I’m lying under my daughter’s crib and uncontrollably smiling at a life culminating in hiding from a one year old. I’d be there for about fifteen minutes, waiting for her to finally succumb to a big, fat Saturday of toddling and wheezing. I’d just put her down, slumbering, but then, like a creepy doll, her eyes popped open. That’s when I hit the floor. She’s got a cold and going horizontal stuffs her up, and then she gets crazy. If she sees me, then it’s game on. I can’t ignore this woman. Sarah is tougher in her interactions, but me…she takes me out with her baby ballistics. I don’t stand a chance, so I’m hiding.
She’s up there talking and being so damn cute. She’s dropping her “da da da” with an occasional “dad” and I wanna launch and surprise her with the biggest baby hug ever. She squeaks a few times and then pauses. She’s waiting for a reaction. Waiting for someone to come running in and return the favor. Someone to reaffirm that what she’s doing is right. I think of her future and how this will somehow mess her up. She’ll drop out of school because no one ever validated her that winter night in 2015. She’ll have trust issues and withdraw from society. Cats all over the damn place.
There have been times when I’m pretty certain my twenty-year-old me would be very disappointed in the current model. I can’t drink beer anymore as my giant bald head turns into a burning bulb of allergic malfeasance, I often can’t stay awake through Bronco games (c’mon 5 field goals?) and the biggest part of my week is taking my boys out for hot chocolate every Wednesday. What happened to radio in New York City…or cocaine strippers or a black belt in night life asskickery?
I bet, though, once I’m able to get younger me over the shock, I could show off these kids of mine and tell him that these are the coolest humans you’ll ever meet. And guess what? They actually like spending time with you. Remember all that hassle conjuring kegs at 19 just so the pretty people would descend from on high and hang out with you? Dude, you’ve made it. One day this kid, Otto, will take your hand and tell you he wants to be you. Not be like you, but BE you. And you’ll have to do your best not to reel backwards and scold him. And this other boy, Quin, is the smallest 2nd grader you’ll ever meet, but he’s at the ready to play football at any moment. Sure, right now, you’re lying under a crib hoping not to be discovered by a 14-pound infant, but of all the people on the planet; the cool kids, the rich kids, the magicians and Kobe Bryants and Louis CKs…the presidents and debutantes, the billionaires, the badasses and the break dancers…it’s you she’s hoping to see.
Plus, you have three kids so that means you’ve already been laid several more times than most of the 90s.
That’ll get him. He’ll be stoked. Especially since it’s with that hottie he spotted in Taco Bell in 1994. I think what I’ll avoid telling him is that—among other things—his second grader’s homework is already too confusing for him and that his five year old can see through his flesh and examine is soul. I won’t mention some stuff about the little girl, too. Like that she’s an emotional terrorist. Those boys are his best buds and he can throw them in the car like a sack of soccer balls and go off to the park for hours. This girl, however, is hanging off a heart string and he’ll find himself staring at her and loathing that something so beautiful is made from something so vile. I can’t tell him I think sex is vile. When you have a baby girl everything nookie is dangerous; every motive suspicious.
Of course he probably won’t want to hear that I know a lot about yogurt now. And that several times I’ve drank out of a sippy cup on the way to work. And that one of the biggest victories isn’t on the gridiron, but getting her to daycare before she has her morning poop. And he definitely wouldn’t care to hear that there’s a grown woman in the house drinking wine by herself as I army crawl out of a baby’s bedroom.
I’m hiding under a bed on a Saturday night.
If I have any parenting advice, it’s to not give parenting advice. I’m sure you’ve had opportunities to sprinkle some doting sage on a stranger; maybe someone wrangling a child in a terrible moment at Target. But it’s just not something you should do. If parenting has taught me anything, it’s that unless some beleaguered breeder grabs you by the collar and screams “WTF should I do?” then you should sip your latte and be happy it’s not yours.
It can volcano out of nowhere. The magma lurking under a pleasant, Norman Rockwellian day playing with golden retriever puppies and smiling at each other like a magazine ad for backyard living. And then the earth splits. Much like the time we left the house and Quin insisted that he didn’t get to say goodbye to his mom. I knew he had. His mom knew he had. At the time Otto was too young to vouch for the proper parting, but I figured I had logic and reason in my court, so didn’t think it was a problem.
BUT that didn’t matter. Natural disasters don’t care. As a matter of fact reasoning seemed to make things worse. He began to cry. I handed him my phone and told him to call Sarah, but she was in traffic on her way to work and didn’t hear her phone. So we got to the school and Quin didn’t want to get out of the car. Now back in the day I could just threaten a beating and all would be well. We can’t beat our children anymore (an unnecessary declaration but always a good idea to remind oneself) so I’m left with the gentle tools of the modern parenting playbook. I figured I could pick him up and, in a touching scene plucked from a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, carry him into school whilst whispering words of encouragement to my sensitive son.
No. That didn’t work. And if there’s anything worse than beating your child, it could be the perception onlookers have of the dude trying to grasp 30 pounds of hellbent psycho kid muscle. That wiry little dude freaked out on the order of a flock of frightened chickens. All I could do was let him go. And more on the perception-of-strangers thing: I can see the school principal cracking her blinds to see a forty-year-old man chasing a small child across her lawn. Quin was going for the street, screaming and wailing like, perhaps, a child being pursued by a 40-year-old man. An unhinged 40-year-old man who’d end up on Nancy Grace and vilified by a nation. They’d be sure to edit out the three of us (something I should add is that Quin’s then two-year-old brother had also begun crying and had since been deserted by the front door of the building…not unlike one of those fire station drop-offs) pulling up with me singing gentle songs and hoping for happiness in the benign carcass of my Subaru Forester. All the world would see over and over in the splendor of the evening news, is a crazed dude sweating epithets while charging a small boy.
So don’t judge. I mean judge if you want but I’d rather you whisper to yourself what Quin’s teacher eulogized as I lay his body at her classroom door. “We all have those days,” she said in the calming voice of a someone who deals with this all of the time.
I guess that’s my parenting advice.