Sunday, June 20, 2021

Flashback 2000: "Scarier than scary stories"


     I heard a noise downstairs Saturday and went to investigate. It was my younger son, freshly 24, stopping by for a visit, a quick lunch, stock up on a few groceries and then back into the city, where he now lives. 
     I can't tell you how happy that makes me, to have him pop by like that. A marvelous pre-Father's Day gift, though as icing on the cake, he'll circle back to my brother- and sister-in-law's, where we'll eat brisket and then go out into the park for a game of catch and a Rocky Patel.
      It might have worked out otherwise, as this column from 22 years ago reminds us. Every parent knows that only constant vigilance and the occasional timely spot of luck stands between any given moment and disaster. Happy Father's Day, hug 'em if you've got 'em.

     The shorthand I've come up with to convey the entire parenthood experience to my childless, noncomprehending friends is this: "Being a parent is realizing that your entire world can choke to death on a penny."
     I meant it as a glib line, a wink at the frantic safety-making that parents usually put themselves through.
     Before our oldest could roll off his colorful blankie, we had already brought in a safety consultant to walk through our place, pointing out hazards. We dutifully installed all sorts of netting and wooden gates and coffee table edge guards and window locks and electrical socket covers.
     I thought all this stuff was keeping us safe. Only this morning did I realize another factor, as important as childproofing, was protecting us as well: blind, dumb luck (or a benevolent God; take your pick. I don't want to get in a spat over theology).
     Anyway, I was on the sofa with the boys, making up scary stories—"Mr. Roboto," about two young boys building a robotic monster in the basement of their apartment building, and "The Skeleton Cave," about two young boys discovering a buried grave site. Which is hard work, since the boys demand newer, ever-scarier plot lines.
     Tiring of this, I suggested breakfast. My oldest called for "Pancakes hot from the griddle!" I sprang to make them. My wife was somewhere, upstairs, sleeping I assumed.
     Each boy cracked an egg. I made sure that they washed their hands afterward—vigilance against egg-borne salmonella! The pancakes sizzled. I shooed the boys away from the hot griddle. "Go sit down boys," I said. "The pancakes will be ready in a minute."
     As I tended the final moments of the pancakes' progress, I heard a whimper. I almost didn't investigate immediately, but I turned to gaze into the living room.
     Right by the kitchen door, as luck would have it, both good and bad, we had placed a big pile of unformed cardboard boxes. Our 2-year-old had stuck his head through the plastic band holding the boxes together and pulled them down on top of himself.
     When I saw him, he was crying and losing the struggle to keep the two dozen flat boxes from toppling over on him, tightening the band around his neck as they went.
     You never saw a fat man move so fast. With both hands I pulled the band away from his neck. It budged a little, just enough for him to breathe. I tried pushing the boxes back against the wall, but that seemed to tighten the band, too. I called for my wife. Then yelled. Then screamed, the most urgent, loud, throat-stripping sound I think I've ever produced.
     After an eternal 10 or 15 seconds, she came running, wrapped in a towel. She found a scissors and cut the plastic strap. The 2-year-old was left with a nasty 3-inch red welt around his neck. He forgot about it a minute later. His dad was hoarse for the rest of the day. His mom reacted so quickly, once she heard the shouts, that she somehow fractured her foot flying downstairs.
     The whole thing happened so fast that, when it was over and I returned to the grill, I flipped the pancakes and they weren't burned.
     Which is a roundabout way of saying: Watch out for big piles of cardboard boxes. Or plastic bands. Or anything a kid can get his head in.
     We're all resting comfortably now. And I've got my next scary story all ready: "The Fiendish Boxes."
                —Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 23, 2000

1 comment:

  1. Is it just me, or does this account give rather brief regard to your wife fracturing her foot? Happy Father's Day to those observing the holiday! : )


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