Last week, I shared the story of Gabby’s girl’s weekend and my ridiculous attempt to keep everything in order without my wife around. You may have noticed that the kids were scarcely mentioned in the post. This was intentional, as I was afraid to share what I had done with them in the event that anyone at Child Protective Services reads the blog.
It was my job to keep the kids occupied so Gabby and her friends could enjoy as much uninterrupted time as possible. My first thought was to build them a “fort” out of clothespins, blankets and a puppy crate and fill it full of fruit snacks and ring pops. This way, I could (humanely) sequester them for a couple of days under the guise they were having fun. Unfortunately, I could never get Jake to consistently pee on the newspaper, so this plan was a bust.
My second idea was to loan them out to the Nashville Police department. They often need loud noise makers to flush out kidnappers and other ne’er-do-wells from their bunkers. Jake and Audrey both did well in their first audition, but were ousted in the final round for asking too many irrelevant questions.
I was quickly running out of options. Our Year Without A Purchase rules state that I could not buy any trinkets to keep my children entertained. This means I would have to rely on my own ingenuity and items already in my possession to do the job.
Our first trip away from the house was a disaster. I drove around aimlessly waiting for fun to smack us upside the head. And, due to my horrible planning skills, I left any of our fun possessions back at the house. I tried to improvise with what was on hand, but a five-year-old girl can only play with jumper cables and car jacks so many times before the novelty begins to wear off and whining begins.
We went to a couple of parks and had fun playing on the playgrounds, but two hours later, the whining started again. I called the Nashville Police and put the kids on speakerphone, hoping they would reconsider. They just hung up on me. Then, a revelation.
Commence “Operation Frozen Treat”
Our rules do include a provision to purchase food, so I whipped the car into the Sonic drive-in and ordered a menagerie of frozen delights. A slushee for Jake, a caramel sundae for Audrey, and a Butterfinger Blast for yours truly. My research revealed that the frozen cream and sugar act as a mild sedative, transforming loud Banshee screams into a perfectly acceptable conversational tone.
* ice cream: the miracle drug
I know the parenting mantra. Ice cream should be reserved for special times. Important, momentous occasions. So, I confess that we had ice cream four times in a 48-hour period. I’m not proud of it, but it’s amazing the things I learned about my kids when they were chatting and stuffing their faces with crap-tacular goodness. Case in point: I learned (upon visiting a Sonic that backs to a cemetery) that Audrey would like to be buried in a heart-shaped coffin with a headstone shaped like a horse. And Jake only wants to be cremated if it doesn’t hurt. Audrey assures him it’s painless, because when you die your skin falls off. And skin is the part that feels hurt. So they only burn your bones. But when you go to heaven God gives you new bones and new skin, too, unless you want to use your old skin you brought from Earth.
My research also suggests ice cream may be a hallucinogen.
On Saturday evening, as my wife and her friends were enjoying a free hotel night purchased with my frequent traveler loyalty points, the kids and I shared ice cream sandwiches and played board games. It was a delightful time. They were enjoying each other’s company. No one was crying. Even if they lost. There were patches of silence while the kids sucked on their fingertips trying to lick away the chocolate sandwich glue.
Finishing off her pinkie, Audrey cut through the silence and blurted out, “Let’s go fishing, Daddy!”
“Honey, it’s 7:00pm. It’s almost bedtime.”
“But fish don’t sleep.”
“Not fish bedtime. Your bedtime.”
“Can we go tomorrow?”
I thought about this. Fishing does sound more interesting than playing in the park. But the last time I took the kids fishing, we all got sunburned, I got a hook stuck in my shoulder, one pole ended up in the pond, and all of us were crying. And this was just the first half-hour. What’s more, we only have one tiny fishing pole in working condition. The other has a rod that’s been snapped in half and a reel that needs some major re-engineering. We call her “The Widow Maker.”
* the "Widow Maker" and Lightning McQueen
“Sure!” I answered. “Let’s go fishing!”
“But we only have one pole!” Jake can always kill a buzz.
“That’s OK. I can work on the other one.”
“Awwwwww! Can we buy a pole for me?” Audrey asked, remembering that hers was the one still soaking in the pond at Bowie Park.
Obviously, she doesn’t read the blog.
“Not this time. We’ll share.”
The next day after church, I packed up the kids, our two shoddy poles, and drove to the Little Harpeth River. Our good friend, Dwayne Smith, even gave us some left over night crawlers from his own recent expedition. We looked for a spot to fish, walking past a group of teenage girls swimming in the frigid water. We walked past a somewhat creepy guy standing watch over the swimming girls and playing fetch with his two rambunctious dogs. Finally, we found an open spot.
The kids and I spent considerable time wading in the shallows of the river. With all of the bugs and rocks to check out, Audrey quickly forgot she didn’t have a fishing pole. We were all skipping rocks and enjoying a new experience. I then moved on to fiddling with my broken reel and casting an occasional line. I coaxed both kids to fish for the better part of an hour. The current was moving pretty fast, so every cast made it look like the bobber was being dragged under by Jaws himself. We caught nothing, but the kids loved it. They reeled it in with gusto every time, excited at the possibility of landing Nemo.
Audrey took a break from fishing and went back to skipping rocks. In an attempt to find the perfect stone, she slipped, fell into the river up to her shoulders and came out shivering. By this time, we were all soaked and chilled.
Standing next to me, Audrey politely asked, “Can we go back to the car and warm up, Daddy?”
Recalling our Bowie Park fishing expedition, I thought it best to quit while we were ahead.
“Sure. Let’s go.”
I looked down river. Our tackle box, clothes and bait were about twenty paces away over some jagged stones. Jake was standing very near all of the gear. The bank was steep, but there were some branches and rocks immediately to my right which looked easy for Audrey to climb.
“Here honey. Let me help you up.”
I pushed Audrey’s tiny hiney up the eight foot incline. She clawed her way to the top and looked down at me.
“Alright Audrey. Stay right there. I’m going to walk down and get Jake and we’ll meet you up top.”
I made my way to Jake and all of our gear. Two minutes, tops. He was surprisingly compliant. He immediately reeled in his empty hook, and I gathered all of our things. We meandered up the steep bank and came to the grassy clearing.
“OK Audrey, let’s go.”
I looked to my right, twenty paces, expecting to see Audrey. She wasn’t there.
I looked up and saw a kid’s birthday party going full swing at the picnic pavilion roughly 100 yards away. There were bouncy castles and balloons all over the place. I scanned the crowd for a tiny, wet girl in a white flowered bathing suit.
I looked all around me calling her name as loud as I could. I expected to hear her call back, “Right here, Daddy!”
But her call never came. Instead, my voice got louder and louder. I paced along the path beside the river. My tone more anxious. I looked at Jake and it was obvious he was scared. His smile had transformed into a look of pint-sized panic.
“Where is she, Daddy?” I could see tears forming.
Then I thought of the fast-moving current and the steep bank. What if she fell down the bank after I turned my head? What if she waded back into the water and slipped? She doesn’t swim!
I ran to the river bank and looked down. I saw no signs of her. But what if she got trapped under the water? Under a rock? She wouldn’t be on the surface! I ran along the bank yelling her name. I looked for a pale object under the current. Parents at the birthday party were looking up now, sensing something was terribly out of balance.
Jake stood motionless. Whimpering.
I was about to dive into the water when my thoughts drifted to the creepy guy with the cute dogs. Audrey loves animals. I thought of every stranger danger cliché in the book. Is this how it ends? Dear God, no. If I dive into the water, I am wasting precious seconds when someone could be walking off with my child. If I go in search of her, I am wasting precious seconds when my daughter could be trapped under water.
I started running toward the birthday party. I was about to yell, “Has anyone seen a little girl in a white swimsuit?! Did you see where she went?!” I looked to my left and saw a girl running down the path toward me. One hundred fifty yards away. Her awkward, distracted, beautiful gait telling me my fears were unwarranted. I dropped to my knees, threw my head back, and covered my face. Didn’t want Jake to see the tears of relief that were coming. It was only thirty seconds.
But it felt like a lifetime.
When she finally reached me, I scolded her with a giant bear hug.
“Where did you go? I was so worried we had lost you? I told you to stay right here!”
“I wanted to go back and pet the puppies.”
“I’m sure you did, honey. But you didn’t tell me where you were going. I thought I had lost you. Worse yet, I thought you might have fallen in the water and drowned.”
Her eyes got big. She said nothing. She just looked at me and saw the relief in my face and knew.
We walked back to the car in silence. Halfway there, she grabbed onto my leg with both arms. I walked with a happy limp the rest of the way. When all the gear had been packed into the trunk and everyone was strapped into their seats, I heard Jake call out from the back seat.
“Can we have some ice cream when we get home, Daddy?”
The mantra plays in my mind again. Ice cream is reserved for special times. Important, momentous occasions.
And none is as special as this.
Because, unlike my brief, panicked moments with Audrey that stretched into forever, in our day-to-day lives time passes us like a raging river. We feel like we have a lifetime to spend with those we love, but soon it will feel like only thirty seconds. Life is precious gift of God that I often waste on worthless worry and the pursuit of perfection. .
So here's my prayer today. Let there be many moments in life that sound the alarm. A wake up call that stirs my soul. Because I'm tired of sleepwalking through the simple pleasures that make life worth living.
Like one more scoop of ice cream.