When my wife got home from work yesterday the look on her face said it all.
“Tough day with the baby?” I said.
“She was a terror all day,” Annie said. “She fought over everything little thing and she screamed all the way home.”
I winced. When trapped inside a car, my daughter’s screams can reach jet engine decibel levels.
“What was she crying about?”
“Who knows with her?”
My daughter is going through what some psychologists might call an “oppositional defiant stage.” I call it being a normal three-year-old. Natalie is testing her parents’ limits and seeing what she can get away with. Sometimes she wins, sometimes she loses, but it’s always exhausting.
I looked at my watch and said, “I’ll take her to the park so you can have some peace and quiet.”
“That’s sounds great.”
“Let’s go to the park,” I told Natalie.
“I don’t wanna go!” she yelled.
“I have a surprise for you. C’mon.”
“I want chocolate. Give me chocolate.”
“You’ll spoil your dinner.”
“Listen,” I said. “Here are your choices. You can go to the park or go to bed.”
“Park,” my daughter said, meekly. All kids hate being sent to bed while the sun is still shining, I know I did.
I strapped my tear stained daughter into the car and drove to the playground. When we arrived, parking was scarce but I got lucky and snagged a spot. Released from her car seat, Natalie hopped out of our minivan and made a beeline for the swings. She loves the park.
“Push me Daddy! Push me!” she cried as she clambered onto a swing.
As I pushed Natalie I saw a crowd had gathered near some police cars on the other side of the ball field. “See all the police cars?” I said to Natalie. “Do you want to go say hi to the policemen?”
“No,” she said. “I want to go on the slide.”
So, Natalie went on the slide, hung from the monkey bars, teetered on the see-saw, played choo-choo train, drove around in a pretend car and climbed the rope ladder for the first time. When we started coming to this playground my daughter could barely walk, now her physical abilities are growing by leaps and bounds. As I watched Natalie run around like a crazed sugar demon, I heard a soft “whump whump” sound building in the distance. My surprise was coming.
“Let’s go Natalie,” I said. “Your surprise is almost here.”
“I want to play,” she said.
“You’ll like this,” I said, scooping her into my arms. As we walked over to the ball field a powerful mechanical noise started to shake the sky.
“What’s that!” Natalie cried.
“Look up,” I said. “What do you see?”
“A helicopter!’ she cried, her face lighting up into a smile. “A helicopter!”
Thundering in from the east, a State Police helicopter swooped in over the trees and began hovering over the ball field, the downdraft from the powerful machine’s rotors sweeping over us like a hurricane. It was police appreciation day in my town and the pièce de résistance of the event was the helicopter. Since I work for the town, I knew when it would arrive.
Natalie clung to the fence, transfixed by the machine hanging in the sky. Then, when it landed and the rotors stopped churning, we walked over with the rest of the crowd and gawked at it.
“Where’s Ms. Rabbit?” Natalie asked. On the Peppa Pig show, Ms. Rabbit flies the rescue helicopter.
“This is a real rescue helicopter,” I said. “If someone gets hurt it comes and flies them to the hospital.” I didn’t add that if you need to be airlifted to the hospital, you’re in deep shit.
“Like Madeline,” Natalie said. “Madeline is in the hospital!” Ever since reading Ludwig Bemelmans’s classic book, my daughter’s been obsessed with doctors and hospitals. Interesting how she connected the helicopter to a children’s story. I guess her neurons are linking up just fine.
“Madeline is okay,” I said. “She had her appendix out. She went back home.”
As Natalie went up and touched the helicopter I saw the pilots laughing and talking to the children. They were much younger than me and I felt a twinge of envy. What a cool job they have. I bet they have zero problems picking up chicks.
A radio crackled and the pilots sprang into action. “Clear the area,” a policeman, shouted. “They’ve got a call. They have to go. Move!”
The crowd scattered and the helicopter powered back to life. Within a minute, it was climbing high into the air. “Where’s my helicopter going?” Natalie, said.
“You’ll need a bigger piggy bank to buy a helicopter,” I said. “But maybe one day you’ll fly a helicopter. Maybe you’ll be like Ms. Rabbit and these police officers and rescue people.”
Suddenly I had a vision of myself as an old man, watching my jumpsuit clad daughter climbing into a roaring helicopter and dashing off to save her fellow man. Hey, it could happen. But I like exposing Natalie to things like this, to spark her imagination and let her know that all things are possible – especially for girls. Right now, Natalie’s a cranky kid who’s pushing her parents’ buttons but I know she won’t be a little girl forever. As life goes on she’ll win some and lose some but, as I watch her change and mature a bit each day, I know she’s well on her way to becoming a formidable woman. I’m privileged to see it all unfold. Who knows? Maybe she’ll fly the President around one day.
Hell, she might end up becoming President herself.