"Fuck!" the kid said, from the back seat of the car. They pick these things up from everywhere, the two-and-a-half-year-old children do. The child is like a runaway threshing machine rattling across the landscape of language, ingesting and scattering everything in its path: grain, chaff, string beans, feed buckets, chopped-up bits of mailboxes. How much of what your child says is understandable? the developmental survey form asks. You mean articulate? Or comprehensible? "The greens are taking care of the eights," he says. Or: "Welcome to Metro." Or: "I want a toaster in my ear."
It was a mistake to get on the Metro train with the kid riding on my shoulders. I should have taken him down and buckled him into the stroller out on the platform, even if it meant missing the train. But I had taken the wrong branch on the decision-making tree, and there I was, standing up in a packed train car at evening rush hour, with one hand on the kid's ankle to hold him in place, and another hand on the overhead handrail, which meant there was no hand remaining to put on the stroller handle as the train jerked into motion and the clumsily half-set foot [...]
When I got back from the men's room, the kid was out of his car seat. We were at a rest stop somewhere between Chapel Hill and Richmond, a quick break before driving on till lunchtime. It was raining, so my wife and I were taking turns staying in the car while the other person ducked inside.
He didn't need to use the restroom (another reason not to be hasty about potty training), but the slowing and stopping of the car had woken him up. So my wife had popped him out of the harness, and he was clambering happily around the back seat with her. I took her [...]
There was a loud but muffled scream, and when I looked up, the kid was gone.
It wasn't that scary for me; I did know where he was, more or less. But this was what I was leaving my wife with, on the other end of the phone:
[Child's screaming.] Fuck! Shit. Uh, I gotta call you back- [Screaming continues in background.] [Call disconnects.]
I was standing by the elevator bank, all by myself. The screaming was coming from the other side of a closed elevator door.
The beeping came on as the backdrop to a predawn dream-beep-beep-beep-and then, mhmm, is that the alarm clock?-beep-beep-beep-but too faint, unless we'd dropped our alarm clock under the bed and then dropped a comforter over it-beep-beep-beep-so it was maybe the bus, outside, idling, somehow generating a high-frequency overtone to the rumbling-beep-beep-beep-beep-or was it hrmm just the pulse in my ears-tinnitus, the blood surge-beep-beep-beep-hmrff NO, it was definitely, somewhere, an ALARM CLOCK, but-
About 20 minutes into his nap, the kid started crying. Naptime is usually pretty easy. This business about how little kids don't understand they're tired was always mysterious to me. My parents told me that when I was a toddler, I alarmed them by vanishing, having wandered off all on my own to sack out somewhere quiet with a pillow. Much to my pride and relief, the kid is the same way-if I don't put him down for a nap, he'll climb into bed on his own or flop down on the floor with a blanket. When you're tired, you sleep. What's so hard to understand?
"Keep calling back," the receptionist at the pediatrician's office said, ringing off. They were out of H1N1 flu vaccine, she had told me, and they didn't know when the next batch might be coming. So keep calling.
I would rather not keep calling. That was my third or fourth or fifth inquiry about the swine-flu vaccine, by phone or in person at the office while getting other shots for the kid. This is not because I am a hysterical parent, unable to bear the thought of my child going without medical intervention. I do not snap awake at three in the morning with flu panic, worrying that some filthy [...]
Why was it that I baked the brownies from scratch? Well, first of all, there needed to be brownies. It's the kid's birthday, the actual birthday as opposed to the day we had the birthday party, and we were given to understand-in the way such understandings are given-that some parents like to send in treats for the preschool class on the birthday, to contribute to the birthday observances. Such things are done.
The kid is in the playpen, also known as the crib, where I dumped him. The playpen is also known, officially, as a "playard," sales-portmenteau-style for "play yard," because somewhere between the time I was wearing diapers and the time I started changing diapers, "pen" and its overtones were dumped as being retrograde. Who would pen a precious child?
I guess I just did, and not (while we're unpacking the assumptions behind the Graco Pack N Play Playard) for the sake of playing. I did it to shut him up.