The woman in the parking booth looks about fifty-five. She has dark curly hair and a worn smile. I frantically roll down the car window and fling out the parking ticket. I feel beads of sweat forming on my hairline. They aren’t from the hot, humid day. The AC is cranking. These are stress beads.
Come on, lets’s make this quick. For the love of my eardrums, let’s make this quick.
She reaches out for my ticket with the slowness of someone pushing through quickly drying wet cement. If I were her, I’d be in no rush either. She’s just counting down the minutes until she’s released from a tiny booth in a stuffy garage. I don’t blame her for having molasses hands. But, I have a situation happening that only worsens the longer the car stands still, the more minutes we rack up for our trip home. I feel my blood pressure spike with each tedious, carefree push on the cash register.
In the mirror attached to the back seat which reflects in the rear view mirror, I can see the Dumping’s face. Her eyes jet around, looking for trouble. Her little face holds the reckless gaze of someone searching for a trash can to tip over, a pacifier to hurl into the air.
The mirror is used exclusively to monitor the location of the pacifier. When I strapped her in the car seat, I placed the pacifier in her mouth, making sure she had a good grip, pleading with her not to let go. But, I knew my hopefulness was futile and that even at five months, any parental pleading would result in rebellion. Fresh from a nap, she was wide awake and expecting to be entertained. Usually when she’s in this state she looks at me as if she’s Lorne Michaels and I have thirty seconds to prove I belong on Saturday Night Live.
My eyes dart from the Dumpling to the Parking Attendant to the Dumpling to the molasses hands.
Since I could not perform my latest comedy routine where I dangle a tiny elephant and make goofy noises or recite my hilarious rendition of Brown Bear Brown Bear, she at least expected unlimited re-positioning of the pacifier. If handed to her, she could place it back in her mouth. But, she had taken to yanking it out, tossing it around and eventually throwing it far out of reach. And when that happens, she becomes quite unhappy. You might even say she gets downright ornery.
The only way for the possibility of a scream/whale/cry free forty-five minute ride home was to make sure the car kept moving and the pacifier stayed put.
I thought I learned my lesson from the rare but joyous times she’s been awake and silent for entire car rides. When we reached our destination, I’d jump out of the car and rush back to see how in the heck she stayed quiet (before we had the mirror), and find her sitting there calmly, sucking away on her paci. Even though my heart swelled with pride and I’d almost trade those rides for sleep, I knew they were anomalies, one offs, cruel teases.
Still, I had hope that maybe my heart would swell one more time. I was in no mood to accept that unless my arms could grow another foot or two in the next minute, our prospects for a quiet ride home were not good.
The Parking Attendant sluggishly reaches for the receipt. I watch the Dumpling’s little hands move up toward her mouth as if she’s considering a paci grab, and then back down for her car seat straps. If she could speak, I think she would have glared at me in the mirror and said, “Psyche! Wahahahaha!” My gut swerves back and forth with each hand movement.
At last, I am handed my receipt. The gate opens. I turn onto the main street and catch three green lights. We have a long stretch before another stoplight (the cry inducing slowing of movement). Things are looking good. Her hands are firmly grasping her seat buckle. I start to relax. Let my mind wander. Breath.
I think about friends I need to call, baby gift thank you letters I still need to send, what to have for dinner, going back to work, where my life is headed, our life, if Josh and I will succeed in making sure she does what makes her happy in life, whether I remembered to put the laundry in the dryer, whether I’ll ever feel like a normal person again, the news, the elections, Hilary and her impending announcement. Thinking of Hillary makes me wonder when Chelsea is due, when Kate Middleton is due, how so many celebrities had babies recently, about Kerry Washington’s baby, if the new season of Scandal started this week. Wait, did I even turn on the washing machine? I think of the insanity that such incongruous thoughts can run through a person and-
I could decipher this specific clicking noise through fireworks and Metallica blasting. The click of the little handle on her pacifier; it always happens the second I start to think we’re in the clear. Just like in the first few months when she didn’t sleep well at night; the second I thought she was finally asleep and I would drift at last into the most luxurious slumber, the squawking would begin again.
The paci dangles precariously in her left hand. She places it in both hands and starts to maneuver toward her mouth.
Yes, yes, this is good. You can do it, Dumpling. You can do it.
She puts the paci securely in her mouth. Victory!
Then she pulls it back out, shakes her arm, and tosses it down near her legs, way out of her reach. We have thirty minutes left on our drive. Maybe she’ll be ok. Maybe she’s getting older and doesn’t mind sitting quietly, paci free.
A red light looms ahead. I ease toward the stopped car in front of me, trying to pulse the breaks until the light turns green. There’s all this talk of how parents’ are not supposed to let the baby think she’s in control. “Let the dishwasher run during her naps,” they say. “The baby can’t think everything stops for her.” But, as I jiggle the breaks until I practically rear end the black BMW SUV in front of me, I know the toothless, munchkin in the back seat; the one with fists smaller than a sliver dollar, is in complete control of the situation.
I look at the people walking around outside. Office workers on lunch breaks; laughing, joking, operating as though their next move will not cause the person next to them to break out into a crying fit.
As I stare at the easygoing faces strutting by, I feel the desperation in my face. I can’t wiggle the car anymore. We stop within an inch of the beemer’s back bumper. The countdown begins.
10, 9, 8, 7, 6…
No, I can’t take it.
Yes, it’s stressful for me. But, it’s mostly heartbreaking to see the Dumpling build herself up into such a tizzy that the tears pour so fast the skin around her eyes reddens and her eyelashes turn into big glops of wetness. I hate it. We all suffer.
5, 4, 3, 2…
Maybe she’ll rally?