This is the more detailed version of “Bad Date.” Lucas was about 4. I’m happy to report he is now a teen and survived this and many other life and parenting mishaps.
I admit it. I’m raising a sensitive boy. I’m a big, lefty, commie liberal, my son’s guardian is gay, and my happiest parenting moments are when my 4-year old son asks me to decorate his room or when he cries at being dirty. As you might imagine, this requires some effort on my part to block out the rest of the world. Between having a like-minded friends and her son visit frequently and Lucas’s own careful way of choosing friends, I managed to create the bubble of the world I wanted for four wonderful years. Then It came. The Invitation.
One day Lucas came home from preschool and announced: “Paul says I can go over to his house.” I’d had some training for this moment. We’d already attended two birthday parties of the kids at school. The first mother said she loved my bumper sticker, “Straight but not narrow.” The second party was hosted by two nice, liberal Jewish parents. So far, so good. I’d met Paul’s mom during drop off time in the morning, and we exchanged phone numbers. She called that weekend, and I thought: OK, I’m ready to crack open the bubble. They lived close by, and when we pulled up to their apartment building, I approved. No pretense or McMansion here. Paul’s mother opened the door, and his dad stood behind her. We stepped in and exchanged greetings. The boys eyed each other with momentary bashfulness. And then my bubble tore wide open.
Within minutes the boys were using Paul’s squirt guns to “kill the bad guys.” We never killed anything in our house–not even bugs. Lucas came running over to me, breathless and eyes wide. “Paul has guns, mommy!” I could see the pleasure in his face from his full frontal encounter with forbidden fruit. I stayed my lefty tongue and steadied the vertigo that was setting in as the sound of an unwatched non-PBS cartoon assaulted my ears and the boys created make-believe mayhem. As they chased and killed bad guys, I shifted my shocked gaze and plastic smile to toward the parents—sitting on the couch and smiling at me. If only they were ogres or mean, terrible, gun-loving malefactors. But they weren’t. She worked in an insurance agency. He was a glazer. But then the cracks in our plastic smiling faces started to show: As we talked about the difficulties of raising a 4-year-old, she mentioned that she spanked him. I clutched my tea like a life boat and managed a noncommittal, “Mmmm.” Then they told the story of how they’d pulled Paul out of the school where he was because they were unhappy with one of the teachers. She’d complained she couldn’t control Paul. A loud banging emanated from Paul’s room. Then the boys careened in and out of the living room and then flew back into Paul’s room, banging his door loudly at each pass. Lucas occasionally stopped by my chair to report on the goings on. Chasing bad guys, pretending to be Superman. Lucas then announced, “Mommy, we’re killing all the bad guys!” Through the gaping hole in the bubble, I called futilely after him, “Can’t you just put them in jail?”
Both mothers asked them to stop running. Paul did not, and Lucas did his best to listen to me, but he ended up half running behind Paul anyway. Meanwhile, Paul’s father continued the story of Paul’s removal from the school. They put him into a smaller home daycare situation that turned out to be mostly girls. Paul’s father continued, “When he saw the EZ Bake oven on TV and wanted one, I thought, all right, what’s wrong with this picture?”
Paralysis began to set in at that point, and I could only lamely reply, “Well, it is nice to have a balance-–it’s hard if it’s all one or the other.” My mother later gave me the perfect comeback: lots of famous chefs were men. The shrieking continued as I started to float out of my body to survey the damage to the bubble. Total hull breach, as they say on Star Trek. It wasn’t just the hull, but also my clung-to fantasy that I could continue to control his environment (for better or worse). As I finalized my survey the boys ran head on into each other, went down, and Lucas hit the back of his head on a sharp corner. I rushed back into my body and then flew back out a second later as blood trickled down his neck. Did I mention I’m squeamish and useless in a medical emergency? Lucas’s dad, a nurse, and Paul’s’ parents, who were experienced in going to the emergency room took over.
Paul’s’ dad said matter-of-factly, perhaps even with a hint of manly satisfaction, “Yep, that’s going to need stitches.” Lucas’s dad was trying to get a good look, and Paul’s mom was horrified. I held Lucas tightly and awaited orders, not quite believing I was going to have to encounter another parenting milestone, First Trip to the ER, so soon after First Visit to a School Friend’s House. Although the two milestones may be more frequently connected than I realized. Then we were on our way, in the pouring rain to the ER, Paul’s mother leading the way in her car, Lucas’s dad driving our car, and me next to Lucas trying to tell him a palatable truth about where we were going and what was going to happen to him. The blood stopped after about 10 minutes and Lucas was fairly calm when we arrived at the ER. Within 10 more minutes he was chatting like his normal self while the parents strained to make small talk. Paul’s mother was overly nice to prove she wasn’t a bad person, and I was being overly nice to prove I didn’t blame her. At least not to her face. But the truth was, the non-PBS world was out there and waiting. If it hadn’t been Paul, it would have been something else to bring it to us, like the nurse asking Lucas his favorite TV show. As Lucas the PBS poster child thought a moment, she blurted out “Rugrats?” a commercial show not allowed in our house.
Lucas got four staples to seal up the rip in his head. I should be so lucky. They don’t make staples for the bubble. When we got home, I downed a beer. After I finished it I realized one wasn’t going to cut it. So I had another. Lucas’s dad saw the second beer in my hand and said, “A a two-drink minimum kind of day, huh?” Lucas became quite the BMAP (big man at preschool) as kids clustered around him and wanted to see and touch his staples. I meanwhile had to grapple with my own loss of the bubble and face the folly of it. No permanent damage seemed to result to Lucas as a result of his encounter with Paul. I was either going to have to loosen up and get more open-minded or get more beer.