Recently, the kids were away for the weekend. They left at 1 p.m. on a Friday, and returned 4 p.m. on Sunday. As soon as they were out the door I experienced a very bearable lightness of being. I imagined the forty-eight hours ahead: the quiet, the sleep, the reading on the couch, the late-night movie, the slow breakfast, the third cup of coffee. But four hours after they left I made the mistake of watching Dr. Phil; something I hadn't really done since the kids were born due to the often adult nature of the program, and being otherwise too busy with life.
This particular episode dealt with two families; each story revolved around an abused child. The first spoke of allegations of sexual abuse of a five-year-old girl by her father. After undergoing a polygraph the father was cleared of wrong doing, however not before the pre-schooler was taken to the hospital and subjected to a pelvic exam. The second child featured that day was an adopted 7-year-old whose mother would fill his mouth with hot sauce when he lied, just before subjecting him to a cold shower. Both manners of discipline were "caught on tape" by the mother's slightly older daughter. If that wasn't horrible enough, Dr. Phil, though condemning the behaviour, revealed that forcing your child to drink hot sauce is 'commonly known' as "saucing", and is a widely practiced method of punishment.
I immediately wished my kids were home with me. They were with a very close friend of the family who I know treats them like royalty. They were in safe, loving hands, but after witnessing that level of cruelty on television, I was desperate to know they were safe. I had no choice but to wait for them to check into their hotel room, and then to check in with Mummy and Daddy. As I waited for that phone call, I realized what is left with you when your kids are not around are "Those Moments": the life events you experience with your children which leave you thrilled, scared, hopeful, laughing, despairing, and exhausted.
I had one of Those Moments recently. It was not very significant or consequential, but it caused a wave of reflection in me which was a reminder of how quickly time had passed since I was childless.
I was outside painting the deck, my daughter was at daycamp, my wife was at work, and my son was looking for something to do. One of the great challenges as a parent is convincing a child to occupy themselves. This is especially challenging when you are surround by wet paint, which means they cannot play near you, nor approach you to any immediate distance. Fortunately The Boy had recently fallen in love with a particular children's music CD. It had been sitting in the basement for the past three years, and he had previously rejected it. But, thanks to a child's lack of long-term memory, it was once again brand new to him. I dragged an extension cord outside, along with his CD player, a blanket, and his guinea pig and its cage. With the proper positioning of a beach umbrella, his little oasis had been created. I was told all that was missing was a bowl of crackers and a cup of lemonade, both of which I fetched.
There he lay.
I was a few dozen feet away, sweating under the sun as I painted, rushing to complete the job as quickly as possible while The Boy was still occupied, but trying not to go so quickly as to have to spend an extra day correcting my own sloppiness. About half-an-hour passed before I realized I hadn't been interrupted. My first though was that he'd fallen asleep. But, nope. There he was, laying on his side, his head in his hand, meekly patting Casper the guinea pig through the bars of her cage. Every so often his hand would leave Casper's mane and pop a cracker into his mouth. He never looked my way, never asked questions, and would move only to roll from his side onto his back as the CD started over. And over. And Over. He lay there for nearly two hours daydreaming on a blanket. This was the same child who as an infant would be passed back and forth between my wife and me because he didn't have the attention span to stay in his high chair for ten minutes while we ate.
Of course, not all of Those Moments are so serene, here are some of Those Moments sent in by readers; names have been omitted to protect, well, just because it seems to be the thing to do.
- "My 4-year-old daughter was playing with her friend. The game apparently involved my little one pretending she was a cat, while her friend fed her kibble. Unfortunately the kibble was an entire bottle of fluoride tablets. The scare of my life was driving her to the hospital, trying to listen for breathing as she slept in the back seat. Turns out there were not enough harmful ingredients in what she took for her to suffer any consequences, and we were discharged after a stern warning from the doctor about safe storage of medications and vitamins."
- "We were about to leave for a play-date, when my two year old got sick on the stairs. I assumed it was a minor upset tummy. It turned out to be severe gastroenteritis. There's nothing more draining than watching a 2-year-old receive intravenous fluids and run a high fever in a hospital bed for two days."
- "One memorable moment was when my son stuck the end of a pencil in his ear, He'd stuck it in so far, the eraser became dislodged from the pencil, and remained stuck in there. On the way to the pediatrician my son said: 'Mom, when he asks how it got there, can we not tell him it was me?'
- "As much as sometimes they drive you crazy, sometimes they're so precious it hurts. One drizzly afternoon, while walking quietly outside with my little guy - who can chat you ear off for twelve hours straight - out of nowhere he whispers: "I love the smell of rain." It was a moment within a moment.
- "The best moments with my daughter are the little things which otherwise seem insignificant; for instance when we walk side-by-side, and she reaches up to take my hand. I love knowing that what she needed most at that moment was human contact with mummy."
- "I love when my 3-year-old daughter comes running from the living room where we were playing together, into the kitchen after I stepped away for a moment, to give me heck for leaving the room without telling her where I was going."
- "The moments I can do without are the ones trying to get them all ready for school in the morning. I swear, if I said nothing to move them along, they could spend the whole week wiggling into a pair of snowpants."
- "My 4-year-old came up to me the other week and said: 'Mummy, you are an...apple.' I thanked her and said that was a very sweet thing to say, to which she replied 'Yeah, but, when I said apple, I meant idiot. I heard that in Toy Story.' A special thank you to Woody and Buzz."