I'm sometimes tempted to feel as if we are in things alone - that we're the only ones who can help. It's a silly thought - we get help all the time - but it comes up very frequently.
I think packing the family up at my mother in law's house tonight put me in that go it alone mindset.
It was late. The kids were approaching their meltdown points. I was in a hurry. I began to feel like a pioneer in a wagon train on the prairie amid many threats; I had to keep the family safe - get them home. I was tired myself and probably a getting a little loopy.
This urgent feeling was only heightened by the fact that we'd had a nice day. It's a struggle to handle the let down when the fun is over.
My son seemed to be in the worst shape.
"Eeeehhhh!" was the sound that came out of my boy like a wounded trumpet. It came out about every three seconds.
As the ride proceeded, that sound became harder to endure. I could almost see the sound in my imagination, like a minute invisible sledge hammer. That little hammer pounded away on my will and reason until they began to crack. I could feel sanity slipping away.
"Daaaaaddddddyyyyyy! Make him stop!" my daughter began ... and continued.
Soon the two of them were working up an impromptu musical canon; sounding off one another every few seconds or so.
At this point both my wife and I went into what I think of as kitchen sink mode; we went through a long exhaustive list of things that might be irritating or could potentially sooth my son.
"Did you pack a bottle ... Is there a toy ... do you think he's got a diaper ... are there any Cheerios in the car ... I thought you packed his bottle ... how old is that bag of pretzels ... give him a binki (pacifier) ... try singing to him ... roll down the window ... where the hell are his toys ... you always forget ... I think we're out ... maybe he'll tire himself out ... you've got to be kidding... oh just pull over .... not there .... watch out you almost hit that guy..."
It's not as luckless an approach as it sounds. In some cases, we'll hit on the source of the issue with a few guesses. It's kind of like those tech support lines that ask the basics first - ..."is the device plugged into an outlet ... with power;" we'll strike the solution purely through the law of probability.
But other times (like tonight) it's not that easy, and we're on the equivalent of the 45 minute wait for the upper level support team - hoping the line does not get cut.
"Mommy, I want my teddy bear," my daughter said.
"Uhga!" my wife said and put her hands over her face. My daughter's bear was 30 minutes away at that point, waiting at our home.
And as I hear my wife's exhaustion and feel resignation creeping into my own mindset, somewhere at the back of my brain, a suspicion begins to mutter softly that maybe, just maybe, I died this morning in my sleep and I'm now on my way to a very bad place.
It was just these dark thoughts were tugging at me seductively that the luck changed.
"Eeee ooohh, eee ooohh," my son chimed out suddenly and clearly.
We all went cold and quiet.
"That was a new sound," I said hopefully.
"Wait, wait," my wife said, with urgency and hope coming back into her voice, "That's Old MacDonald."
It was like being utterly lost and suddenly seeing a familiar landmark.
She began the song, and my daughter and I joined in.
The crying stopped. The panic subsided. We started to laugh. The rest of the ride was peaceful - even joyful. A miracle.
Even now as I write, the kids are settled into their rooms. The house is clean and I'm eying a apple pie that my wife brought home from her mother's (a nice surprise).
I don't know clearly what turned things around for us tonight. I know it wasn't me. I don't think it was my wife or daughter either. Strangely enough, I think my son took a hand in his own care. That through all the efforts to comfort him, he just suddenly understood, pulled the right idea out of his own head and - literally - sang it out. He grew up a little - very quickly.
It's a thought (true or not) that reminds me that sometimes I don't have a clue; that someone else, even a small someone else, is better equipped to fix a problem than me. That maybe tonight, and hopefully more in the future, my kids may start to take care of themselves a little bit at a time.
It may even be that the kids are bringing me home safely - though I did not know it.