As crazy as it might sound to my kids, I swear there was a time in my life before I had children. On a day to day basis, I tend to forget this but according to all available records, it’s true.
I have little to no memory of these bright and shiny days since my brain synapses have now been dulled by sleep deprivation, dirty diapers, and answering a gajillion questions every day…all of which start with “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”
However, I know they existed, because I’ve seen pictures.
The guy in them looks a lot like me, only more well-rested. With better abs. And with a much smaller forehead.
A long time ago, back in those small forehead days our good friends Jim and Cara asked Anne and I if we could watch their boys Sam and Zack one Saturday night. My best recollection is that the boys were maybe 5 and 3 at the time.
Back then liked kids just fine but I grew up in the days before boys got into the world of babysitting and therefore, had absolutely no experience in taking care of them. In fact, other than saying “Gimme 5 buddy!” I pretty much had no idea what to do with a little kid for any stretch of time longer than about 6 seconds.
Being one of 10 kids herself, I think Anne started babysitting when she was like 2 years old. By the time she was 5, she could watch 7 kids while folding laundry and re-shingling the roof.
This is another way of saying that for the intense lack of confidence I felt in my own abilities to actually watch my friends kids for the night, I figured Anne’s expertise would more than make up for it.
And so it was agreed. Anne and I would watch 5 year old Sam and 3 year old Zack on Saturday night while their parents went out and had a rollicking good time.
The only fly in the ointment so to speak was that these other friends of ours, being single and childless like most of our other friends at the time, had decided to have a gigantic backyard party on the very same Saturday night.
Hmm. What to do? What to do?
In looking back on things it occurs to me that at least one of our friends was usually scheduled to have this kind of party virtually EVERY Saturday night and it wouldn’t have been any great loss for us to have missed one of ‘em.
But of course, that’s hindsight talking. At the time it seemed like passing on this particular social gathering would be like declining an invitation to dine at the White House or something.
And so it was decided, probably at my instigation, that Anne and I go to the party and just bring Sam and Zack along with us. Once again, if you’re keeping score at home; Sam was 5, Zack was 3, and again they’re someone else’s kids.
My best recollection is that the early segments of the evening went off just fine as the party began to fill in around us. I seem to remember playing ball with the boys and drawing with sidewalk chalk and things like that. You know, stuff I do all the time nowadays that seemed completely foreign and disturbingly grown up to me back then, all while trying to make passable adult conversation with all my other friends at the party.
About mid-way through the evening Anne and I had one of those signal mix-ups where she thought I was watching the boys and I thought she was watching them when it turns out neither of us was really ‘watching’ them in any active sense of the word.
This was brought immediately to my attention by 5 year old Sam who found me in the boisterous back yard crowd, grabbed my sleeve and said, “Mike, have you seen Zack? I can’t find him.”
I’ll be honest with you here and admit that in general, I’m hard wired to have a pretty quick anxiety trigger. I’m the guy who gets a mosquito bite and instantly decides that instead of a mosquito bite it’s REALLY the beginnings of a complete assault by the flesh eating chiggers of the Amazon river basin or something.
Having said that, you can probably imagine the feeling in the pit of my stomach when the 5 year old basically said to me, ”Where’s my brother? I can’t find him.”
After going from zero to panic in about 2 seconds, I went to find Anne.
I said, “Have you seen Zack?”
She said, “No, I thought he was with you.” Uh-oh.
So now the two of us are tearing around the front and back yard like some un-funny version of the Keystone Kops calling out “Zack….Zaaaaack…” and asking all the party-goers if they’d seen a little boy about yay-high.
No one had.
Now again, in hindsight, I’m sure I over-reacted because basically, that’s what I do but it’s not like we had taken the boys to a toga party or anything. They knew most of the people at the party and most of the people knew them.
So the first vision that ran through my head of someone putting tequila into Zack’s sippy cup as some sort of joke, quickly receded, only to be replaced by the panic that comes from doomsday thinking like “Well, what if he wandered off? What if he’s standing in the middle of a busy street? What if, at the tender age of 3, he walked all the way to the train station hopped a freight and decided to become a traveling hobo? How am I gonna explain THAT to his parents!”
After circling the yard about half a dozen times in 30 seconds, I decided to look inside the house.
After rocketing through the back door I happened to see one teeny tiny little shoe sitting under the kitchen table. 5 feet away from shoe #1 I saw another shoe. And as I followed the trail, I saw one sock. And then another sock. A few feet later, there was a little tee shirt. Then a pair of shorts and then, just outside the bathroom door, there was a tiny pair of underwear.
With adrenaline still surging through me, I pounded on the door, not unlike Jack Nicholson in the Shining, and yelled “Zack! Zack! Are you in there??”
About two seconds later I heard the sound of little footsteps on the bathroom linoleum. The door opened, and there was Zack, completely nekkid with a roll of toilet paper in his hand and a surly little pout on his tiny little face.
Looking up at me with those big 3 year old eyes, Zack said in an exceptionally loud voice, “I’m going the bathroom and I need my pwivacy! When I’m done, you can help me wipe!”
And then he slammed the door and went back inside to take care of his bidness.
As I recall, these are the parenting lessons I derived from this experience:
- Skip the party. There’ll be another one next week.
- If you’re prone to anxiety and over-active imagination, keep the kid within eyesight at all times. And
- When it’s potty time, even a 3 year old needs his pwivacy.