"Today, I went to the park with Quinn. After an hour of play, I loaded him back into the van, which always happens under protest. When I had him strapped into the car seat, I responded to his complaints with 'I know, daddy is so mean.'
On the way back, he kept spamming 'so mean' from his back seat, perfectly replicating the slight note of overdone sadness in my voice.
'So mean. So mean.'"
Marko's post of a few days back stired up some memories, which turned to thoughts, which became ruminations, which became this blog:
About 12 years ago, I worked in a cubicle. I was the night guy on the help desk. The morning crew would trickle in about 1 to 2 hours before I went home, due to overlapping shifts. One of the day crew was a very attractive --verging on beautiful-- black woman in her mid 20's. She and I got to be friends. Because I was a single guy in my 20s and she was a good-looking single girl in her 20's, I can't swear that my motives were pure, but I believed that they were at the time, and it's a fact that I never hit on her, despite her good looks, friendly manner, and obvious intelligence and ambition. Besides, she had kids, and maybe some kind of boyfriend.
But a little flirting might have taken place, maybe.
She had a cute little sports coupe, and there was a car seat in the back. One day she confessed that she never put her baby girl into it, because she didn't like it.
I was young, and reactionary. I challenged her. Surely any friend of mine would immediately see the error of their ways in an instance such as this. I lambasted her about how that car had airbags that would endanger a small child in the front seat. I acerbically counselled her on the danger of the adult-sized restraints on the baby. I explained how a rollover would be dangerous without her baby in the anchored baby seat .
"You don't understand," she said, emphatically. "You don't have any idea what it's like for a mother to hear her baby crying 'Mama, PLEASE!' and sobbing in that back where I can't reach her. You don't know what that does to me!"
And I didn't. Though I'd been to Academy, I hadn't yet worked as cop, and had no personal stories to counter her with. I just knew that a real parent had to be able to say "No" to his child. But what did I know? I'd never had a kid. I'd never been there.
Well, maybe I had been. Back when my parents were saying "No" to me.
I was confused. As I say, I was young, and had trouble fathoming that a person that I liked could put their child's safety second to their own feelings.
But to her thinking, a mother could NOT continue to put off her baby's pleas while strapped helpess and out of reach.
Not long after, I changed jobs, and I've not seen her since. Now I wonder-- did she ever get past that? Or did she continue to cave when her child cried? And how's that kid turning out, now? She must be about 14, now. What happened when it was time for her vaccination shots? The dentist? All those times when it hurts, but is necessary?
I genuinely hope that her kid is turning out all right. But I doubt it.
At the time, I had thought that she surely must see the light, because Good Folks (I would be friends with nothing less right? Funny the assumptions we make.) must decide the right way, eventually. As I've aged, I've jaded. I know now that people we initially like aren't always good, and that good people don't always make the right decisions about themselves or their children.
Back then I could give her no personal stories as examples of why she oughta ignore the crying in the back seat. On a summer day in 2002, that changed when I arrived at a crash scene in which a Suburban had rolled over and over, spewing the broken little bodies of children out of the vehicle, causing us to airlift 5 of the 11 occupants, and take away in ambulances 5 of the remaining 6. Only one hadn't needed the services of a major trauma center.
That person was the driver, who was the only person buckled into that tank of an SUV. Heck of a story, that hit me like a brick to the gut at the time. Wish I could have told her then.
When it's necessary, give the kid a little discomfort today, to save yourself the kind of self-hatred that I'm sure that Suburban driver from 5 years ago feels tomorrow.