“I ran into your mom at the mall last weekend,” my best friend told me on the phone. Sarah lives in the small town where we both went to college, about an hour outside of the city where I grew up and where my parents still live. “She was excited to see the baby.”
“Oh, good grief,” I said. “Did she do the thing?” I could see it in my mind’s eye: my mother gushing over Sarah’s newborn second child, wondering aloud in front of God and everybody if I was ever going to give her grandchildren.
“Yup,” said Sarah.
“But you would have laughed,” Sarah went on. “She suggested that maybe I should visit you more often and then you might feel more comfortable with the idea of having kids.”
I did laugh at that.
Sure, Mom. Let me tell you some of the things my friends have taught me about parenting…
As I visited the zoo with Sarah and her husband Alex, a child in the gift shop was having A Very Bad Day.
Alex smiled. “It used to bother me,” he said. “Before I had kids, screaming children were like nails on a chalkboard.”
“And now it doesn’t bother you?” I asked over the noise.
“It’s more than that. Now, actually, it’s a relief. Because, yes, it’s a child screaming, but – and this is the important part – it’s NOT MINE.”
Sarah nodded agreement. In the nearby stroller, their daughter smiled up at me happily. Elsewhere in the shop, the unhappy child continued to scream at unknown horrors, as if she’d leaped off a building and hadn’t hit bottom yet. Her mother continued to shop as if nothing was happening.
“So what do you do when it is your child?” I asked.
“Drink,” said Alex.
Such pearls of wisdom are beyond all price.
Not long before their second child was born, they drove out to spend the weekend with us. That first morning, Matt and Alex kept young Cassie entertained while I cooked waffles and Sarah slept in.
“I might go to the store later,” I said. “Is there anything you and Sarah would like?”
“Juice,” said Alex.
“No worries,” I said, checking the fridge. “There’s still half a carton in here.”
“You’ll need more,” Alex said with a shrug. “Kids drink a lot of juice.”
“I thought Sarah wasn’t big on giving her all the sugar and stuff?”
“You’ve got to look at the big picture,” Alex said. “There are powers beyond your understanding, two equal yet opposing forces locked in an endless battle as old as time itself.”
“Is this like the Force?” said Matt. “Are we talking about the Light Side and the Dark Side?”
“Sort of,” said Alex, “except these two forces are Juice and Cheese.”
“I’m not listening,” I said.
“You have to maintain a delicate balance between them,” Alex went on. “Too much of one or the other-”
“I’m waking Sarah up right now.”
Obviously, my mind is not yet prepared for such arcane knowledge.
While we were in town for the Renaissance Fair, we stayed with Alex and Sarah overnight. Sunday morning, Sarah stayed home with the girls while Alex rode with us to the Fair. On the way, I noted some of the things around town that had changed since Matt and I moved away after college.
“The casino seems awful crowded for an early Sunday morning. Is it always like that?” I asked.
“Not really,” said Alex. “They must be having some kind of event.”
“Is it nice there?” I asked.
“I couldn’t say. I don’t often make it to the casino. It’s hard to get in with kids.”
I laughed. “I’m sure you could take them with you and if anyone confronted you about it, say, ‘I’m looking for their mother.’”
Matt sighed at me. “You’re horrible,” he said.
Alex, however, loved this idea: “I do that sort of thing all the time! Whenever I’m picking up Sarah from work, if the girls aren’t behaving, I like to say, ‘I bet you never treat your REAL dad this way!’ and watch people’s reactions.”
Matt looked at him wide-eyed. “How do people react to that?”
“Most of them laugh. They all know I’m Sarah’s husband by now.” He chuckled to himself then went on, “It’s really fun in restaurants, when they misbehave, to say, ‘If you keep this up, you’ll never see your real parents again.’”
After a moment of stunned silence, Matt responded with a simple “Wow.”
“Yeah, FYI: management doesn’t appreciate it when you do that,” Alex said.
Truly, I am in the presence of a master.