Anniversary Do’s, clearly seen in Hallmark ads or commercials for diamonds, include: romantically gazing into each other’s eyes over a fancy white tablecloth dinner murmuring little loving quips in a loving way, maybe some hugging and effortless swinging of the wife around in a circle on a beach, maybe champagne being raised in a toast with recollections of this day X years ago in which you exchanged vows of devotion in front of family and friends….
Anniversary Don’ts include slim jims, a broken car window, and the ever-present, but necessary for full effect, kid heave-o-rama.
The evening started with great promise. A friend, K, generously offered to take Bodie for the night so Hillary and I could follow the prescription for Anniversary Do’s. She came to pick up Bodie, and as I shoveled him and a week’s worth of diapers into the back seat, where Marissa, her one-and-a-half year-old was strapped in, K asked if he needed a car seat. I figured he could hang on as they weren’t going far. Not wanting to be seen as the type of parent who thinks that his two-year old could simply hang on, I ran to retrieve the car seat, installed it, strapped Bodie in, kissed him good night. He was begging for some keys to play with, just like Marissa had, so K graciously offered him another set of keys to play with. I shut his door and K, shut the door on Marissa’s side.
Instantly, we heard beep beep It’s a familiar and usually reassuring beep beep. The car is locked and all is safe thanks to the magic of Japanese inventiveness that allows you to push a little button and lock all four doors and the rear hatch at once! Marissa had found the lock button on her keys, which weren’t really play keys, but the keys to the car. Both kids were strapped in, safe, like two astronauts ready for blast-off, because that’s the good kind of parents we are.
K was calm and suggested calling the security company as they have an auto service, so would easily be able to slim jim the door open. I called and tried to explain the situation. The emergency operator kept asking me the wrong questions and clearly didn’t understand what I was trying to explain. The tenor and pitch of my voice rising with aggravation might not have been the best way for me to communicate. I ended up demanding someone that spoke English better (which I’m sure was well received). Meanwhile, Hillary, not one for nuances of a phone conversation in a crisis, had pushed the panic button. Five minutes later, the security car, sirens blaring, pulled up.
Five minutes is a long time if you measure it in verses of Old MacDonald. K and I stood outside the back windows, singing at the top of our voices, verse after verse. Bodie and Marissa, strapped in, clapped and moo mooed here and neigh neighed there, enjoying the game.
When the security guards came though, Bodie wanted out. He had had enough of the game and started to cry and reach for Hillary. If you were to examine the evening like an archeologist with various phases, that was the end of the Calmozoic Era. I wanted to break the window and end this, but there was a conference of six security guards standing around the car, talking over each other. They checked the doors. Yup, locked. Lots of gesturing with prying motions, lock picking intimations, and more conversation.
Hillary, seeing Bodie crying, said sternly, “Alfred, break the window.”
I grabbed a large garden hoe, but waited another minute as the conference of security guards poked and prodded the Land Cruiser like a giant acorn squash, to see if there might be some soft points for easy access.
It wasn’t until Bodie was wailing full throttle, reaching for Hillary through the glass, yelling, “Mama!” that Hillary said with an appropriate degree of hysteria, “Break the f#*@ing window!”
Hillary grabbed the garden hoe and raised it shoulder high as if a curveball had been pitched. I had this vision of any trekking guide carefully explaining that when hiking, you never want to get in between a mother bear/elephant/lion/hippo etc. and her cub. I nevertheless stepped in between Hillary and the car and grabbed the hoe. Dangerous a maneuver as it was, I sure wasn’t going to be emasculated in front of six guards and K while my wife broke the window. I was going to smash it.
One of the members of the guard committee had a crowbar and was gently prying a back window. I told him to push and break the window, which he did. Glass pebbles rained down on the driveway. I hopped in through the open window and freed the kids.
Kids released, safely enfolded in mother’s crushing arms, we decided that Bodie going over to K’s house might not be the best thing for him or us right then, so we all went out to dinner at a TGIFridays imitation steakhouse. The restaurant clearly didn’t know they were supposed to have white tablecloths for us. There were crayons on the tables, a playground with legos for kids, and blaring American pop music. Thinking the trauma of the evening was over, Hillary had a gin and tonic at the playground, and we went home.
About the time that I should have been tossing Hillary around in a circle on a beach per protocol, Bodie offered his own version of an anniversary gift with a different type of tossing. At 1 am he heaved (and answered the question that had been in my mind for a few weeks of whether he was really eating the snack I packed for him everyday in preschool, which I was glad to see that he was). He is not a kid to just dabble in things though. He took a measured, metronomic approach. He retched all over his bed at 2 am, ralphed on his clothes and our bed at 3 am, hurled on the new sheets we’d put on at 4 am, and culminated with a good effort pillow and floor-covering heave at 5 am.
So perhaps not worthy of a De Beers ad, this Anniversary actually may be a better real world reflection of how we’ve managed to create cohesion out of two separate lives over the past few years. Anyone can weather a fancy dinner marred only by a soggy profiterole, but we managed to extract two trapped toddlers, wash three loads of laundry and nurse a feverish son, all with coherence and solidarity in approach and a fair divvying of duties. Somehow that makes this anniversary more telling.