Earlier this week, I took the kids to the YMCA for Gracie's swimming lesson. In preparation, I packed my small travel bag with the usual accouterment, including a small Tupperware of Goldfish crackers and a modest selection of toys, all intended to occupy William while he and I waited for Grace.
Everything was going well until we walked in the door. As soon as we broke the threshold, William freaked. I'm talking about the red-faced, fist-clenched, curled-toes howl that makes onlookers think "Oh, look, here comes the world's worst father, evidenced by his own son's five-alarm wail."
I've got a theory about William's odd reaction. It seems he only does this when we're in commercial buildings that have a receptionist area. Call me crazy, but I'm sure he believes were at the pediatrician's office.
Anyway, he screamed at the front desk. He screamed in the locker room as I got Grace changed. He screamed poolside as we waited for Gracie's teacher to grab her. He screamed in the hallway (they boot parents from the pool area during class). The Goldfish failed me, as he swatted them away. The toys were tossed to the floor just as quickly. So, we were pacing the hall when I spied a beautifully set-up kindergarten or Pre-K classroom. It was empty and mostly dark, but we could see some of the things inside.
"Oh, look at the toys, William," I said. He stopped crying. "Do you see those toys in there?" He was staring through the glass window, mercifully quiet (snotty, but quiet). Just then, a custodian opened the door, flicked on the lights and was walking into the classroom. I blurted out, "I'll give you $100 to let me in there for half an hour." He looked at me and said, "I'll let you in for free." I put William down and he bolted from play area to play area, a look of ecstatic joy on his face. After thanking the custodian profusely and making a mental note to construct a candlelit altar of thanksgiving in his honor once I got home, I said, "You have kids, don't you?" He just grinned and said, "Two."
It was as if we had revealed to each other identical scars from the same battlefield. Call it "The Fraternal Order of Parenthood" if you will. In the end, I got a private half hour with William in a beautifully appointed preschool classroom, Grace had fun swimming and a deep understanding passed between me and a YMCA custodian that only another parent would understand.
I hope he didn't mind the Goldfish in the hallway.