This incident happened several months ago, but was so traumatic that I’m only just now getting around to telling you all about it.
I take care of my son, Gavin, during the day and work part-time evenings and weekends. Two times a week my wife and I will trade off parenting responsibilities – she comes home from work, I give her a kiss on the cheek, hand over the kiddo, and head off to work. We’ve done this for so long, we have our routine down to the point where Gav will start waving goodbye to me while his mom is still walking through the door.
Last winter, she was on her way home through a heavy snowstorm. My wife called and said that she was going to be late since traffic was so awful. Being the good, anticipatory husband, I decided to shovel the walkway so when she does finally come in she’s not trudging through a foot of snow and ice. Gav was playing contentedly, just doing his thing, so I decided to go for it. I put on my heavy coat, grabbed my shovel, and headed outside. I kept the outside door open so I could see Gavin in case anything went wrong. Again, he was playing with his trucks, not bothered by the storm in the slightest. I went outside and started shoveling. Almost immediately, I heard a sound. I whirled around and saw that Gavin had closed the door behind me. I frantically plunged my hands in my pockets and found that I had left the house without my keys. A ripple of sheer, absolute horror came over me.
I was stuck outside in the middle of a snowstorm. I was in sub-zero temperatures and I had no means of getting back into the house, with my wife god-knows how far away from me, stuck in traffic. And my eleven-month-old kiddo is about fifteen seconds away from realizing that I’m not there.
My son, then – as now – hates being apart from people he knows. He’s cautious by nature, every so often looking around to make sure that someone familiar is within range. Back then, he would fly in rages even when we left him at his grandmother’s house for hours. Hours. My mom would just get getting him calmed down by the time we had come back from whatever it was we were doing. This time, not even my mom was there. This was infinitely worse: he was alone.
Worse for me, too, since I had a front-row seat through a large picture window to see my son go from contentedly happy to hysterically screaming within a minute. There’s a certain exestential horror in being so amazingly helpless, wanting to reach out and comfort your son but being completely unable to do so. It makes those Saw movies look like My Little Pony. I tried my best – through the window, I made faces, played peek-a-boo, smiled and danced out in the snow, but it was no use. Gav was an absolute mess. The neighbors probably thought I was waterboarding the poor kiddo. Untold minutes spooled away as I waited for my only saving grace -my wife, who drove up a few minutes later (to me – and to Gavin – it seemed like hours.)
It took about twenty full minutes to calm him down.
Now I don’t lean outside my window too far without making sure I have a set of keys in my pocket.
I had one clear, pure, crystalline thought that occured to me while I was standing out in the snow: I’m the worst father ever.