- 1 -
I asked Chicken to go play while I cleaned up breakfast.
I guess I should have been more specific.
- 2 -
We walked around the lake - that was for me.
We stopped at the playground on the way home - that was for them.
But as soon as we rounded the corner, I knew I'd made a terrible mistake.
For some reason, I always think of public parks in Seattle as they are at 8 am on a rainy Wednesday in November. I always think, "shoot, I should have brought a towel to dry off the slides because we'll totally be the only ones there."
And then when we arrive at the park at 11:30 on a sunny day in August, at the height of summer camp season, it looks like Caspar Babypants is about to headline the toddler fucking outdoor music festival - squeezed-out pouches litter the ground amid lost sandals, beach towels, broken sunglasses, and thousands of screaming, laughing, whining, nose-picking, head-scratching, toddler-tackling children. THOUSANDS.
Shiiiiiiiiiiiit. But I'd promised the boys they could play. Chicken got out and started running toward the swings. "Stop!" I called. "Chicken, STOP!" He didn't. There were so many kids... I couldn't help but think of the time I lost him at the park, the longest 30 seconds of my life. I ran after him and brought him back. "I need you to listen, baby. Or we have to go home. There are a lot of people here today." He said okay. I let go. He ran away. "STOP!" I yelled. He didn't.
He screamed and arched his back as I strapped him into the stroller. I kept saying, "I'm sorry we have to do this, baby, but I asked you to listen, and you didn't, so now we have to go home."
Outwardly, I was calm and sympathetic. Inwardly, I was relieved. Thank God Chicken couldn't listen. I really didn't want to be there. Good thing he gave me a reason we could leave.
I AM THE WORST MOTHER IN THE WORLD.
The whole walk home, every step I took sent me deeper into a shame spiral. Did I abort the park trip because Chicken wasn't listening, or because I didn't want to deal with the insanity of 37 juiced-up summer campers on a single merry-go-round? Was I blaming Chicken for my own unwillingness to dive into the fray?
We got home.
We went upstairs.
Chicken tackled Buster, who landed on a plastic stegosaurus and started to scream.
I picked him up and, baby on my hip, and absently chanted "shh, shh, shh, hush-a, hush-a, hush-a," while I scanned the fridge for a 5-minute lunch.
- 3 -
Question: Is Buster old enough to use a spoon to eat his yogurt?
- 4 -
Me: OK, guys, let's saddle up. We have to go return these books to the library.
Chicken: Can we get more?
Me: More books from the library?
(scene dissolves into a "okay, let's explore what that would look like" sequence:
I have just walked into the library with Buster on my hip and Chicken trotting by my side. Chicken beelines to the toddler-sized computer to bang on the keyboard and tap his chin while saying "hmmmm," as is his habit at the library.
I put Buster down so I can flip through a tractor book that Chicken might like. Buster runs away. I grab Buster, which isn't too hard since he can't move that fast while he's pulling books off the shelves one or two at a time and dropping them with a gunshot-smack on the ground.
We return to where Chicken is now picking up the keyboard and dropping it from a height of 10-15 inches. When it lands, the terrible plastic thud-clatter wakes up all the hobos sleeping in the plastic armchairs.
I tell Chicken he has 5 minutes to pick a book. He holds his hand up at my face and says, "no, no. Twenty." I remind myself that I'm not 14 anymore and a "talk to the hand" gesture is no longer grounds for assault. I take a deep breath and say, in a voice that's just a touch too calm, "I said five minutes, Chicken. Five. Minutes."
He throws himself to the ground, screaming "nooooooooooo! Daddy said I could have tweeeeennnnntyyyyyyy!" The homeless guy masturbating in the corner shakes his head, sighs audibly, and gets up to finish his business elsewhere. Some people just can't respect public spaces, he thinks.
Buster twists violently out of my arms and lurches like a drunken sailor for the seat recently vacated by the happy hobo. I tackle him 6 inches shy of the warm, fragrant seat. He screams. Then he throws up a little bit. He ate cheese crackers and purple grapes. The smell of his stomach acid and the sharp cheddar cheese joins the musky top notes of stale beer, body odor, and the bright chemical plastic scent of new chair cover. This corner now smells exactly like a Chuck-E-Cheese dumpster.
Chicken has darted away and clings to the thick-stockinged legs of a librarian, begging for help. The hobo, smoking a cigarette and looking pretty relaxed now, actually, pipes up and says he noticed I was bothering the boy earlier.
If I go to prison, at least it will be quieter...)
Me: ... yeeeeahhhh... I think it's a curbside drop-off kind of day, kiddo.
- 5 -
Chicken lost his shit when bath time ended.
This in and of itself is nothing to write Dr. Spock about. Chicken will lose his shit half a dozen times on a day when I've been reading a mindful parenting book and I just cracked a fresh box of Cheddar Bunnies.
But tonight it was different. This wasn't a pissy, "not what I wanted" scream. This was a scream of terror and heartbreak. "God, no! What are you doing? Please, no!"
I'd like to make it clear to all the fine men and women working in social services that all we did was gently help him from the bath and wrap him in a thick, soft hoodie towel so we could carry him into his bedroom, rub his skin with lotion, dress him in a fresh diaper and clean, dry pajamas smelling faintly of his wooden dresser, before reading him three stories of his choosing and tucking him into bed with a nighttime ritual that rivals a Japanese tea service in tenderness and complexity.
But he was inconsolable.
"My animals! My-my-my ocean animals..." He managed to choke out from between his chattering teeth as tears streamed down his cheeks and dropped, darkening his light blue towel to something deeper.
"What about your animals?" Ryan asked, stroking his hair.
"They - they - they need the water! They have to have water because it's their home! My friends gotta swim in the water and you let all the water out of the bath and so where they gonna swim?" His eyes squeezed shut as he curled up on the changing table, sobbing.
He thinks we have casually murdered his ocean animals.
He thinks we destroyed their home and left them to die, alone, while we cheerfully read "Hop on Pop" in the next room.
He really loves those animals.
He is begging for their lives.
Ryan's eyes filled with tears. "Don't worry, honey. We'll make sure your animals have water to swim in, okay? We'll make sure they have a home."
It would have been funny if Chicken hadn't been so earnest, begging for the lives of his ocean animal friends. It would have been funny if I hadn't been the kind of kid who had a schedule to rotate which stuffed animals got to sleep on my pillow. I didn't want to play favorites. That's how feelings get hurt.
And that is how it came to pass that 10 plastic ocean animals found a new home on the bathroom counter, in a mixing bowl filled with water.