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ROBIN ABCARIAN

Anybody Have Keys to Perfect Parenting?

September 05, 1993|ROBIN ABCARIAN

Do you ever wonder if perhaps some cosmic mistake has been made; that you aren't quite up to being a parent after all?

I do.

Please do not misunderstand. Having a baby has brought inexplicable joy to my life, but there are times when I am simply incapable of rising to the level of vigilance and omniscience required of the perfect parent.

(Incidentally, I do not mean perfect as in perfect . People thought Joan Crawford was perfect. I mean perfect as in doing the best you can considering you hail from moderately dysfunctional stock, and frankly, Peg Bundy does have her moments.)

I did something last week that I have worried about doing ever since the baby came home from the hospital one year ago.

I locked her in the car.

With the keys.

What kind of mother am I?

*

We had just left a doctor's office, where my daughter was treated for a cut on her hand that had become infected. (This was my fault, too, but I will save for a later column the discussion about how failing to notice the baby has put her hand in the dog-food bowl while the dog is eating is not an example of excellent parenting.)

We walked to the car, I opened the passenger door and put my keys in my purse. I leaned in with the baby, and fastened her into her car seat. Then I tossed my purse onto the floor in front of her, locked the door and closed it.

As I collapsed the stroller, I realized what I had done.

Have you ever felt your blood pressure drop? It's a cold, flat feeling, like you're on an elevator that's plunging too fast. I looked around in a panic.

The baby was oblivious, sucking happily on her bottle. Finally, a couple of people walked by. I asked them to notify a security guard of our emergency.

Soon, a man with a walkie-talkie came jogging up. He was joined by a second man, who produced one of those tools that looks like a flat metal ruler.

My daughter, by now, had finished her bottle and was looking quizzically at all the people standing outside the car. As one of the strange men tried to open the car, her eyes widened. As he struggled to open it, the car began to rock violently. She looked at him, then me, then began to wail in fright. I pressed my face close to the glass, telling her it would be OK, but she was inconsolable. I have never felt so helpless.

In moments, the man opened the door, and was taken aback when I threw my arms around him in gratitude.

As I got in the car, he looked at me sternly. "Don't ever walk away from your child like that," he admonished. "If this ever happens again, you must stay with her."

What was he talking about?

I might be a bad mother, mister, but I would never desert my child!

The only information he'd received on his walkie-talkie was that a baby was locked in a car. No one mentioned a wild-eyed mother standing next to the car. He assumed that I had left to get help.

All I could think was, what if he had called the police? What if the police had assumed that I had left my kid? What if they took her away from me until they could verify my story?

*

All right. Why fight it?

I admit it, officer, I did leave my baby in the car once, but she was never out of my sight, and it was not a hot summer day.

Find me a parent who hasn't been tempted to dash into the dry cleaners while the sleeping baby stays in the car and I'll find you a parent who wears only drip-dry.

Let's be honest. Schlepping a baby on errands is as pleasant as dancing with shackled ankles. The routine can kill you.

You pick up the baby, grab the diaper bag, grab your purse, find your car keys, lock the front door, unlock the car door, strap the baby in, put a bottle in her mouth, drive less than a mile to the dry cleaners, park, unstrap the now-slumbering infant, wake her as you lift her out, sling your purse over your shoulder, pat the screaming child, write a check while comforting the baby, grab the dry cleaning, drop it into a puddle while opening the car, return the child to the car seat, throw the dry cleaning in the back, get in the car and decide that you really don't need to go to the grocery store after all, because who needs to eat? There's plenty of nutritious beer in the house.

Then you remember you have to stop at the bank.

In desperate times, the unthinkable crosses your mind: What if I just leave the little angel sleeping in the car for a teensy little second while I dash to the automated teller window?

As I say, I gave in to this temptation once.

I parked right in front of the teller machine and nervously watched the baby as I got my cash, cursing myself for doing it. A woman walked by and started screaming at the top of her lungs that a baby was alone in a car!

I felt like a prison escapee trapped by a searchlight. Guilty as hell.

"She's mine!" I said, overcome by embarrassment, indignation and remorse.

But I learned. I learned that parenthood is a road pocked with potholes of guilt, some avoidable, some inevitable.

The secret to keeping your sanity, I guess, is knowing the difference and being able to forgive yourself when you blow it.

Even a perfect parent has an off day now and then.

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