My wife had to work last Thursday and the van needed brakes and the inspection was up at the end of the month. Recipe for a long day. I knew it going in. My wife apologized for not being able to help. I told her not to worry. It’d be easy. I knew it would be a day I wouldn’t forget. Five kids waiting for a van to be fixed. Not good.
I called the mechanic and asked if they had time to check out the van and inspect it and all that stuff. Sure, the guy said.
Great, I said. “About how long should it take because I’ll have my kids with me.”
“Two hours. Tops,” he said.
Tops, he said. Remember that. I mean, if you can’t trust a mechanic, who can you trust, right?
So I threw two diapers in the bag, some drinks, some books for my five children and me. I’m all set. Two hours. What could go wrong?
We got to the mechanic and walked into his little office in back and he looked up alarmed at my five children filling his little office. “Call me Bob,” he said and reached out his hand to me over the head of the four year old standing directly in front of him.
“They all yours?” Bob asked, referring to the children.
“Nah. Two of them are just hitchhikers I picked up along the way because I thought they kinda’ look like the others.”
He laughed and said that’s how Madonna got some of her kids.
So I told Bob we’d take a walk for two hours and then we’d come back and he could call me on my cell if he needed me. (Now, the real reason we give mechanics our numbers is so that they can call us to say that he was surprised that our ziggelydaboot was worn down to nothing and we would be needing a new ziggelydaboot and maybe even a new plotzkin. And then we say that we couldn’t possibly afford it right now but maybe next time we’d look into that stuff.)
So my kids and I walked outside. Not a lot of places to sit. A strip mall with offices. In the distance across a four lane road was a Wal-Mart. OK.
So we went. I know people do it all the time but walking along a major road with five children scares me- even with traffic lights. We’re all holding hands and I’m pointing out bumps into the pavement so nobody trips. (Yeah, I’m that guy) And after waiting about twenty minutes to cross we finally got into the Wal-Mart.
Now, killing time in Wal-Mart sounds easy but essentially our quest centered around three aisles of toys where my children begged and pleaded for toys they needed and they’d never ask again for a single thing if they could only have a Power Ranger action figure, a foam sword, a book, a soccer ball, and a fish.
Are you crazy, I ask them. I can’t even afford a new plotzkin for the van.
So we walked around looking at the new electronics. We looked at clothes. The girl’s tried some shirts and skirts on until the boy and the one year old girl just couldn’t sit still any longer. We stopped in front of the huge screen televisions because Spongebob was on. And let me tell you something, one year old’s don’t like their Spongebob three feet tall. It freaks them out. So we moved on to Sporting Goods.
So about fifteen minutes before the two hour mark I brought the baby into the bathroom and changed her. One diaper left. But it’s fine, I thought. We just have to walk back, pick up the van and head on home.
We get back and the van is in the parking lot. Hooray, I tell the kids. It’s ready. We all pile back into the office and Bob looks up surprised to see me. He looks at the clock on the wall.
“Oh. You’re back with your army,” he says. “Uh…I’ll tell you what…”
Well, as you can imagine “what” consisted of saying it was going to be another hour and a half. Tops.
Tops, said Bob. He actually had the guts to tell me “Tops.”
“OK Sir,” I said. “We’ll see you in an hour and a half.”
“Call me Bob,” he said.
I wanted to call Bob other things but off we went. Walking back up the road and boom. The seven year old falls. Knee on pavement. Blood. Children freak. Seven year old running in place. Screaming. Cars whizzing by. Trucks rumble. Baby starts crying. OK. Let’s turn up the side road up here guys and see what’s up here.
And there it was. A Diner. OK. How does ice cream sound everyone?
Crying stops. Celebratory cheers abound. We sing Hi-Ho as we walk and laugh as the baby rocks her head.
The diner was empty so we had the full attention of the three waitresses and if you ask me the service was way too good. Within eight minutes we had two band aids on my seven year old’s knee, my six year old begging for and receiving a sympathy band aid for an imaginary boo-boo, and our ice creams sitting in front of us. Never mind that it wasn’t even 11 a.m. and my children were eating ice cream. I was just worried the ice cream got there way too fast.
We started the long trek back towards the mechanic shop even though we were early. As we approached, I saw a 20 foot by 20 foot patch of grass behind the mechanic shop parking lot in back. I had everyone sit and I read a storybook and they all listened well. When I was done we spoke about ways we could’ve made the story much sillier than it was. We invited hippos and monkeys into the story and giraffes with sore throats. We were passing the time well…
And then I smelled something.
The baby was sitting next to me in the grass and I was downwind. Whew. Let’s just say the ice cream didn’t sit all that well. So the last diaper came out of the diaper bag and the old diaper got thrown into “Call me Bob’s” dumpster where I’m sure an innocent sanitation worker will likely be found unconscious in a few days.
At the proposed time as we got ready to go back into the mechanic’s office, my phone rang. It turned out I needed a new plotzkin and the ziggelydaboot was shot. I said that we couldn’t possibly afford it right now but we’ll keep it in mind. “So how long until it’s ready?”
Call me Bob says, “Two hours. Tops.”
Now, I’m a patient man. I really am. “Bob,(I was struggling to call him Bob) I’m dyin’ here. I’ve got five kids who are bored out of their minds and you told me two hours TOPS three and a half hours ago.”
Well, “Call me Bob” had many reasons why this occurred. I just had five reasons I didn’t want it to continue.
OK. He promises to hurry.
“Guys, let’s go for a walk,” I announce.
Now, behind the mechanic shop there’s a wooded area and I see a little creek which leads to a river beyond which there’s a neighborhood so we all walk down to the creek. I tell everyone to take their shoes off and I help the drama queen seven year old take her shoes off because the pain of her wound is so awful she’s practically paralyzed. The six year old suddenly finds taking off her shoe difficult as well. I didn’t bother reminding her that she hadn’t fallen.
I collected some large stones nearby and threw them into the creek so the children could leap from stone to stone so as not to get too wet. I lift the baby, hop across, turn around to offer to carry the four year old boy but he was already knee deep in the water. The nine year old says, “Oh no.”
“What’s wrong,” I ask her.
“You’ll see,” she says. And when the boy emerges from the creek I see he has his shoes on and he’s smiling the biggest smile of his life. It’s hard to get too upset by a child who clearly sees nothing wrong with what they’re doing. And what am I going to say, “Hey next time we’re waiting for the van to be done and the mechanic lies to us and we’re forced to cross a creek you might want to take your shoes off.” I’m not sure it’s going to come up all that often.
I look at the boy as he emerges. “I didn’t see that coming,” I say to the girls across the creek.
“How didn’t you see that coming?” asks my extremely sarcastic and know-it-all nine year old.
After they all laughed at me, the girls all hopped across thinking of it all as a grand adventure and oddly speaking in British accents which, I guess, fit the story they’d placed themselves in. (They alternately sounded like Sean Connery with marbles in his mouth or the Queen of England at high tea.)
We put our shoes back on and we walked out into the neighborhood. Each of the homes had a boat that could, I guess, be taken out into the river and the kids marveled at them as we walked past them. The boys squishy sneakers had the girl’s giggling for a few hundred yards as well. After about a quarter of a mile, the street opened out into a large green field adjacent to an apartment complex.
“Can we play?” they all asked excitedly.
Sure. The boy asked if he could remove his shoes. I said he could. Then, of course, everyone wanted to remove their shoes. So we did. We chased each other like a bunch of Moglis and Huck Finns set loose in a field in Pennsylvania. Wrestling and tickling and running. We played freeze tag which finally devolved into what every game devolves into. The game has no official name but the rules consist of Dad chasing children around while growling like a monster. Insert children’s screams here.
I worried a little about the fact that I’m sure dogs defected at will in the field but it turned out that we didn’t need to worry about the dogs. As I chased my one year old who can scream as loud as the nine year old but can only run three steps from me until she freezes in anticipation of being caught so she just stops, screams and closes her eyes and sticks her arms out. As I approached her I noticed how low her bottom sagged and when I got closer I smelled her again.
Oh no. I had no diapers left. I scooped her up as part of the game and peeked down the back of her pants. She squealed. I reeled. It was bad. Should I carry her back to Wal-Mart? Certainly that would end messily for the both of us but what choice did I have. Could the baby go commando? There were no good options here. I actually suffered a kind of paralysis in that field. I stood there staring at my daughter’s diaper. There were no options but somehow I thought that I’d somehow think of something. Finally, I surrendered to the optionless of my life and told everyone to get their shoes back on. And that’s when I saw a woman with a stroller wheeling past the field towards her apartment complex about fifty yards away from us.
So here’s what the lady with the stroller saw: Short chubby sweating bearded man with no shoes running away from an apartment complex through a vacant field with a baby in his arms TOWARDS HER!
Oddly enough, I didn’t get pepper sprayed and I explained to her what had occurred and ended my tale with a plea for a diaper to borrow.
“Well, how about you can have one because I’m not going to want it back,” she joked.
I thanked her profusely and as the girls came up behind me and the boy squished over they all explained that Dad hadn’t given anyone lunch and that the baby only had ice cream and that’s why the diaper “exploded.” She laughed, gave me a “been there, done that” look and said “Hey, it happens.”
In the end, we walked back through the neighborhood and I saw a way around the creek. I left it up to them which way we went and they all wanted to try jumping from stone to stone again. The boy actually did a great job hopping across and the girls made it a grand adventure of it by pretending the water was lava, again speaking like Britains.
Thankfully, “Call me Bob who I now had several other polysyllabic and unmentionable named for” had the car ready when we returned and it drove just fine (even with its old worn out plotzkin.) He apologized, saying it was “one of those days.”
I said, “Don’t worry Bob. It happens.”
As we drove away the girls and the boy all said “We are never going back there again.” We all came up with places we’d rather be than back at the mechanic. The North Pole in a bathing suit. In a cave with a bear. Hanging from the tallest building in the world. You get the idea.
But yesterday, when we were driving to the library we passed the mechanic and the seven year old said joyfully, “Hey remember when we crossed the river.”
The six year old said, “Yeah” and reminded everyone that her brother forgot to take his shoes off and they all laughed again like it had just happened.
Remember we played tag, said the nine year old. Remember you fell and the waitress gave you band aids.
I thought it would be a day that I wouldn’t forget. But it turned out to be a day I’d remember. Always.