Yesterday I was swimming in the deep end of the waters of parenthood. I learned the difference between the Daddy Stroke and the Mommy Stroke. Sound intriguing? Please keep in mind that throughout this whole ordeal, I was fully aware that Josephine is one year old.
We decided to have a nice long stroll up to the Danforth to have brunch at our favourite dive, the Only Cafe. The. Most. Awesome. Breakfasts., usually served by the nicest woman, and she reminds Steve of a good old fashioned lady wrestler. Timed it for a 12:01 arrival, so we could have a beer with brunch too. It was our local when we were living up that way, back when we were single and could afford expensive exotic beers all night long and then needed good hangover breakfasts the next morning served with a side of hair of the dog. Now we're the people we used to bitch about - the formerly dark, interesting and mysterious couple are now staggering, mumbling idiots who travel in a cloud of cheerios, shredded wheats and Mum Mums complete with Tasmanian Devil screeching noises coming from the vehicle in front of us. We packed Josephine and a few hours worth of necessities into the stroller, got caught in an uncharacteristically brief conversation with the neighbour about who !@#$%^&* dented the hood of our car the day before, and set off.
Before we even turned the corner, I'd noticed that Dougie, Josephine's best stroller pal,
had gone A.W.O.L.
Here I go to third person recounting, because if I had to type every silly thought that went through my head, I'd have to invest in new pads for my fingers. Just imagine an anxious whirl of regret and loss and affection for the charming little guy that Josephine has recently been showing some attention to as a transitional object.
Marla: Josephine's Dougie is missing!
Steve: Who's Dougie?
Marla: He must be around here somewhere. (Head swivels three hundred sixty degrees and up and down three feet on extendable neck, eyeballs popping out like telescopes.)
Steve: Oh well. (Looks off into the distance toward where we are going for beer.)
Marla: We have to go and look for him. (Grasping stroller handles firmly and preparing to pivot, eyes getting ready to sweep from side to side to locate the little guy.)
Steve: Are you sure we even brought him? (Has never even slowed his pace.)
Marla: Of course, he must be somewhere! (Tear welling up, short of breath, lip trembling.)
Steve: He's gone. Let's get going. (Fingers big Cuban cigar in his pocket he's looking forward to smoking later.)
They continue up the street, Josephine peeling her mittens and hat off and leaving them like Hansel and Gretel's trail. (Marla frets and keeps looking backward up the street. Over the next five hours, the tragic loss is mentioned frequently, and the issue never rests completely. The day is otherwise wonderful, with stops for fresh fruit and veggies, flowers for the planters, and running into friends and neighbours while enjoying the sun and relative warmth. Through it all, though, there was a tinge of regret. On my side that is, because Steve was feeling full of good breakfast, beer, cigar and the pride of being the guy who's treating his ladies to a fine afternoon.
During Josephine's last feeding that night, this poster is made, with every effort to hit the right combination of pathetic and charming:
Forward to eleven pm. Offers of a suggestive nature are made in an attempt to get Steve to go out and have one last look for Dougie, because Marla can't stand the thought of the poor little guy spending the night out in the big, dark nasty world of our neigbourhood; laying on some sidewalk littered with melting dog turds and old pooners. All night long, she imagines finding him beyond repair, run over by a car or perhaps torn up by the dogs in the park as a plaything. Steve saunters to the end of the walkway (four steps), casts his eyes about while counting to ten, and spots...her mitten. He returns to the house, behind a guy with a golden horn and a parchment roll extolling Steve as the most wonderful of husbands and daddies the world over. The single stripey mitten is hoisted on the backs of ten slaves, on an oval platter surrounded by diamonds, rubies and bon bons, with little birds flitting about it singing Steve's praises.
Marla takes the limp mitten from Steve with the air of "Marc Antony" placing the kitten shaped cookie with the big blue eyes on his back, and thanks him with no small attempt to sound enthusiastic and grateful.
A sleepless night is spent...for Marla. Plans to shop for a replacement Dougie or two, locations for posters, wondering who the successor might have to be if Dougie is lost forever, or plans to purchase a ferret collar and leash if he is found flash through her mind on a big flickering screen with squiggly scratchy stuff and an organ soundtrack. Beauty contributes by having a wicked case of the trots, asking out every hour on the hour. Steve sleeps deeply and blissfully, until Marla throws balled up socks across the room at him when at one point he needs to get up and do Beauty Duty because Josephine needs Marla to sit by her crib and keep Baby Whisperering her to sleep and he doesn't hear her desperate whispers for him to wake up, or see the middle finger waving furiously at him across the room as his deep, even breathing noises incrementally infuriate the awake person on the floor.
In the morning, while Steve reads Josie books and gives Marla skeptical glances, Marla and Beauty hitch up and prepare to poster. Marla is wearing the uniform of Parent Running Stupid Errand on Saturday Morning: Messy hair, no make-up, decrepit old cashmere sweater over tee shirt, ratty gray sweatpants, pink rubber rain boots and her best overcoat. The soundtrack: Steve sipping coffee and nay saying.
Like a novena on the ninth poster (about two blocks away), a passer-by says "I HAVE seen Dougie! I just passed him stuck through the fence at that laneway near the park.". Refusing the reward (I was going to bake cupcakes for the finder, since I'd found that morning that I could purchase him on Ebay for two dollars plus shipping), the person went on wondering at my exuberant thanks. They couldn't know that Dougie's first act after coming home was to be a happy dance IN STEVE'S FACE.
There was Dougie, pilloried in the chain link, only a little dusty for wear. Triumphantly, Marla pried him out, re-traced her steps and took down the posters like a good citizen. Dougie and Beauty and Marla went on to the park, got the newspaper, and came back home to reunite Josephine with her little buddy who had spent the night less than thirty feet from his front door. Really. If we were Family Circus and Marla was Billy or Jeffy or whichever one of those brats does that annoying running around everywhere but in a direct line shit, there would have been black dashes covering a one block radius - but Dougie would have been practically at the starting point.
The moral of this story:
Daddies don't care less. They just care differently. Steve would have humoured me by spending any amount to buy a new Dougie because it was important to me. He did go out willingly to look for him at night, even though boys look for things differently from girls. He loves his family; he's just more economical, practical and unsentimental. Spending time energy, and most importantly, expensive printer ink on a full colour poster was a mystery to him. He cared for Josie so I could look for Dougie. And he provided me with a colourful protagonist for this story. I only exaggerated this much: (hold thumb and forefinger about three inches apart).
Mommies don't care more. They just care differently. It is exciting that Josephine is starting to use her imagination, interact and show affection in new ways by feeding Dougie, showing him to people, and cradling him like a baby. He is in most of the pictures of her in her stroller. She sucks on his nose when she's anxious in the car seat. He's just nice and I'm glad he was her choice - there were a lot of bulkier, uglier, less charming stuffed friends she could have chosen as her favourite.
Josephine didn't care much. She gave him a hug and kiss when I returned him to her, but then moved onto other things. But in years to come, providing we'll be able to hang onto Dougie, he'll be there. Already I wonder at what she'll miss when she looks at pictures and sees that we didn't cling to every single bit of her childhood for her. I wasn't ready to jettison Dougie, or even replace him with a clone, or wait for her to choose someone new. Later when I'm more grown up as a parent, I'll be able to make those decisions more rationally. This was new to me.
Beauty didn't care one bit. She got an extra long morning walk, and when she came back, Josephine was sufficiently distracted by Dougie's return so that Beauty could steal her cut up grapes and cracker breakfast.
Dougie, well, we'll never know. He may have had the time of his life out there, or he may have been scared shitless. Either way, he now knows that I love that Josephine loves him. (What an awkward sentence!) And after this, he's been added to my spell check.