Mon 13 Jun 2011
when he hung the baby swing on the one branch in our backyard that could possibly be trusted with a swing, it seemed that summers yawned out ahead of us before we’d have to grapple with the fact that the playhouse – fondly referred to as the “babyhouse” since the August before Posey was born, when Dave & his dad built it by hand and Oscar appointed it the home-to-be of his incoming baby sister – sits way too close.
the trajectory of branch to baby house results in a nice resounding thwack of shoes hitting shingles. if child is safely esconced in the plastic bucket of a baby swing, all good. the fact that under the swing is a large unmoveable wooden garden box matters not. the rope is short. the child is contained. all is well.
but when the baby stretches and her big brother decides he too wants to careen through the air and thwack the baby house with his feet? on the long ropes of a big kid swing? there is possibly a safety issue in the making. there are possibly big THWACKS in the making. the prospect of falls begins to look ugly.
we bought a big kid swing anyway. sometimes you have to try something to figure it out.
there was much anticipation. it was shortly thereafter followed by cries of great disappointment, because we discovered we were quite right, and there is nowhere safe to hang a big kid swing in our yard. the swing came down fifteen minutes after it went up.
we had a strange afternoon, yesterday.
when it is the first truly sunny warm afternoon of the summer and you have already reduced your preschoolers to tears with the giving and taking of big-kid swings, it can be wise to cut your losses. we got out of the yard, headed to the park and took a little walk in the woods. the children were happy. they were so happy, meandering through the thin little forest paths looking for pinecones and elusive chipmunks that they totally missed the man and the woman and the baby who blew by us as we emerged near the ballfield.
i missed them too, at first. i mean, i saw them, moved a little because he was walking so quickly, but i didn’t see them, except to register that he was tall and lean and her hair was blond and the baby was wearing something white, maybe a dress. i didn’t see their faces.
but as they passed us, me last in our little trundling foursome, she called out to the baby he was carrying. something in her voice made my spine shudder.
her words were benign. she spoke the baby’s name, said Mommy’s right here, it’s okay, honey.
but the baby was not crying.
and the woman’s voice was raw adrenalin.
i suddenly realized the intensity of their pace and body language. i suddenly realized that a group of men were hustling past us, in direct pursuit. the baby looked back at us, her head resting on the shoulder of the man i assume to be her father. she was being carried away. her mother kept pace, her words soothing, her tone a raw, pleading alarm.
i looked at Dave, who had clued in earlier than i, his body tensed. my ears caught the words of one of the men passing, who was clearly speaking to 911, reporting an abduction. we paused, both of us.
the human brain can do amazing things in moments of stress, even vicarious stress. i looked at Dave and saw him through a prism of three lenses, all the space of a heartbeat.
one saw immediate and practical potentiality: he is fast. he could help.
one noted his actual – and perhaps more practical – choice of actions, and approved: he is solidly and gently ushering the children away from the spectacle.
the third lens, though, was the complicated one, the one that made my breath catch with the gravity of what i spend my days blithely ignoring. he is my children’s father and i am more vulnerable to him than to anyone else on earth.
we are a relational species, we humans, none of us an island. we are webbed to each other by choice and by circumstance. you could say that when i chose Dave, i knew him well, in all his flaws and glory. i chose him after five years of knowing him: it was by far the most deliberate choice i have made in my life. but no choice – no matter how deliberate – is ever made with full knowledge. sometimes you have to try something to figure it out.
what makes he & i so different from the two who passed us in the midst of their crisis, their unfolding judgement of Solomon?
most of us, if we are lucky, have our choices of partner or fellow parent turn out mostly benign. the people to whom we give this enormous trust may turn out to be imperfect, but still…mostly worthy. if we are lucky.
it is easy to say i trust Dave with my life. and still, staring at the retreating backs of those two parents in the woods yesterday, i was shell-shocked by the evidence of how much trust that really is, and how fragile.
we have lived through upheaval and loss and mundanity together. do i believe he will ever grab the children and run? no. nor would i. i would, genuinely, bet my life on these two facts.
it just hadn’t occurred to me before that i do so every day.
i remember realizing, in the broody angst of my teens, that traffic is an enormous dance, a game remarkable not for its occasional breakdowns and tragedies but for the massive compliance it usually manages to exact. to we enter it daily, fastening ourselves and our loved ones into our little metal boxes, all of us more or less simultaneously performing the rituals and observances that keep us on our respective sides of the roads and the stop signs and the oncoming headlights and thus alive. on a dark road late at night, we may entertain fantasies of playing chicken, but we almost never swerve the wheel.
somewhere, yesterday, in that triad that must once have been a couple and some sort of family, whose story i do not claim to know, somebody swerved the wheel.
i stood frozen on the little path, as the father and baby and mother rounded the corner out of my sight and into the cleavage between whatever they might have been before that moment and whatever the law will leave when it is finished with them. the four men in pursuit began to run. there but for fortune, i whispered.
the police car arrived as we left the park. lights, but no siren. i hoped that meant that the men who pursued them had stopped him, that the situation was contained, that the mother’s voice no longer sounds like it did, primal and terrified.
our children were oblivious. we came home. we looked at pictures from the morning. Oscar noted plaintively how happy he’d looked on the big kid swing. thwack.
i agreed. he noted that he hadn’t hurt himself. i agreed. then i explained that if he did fall, or if Posey fell, it’s just not a smart place for Mummy & Daddy to have a swing like that. i explained that Daddy had committed to finding a new place for the big kid swing. he pouted.
i asked him if Daddy usually does what he promises. Oscar nodded. Posey echoed.
and then i took a deep breath and wished, that the two of them will be so easy and so lucky in their trust, all their days. that they will not swerve. that they will not be caught in anyone’s oncoming traffic.