This weekend – this gorgeous, unseasonably hot weekend – Mom and Buried and I took Detective Munch to the park. We couldn’t keep him cooped up on such beautiful days, right? Plus, on Sunday, there was a Food Truck Rally happening and I needed me some food. Little did I know, there would be a side of bad parenting with it.
We weren’t the only ones with this idea. The park was teeming with people, many of them waiting in long lines to sample some Kimchi Tacos or Sicilian slices or gourmet ice cream sandwiches. We went for the tacos and they – and the accompanying nachos – were fantastic.
The other thing that happened in which I fell down on the parenting job and everyone thought I was an asshole? Not so fantastic.
Parenting is hard work. Contrary to popular opinion (i.e., what I thought before I had a kid), babies are easy. It’s dealing with a toddler that’s difficult. They’re curious but dumb, fast but clumsy, loud but unintelligible, happy but insane. And depending on their mood and the situation, they can be near impossible to control, as I should have already learned.
After we’d procured our food, we searched for a place to make camp. Unfortunately, Yours Truly chose a slightly elevated patch of grass that sloped down towards a bricked sidewalk. Because after a year and a half of fatherhood, and about six months of parenting a toddler, I’m still an idiot. Because my wife was still in line and I was on my own with my lunatic son. Because geography and terrain and environment, three things I previously only considered when apartment hunting or booking a vacation, are incredibly important factors when you’re with a young child. Because I acted, again, like an idiot and ignored all of that, plopped us down and laid out the blanket, and started stuffing my face with Korean BBQ nachos.
After a bite or two my son was – SURPRISE! – more interested in exploring than he was in eating, which meant he started wandering around like a chicken with its head cut off, repeatedly approaching adults and children with an enthusiastic “hi baby!” (because everyone he sees is “baby” these days), and giving Daddy a heart attack. Like when he began strolling down the side of the embankment as I tried to race over and grab him before his inevitable tumble.
It was with visions of raising a miniature Harvey Dent that I raced over to try to catch Detective Munch as he started to lose his balance and fall down the short hill, his trajectory leading his face into direct contact with a sewer grate that was on the edge of the sidewalk. Superdad that I am, I was a moment too late. Miraculously, a woman standing on the sidewalk my son was headed towards – a total stranger who foresaw the same painful outcome I was attempting to prevent – reached her hand out and caught my son’s face A SPLIT SECOND before it met the grate. I scooped my scared little guy up and hastily thanked the woman as I rushed back to our picnic, frazzled and embarrassed, doing my best to escape her, and everyone else’s, judgmental eyes.
It was my first experience being That Parent – that parent that isn’t paying attention to their kid, that parent that lets their kid run around unattended, that parent that needs other people to parent for him. None of those things are true, of course. I was paying attention; he’s just fast. I don’t let him run around unattended; he’s just fast. And I don’t need other people parent for me. He’s. Just. FAST! And unpredictable. And fearless. And stupid. Of course, all anyone else saw was bad parenting.
I learned that everyone is That Parent sometimes, because unless you put your kid on a leash or in a cage, there’s no way to protect him from himself, not all the time. Neither when he’s a toddler nor when he’s a teenager. Instances like this one are bound to happen, and we were super lucky that a bystander noticed the oncoming calamity and saved the day. May we always be that lucky. And it will happen again, not because I’m a bad parent, but because I’m human, and kids are little demons, and because everyone is a bad parent sometimes.
I’m incredibly grateful to that woman for saving both my son’s face and my ass, and I am embarrassed that I didn’t make a bigger show of gratitude, hugging her, giving her fifty bucks, etc. She saved my son from a lot of pain and my wife and I from a lot of worry and me from a potential divorce; she deserved more thanks than I showed. But I was thrown off my game by the fact that I had been so off my game, by how close my son had come to smashing up his face real good as a result.
Here’s hoping I’m this lucky the next time I blow it. Because despite this experience, there will be a next time.
I will blow it again. And again. And again. Sometimes it will be my fault, sometimes it won’t be, and that doesn’t matter. I just have to keep chugging along and hope my good parenting outweighs the bad, and that my bad parenting doesn’t leave any scars. If that means I occasionally need to rely on helpful bystanders to save the day? Well, it takes a village!
P.S. Please don’t tell Mom and Buried about any of this. She missed the whole thing!
*Check out these really cool illustrations imagining Batman villains as Dr. Seuss characters.