Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Day Out With Daddy

As most of you know, I spend three days a week making sure my children stay well fed and that they don’t play in traffic without adult supervision, and as I garner a better understanding of the subtle nuances of the position, I am becoming more and more confident and comfortable with the responsibilities, ever pushing the bounds of the envelope. Today was a big step, a milestone of an achievement: The three of us actually went somewhere! Agoraphobes unite (but don’t get too close to me)!

We’ve got a nice routine going here, and, though I hate to monkey it up by doing something out of the ordinary, today just seemed like a nice opportunity to leave the nest and see what other people do on an average day. Not to get ahead of myself in the story, but frankly I’m surprised how many Mr. Moms are out there, the roles of men and women sure are topsy-turvy, aren’t they? Plus, I needed a reason to shave, brush my teeth and put on pants that don’t have a drawstring. I mean, really, if I’m not going anywhere, why shave and why put on pants? It’s just like, if you’re only going to sleep in the bed again later that night and no one is going to see it between now and then, why make it? After all, you messed it up, didn’t you, and you know you’ll do it again, won’t you? So, I didn’t shave, nobody pays any attention to me anyways.

As I mentioned briefly yesterday, Gnat wanted a big purple ball, and I thought it would be a perfect outing to test the waters. You may not know this, but I haven’t taken both kids out of the house (besides the park) at the same time, so I must admit, I was a little edgy when it came to the application of my plan: Go to Target, go home. Keep it simple. When you become a brain surgeon, I don’t think they toss you a head and say, “go for it.” No, you’ve got to start small, simian at least, and that’s what I did: Rounded up the monkeys and put them back in the barrel for a ride to Target. What to bring? Nothing, I guess. We’re going to Target and back, half hour tops. Natalie’s got on her “going” shoes, the brown Mary Jane looking shoes that she wears when she’s “going” somewhere, and Matty’s eyes are so droopy, we’re going to lose him by the time we get in the truck. Okay, grab my keys, wallet, watch and cell phone, put the dog outside, get a bottle of water for Matthew, just in case, and let’s go.

Going to Target to Natalie is like me going to a winery convention with a wine glass in one hand, a box of crackers in the other and a note pinned to my shirt telling anyone who finds me slumped in the corner to carry me home. It is the end-all, be-all of her existence, the mother ship calling her little ones home again. However, Matthew let me know what he thought of Target the second we got there: He pooped. Nice. At least I was prepared for that. I brought what I call an e-diaper and wipes that I keep in my truck at all times, so I changed him in the front seat of my truck, Britney Spears style, while Gnat sat in her seat with all the patience of a lit Roman candle.

Matty was awake now, eyes wide open. I guess a rigorous evacuation will do that to a person, and he looked quite surprised to be out of the house; he took it all in with the stride of a person who would use the term “big wup” on a regular basis. Sure, it’s interesting to look at, but let’s not lose our heads over it, C’mon folks, it's capitalism (ever since he wore this one green cap, I see him as a devote Marxist riling the establishment, at least until he graduates college and realizes that's a lot of hooey and that Marxism never made anyone happy except for Marx). Anyways, Natalie on the other hand, must go up and down each aisle, must check out the new toys, and must make a mental note to update her Christmas and her birthday wish lists. “Hmm, the new Leap Frog play stations are out early this year.”

The subject of yesterday’s post transpired while we were in the book section, right before we started to head out. Usually, it is a chore to convince Gnat that Target won't disintegrate if we're not there to watch it, but it seemed that Natalie was just as happy leaving Target as she was excited about getting there. Then again, she was carrying a brand new big purple ball, not like Atlas though, but the burden was close enough, as she couldn’t see around it while she walked, so she set it down frequently to get her bearings. Since I habitually don't carry cash, it miffs me that I had to used a credit card to pay for it…all of $2.50; probably cost my bank more to process the charge than the charge itself. Bored with all of what was going on around him, Matthew slumped over like a crash test dummy and was out without a sound.

Back in the truck, I began to prepare Natalie for the rest of the afternoon, as she seems to respond better if she knows what’s coming, lunch, a nap, etc. She said, “Let’s go to lunch by the place where we throw pennies in the fountain.” That means Chili’s, where we used to go every Friday after dance class before Matthew was born. We hadn’t been there in months; well we hadn’t, but I was just there yesterday.

Why not? I asked myself. I’ve got an hour on average until Matthew wakes up. He was well fed right before we left and I had recently cleared out a nicely used diaper. What else do I need? Natalie is at that stage where she is self-supporting and doesn’t require the help of a Red Cap to carry all of the baby paraphernalia. Sure, lunch sounds great, and I was feeling emboldened by how well the trip had gone so far. Was I getting cocky?

Let's chance it. We were early for the lunch rush, so we were seated promptly, nicely settled into a booth, and then Natalie said it, six small words that strikes fear into every daddy stuck in public with their toddler daughter. “Daddy, I have to go potty.” What!?! Now? You can’t hold it? By this time, she was already out of the booth and was standing by the table with that, “Well old man, what are you waiting for? Here’s where you earn your hazard pay.”

What do I do? I’ve never had to do that before. Like April 15th, you know you have to pay the governmental piper, but you always think that this year, this year, I might duck out of it for once. Well, my time had come, and I was going to have to help my daughter use a public bathroom… but which one. She’s a girl. I’m a boy. The permutations are limited, yes, but vexing nonetheless. I can’t go into the women’s room for obvious reasons, and I don’t want her to go into the men’s room, again, for obvious reasons (I know what happens to men’s rooms, and let’s just say that I’d sooner have spaghetti served in my toilet at home than use a public one, anywhere, even if they just cut the ribbon at the grand opening). Meanwhile, Natalie’s inching her way away from the table and in the direction of the bathrooms.

Problem Number Two. What do I do with Matthew? I can’t leave him at the table, for the five minutes we’d be gone, but I hate to set him on the floor of a public bathroom. “Hey kido, can you watch our stuff while we’re gone?” I can’t ask the mother/daughter duet at the next booth, “Could you watch my five-month-old while I take her to the bathroom? We won’t be but a minute.” I’m sure a lot of Oliver Twist stories start out like that, where the dad doesn’t come back. I couldn’t ask them. Or could I? No, no. What if that’s Lizzie Borden eating there with her stepmother, and she’s reaching into her purse, not for a breath mint, but for a hatchet? Okay, so take him with us and head for the men’s room, hoping that nobody has used the facility since the most anal retentive cleaning lady spent three hours, two bottles of Lysol and a case of tennis elbow cleaning it the night before. Then again, don’t say anal.

With the dread of a dead man walking, we headed for the restrooms at the back of the Chili’s. But wait, what’s this? She stopped, albeit right in front of the kitchen door, where one of the servers was blocked in, straining under a large tray of food. Sure, his front teeth were smiling at the cute little girl, but his back teeth were grinding at the dumb dad who won't get his kid out of the way. She turned to look up at me and said, “I don’t have to go.”

With that, we returned to our booth and nobody had to contract a strange disease, and that always makes for a check mark in the good day column in my book. I ordered the usual for me (I’ve never eaten anything from there but a bacon cheeseburger… well, they call it a bacon hamburger, but it comes with cheese; I don’t know who they think they’re fooling) and for Natalie macaroni and cheese, her usual.

“But I want to chicken nuggets,” she contested. "I don't want macaroni and cheese." Okay, I’m flexible, it's just lunch. When the waitress came back with our drinks, I asked if it wasn’t too much trouble to switch the orders for us. Apparently it wasn’t, because chicken nuggets arrived on cue a few minutes later. Meanwhile, Matthew wakes up, but he doesn’t complain, cry, fuss, fidget or even squirm, he just sits there as if to say, “Hey, don’t mind me. Enjoy your meal, I’ll just hang out here. It’s all good.” That was that. He smiled and had a little bit of water and started to chew on one of the paper coasters they put down (but don’t use when they bring your drink).

So, chicken nuggets are placed in front of Natalie, and she looks at them, as if it was escargot, garden style (still alive), saying, “No, I wanted macaroni and cheese!” “But you asked for chicken nuggets.” I argued, afterwards realizing the futility of trying to make a point with a two-year old. “No I didn’t,” which was probably true, I don't remember. I informed our very patient server, and a few minutes later, a big steaming bowl of mac and cheese arrives to Natalie’s delight. Only then did I get to eat, but I sure could have used an extra set of hands. I was able to eat, albeit as quickly as possible in case Matty decided enough was enough and blew his top, but not without having to help Gnat dig her spoon out of the ketchup, wipe her hands, keep her juice from fall off the table, make sure that Matthew doesn’t tear off and swallow the corners of the coaster, give him some water, keep the blanket off of his face and make faces so he’s happy. I’m tired just typing it.

Check came, I paid and left a sizable “you’d better remember us next time” tip and slipped out without catastrophe. We paused to deposit five cents into the wishing well and headed home, bellies full, entertained by the big purple ball and happy that nobody blew a gasket, that a scene wasn’t caused, composure was maintained by all and I didn’t have to worry that anyone touched anything in the bathroom that would ruin my appetite.

This is the weird part. I unlocked the front door and opened it, and guess who was standing there happy to greet us on our arrival. That’s right, the dog, much to my surpirse. Did I leave her in the house for two hours (groan, do I have to go on a poop search)? I reviewed the going out procedure: Grab my keys, wallet, watch and cell phone, put the dog outside, get a bottle of water for Matthew…yes, there it is, put the dog outside. How did she get in?

Well, I left a window open downstairs and she tore open the screen and burst through, and frankly, I am shocked. Elsa doesn’t act like that anymore, she retired from the Doberman Gang years ago (there was a language barrier; that and she just was too high maintenance, what with all of the long hair and all). She hasn’t destroyed anything, chewed anything, dug anything or otherwise ruined anything in a year, at least. She’s calmed down from a Class Five on the Fujita Scale of dog tornados to a Class Two at most, and the biggest pain she's been recently has been when bubbles are concerned; she goes nuts at the very mention of the word bubbles, as in, "Let's go blow some bubbles." I’m thinking that someone rang the door bell and she freaked out in an attempt to do her job as the dog. Really, the screen is shredded, so it tells me that it wasn't a simple break and enter, it was a frantic save-the-day, rescue leap of faith. What’s the cost of a screen, she debated before tearing it to shreds, when I’m saving the whole house? Yes logical for a dog, but now I have to buy a whole new screen. Damn dog, though I've always wondered what she would do if ever confronted by a burgler. My money was always on bark ferociously while ever in retreat, but now, who knows?

Later that day. Natalie and I were playing a variety of made-up games in the backyard, when she said that we should go to sleep, but not before first hearing a bedtime story. Then she proceeded to tell me the story of The Three Little Bears, the whole story, uncondensed, as if she was reading to me right from the book in front of her. I was impressed by her memory (she told it better than I could), and she didn’t miss a line. My favorite: “Oh my, that porridge is too hot.”

So, as far as days go, Friday was a good day, and I can only hope to have hundreds more like them, but I know that there will be a time when Natalie and Matthew will be just a little too “grown up” to go to Chili’s with their dad, and I’ll have to enjoy their lives from the sidelines as I get replaced by friends, girlfriends and boyfriends, school, sports, hobbies and finally careers… No matter what the future brings for me and for them, I’ll have these memories and I’ll know that there was once a time in there lives when there was nothing more important to do than finding a big purple ball at Target and telling stories with their dad on the grass in the backyard.

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