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Okay, Okay, I'll Listen

I clearly remember standing in line at Fay's Drugstore in Scranton, Pennsylvania, as a pimply-faced teenager. It must have been 1989 or so, and I wanted to buy a copy of Modern Drummer magazine. Imagine my denim jacket with a Van Halen patch on the sleeve, the Converse high-top sneakers, and headful of styling mousse — a vision of eighties' glory. Oh, yeah.

In front of me were two women and a 4- or 5-year-old girl. The line was moving slowly, and the girl was desperate for her mother's attention.

"Mommy," she said, staring up at the women.

They ignored her and continued their conversation. "Mommy," the girl repeated. "Mommy. Mommy. Mommy..." She was inches from their legs, chanting with the intensity of a bone saw.

"Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy. Mommy..." the girl continued while I fought the mounting urge to yell, OH MY GOD WILL YOU JUST ANSWER THAT FREAKING KID?!?

What is wrong with this woman? I wondered. What kind of a parent would ignore her child this way?

Today, I know the answer. Me.

Earlier this evening, I was washing dishes when I heard Grace's voice. "Ehh ehhh eh ehhh eeeh eh eh ehhh," she said.

"That's great, honey," I replied, scrubbing forks in the sink.

The conscious part of my brain noticed something in those syllables and prodded me. Hey, it said. You should probably pay attention to this.

Mfhhuh, I told it. Washing dishes now. No more talking to children. Dishes dirty. Children are not in danger. No more bothering me.

Unfazed by my protests, my brain played back the tape of my daughter's voice: 'Ehh ehh eh eeh eeh eh my butt,' I heard that time.

'Butt?' I thought, moving closer to consciousness. Wait, she's talking about her butt? Brain, play that back just one more time, will you? I put my wet hands on my hips and leaned against the sink, the water still running. This time I got the whole message:

"I'm going to leave this in my butt."

"What?!?" I said out loud. "What's in your butt? Gracie, what are you doing? Honey, come over here." She came marching toward me, triumphant and naked, a corner of white toilet paper dangling from her backside, as if her colon were signaling an unconditional surrender.

"Honey, you cannot leave that in your butt. Please go into the bathroom and flush it down the toilet. Then wash your hands."

"But..."

"No 'but.' Flush it."

She hung her head, dejected. "Okay..."

I'd like to publicly thank my brain for realizing that Daddy doesn't always grasp every word that's thrown around the house — especially at the end of the day — and for alerting me when I've missed something big. You're a real pal.

I'd also like to formally apologize for all of the negative thoughts I had toward the woman at Fay's Drugstore. I realize now that you were not neglectful or uncaring, just tired. Tired, and filtering out the incessant yapping, much like the way a city dweller habituates to traffic noise.

It reminds me of an old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon, in which Calvin's mom is sitting at the kitchen table staring at a newspaper just as Calvin marches in. "After I jump off of the roof," he says, "I'm going to inhale this can of pesticide."

"Umm hmm," she replies.

So, Woman at Fay's, I'm sorry. You did nothing wrong.

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