Pt.2 : Nighttime Neglect
There are two situations I never experienced as a child or a young adult that I’ve now experienced several times as a father. The first is an Emergency Room visit and the second is a home visit from the police department. Now this was either due to luck or (more likely) an incredibly boring and sedentary childhood and adolescence. It’s hard to break bones when you sit in front of a TV all day and there has yet to be a case of someone being arrested from reading too many books or playing air guitar in front of their bedroom mirror. So in my first 35 years I never recorded one trip to the ER and never once had to open the door to “Sherriff’s Department!” Since becoming a father? ER visits: 3 (the most recent trip being at 3 AM last Friday) and police encounters: 2. Now the ER visits actually make me a caring father and that’s not the subject of this blog nor is it very funny so we’ll skip over that. By the way one of those visits is described in a blog I wrote a few years ago called “The Family that Laughs Together”. Now as for the cop visits, I’m sure that would put me on some sort of bad parenting watch list. I mean it’s not like parents have never had to deal with cops when it comes to their kids, but their kids are usually teenagers who have gotten into trouble or been caught being stupid. The younger your kid is, the worse a visit from the authorities reflects on the parent. My son was two years old in both instances which puts me on par with Casey Anthony parenting wise. Okay I’m not THAT bad… and anyway she was found innocent (cough, cough)
The first visit from Santa Clarita’s finest was at about 2 AM on a sweltering night in August of 2008. My oldest son was two and my wife was pregnant with our second. I was woken out of a very deep sleep by a pounding on my front door. In fact it was the kind of thing where the pounding is incorporated into your dream and then your conscious brain realizes, “No this is actually happening. Wake up…now!” So I stumbled out of bed and ran-staggered downstairs bleary eyed and completely disoriented with very disheveled hair and wearing a rumpled dirty t-shirt and droopy boxers.
“Who is it?” I asked
“Sherriff’s Dept.” a calm voice responded.
Nothing like hearing those two words to snap you awake. I looked myself over and considered running upstairs and making myself more presentable. Then I figured the police probably knew they woke me up and didn’t expect me to answer the door in business casual wear so I promptly opened the door. Three police officers stood on my front step, service revolvers drawn while assuming a firing stance—okay maybe not. But there were three of them. One stood on my step while the other two stood behind him as backup. Not that backup was needed. While I’m sure to a casual observer this looked like a scene right out of Cops, I couldn’t have looked too intimidating in my checkered boxers and Six Feet Under t-shirt. At that point I really wished I had thrown on my white terrycloth bathrobe so I looked a little more Tony Soprano-ish. All I would need is the wife beater undershirt, a gold chain, and about 5 more inches of height.
“Sir, do you have a small child?” asked the lead police officer.
Quite possibly the scariest question I’d ever been asked. Every parent’s nightmare. A thousand scenarios went through my still-not-quite-awake mind. Did my little boy get out somehow? If I said “yes” was the cop going to pull him out from behind his back and say “Well, here he is!” A lump formed in my throat and I squeaked out, “Yes I do.”
“Well we got a call because he’s been crying for over an hour and no one is coming to take care of him”
Okay…now comes the time of the blog when I explain myself. Bear in mind I said “explain” not “excuse”. It was a REALLY hot night. I have a real aversion to running our air conditioner at night because I’m a cheap bastard and I’m trying to save money on our electric bill. This by the way has driven my wife absolutely crazy for…let’s see we’ve been living together for 12 years so…12 years. Anyway every window in the house was open, we had 2 very loud fans going on high in our room, and our door was closed. In both pregnancies my wife was always very fatigued in the first trimester. I know, I know. Everybody’s tired in the first trimester. No, no, no. You don’t understand. She was like the pregnant, female Weekend At Bernie’s. During the day I would put sunglasses on her, put her mouth in a smile and walk around holding her up and making her wave to people. You can only imagine what she was like when she was able to close her eyes and actually sleep. A stampeding herd of Wildebeest taking a detour through our bedroom wouldn’t cause her to turn over. (See the analogy here is that since the stampeding Wildebeest had to take a detour through our bedroom they would be even angrier thereby complaining to each other and making the noise that much louder.) Now usually I’m an incredibly light sleeper. Always have been. It’s a blessing and a curse. Every other night when my son so much as sniffled, I would bolt upright in bed. This particular night however I was fighting a nasty head cold and reluctantly decided to take Advil PM or Nyquil or one of those other coma inducing medicines. So if you add two fans, a closed door, a comatose pregnant woman and her stuffed up comatose husband …it’s quite possible the sounds of a toddler crying may be heard by the neighbors in the adjoining condos….before his parents in the other room. For an hour. Sigh. Commence judging.
So I’m still trying to sleepily process everything and now I’m horrified that my son has been crying for an hour but also a little confused because he wasn’t crying at that moment. This led me to believe that he had either given up finally and resigned himself to a life of neglect or thought we were maybe letting him “cry it out” which we’d tried to do before but ultimately caved after 5 minutes OR…he was dead. I was pretty sure (hoping to God) it wasn’t the latter so I decided to make it all about me and explained to the nice officers that we probably couldn’t hear because of the two fans, the closed door, the pregnancy and the cold medicine…and the meth. To their credit the police listened but most likely couldn’t care less. They got the call, they responded, now they just wanted to move on. I however wouldn’t let them. Because of my insatiable desire to prove to everyone that I wasn’t a bad father ALL the time I invited the cops in to check on him with me. “I’m sure he’s fine” I said giggling nervously. I had no idea if he was fine or not. “Would you like to come in and see?” So much for Tony Soprano. Even the officers seemed surprised. I’d make a horrible criminal. “No, I don’t have any drugs in the house. Come on in and check. Just don’t look in that cabinet!”
They followed me upstairs to his room. As soon as I opened the door, I saw my son sitting up in his crib making that hyperventilating noise indicating that he had indeed been sobbing for a long period of time. He looked at me and meekly said “Hi daddy.” Thank God the cops heard that so it was obvious he knew me and that this incident was not the norm but an anomaly. Oh and Thank God he was safe too. I picked him up saying “Hi buddy, I’m so sorry. I didn’t hear you” As I smothered him with kisses and hugs I turned to the cops so they could get a good look at my excessive displays of affection. They seemed unimpressed and said”…maybe just close your windows.” I sputtered, ”Yes, yes, absolutely. Thank you, officers. Sorry to bother you.” The police filed out the front door, I took our son into our room, put him next to me in bed, hugged him tight and everyone fell back to sleep. Except of course my wife who never woke up to begin with.
As an epilogue…for the next two weeks I walked around trying to suss out who of my neighbors ratted us out. I never found out, but I think it was the people across from us. They were nice folks, but they always kind of looked at me as if to say “You’re doing it wrong”. Also their bedroom window and my son’s were directly opposite each other. I’m sure whoever called the authorities didn’t do it out of anger. They were probably concerned that a baby was crying and the fact that nobody was coming to tend to it meant the parents were severely injured or dead. Why else would anyone let a baby cry for an hour at 2 AM??!!!
My 41 year old defense mechanism of humor is thinly covering up the fact that I did and still do feel horrible. The good thing though is that even though my son was crying, he was never in any danger. He wasn’t hurt; he was in his crib in a room with the door closed. There was no way he could have gotten out. No, that would come a few weeks later…