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…
It’s a moment we all have to go through. A moment that is profoundly sad. The moment that you realize you’ve had your last kid. My oldest started kindergarten this week. My youngest started pre-school. My babies are growing up. I cleaned out the garage last week and found a storage bin filled with bibs, tiny shoes and onesies. They had all been worn by my first born and been passed down to his baby brother three years later. I got a lump in my throat knowing as I put them away, they would not be worn by another child of mine. My wife and I have two beautiful children. We will not be having another…and I am soooo, so cool with that.
I’m done. I’m ready to move on. Don’t get me wrong. I really loved the baby stage and there are many things I miss and will always miss about it. I hate that I can no longer carry my 5 year old because he’s getting too big. I hate that his cute baby cries have turned into a not so cute whining sound. I hate that my two year old is starting to climb out of his crib on his own and will soon need a bigger bed. But, man, I love the fact that I’m about 6 months away from never having to change another diaper. And that everybody’s baby teeth have already painfully popped though their gums. And that when I go to sleep at night I’m not going to be woken up every two hours until dawn. Yes, I grew very melancholy when I packed away the baby clothes, but I would have grown melancholy no matter how many kids I had. There always has to be a last kid. Might as well be now.
I can tell you for a fact that as my wife is reading this blog, she’s either welling up with tears or getting really angry. See she wants to leave open the possibility of a third kid (hopefully a daughter). In her head she knows that the family dynamic is perfect now, it’s not financially feasible to add another mouth at this point, and that we both have very busy lives and can’t handle the commitment it would take to care for another infant. But in her heart she is always hoping I’ll change my mind. I knew I was going to stop at two as soon as she sent me a picture of the pregnancy test confirming that another bundle of joy was on the way. By the way she sent that pic to me on my phone just before a callback for a major national commercial. No wonder I didn’t book the job. Plus I saw that commercial ad infinitum for about two years afterward. Never really forgave her for that one. Anyway I knew we were done during the her second pregnancy. We already had a three year old boy so obviously we were hoping for a baby girl to get that nice perfect sitcom family. When we were told we were having another boy, we shrugged and said “Oh well. Saves us money on clothes and toys and anxiety during the hormonal, “mother hating” teenage insanity years” Plus not having a daughter saved me the time and money spent on researching chastity belts and convents. At the time though, my wife didn’t want to close the door on a third child. I told her, “No, of course not, dear.” Meanwhile I had closed, locked, barred, and thrown a heavy bookcase against the door. A few years after the birth of our 2nd little boy, she began to realize that our family unit was perfect. She said, “By not having a daughter, I shall stay the most beautiful woman in the house.” That’s not an exaggeration by the way. She really said that. In fact she said it while standing in front of a magic mirror and holding a poison apple. But now the queen is beginning to change her tune a little and hinting that she may want a princess after all. Now I reminded her that in 7th grade health class they told us we don’t really have a say over if we get a princess or a 3rd prince, but she said it didn’t matter. She would be okay with another little boy. I then went on to remind her that raising two boys has so far nearly killed and divorced us (in that order) and it does in fact NOT get easier with a third. In fact a friend of mine said it best. She said raising another child is like adding a full point on the earthquake Richter Scale. Each point up the scale means the earthquake is exponentially worse. Going from 1 to 2 kids is like going from a Richter Scale 5 to a 6. Minimal destruction. Going from a 2nd to a 3rd (and another boy at that), well you’re talking a 6 to a 7. Now you’re looking at pretty extensive damage and injuries. Plus you should never let your kids outnumber you. Right now my wife and I can play a man to man defense. If we have another one, we’ll have to go to the zone and any basketball coach will tell you that’s a much tougher coverage. So I hate to tell my wife (and her mother), but I have now added another padlock, a couple of couches and an angry Doberman to that closed door.
I love my two boys. They’re my best friends. My 5 year old is watching sports with me and starting to understand satire and sarcasm. I’m starting to have conversations with my 2 year old. I am eager to continue on to the next phases of raising my wonderful family. I want to look forward and not start over. So barring any “accidents”, I’ve had my last kid. Oops. Shouldn’t have written that last sentence. I’ll bet my wife is putting the kids to bed, opening a bottle of wine and slipping into something more comfortable right now.
Chris Loprete, aka the father of Our Milk Money, began writing his experiences as a new father upon the launch of Our Milk Money, calling his work, appropriately, The Daddys Den. Chris is no stranger to comedy composition. He wrote and performed his one-man show You’re from Philly, Charlie Brown, having successful runs at Circle X Theatre, The Lonny Chapman Repertory Theatre and The Comedy Central Workspace in Hollywood, California as well the Philadelphia Fringe Festival. Chris has performed all over the country in theatrical productions, television and film. He is an alumni of The Circle X Theatre Company and The Groundlings Sunday Company. Currently, he is a writer/producer for the Comedy and Reality Promo Team at ABC Television. Chris lives in Stevenson Ranch, California with his wife Ally, founder of OurMilkMoney.com and his two beautiful sons, Braden and Henry.
I know that doesn’t seem like a very provocative title or interesting subject of a blog so let me raise the stakes a little. My wife is reading this for the first time too. When my wife and I have some domestic dust up, I’ve always been pretty good at turning it into a humorous story or blog. Even she gets a kick out of it. Well, I’m taking a chance this time and flipping the scenario. I’m confessing something publicly and hoping she laughs it off BEFORE we fight about it. Will the gamble pay off? Well if it doesn’t…on the bright side I may already have next month’s blog.
So I’ve been ridiculously busy at my job this last month. Lots of late nights and weekends. My department is always busy this time of year because of a big annual presentation the president of our company gives to advertisers and media buyers in New York. Once the presentation is over, we can all breathe a sigh of relief on a job well done. Well, the presentation was given on a Tuesday morning and it’s tradition for our team to take the rest of the day off. Now my wife had an important meeting with her literary agent that night. She was going to take the kids to the supervised play at their preschool and I was going to pick them up. No problem. So I thought…”What would be the harm if I just went to a quick matinee? I haven’t seen a movie in so long. I don’t know when I’ll get to one. I’ve worked very hard at work as well as at home with the kids on the weekend (including giving my wife Mother’s Day weekend off)…why not just go to a movie and I’ll be home to take care of the kids tonight?” Now I’m pretty sure my wife would have preferred that I come home even earlier and help her with the kids. So why didn’t I call my wife and let her know that I was heading to the movies? Um…please save all questions until the end.
I drive to a movie theatre about 5 minutes away from our house. That way I can pick the kids up faster than if I went to a theatre near work. In fact I’ll still get them earlier than I would have if I worked the whole day. Am I a great Dad or what? I pay my ticket, grab my 3D glasses and head in. The movie begins and I’m usually vigilant about turning off my phone because I can’t stand when people talk or text during a film, but this time I kept it on vibrate…just in case. Good thing too. Sure enough because the Universe loves to screw with me, at about the half way point of the movie my phone begins to vibrate in my lap. It’s her. I started to perspire as I did something I would never dream of doing before. Pushed the “ignore” button. If it’s important I’m sure she’ll leave a voice mail and I’ll duck out of the theatre in a minute to check it. BZZZ. BZZZ. She’s calling back. Ooookay she’s looking for me. Duck out the theatre NOW. I scamper out of my seat. Luckily the theatre was mostly empty because most people were working or home with their families. I’m starting to hate myself as I write this. I hurry out to the lobby so she won’t hear the obscenely loud sounds of Thor saving the planet. “Hello?” “Hi” Oh God. She’s been crying. “Is everything okay?” “I’m sorry to bother you” she says. “You’re not bothering me at all” I say. (TELL HER!)”What’s up?” (YOU FOOL!) She then goes on to tell me about what a miserable day she’s been having and she’s thinking of calling off the meeting with her agent. I ask her if she wants me to come home. For the record I meant it. I would have left the theatre right then and hurried home.
Of course it would have confused my wife because I would have been home about 40 minutes before I usually get home from work. “No”, she said. “I just need a pep talk.” Now I’m REALLY good at breaking my wife out of her funks so I go into my best spiel. Please believe me when I say that I wasn’t b.s-ing her just to get back into the theatre. I really meant everything I was saying and I was telling her everything she needed to hear. I was even ignoring the curious glances from the people in the lobby. I’m sure they were impressed by this man who must be a motivational speaker. Not so much. Turns out they were looking at a lunatic having a very animated conversation on his cell phone…who had forgotten to take off his 3D glasses. I can imagine how many dinner conversations that night that started with “I saw the strangest thing in the lobby of the movie theatre today…” It worked though. My wife stopped crying, she said she felt better and she thanked me. I hung up walked back into the theatre glad that I had cheered her up, but feeling like pond scum. I watched and enjoyed the rest of the movie but I was obviously distracted. You gotta understand. My wife and I don’t lie to each other. We don’t know how. On the few occasions we have been deceptive it tears away at both of us like Poe’s Tell Tale Heart. In my case the heart beat under the floor boards was as loud as Thor’s hammer.
May I just interject here and say that last month Arnold Schwarzenegger confessed to fathering a child over a decade ago with his maid. I went to the movies. Just putting it in perspective. Okay back to the story. The movie ended, I picked up the kids, fed them, bathed them, and put them to bed. My wife got home from the meeting and told me it went well and she was glad she didn’t call it off. I considered telling her right then, but it seemed a little soon. No. Best to do the most cowardly thing imaginable and wait two weeks to tell her in a blog. So there it is.
This is my warped way of apologizing. I’m sure a therapist would have a field day. They say the truth will set you free. I am about to seriously put that theory to the test. You may not even be reading this. I have to send it to my editor first…who is also my wife.
So if you are reading this, one of two things has happened. Either I’m right and she is laughing this whole thing off…or I’m dead and she has posted this posthumously as a warning to other husbands out there. We shall see…