I often think I’d make a good parent. While other men might fear the possibility, I watch families like a penguin watches gulls soar overhead, promising to be just as good if only given the chance.
For the past eight years I’ve worked in public relations, an industry comprised of women who have aided in my development as a sensitive, empathetic man who might one day become a responsible father. Prolonged exposure to such an environment though has left me contaminated, dangerous levels of estrogen now coursing through my veins and impairing my ability to interact with male peers in social situations.
“Dude… check out that chick over there.”
“Who, the one with the sock bun?”
“I mean boobs…the one with the boobs?”
It’s as if I was nursed through a coma in a sorority house, waking to understand terms like “accent nails.” My reality has been forever altered – a “nude pump” no longer elicits sexual images; “wedges” are not stored in golf bags. With any mutation comes sacrifice and though I can now better relate to women on an emotional level, I also find myself with strong opinions on The Bachelor.
As with others fearing persecution, I sometimes feign ignorance to escape detection, always one misstep away from describing someone’s shoes as “fun”… their hair as “beachy.” While these pitfalls are always present, I’ve learned to control my power and use it to my advantage, when advantageous. Complimenting a girl on her “perfect eyebrows” (without sounding gay) is something that takes a deft touch.
With all of this training by women, I’m confident that I must have also subconsciously acquired solid parenting skills as well. And yet one day a few weeks ago, I found myself suddenly put to the test.
* * *
“We should stop off at the store to grab some steaks.”
“My parents are already making dinner.”
“Yeah, and I think they’ve started eating because my niece and nephews were hungry.”
I unhooked my seatbelt and grabbed the door handle, preparing to jump from the car. We were on our way to Avalon, NJ and I was under the assumption it was to be a three-day weekend of debauchery, where good decisions were sacrificed in favor of girls named Chelsea. Instead I was informed that, in addition to parents who I still believed would call mine if I misbehaved, my two friends and I would be joined by three kids whose collective ages of 14, 10 and 5 didn’t even add up to my own.
The 5-year-old girl (who we’ll call Ruby) was adorable, and I immediately hated her. When parents see kids they associate them with the good qualities of their own, but the childless are reminded of screaming plane travel and ruined anniversary dinners – moments destroyed by tiny people they weren’t allowed to hit.
I often fantasize about asking for the full name of the baby whose disruptive outbursts spoil an evening. I’ll write the name on a piece of paper, put it in a drawer and 18 years later track down the person and punch them in the face.
“That was for crying on that Delta flight to Chicago in 1995 you son-of-a-bitch!”
But Ruby wasn’t like that – with a sweet disposition, four teeth and a disarmingly cute speech impediment, she was impossible to dislike. Before I knew it, I was Uncle Sean and we were discussing princesses.
In fact, we all got along well. The two boys were incredibly well-behaved and thoughtful, commenting on current international events and inquiring as to the latest novel we’d read. After two days together, I was reassured in my ability to be a good father, confident my life lessons infused into playtime would be mentioned years later during their Nobel Prize acceptances.
On Saturday morning, the day the parents and kids were due to leave, their car wouldn’t start. They began calling around to local repair shops but since it was a foreign model it proved difficult. I proposed a solution.
“Why don’t we take the kids to the beach while you figure out the car situation? It’s so nice out and we don’t mind watching them for a little while. It will be fun!”
In any other situation, the suggestion would be laughable, the equivalent of me tapping the pilot of a commercial aircraft on the shoulder to ask, “Mind if I land it this time?” But the parents didn’t know me, so they thought it was a fantastic idea. And why wouldn’t they? I had been trained by women for eight years on the job; surely I had the maternal instincts and paternal know-how to watch a few kids for a couple hours, right?
And so we arrived at the beach – my two friends, the two boys and little Ruby. The combination of three adult males with three kids was an odd-looking assortment, but most families probably assumed we were all related, or that we were vacationing child molesters.
After a while, all the boys went off to kick the soccer ball around and I was left to look after Ruby on my own. I didn’t give much thought to it and was enjoying the smiles of other mothers passing by.
“You’re so good with her. How old is she? Isn’t she just the cutest thing?”
I nodded and thanked them, adding that I was very blessed. It was nice being a father. I began inventing stories about my recently departed wife, Susan, and with each passing moment her death became more elaborate. At first, she had passed after battling a long illness and I’d created a charity in her honor. After twenty minutes though, she’d been eaten by a shark.
Daydreaming is not the best past time for babysitters and when I opened my eyes to check on Ruby I noticed that I had gained a child. Another little girl was playing by my feet, digging a hole with a shovel.
“Who are you?”
“Imma dig a big hole!”
I looked around for any signs of Imma Digabighole’s parents and noticed her mom waving at me from a few blankets over. Not only was I responsible enough to watch one kid, I was now trusted by other parents! I made myself a promise to impregnate someone as soon as I got back to Philadelphia.
It was at that moment that I looked up and noticed that Ruby was peeing down her leg. She had been bringing me seashells to inspect for her collection and as she ran back towards me I saw the steady yellow stream coming from her bathing suit. This concerned me, but I wasn’t aware of her family’s traditions at the shore. Ruby didn’t seem to mind, so maybe this was acceptable behavior.
She got back to my beach chair and began showing me her shells, commenting on which were the shiniest. Imma was still digging her hole and when I looked back to Ruby I noticed that she had reached into the bottom of her bathing suit. She began moving her hand around and pulled out what I first thought was wet sand, but on closer inspection turned out to be something very different.
It was poop. Ruby had shit herself.
Nothing in the world can prepare you for the moment a child you’re responsible for watching shits herself, and then shows it to you. As I looked on in horror, Ruby flung the poop onto the sand and leaned in closer.
“I have to go to the water.”
And off she went, skipping down to the shoreline, her backside sagging and full of feces.
I turned around and expected child services to be racing across the beach, badges flashed, news cameras following. But to my surprise, no one had seemed to notice. I knew that I had precious few moments to ensure this event didn’t become a memory from her childhood. And more importantly, to ensure I didn’t become a part of that memory.
I pictured Ruby in a therapist’s office years later.
“I remember a strange man who claimed to be my uncle. He…he saw the whole thing, Doctor. And he just sat there!”
I imagined how her life would be forever impacted – she’d drop out of school, never find love and have a bowel movement whenever she smelled suntan lotion.
Looking down at the shoreline to where Ruby was sitting, I saw her casually reaching into her bathing suit and removing handfuls of poop, tossing it into the ocean and clapping.
How long before someone sees her and begins screaming? What if I just run away? Will I have to fight that life guard?
Like any criminal, I decided that I needed to destroy the evidence. I reached down and grabbed Imma’s shovel and quickly covered the poop pile. Then I yelled to the boys that we’d have to leave. I’d wrap Ruby in a towel and when we got back to the house her parents could deal with the situation.
When Ruby ran up from the water she again held out her hand, but instead of poop there was another seashell.
“I got it for you, Uncle Sean!”
She was completely unfazed. This little girl had just crapped her pants in a very public environment, and couldn’t care less. Whether that made things better, or worse, is difficult to say.
The family left later that day and I recounted the story to my friends at dinner, who marveled at how quickly babysitting had turned into baby shitting. But even after all of that, I am still confident that one day I’ll make a good parent, given the proper wife who never leaves my side.
Until then I’ll continue my training with women, fighting the urge to comment on open toe strappy wedge sandals.