I’ve got the baby all to myself and a Nor’Easter is blowing outside. If I don’t take Natalie outside for a walk she won’t take a nap. That means Daddy won’t get a nap. Not good.
When there’s a lull in the storm I load my daughter into the car and head over to the mall. Protected from the elements I can wheel Natalie around until she gets overstimulated and knocks out. I can also do some shopping, grab a snack and, if there’s a fecal emergency, utilize the changing stations the mall thoughtfully provides. Retailers don’t want diaper meltdowns putting a dent in their profits.
For two o’clock on a Thursday afternoon the mall is awfully crowded. Looking at the throngs of young mothers pushing baby carriages I realize we all had the same idea. As far as I can tell Natalie and I are the only daughter/daddy team. A mom with twins in a double stroller passes by and nods at me approvingly, probably wondering what her husband’s doing. I guess I’m a new age male.
Freed from having to go to any stores my wife likes, I head straight for the cool stuff – Brookstone, Art of Shaving, Victorinox, Tourneau Corner – and look at baubles I shouldn’t buy. Passing the hip clothing stores with their window displays of bare-chested Aryan supermen, I shake my head. I’m too old to pull off those fashions and besides; nothing would fit anyway. Their idea of large is a 32’ waist.
After a power-wheeling for an hour I stop outside a restaurant and look at the inviting bar inside. I love bars on a rainy day. There’s something about the sound of the rain and the tinkle of glassware that’s very relaxing. As I watch a bartender in a crisp white shirt mix up a martini I decide it’s too early for an alcoholic snack. Judging from all the men inside, however. I think I’ve found where all the other dads went. I virtuously walk away. Sitting at a bar with a baby carriage is a good way to have the Family Services SWAT Team ruin your buzz.
Stomach rumbling I change course and head for the food court. On my way I pass a carousel. The baby immediately perks up, gurgling and pointing at the flashing lights and spinning horses. My wife told me on the way over that Natalie loves to watch the carousel. Seeing a parental opportunity I decide to take Natalie on the carousel. It’ll be her first amusement ride. What could go wrong?
I plunk down my money. Two rides for five bucks. Since I don’t know how Natalie will react I decide to sit on a sedate looking bench. When the ride starts to spin Natalie’s eyes widen in surprise and she jumps up and down with delight. I spend most of the time on the phone with my wife who’s annoyed she’s missing the moment. “Videotape it!” she says, but I decline. Holding on to a squirming infant and being a videographer is beyond my skill set. Drop the kid and it’s back to dealing with Bad Parent Swat Team.
The first ride ends and Natalie’s unfazed so I decide to kick things up a notch and plop her on top of a wooden horse. When the ride starts again she’s on cloud nine. Laughing in the way only babies can laugh, she starts waving as the horse undulates up and down. The ride operator waves back. At this point I should be reveling in my daughter’s joy but I’m not.
I feel sick.
A cold sweat breaks over me and my stomach lurches. I don’t believe it. I’m getting sick on a kiddie ride. And I was worrying about my daughter puking. Maintaining a good hold on my child, I stare at the back of her head and fight down the urge to hurl. If I do everyone’s going to think I was drinking in that bar. Ugh. How will I take my daughter to amusement parks? After three minutes the ride stops. With great care I step off the carousel and head towards the carriage parking area.
“You don’t look so good,” the ride operator says.
“And I used to love roller coasters,” I groan.
Ten minutes later my stomach is still spinning so I forgo the food court and head back to the car. After I strap Natalie into her seat I decide to rest until my equilibrium returns. But before I can close my eyes a horn honks.
I wave the driver on but the horn honks again I scored a great spot in the indoor garage by the main entrance and this person wants it. Tough shit. Reclining my chair I shut my eyes and wait for the spinning to stop. The impatient driver responds by obnoxiously leaning on the horn. Looking out my rear window I see a massive SUV with a tiny middle aged woman behind the wheel. Yakking on her cell phone, she’s stabbing me with her eyes.
Anger displaces my nausea. When I worked in restaurants I dealt with legions of entitled people. Now another person who wants what they want when they want it makes an old bitterness return. I want to fuck with this lady until she strokes out from rage. Maybe I should get out of my car, pop the hood, check the oil, kick the tires, make Natalie a bottle and change her on the trunk of my car. That’ll teach the bitch.
Feeling my blood pressure build, I take a deep breath and shove the passive aggressive fantasy out of my mind. Ever since Natalie arrived I’ve has a short fuse with entitled assholes. A few months ago a driver talking on his cell phone almost clipped my wife in a parking lot. You could have heard me yelling in Connecticut. Chastened, the driver wisely drove off but, instead of congratulating me, my wife said, “That’s how people get shot in Florida.”
I’m hardwired to give entitled people a hard time. That’s good because I don’t let people dupe me or push me around. It’s bad because I get hot and bothered. So I struggle with maintaining a balance. At some point my daughter’s going to see me confront a person’s egregious behavior and I had better set a good example. Becoming as asshole myself isn’t a good strategy . And while conflict in life is inevitable, avoiding conflict is a fine strategy too. Some battles aren’t worth it. This woman in the SUV is not worth it. Drive away.
Leaving the parking garage I nose my car onto the rain slicked highway and head home. As the wiper blades beat in a steady rhythm I take another deep breath. Despite my queasy stomach Natalie enjoyed her first carousel ride. I made my little girl happy. That’s the memory I want to take home. SUV lady’s not going to wreck it. My daughter is infinitely more important.
Fatherhood’s going to be an interesting ride.