This past Saturday I decided to take our three eldest children to the bookstore. I’ve done this before and immediately regretted it, but it is typical for me to never learn my lesson the first time.
Some context behind this decision would be helpful. First, my mom’s birthday was Sunday, and we needed to get her a birthday present. Second, the adorable Mrs. Sharp was feeling a little tired and slightly under the weather so it was beneficial for her for at least three rings of the circus to go on the road for a while. So, I loaded up the six-year-old Zoologist, the four-year-old Ballerina, and the two-year-old Demolitions expert in the van to head to the bookstore.
Having procrastinated on getting my mom a gift I had nonetheless come up with a great idea. This last week was a momentous one in that I am now an author with a literary agent. Everything came together over the course of the last month and this week I signed the contract.(1) I am fortunate to have found a good agent, and she is an accomplished author herself, so I figured that my mom would get a kick out of reading a couple of books written by my literary agent. I already knew that one bookstore had two of her books, but I thought I’d tempt fate and we stopped by another bookstore on the way on the off chance that they had some of her books as well.
The First Bookstore
Stop number one was unsuccessful with regards to the primary mission, but the kids all left the bookstore with a new book. The Zoologist got an animal book with a pen/brush that you can put water in and essentially color. No real surprise there. The Ballerina got a book about a pink Ballerina. Definitely no surprise there. The Demolitions Expert chose big picture book of Alice in Wonderland. This was a mild surprise. At first she began yelling, “MOUSE! MOUSE! MOUSE!” a sure sign that she had spotted Mickey or Minnie Mouse. Sure enough she tracked down a Minnie Mouse book. I assumed this would be her choice, but rather quickly she put down the Minnie Mouse book, picked up Alice and said, “Pincess.” All I can say is, Disney, you are good at what you do. If only they used their powers for good. Alice in Wonderland it was. We loaded up in the van and headed for bookstore number two.
The Second Bookstore
Stop number two was a lot dicier because it was at the mall. The mall on a Saturday evening is not really the ideal location for a dad flying solo to take three kids six and under, but I was looking for fun, adventure, and something that might end up as a blog post. I read recently that, “commuters experience greater levels of stress than fighter pilots and riot police.”(2) If this is true then taking three kids this age to the mall by yourself is probably on par with disarming nuclear weapons. As a parent most of the time my aims are to show my kids grace, to be a dad that points them to God, to be kind, to love and protect them, and to prepare them for life as fully-thriving independent human beings. Sure, those are lofty goals, but that’s the job description. Taking kids to the mall things get a little more simplified – leave the mall with three kids still alive. That’s it. That’s the list.
It did not help matters that on this particular evening the parking spots weren’t terribly close. You haven’t lived until you’ve played real-life Frogger with three small humans holding hands. I chose to carry the Demolitions Expert into the mall, despite her objections, because I deduced this was the best way to accomplish my primary mission of, again, keeping all three kids alive.
This bookstore had two floors. We entered on the second floor, and because I somehow offended the parenting gods the books we needed were on the first floor. This mean that we four Sharps would be tackling something that can be thrilling and terrifying – the escalator. We strode to the edge of the escalator and stared down. For a brief moment we felt what Magellan, Columbus, and Neil Armstrong felt in their day. We could have turned back, there was an elevator on the other side of the store. Yet, if the internet is to be believed (Bonjour!) it was Helen Keller who once said, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.” We sided with Helen and so we stepped from our secure position on the second floor to the precarious plummet that is an escalator. I describe it this way because I am fairly certain this is how the Ballerina felt. There was a brief moment as the Zoologist had just begun his descent that the Ballerina began to panic about going down the escalator and she began to backpedal, however, with three kids, once the first one is on their way as Julius Caesar said, “Alea iacta est.”(3)
The exit was less than smooth, but we all arrived at the first floor intact. We found the first book easy enough, but while we were looking for the second things took a decidedly dark, if not unexpected, turn. In the midst of the search the Ballerina announced, “I gotta go potty.” I asked how long she could hold it and she proudly proclaimed, “I can hold it for five minutes.” This would have been reassuring if she had any concept of time. I’ve made no bones about my feelings on this subject, but my fate, to take three small children to a public restroom, was sealed. Thanks to a helpful employee we got our book and made our way back up the escalator to the restroom where I could contain the unfolding disaster as well as possible.
After waiting for the bathroom to open up we went inside, just after the Ballerina had informed me that she could hold it for two more minutes. I had deputized the Zoologist to help with the Demolitions Expert while I assisted the Ballerina in going about her business. My instructions were summed up as, “Just try to keep her from touching anything.” He is a responsible kid, but this is a tall order for an adult, much less a brother in the first grade. Really, I was just hoping that he could slow her down a bit. I got the Ballerina on the potty and then realized that I heard the Demo Expert beginning to sing, “Ring around the Rosies.” If you know the rhyme you know it ends with “all fall down,” which would mean that the Demolitions Expert was planning to lay down on the bathroom floor. I yelled, louder than I intended, but I contend not an overreaction given the circumstances, “STOP! NO! STOP! NO! NO RING AROUND THE ROSIES!” Mercifully we were able to be in and out of this restroom in record time and to the best of my knowledge we touched as little as possible. I might even stop twitching in a day or two.
After the potty break it was time to pay. I’ve really been trying to hammer home the worth of a dollar, and what it takes to earn money to the kids. It is sinking in for the Zoologist, but the other two are younger, and it is still a work in progress. In the line to pay for our books there was a display of greeting cards that my kids helpfully reorganized. Sorry Barnes and Noble. Don’t let this keep you from carrying my books.
Before left the store I took a picture of the kids holding the books that my agent wrote so I could post it on the agency’s Facebook group. As I was doing this a random person dressed in a giraffe costume walked by. I have no idea what a person was in the mall dressed as a giraffe, a fact that my children found quite disconcerting. I am very concerned about the direction our country is headed, that doesn’t concern them. God help me if I don’t know why the random guy is dressed as a giraffe. This lack of knowledge all but led them to conclude that maybe dad isn’t really trustworthy after all. My inability to answer this simple question led them to question my intelligence and competency as a father, but my lack of savings for retirement is of no concern.
The Trip Home
We began our long trek back to the car, and I have to say I was very proud of how well they all bunched up, held hands, and made a beeline for the vehicle. When I got everyone in the vehicle and was helping the Demolitions Expert buckle up I made a point to tell them how proud I was of them all. This led the Ballerina to ask, “So, what do we get?” Her assumption, that actually listening for once in her young life, should lead to some sort of remuneration led to a brief but pointed dad-lecture on doing the right thing because it is the right thing, not because there is a reward at the end. I give these lectures free of charge, and within a couple of years I am hoping that the Zoologist will have them memorized so I can just look at him and say, “Tell your siblings the one about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.”
After everyone got buckled up and I got off my soap box the Zoologist held up the book he got earlier and told me when he grew up it was going to be his job to do books like that. I said, “I don’t think you are going to find anyone to pay you to color.” He responded, “It will be my no-money job.” This led me to say, “I’ve had a few of those before.” The subtlety of my humor was lost on my young son who then began to pester me with questions about what I had said. I just wanted to be funny, that was all. I really didn’t want to be interrogated. Alas, I should have known better. Any and all comments can and will be questioned in ways you never imagined. Sarcasm is often lost on small humans.
As we pulled out of the mall parking lot the Ballerina and I had this exchange:
Ballerina: Dad, can I have my book?
Me: I don’t have it. Where did you put it?
Ballerina: At home.
Me (puzzled): The book we just bought?
Me (very puzzled): What book are you talking about?
Ballerina: I don’t know.
Sometimes I think she is just trying to push me over the edge.
On the way home I realized that it was getting late so we swung through the Chick-Fil-A drive through so the kids could eat on the way home. The van we are currently driving is a rental while ours is in the shop, and several times I had to tell the Ballerina to stop kicking the seat in front of her. Finally, just before we were up to the window to get our order, I had enough. I turned around fully intending to dial up the parental intensity. If speaking normally is a 1 on a scale and screaming is a 10 I was planning on ramping it up to a 4. A nice, stern tone to let her know that I was serious dad gummit. Apparently I was more annoyed than I realized because as I spoke I realized that I had gone right by 4 and was probably dialed up to a 6. After telling her to stop, admittedly a little too harshly, I turned back around. It was at this point that I hear a small voice from the back of the van say, “Well, you didn’t have to be grumpy with me.”
She was right. The thing about parenthood is that it can be simultaneously convicting, exasperating, and humiliating. One minute you are keeping your kids alive in the parking lot and teaching them valuable lessons about money and jobs. The next minute the lesson is sometimes Dad blows it.
Next year I’m just going online and getting my mom a gift card to somewhere.
(1) The truth is they are just signing me to try to get to my wife, but I’m playing hardball.
(2) DeYoung, Kevin. Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem (Kindle Location 247). Crossway. Kindle Edition.
(3) The die is cast.