Some days, when you’re a parent, you find yourself carrying a stick, chasing a crying 3-year-old down the street. There’s no getting around it; it’s just one of those things that happens.
Let’s back up.
It was a normal late afternoon; my wife and I were out running errands with the kids in tow. As often happens, our 3-year-old fell asleep in the car on the way home. He refuses to nap at home, but will almost without fail nap in the car if we happen to be out any time after three in the afternoon. Naturally, when this inevitably happens, we feel obliged to drive around aimlessly until he wakes up. Every parent does this; I believe it is actually required by law. The First Law of Parenting: Never wake a sleeping child except in case of fire or flood (and even then, first make sure it’s a Chicago-level fire or a Noah-esque flood before making any rash decisions). When you get down to it, about 85% of parenting is not waking your sleeping children. On this day, however, we were completely derelict in fulfilling our parental responsibilities. We let hunger and boredom get the best of us: Rookie mistake.
Needless to say, when we pulled into the driveway and extracted our sleepy tyke from his car seat he did exactly what you would expect a 3-year-old in his unenviable position to do: He took flight. It was a slow and measured flight, yes, but the overall intention was clear nonetheless. He started out by moving seven or eight steps away, facing the street, folding his little arms across his chest, pushing his bottom lip out as far as it could possibly go, and making little “harrumph” noises periodically to emphasize the extent of his displeasure. Next, he and I engaged in the parental dance that is as old as time: I took one step towards him, he took two steps away. We inched our way down the driveway in this manner for several minutes, creating a chase scene that no doubt would have been in its own strange way, to an outside observer, as compelling as OJ in that white Ford Bronco.
Of course, I could have ended this stand-off at any time by breaking loose, closing in on him like J.J. Watt tracking down an opposing quarterback, swooping him up, carrying him inside, and dealing with the aftermath for a few minutes until something else distracted him. I may not be unusually fast compared to other adults, but compared to a 3-year-old, I might as well be Usain Bolt. However, I decided to let the situation play out a little longer and see if we could settle this dispute amicably; I was fully engaged in Enlightened Dad mode.
After an hour or so, we reached the end of the driveway; we live on a fairly deserted cul-de-sac, but still, it was time to escalate negotiations. I brought out the big guns: an insect-related distraction.
“Wow! Look at this bug; it has a really cool design on its back!” I was in top form. No 3-year-old can resist an unusual bug. And this was legitimately an interesting insect; I’m no bug expert, but it’s not one I had seen before. I wish I had stopped to take a picture, but I was completely dialed in.
The 3-year-old took off down the sidewalk. I was so sure the bug thing would work that I didn’t have a back-up plan. I decided to call his bluff.
“Hey, look! I got the bug onto this stick! Look at this.”
He paused just or a moment, the whimpering magically stopped.
“I’ve got the bug on this stick. Come quick and see!”
He burst into tears and fled at twice his previous speed. There was no turning back now; I was fully committed. I pushed all my chips into the center of the table: I took up the chase, stick (and bug) in hand.
So, now we’re back to where we started: I’m a full-fledged stick-wielding-crying-child chaser. When I reached the next driveway over, I happened to look across the street and, of course, there’s a woman sitting outside in a yard chair. I’m not completely sure who it was, but I know it’s a house that has two little kids, so it was likely either the mom or a grandmother.
Oh no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. This does not look good.
“Hey buddy…but, this bug,” I stammered, waving the stick in what I hoped was the most non-threatening way possible. I tried to speak loudly enough for the woman to hear, but I’m what you might call vocally challenged in the loudness department. Ordering lunch at Chipotle is one of my worst fears and usually involves a lot of hand gestures (thank you online ordering).
I didn’t take time to look, but I could only assume that the woman in the chair had dialed the number for Child Protective Services and her finger was hovering over the send button, ready to push.
However, we were quickly approaching the main road so the jig was finally up. I had no choice; I had to cut my losses. I gently set my stick down, closed in on the little scamp, and gathered him up. He was, as you might expect, not thrilled, but I just smiled and talked to him in a soft, soothing voice as we retraced our steps back home.
I stole a glance at the woman in the chair as we passed by: she wasn’t talking on the phone.
I gave her a sheepish smile and a half-hearted wave, and we continued on our way.