her SinclairSartorial blog. Per Jessica, everything below the eyelashes must go. Everything, even the tiny blond hairs on the pinkie toes. (Without my reading glasses—thanks, middle age—I can’t see well enough to be sure I even have hair on my pinkie toes, but I shave them diligently anyway.)

  I observe Jessica and Marjorie working their salads in unison, removing every morsel that contains calories or carbs or pleasure, forming a pile of croutons, dried cranberries, bacon, cheese, and nuts on the side plate between them, nothing but desiccated leaves remaining. When he thinks no one is watching, my father, the esteemed Maxwell Sullivan Bancroft, Centennial Hills Club gold-standard member and CEO emeritus of Bancroft Custom Cabinetry, snatches and then quietly mixes all their salad castoffs into his own.

  I want to tell Milo’s family to please relax and feel at home here, and that for all the pomp and circumstance of this stuffy place, ol’ Sully and Margie Bancroft weren’t exactly to the manor born. Had he not been a hardscrabble carpenter with an entrepreneurial spirit and she not been a looker, none of us would be eating signature salads right now. (And P.S. if Miguel is on his game tonight, he’ll diplomatically remove breadbaskets and extra butter bells before the whole lot of them mysteriously find their way into the backseat of my father’s car. Again.)

  The thing is, we’re all going to be family now, so I guess Milo’s people and ours have the rest of our lives to learn each other’s secrets.

  After I finish my salad, Miguel clears my plate. “Hi, Miss Penny. You look so pretty tonight. I like your nice pantsuit. You are like a young Hillary Clinton.”

  “Hey, Miguel, thank you. You’re looking quite distinguished yourself.” He preens, smoothing back his pomaded silver hair and straightening his bow tie. “How are you? What’s new? Haven’t seen you in ages.”

  I know, I know, it’s horrible and classist and exclusionary that this gracious older gentleman who has been my friend for decades has to call me “Miss” and I’m to call him by his first name. There’s a reason I never wanted any part of the whole country club nonsense, and it’s not just because I was bad at all terrestrial sports.

  “Everything is so, so good! I will retire this year, and I’m gonna live winters back home in Puerto Rico and summers I will live here.”

  I have no idea what Miguel’s job might be like, or the challenges he faces having to kowtow to the upper middle class on a daily basis, yet I’ve never seen him without a smile. His eyes are perpetually set to twinkle, which delights me, especially given that longevity is absolutely linked not just to quality of life but also to quantity.

  “That sounds amazing. But why not stay there full-time? Who’d want to be in the boring old Chicago suburbs when you could be on the beach?”

  “My granddaughter Alicia, she goes to University of Illinois at Chicago. Hey, you know, she studies to be an actuary, too. I bet she is going to like your joke. I will tell her tonight.”

  Before the next course is served, I’ve already set Alicia up with HR to join our summer internship program. Yes, I pulled some strings, which is something I never do. In fact, I wouldn’t even help my own daughters secure summer jobs with my firm. However, if Alicia is anything like her grandfather, then my consulting firm will be lucky to have her on board. (And let’s be honest, far better off than they would have been with Jessica or Kelsey.)

  As I glance around the room, I inadvertently catch Chris’s eye. He gives me that half grin that’s become as familiar to me over the years as the sunrise, and as constant and as expected.

  I feel the knot in my stomach return.

  Chris raises his eyebrows and nods at me, the look we’d used once upon a time to telegraph to each other whether or not it was all clear to tiptoe out of the room of a sleeping child. Eventually, as the kids grew and no longer needed us to slay dragons in the night, this gesture just became shorthand and second nature for “Hey, are we cool?”

  I don’t return the nod.

  Because he and I are not cool.

  Not by a long shot.


  Immediate family is huddled in the front pews at the church, with a few of our dearest friends gathered close behind us, everyone clad in appropriately somber colors, Bishop Gartner presiding over us.

  There’s no casket at this service; instead, just an elegant copper urn on a marble pedestal, surrounded by two grand wreaths woven out of ivy, white lilacs, pale pink peonies, and brilliant Nikko blue hydrangeas. The smell of sandalwood mixes with the flowers’ perfume and permeates our senses with an almost overpowering sweetness. In the corner, in front of the apse and the altar, his portrait sits propped on an easel in a heavy gilded frame, as though watching us from the shadows. I do miss him so, much more than I’d ever imagined.

  I have no doubt he’s looking down on us right now, but I’d be hard-pressed to gauge his thoughts on the proceedings.

  The clouds outside part and crepuscular rays of light shine in from the stained-glass window, casting a heavenly glow on the proceedings, almost like he’s bestowing a blessing on us from the Other Side.

  The bishop bids us to bow our heads in a final prayer for this memorial service. He says, “Amen,” and before we even raise our eyes, we hear the haunting lyrics of “Ave Maria” being belted out by a trained baritone, emanating from the robing room off the north part of the transept.

  I watch as the man attached to the beatific voice exits the robing room and stands in the center of the transept. He fills the room with his voice and his presence. A woman who’s singing soprano follows him, and she’s trailed by an entire gospel choir in full gowns with sashes that perfectly match the floral arrangements.

  I fear this color coordination may not be an accident. I’m taken out of the spirituality of the moment and the bittersweet remembrance of a true gentleman as I mentally add this cost to the rapidly growing tally already accrued. In my head, the calculator hums along, adding in line items such as the out-of-season Nikko hydrangeas, the urn, the portrait, and the pedestal.

  I no longer hear the dulcet lyrics of “Ave Maria” reverberating throughout the church—I can hear only the ching! ching! ching! of an imaginary cash register.

  When the choir finishes the song, which was absolutely glorious, Kelsey turns to the rest of us and says, “He would have wanted us to end on a high note. Okay, guys, hit it.”

  The choir jumps into a particularly upbeat rendition of Kanye’s “Jesus Walks.”

  Oh, this week keeps getting better and better. And it’s still just Thursday.

  Topher whispers, “The song samples the hymn ‘Walk with Me,’ which is I guess why Kelsey found this to be the appropriate finale.”

  “Sure, of course,” I reply, because what else can I say here? As we observe the performance, I wonder if I have to pay for the ASCAP rights as well. My guess is yes. I imagine Kanye will need to get paid because Kim Kardashian does not
strike me as one to use a Groupon.

  Ching! Ching, ching!

  “Listen, Mom,” Topher says. “The pause right there? ‘Where restless—pause—might snatch your necklace?’ The choir’s editing out the profanity and the use of the n-word, I guess with this being a church and all.”

  Patrick leans in on my other side and says, “Blasphemy’s certainly top of mind when one’s conducting a dog funeral.”

  Oh, did I not mention we’re having a funeral for the dog?

  Ever mindful, Barnaby passed peacefully in his sleep last weekend after never having been sick or showing any signs of discomfort. In terms of timing, he went at the best possible moment as to not disrupt any of the wedding plans. I suspect he took one look at the floral harness, the bow tie, and the straw hat Kelsey intended to strap on to him and death was his way of politely declining the invitation.

  But poor Barnaby was not to be let off the hook so easily.

  Kelsey insisted we do something to include him in the big day, and having a memorial service seemed to be the least offensive way to accomplish that. And since it’s a Thursday morning, most people are at their day jobs and can’t be here . . . or at least that’s what I told Kelsey, because I made as few of those calls as possible.

  I had today circled in my calendar, hoping I might be able to have some normalcy between wedding events, some adherence to my usual routine. The country club event was last night, and the rehearsal dinner isn’t until tomorrow; today was supposed to be a catch-up day, where the grandparents could commune with their friends, where Topher could run down to Wrigley for a ball game.

  Here’s the thing: I’m a creature of habit. I admit this freely and fully. Having a set agenda gives me a deep and abiding sense of calm. I particularly enjoy waking up on Thursday because Thursday is kettlebell day, which is my favorite workout. I have an efficient home gym set up in my basement (complete with a television) and I like knowing that on any given Thursday at 6:20 a.m., I will be in the middle of my kettlebell dead lifts, which work glutes, arms, back, and abs. Except when I tried to exercise this morning, Kelsey said the television was bothering her and I was thumping around too much and she couldn’t sleep. I have no idea how she heard me from two floors away, but I stopped anyway.

  Then I went up to the kitchen to make coffee and watch CNBC and Marjorie complained that the espresso coming out of my Nespresso machine smelled “too ethnic,” so I had to go drink it out on the porch. Normally I like to sit on the porch, but I hoped to catch the business news as one of my clients is going through a merger.

  When I tried to make my seven forty-five a.m. breakfast smoothie, Kelsey came down to complain about the noise from the Vitamix, so I was stuck with yogurt topped with chia seeds. I’m half-surprised I wasn’t chewing too loudly for her.

  At nine, my team has a weekly all-hands conference call. Yes, I’m technically on vacation, but I’d planned to listen in anyway. That’s when Jessica had a fit over logging into our Wi-Fi, and by the time I helped her resolve the problem with her IP address, the call was over.

  And now, when I should be in the eleven o’clock new-business meeting, I’m at a dog funeral. No, wait, I mean “dog memorial service.” The bishop insisted that we make this distinction to the guests.

  “It’s a dog ‘memorial service,’ and no need to be snarky,” I whisper back.

  Patrick pinches my arm in response.

  Even though today is disrupting my plans, it’s a necessary evil. I reply, “Plus, if funding Barnaby’s service is the price of Kelsey’s clean-shaven complicity and keeps Marjorie from having kittens at said underarms? Worth it.”

  I mean it. Because I am nothing if not Prepared with a capital “P.” Truly. For example, although Kelsey picked the wedding date, I rented both backup heaters and air conditioners for the tent, because it’s June in Chicago and the weather could truly vary by fifty degrees, often within one day. Heck, sometimes one hour.

  In the course of this endeavor, I budgeted for plenty of overages, even though when I started the account to save for Kelsey’s nuptials, I couldn’t fully envision what form said financial overages might take. (Really did not anticipate using those funds for a dog funeral memorial service; I will admit that.)

  When Kelsey announced her engagement last year, I asked her to come home so I could sit down and review the accounts I’d set up for her. She canceled on me half a dozen times before finally showing up hours late on the agreed-upon date, with no explanation. I picked her up from the Metra station in Glencoe, where she whined about how haaaaaard it was to take the train, even though she used to have no problem taking the train downtown to use my credit card at Nordstrom.

  Kelsey eased herself cross-legged on the ladder-back chair perpendicular to the desk in my home office, shaggy hair falling in her eyes and the neck of her T-shirt sliding off her shoulder. She didn’t look a day over twelve years old as she sat across from me, not mature enough to be left home alone, let alone be someone’s wife, but I kept this opinion to myself.

  I began by showing her the sums I’d stashed away via CD, mutual fund, savings account, and a handful of investments with small but steady streams of dividends. I explained, “These will all add up to my contribution. I can’t speak for your father’s plans, if he wants to kick in any additional funds to maybe pay for your honeymoon, or if your grandparents intend to do anything special. They may host something at the club. Regardless, this amount is certainly enough for whatever kind of wedding you’d like, unless you’re suddenly Mariah Carey, as it’s well over the national average cost of a wedding.”

  As a natural-born saver, I’d started low-risk mutual funds for all the kids’ major life expenditures—weddings, college educations, cars, orthodontia, et cetera. Chris joked that I probably even had a fund for bail. (Truthfully, my Rainy Day Reserve could be earmarked for any purpose, up to and including legal fees, heaven forfend.)

  “Now, here’s something to think about, Kelsey, and I wish it were a choice that had been offered to your dad and me. This money is yours to start your new life together with Milo. If you two want a steak-and-salmon wedding in a Vera Wang gown with a full orchestra on the lawn of Centennial Hills, then game on! Know that your Mimsy will die a happy woman.” Considering Kelsey’s proclivities, at least in her current iteration, I didn’t see a formal production being her preference.

  She nodded, listening intently while chewing on a ragged thumbnail. She’d uncrossed her legs and was now wedged into the seat with her chin resting on her knees, arms wrapped around her shins, as though she somehow needed to protect herself during this conversation.

  Why did everything between us have to feel so oppositional? We hadn’t always been like this. I remember a time when I’d be in this same office, managing the accounting portion of Chris’s construction business, Kelsey right by my side, her little shoulder pressed up against me. She’d beg for simple math problems and she’d solve them while I balanced Chris’s books. Yet now I couldn’t recall the last time she’d even been in my office, let alone clamored to spend time with me.

  Looking for something to do with my hands, I neatened the already tidy stacks of financial statements. “However,” I said, “if you’d rather use this money to truly invest in your future, we can go really simple and scale back on the wedding and you could take the money and put a down payment on a condo or one of those cute little bungalows on the north side of the city. You probably wouldn’t be able to afford an actual house in a trendy neighborhood, but an investment in Chicago real estate is always a good call.”

  Truly, a gift like this would have changed the game for Chris and me. If we’d even been granted a taste of what my parents blew on the wedding we didn’t want, our early life together would have been so much less stressful. For example, we might have slept better once we brought baby Jessica home had perpetual rain in the upstairs bedrooms not been a problem due to our shoddy roof
. Although we adapted, I wondered if things would have turned out differently had our paths not been set in motion back then.

  I continued. “Starting off on a solid foundation can only help you in the long run. Not to sound all ‘PBS,’” the name the kids call me when I cite too many statistics, partially due to my initials, but mostly because they say I’m more boring than Pledge Drive Week, especially when I start quoting figures, “but the percentage of marriages that fail due to financial stressors is immense.”

  Kelsey bobbed her head and then tapped a flurry of words into her phone. Ugh, really? Had I already lost her interest? I’m not sure what kind of reaction I’d expected from her, but I’d hoped for some elation or gratitude . . . or maybe an invitation to go dress shopping?

  Instead, I got typing.

  She texted back and forth for a full two minutes before responding to me, her face finally wreathed in a rare smile. She sure was a lovely girl when she wasn’t scowling, pouting, or grimacing. Grimacing was more Jessica’s territory, but Kelsey was known to curl her lip on occasion as well.

  Patrick says Jessica’s the bitch and Kelsey’s the baby, but he also claims they will swap roles whenever the mood suits them. I’ve told him many times not to mock my offspring, to which he always replies he’ll stop mocking them as soon as they stop making him.

  She told me, “Milo and I will opt for simple so we can keep the difference to fund our new life.”

  “Aw, Kels, that’s terrific!” I said, so pleased that Kelsey actually wanted the option that came with delayed gratification for once. I’ve never known Kelsey, given the choice, not to eat her ice cream first. “We can still have a wonderful party on a budget. We’ll go on Pinterest to brainstorm ideas. We’ll just roll up our sleeves and do a lot of it ourselves. That will save us loads of money.”

  She wouldn’t meet my eye as she picked at a loose thread on her cutoffs. “Yeah, thing is, we don’t actually want a condo. Property ownership is kind of bourgeois, you know? Who can even say if we’ll be into Chicago in a couple of years, right? No, we’re going to buy a second food truck with the money. We’re thinking biblical-themed stuff this time, like maybe Fishes & Loaves or Garden of Eatin’ if we do mostly salads? We could have, like, Easter-egg salad sandwiches or Red Sea scallops or something really decadent, like a burger with a fried egg and bacon and avocado and three kinds of cheese would be a Sodom and Gomorrah? We’re still playing with the ideas, but I feel like this truck would be mine to run.”