After thirty five years of experiences, with far more failure than success, I would expect to have developed enough inner equanimity that I could emanate patience and serenity no matter what challenges I may face in life. Unfortunately, the gods have sent our children here to sadistically erode this confidence, and their tool of choice appears to be excrement.
For instance, one night last week, Hannah left me alone to care for our three little girls while she went off to a wine drinking party, which she calls a “book club.” I didn’t feel like staying at home, didn’t feel like making a dinner they would refuse to eat, and didn’t feel like cleaning the mess they would unapologetically create. So, I threw the kids in the minivan and we went to our favorite restaurant chain with a play place. As we parked the car, it was noticeably busier than I remembered. That Tuesday happened to be a big promotional father-daughter night and the place was full of tense men surrounded by impulsive toddlers. I ordered dinner in shouts over the ambient screaming and sat the girls down for dinner. As is usually the case, I knew dinner was over after I had completed the five stages of loss and grief.
“Just try it. You like chicken, and the fruit is so tasty!” (Denial)
“NO. Sit down and eat this food before you get up from the table!” (Anger)
“Just eat two carrots and a bite of chicken and I’ll get you a huge cookie.” (Bargaining)
“Well, I guess we won’t be getting any cookies.” (Depression)
“Alright, let daddy throw all this out and then we can go to the play place.” (Acceptance)
Walking toward the cage of soundproof glass that housed the industrial playground complex, there didn’t even appear to be standing room available. The club had a line out front and it was one in, one out. Luckily, as we arrived, an exhausted woman with wayward strands of hair and eyes that saw without expression emerged amongst a gaggle of boys, making room for the four of us.
Most the dads have a similar posture to me in this situation: be completely inconspicuous. Sit back, don’t say much, and be extra nice to the strange kids. This isn’t taught, it is learned. For instance, the last time I took the girls by myself, my second daughter Lila, who is failing potty training, stood in silence for twenty minutes at the top of the staircase before I realized she had crapped in her pants. I quietly extracted her without a word and took her to the bathroom. No one knew, and therefore no one could judge me or my disgusting child. So, after entering the thunder-dome, I sat back like Ronde Barber, and quietly watched my girls fight with the other children for dominance of the stairs, repeatedly acknowledged the accomplishment of their performance with a muted “wow”, and choked down the pride I feel every time I watch them go up the slide the wrong direction creating a logjam at the bottom that eventually requires the jaws of life to undo.
As my girls formed another pile of children at the bottom of the slide, I watched in awe, then terror, as Lila emptied her bladder. As the urine flowed down and off the slide making a pattering noise on the rubber floor, I became aware of the silence. Every one of the fifty men, women, and children stopped what they were doing to gasp as the urine fell, as if in a trance. Then, a few silent and endless seconds after the last drop had fallen, all hell broke loose. The dads demanded their children to get down off the play place, which was followed by screams from the moms as their children dutifully descended down the slide into a pile of urine stained children.
If it wasn’t clear to everyone that this was the end of days, it was confirmed when the manager entered the glass cage and began shouting “the playland will now close due to unsanitary conditions for cleaning.” I frantically scrambled with beads of sweat forming on my clammy skin to grab my disgusting girls in one arm and the shoes in the other, but my cover was blown. I might as well have urinated on everyone myself, which is why I ran like OJ Simpson. We accelerated out of the parking lot in our minivan as the fire truck was arriving with a HazMat team.
My lack of composure surprised me. I mean, I am no stranger to urine. I have been around the block. As an undergraduate, I minored in awful human behavior, and a common thread to my post-graduate career has been to expect only the unexpected. Despite 35 years of training, one bowel movement in the tub while I am giving the three girls a bath (last Thursday) is all it takes for me to transform into Gary Busey on a meth binge. I am convinced Buddhist monks wouldn’t enjoy such serenity if they were to manage the bowel habits of toddlers.