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So the other day I dropped off my wife at Sky Zone with my 7 year old son and 5 year old daughter. That leaves me with the 1 and a half year old and an hour to kill. I have three short errands all on the same side of town. Just one kid. I can handle that.
First stop, the jewelry store. Our wedding bands need their yearly inspection. I pull into the parking lot, get out of the car, open the back door, and …. sleeping toddler. Ok, that can be a good thing. I don’t have to worry about her running around the store putting fingerprints and “kisses” all over the display cases. So I lug her in, plopped on my shoulder. I have the rings and paperwork in my other pocket, so I am prepared when I get to the counter. Everything runs smooth and I’m in and out in less than 10 minutes. She even stays asleep when I put her back in the car seat. First stop is a success! I knew I could handle it!
Stop number two, the grocery store. We only need three things so I’ll use the same plan. I pull into the parking lot, get out of the car, open the back door, and …. toddler’s awake. Crap! This is bad. Not because she’s harder to handle when she’s awake. In fact, she usually sits well in a grocery cart. No, this is bad because she only slept for about 15 minutes. Just long enough to make her cranky, and by cranky, I mean full-blown 2 year old style tantrums with wailing and gnashing of teeth because I looked at her wrong. Then I noticed something, she’s smiling. Ok, maybe this will work out after all. I take her into the store, set her in the cart, and she sits quietly. I think she was too groggy to fuss, but I’ll take it. Again, everything runs smoothly, and I’m in and out in less than 10 minutes. She doesn’t even get mad about being buckled back up. Two for two! I knew I could handle it!
Now I’ve got to admit something. I should have called it day at this point. I knew I was pressing my luck, but my confidence was riding high, I still had thirty minutes to kill, and the last stop was right across the street. So I went for the trifecta, the hardware store. I only needed a ceiling light. I knew exactly which one I wanted and where it was. Added bonus, they have those cool racecar shopping carts with the steering wheel. This should be the easiest stop of the three. I pull into the parking lot, get out of the car, open the back door, and …. grumpy-faced toddler. The kind of grumpy face that makes Grumpy Cat look like a ray of sunshine. Crap is not a strong enough word to describe the predicament I’ve just put myself in, but I feel committed at this point. Besides, they’ve got those racecar shopping carts. We can do this! I haul her in and put her in the racecar cart. Silence. I knew it! Off we go! Curiously, she plays with the buckle and strap, but not the steering wheel. No matter, she’s calm, so everything is a go. I get the light, check out, and push the cart to the return at the front of the store. That’s when all Hell breaks loose.
As I start to pick her up, she grabs the steering wheel for the first time. It’s like she just realized it was there and now she must hold onto it for all eternity. Then, she lets out this blood-curdling scream. It draws looks from those passing by, but that’s expected. I’m sure people were just checking that I didn’t drop her. I know how to handle this, so I deftly pluck her fingers off the wheel and hoist her up. The screams turn to shrieks and wailing. We’ve got a toddler at critical mass.
I walk out of the store and this is where it gets interesting. As I walk across the parking lot with this toddler that sounds like she’s being tortured, I notice the faces of the people I pass. First, there are a couple of guys. They give me the “good luck, man, we’re pulling for you” look. Next, I pass two mothers with their kids. They give me this “you poor man that can’t handle your kid” kind of look. Whatever, I learned long ago to not be bothered by that look. The third woman I passed actually asked if I needed help. Ummm, the toddler’s not thrashing, just screaming, and I’m only carrying her and a small box. How exactly are you going to help? Should I hand this complete stranger my kid? Give her my car keys so she can open the car door? Do I look that inept?
Finally, I get to the car and that’s where the real fun begins. She pulls the “arched-back, twist sideways to avoid being buckled” technique. That’s ok, I know that’s countered with the “apply gentle pressure so they don’t fall out of their seat and wait it out” technique. Then I hear a woman’s voice from behind asking if everything is ok and if I needed help. Seriously?!? What did this lady think, that my daughter would miraculously calm down and allow herself to be buckled by a complete stranger, just because it was a woman? Might as well wish for a magical elf riding a unicorn to cast a sleeping spell on her, the likelihood of either thing happening is exactly the same. I politely decline the offer and continue to wait. After another minute or two, the toddler stops screaming like she’s on fire. She gives up, I buckle her in, and we’re off to pick up the rest of the family. I knew I could handle it!
I will admit it wasn’t all roses, but all in all, I was able to get all three errands done while we were in the neighborhood. I know kids have meltdowns, that just comes with the territory. I’ve learned to handle them. What I don’t understand is the behavior of the women in the parking lot. It felt that they wanted to step in for one reason; it was dad with the screaming kid, he has no clue what he’s doing, and he can’t handle it. If it had been mom with only one kid losing it, would they have been as quick to jump in? I’d be willing to bet they wouldn’t. When I talked to my wife about it, she said she’s never been offered assistance from a complete stranger when one of the kids was having a meltdown. I had two offers in the span of three minutes.
The truth of the matter is we dads don’t always get the credit we deserve. Many women still feel that dads aren’t capable of handling their kids despite all the great dads out there providing evidence to the contrary. As a society, we want men and women to be seen equally in the workplace. Shouldn’t we be bringing that line of thinking into the family as well? Shouldn’t dads be seen as capable parents? Maybe someday we can walk across a parking lot carrying a screaming toddler without getting treated like an incompetent, bumbling buffoon, but until then, we dads will just have to keep proving that we can handle it.