Nice Going, Dad.
What follows is the fist of a series of questionable, regretful or just plain stupid parenting moments that will be tagged “Nice Going, Dad.”
I have two kids, and one is almost six, so in those six years, I have amassed an impressive trunkload of these Nice Going, Dad moments. I’ll call this one NGD #223 for good measure.
My 5 year old is on Spring Break from Kindergarten, which is great because I love being around the kid (and so does his baby sister) and this gives me a week to get my Daddy-Of-Two muscles in shape for the marathon of Summer Vacation which is just around the corner.
This “Spring Break” weather, however, has been a particularly dreadful bout of mid-spring nastiness that included weeklong blankets of heavy-grey 40 degree skies and near constant cold-pissy drizzle. It has not been fun to go outside. At all.
But yesterday morning we decided to take a trip visit Mommy at her workplace in the city. As is normally the case, getting two kids out the door with as little tragedy as possible is always a Chinese-Water-Torture-type challenge for any parent. Add some crappy-ass weather and kids who are bouncing off the walls and a overtired Daddy on top of that already challenging challenge and you have the perfect conditions for a Nice Going, Dad moment to emerge.
And we are always 10 minutes late. There is always a kid who can’t find a shoe, or who has to take an extended visit to the john as we are walking out the door. The toddler always finds that the most opportune time to fill her diaper is when we have our coats, hats and shoes on. Which of course means that in order to change the diaper, it all has to come off again and we start the whole process over. This list of things that stop us from leaving is eternal and ever changing but believe me when I tell you that it is often the most frustrating and futile 20 minutes of my day.
Yesterday, after finally getting the kids dressed in their various layers of weird-spring-weather outerwear, and after stopping three bouts of screechy bickering over who gets to carry the broken blue umbrella, I finally staggered back to my room to pull my phone out of the wastebasket (don’t ask) put on my left shoe and grab my wallet. After doing this, I headed back to the living room, and the big brother was waiting on the couch, having lost the fight for the broken blue umbrella to his baby sister. I grabbed my jacket from the floor (where I sat only moments ago in order to force a mixmatched sock up the calf of my wiggly toddler) and saw that the big brother was alone.
We live in a small two-bedroom flat. Not many places for the baby sister to go.
“Hey. Where’s your sister?” I say as I notice the light leaking in from the apartment door that wasn’t open two minutes ago. No baby sister in sight.
“I think she’s in the hallway.”
I rush out the apartment door to the hallway that leads up to another flat and down to the outside door. The door to the outside door is also standing open. The grey day leaks in. Baby sister is nowhere to be seen. I can see a large patch of young green grass in my neighbors lawn, I can see a large slice of carless street. But I cannot see baby sister.
I dash out the door, and look frantically around and she is nowhere in my immediate sight. My mind explodes. I instantly count the uncountable times I have given my son a timeout for opening the front door and playing in the hallway when I’m getting ready. Opening the door is something the baby cannot do and the big brother knows he should not do, for this very reason. I begin to dash around the front of the building, horribly scanning the streets for signs of the terror that is exploding in my imagination. She’s not in the streets. As I round the corner, the real fear sinks into my panic-ridden brain. Someone has taken her. During the one minute that I was in the back of the house, someone has taken my baby.
And of course, no one has taken her. As I round the front of the building, there she is. In the grass, standing on the upturned broken blue umbrella, now really broken, smiling at me.
“Daddy, gass!” she says, through a toothy smile, pointing at the newly green grass. I scooped her up, scanning the streets for signs of the lurker who was almost certainly waiting for the right moment to take my baby. I am slowly becoming aware of the ridiculousness of this fear, but it nags at me anyway. I am already becoming aware that this moment is not going to end well.
But, babe in arms, I stormed up the stairs to confront the big brother. I can feel my intellect saying “Whoah. Easy. Slow Down, brother.” But my nerves and my racing heart are getting the best of me and they both give my intellect the double-finger.
I close the door and glare at the big brother sitting, in full jacket/boot regalia, on the couch.
“What have I told you about opening that front door without Daddy??”
Here we go.
“Don’t do it . . .” He looks at the ground.
“Do you understand why?”
Already I can feel the fearmongering tickling my vocal chords.
“‘Cause the baby can get out.”
Here it comes.
“Do you know what can happen if the baby gets outside without Mommy and Daddy??”
“She can get hit by a car.”
Point of no return, right here.
“Yes, but that is not all. You need to understand two things: Your baby sister can get hit by a car and killed. Killed.”
I can feel my intellect slapping me upside the head repeatedly. Repeatedly.
“And two, there are bad people in the world who want to take babies. She could get taken by a bad person and then we wouldn’t have her anymore.”
Sigh. Nice Going, Dad.
His little blue eyes widen and begin to fill up with tears. He lets out a whimper and leans in to hug her. “I’m sorry sister. I’m sorry. I love you.”
I’m already hating myself fifteen times over by this time. In the next half hour he doesn’t leave his sisters side and he asks me many questions about why these bad people would do such a scary thing.
In heated situations, words sometimes come out of our mouths before we have the chance to really decide if we mean them or not. And here’s the thing. I really don’t believe what just came out of my mouth. Research has clearly shown that our exposure to sensational media has made our society essentially afraid of ghosts when it comes to child abductors. I said it to scare him, to drive home a point. I said it because I was tired of saying over and over and over again “Do not open the front door until I am with you.”
I don’t believe our streets are peppered with evil people. I think there are lot of unlikable people out there, but I don’t think that many of them are actually bad. And my wife and I spend a lot of time communicating this belief to my kids, who are very friendly and sociable. Now, I watch as my 5 year old son worries needlessly over his baby sister because of a dumb moment where I pushed the envelope in order to drive home a parenting point.
This is going to take some time to undo.
Nice Going, Dad.