Parenting is hard.
A few days ago in Houston, Texas, a mother of ten children threw a birthday party at the local Chuck E. Cheese for her five-year-old daughter and then left her at the restaurant.
The good news is that she didn’t do it on purpose. The bad news is that she didn’t realize her mistake until 8AM the following morning, when she was getting her other nine kids ready for school. Fortunately the child is fine, and the police said they “plan to analyze the surveillance video” to decide whether or not criminal charges are warranted.
No doubt the event was traumatic for the little girl, though hopefully she won’t remember much of it as time goes by. And certainly the police should take these matters seriously. Yet I have little doubt that if I had ten children to look after I would periodically forget one or another of them all over the city. At the very least.
When you were six, my sweet daughter, your mom went to Cleveland to cheer Heather on as she tried out for the Cavs dance squad. It was the first time I had been called upon to take care of you alone for any length of time. I was excited to have a whole weekend of bonding time with you, but I was a little anxious too. What if something came up that I couldn’t handle?
Your mom assured me that she was just a phone call away. She also reminded me that I could always call Jamie, who was living nearby on the USC campus. I chided your mom for implying that our college-age daughter might be better equipped to handle a child care issue than me, but secretly I took comfort that Jamie was indeed here if I got in over my head.
In those days you took a dance class every Friday night at Millennium Dance Studios in North Hollywood. That Friday I took great care to dress you in the outfit Mom had set out for you before she left. I made sure you had your water, your dance bag and your dance shoes. I triple checked the time of the class so you wouldn’t be late, and I made us leave for class way too early in case we hit traffic. When we got there, the parking gods smiled on us and we got a spot right inside the Millennium lot. So far so good.
After class, we decided to make a night of it and go to the pizza place down the street. I was delighted at how smoothly things were going and suggested we walk to the restaurant. What I didn’t realize is that Millennium locks their parking lot at night, and when we returned from dinner we couldn’t get to our car.
You got scared and started to cry, which is when my respect for your mother’s parenting skills increased exponentially. Suddenly I was scared too, but for a different reason. I knew we could simply take a cab home and get the car in the morning. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I had no idea how to comfort you.
I put on my happiest face and told you this would be a fun adventure for the two us to share. I said that Mom and Heather would be very jealous when they heard we got to take a taxi ride together. That seemed to pacify you a little, so I decided not to mention that I had left the house keys inside the car and thus had no clue how we’d get in the house once we got there.
Jamie had a key, and I called her on the cab ride home. You were being quite brave, but you were still sniffling when I got Jamie’s voicemail so I made a point of being very jovial as I left her a message. Unfortunately, when you heard the part about my not having the house keys you started bawling again.
Like most people of her generation Jamie rarely listens to her voicemails, so I covered my bases and sent her a text as well. Yet by the time the taxi arrived at home Jamie had returned neither my call nor my text.
Plan B was for me to jump over the gate, but you were now crying for a third time and begged me not to leave you alone outside the gate. I didn’t know what to do. I told you that nothing bad could ever happen to you as long as we were together, and that I’d have the gate open and be back in no time. When that didn’t calm you, I told you to count while I went over the gate. I promised that I’d give you a dollar for every number you got to before I was back.
Yes, that’s pathetic. I admit it. But six dollars and a bruised knee later we were at least inside the property, and we caught a break when a glass door to the family room had been left unlocked. We were home at last.
Mackenzie, you could not have been more adorable or courageous that night. I suggested you write Mom a note about your bravery for her to read upon her return, and after some chocolate pudding and 20 minutes of cuddling you fell asleep in my arms. I was still a little in shock about how the evening had unfolded when Jamie finally called in. “What’s up?” she asked innocently.
The next morning you told Heather and Mom about my first solo flight as a parent, adding that “daddy-sitting” wasn’t as easy as you had expected. For my part, I told your mom to please hurry home.
By the way, a couple of weeks ago you told me that for a dad, I wasn’t being very smart about something. You had a big smile on your face. I thought that was an interesting comment and I asked you what I wasn’t being smart about. You explained that I had told you I didn’t want you to read the “letters to Mackenzie” until you were eighteen, but that since I was posting the letters online you could read them at any time.
Well, that was certainly a point well taken. I asked if you had indeed read the letters. “No, daddy”, you scolded me, “you told me not to.”
You then asked me why you couldn’t read the letters for eight more years and if there was something bad in the letters. I replied that on the contrary the letters grew out of my profound love for you, but that given some of the themes in the letters you might savor them more as an adult.
I could see the wheels turn in your head, and then another big smile crossed your face. “Daddy,” you said, “will you write me a letter I can read now?”
Yep. And here it is.
All my everlasting love,