Perfect Strangers

20131010-210341.jpgToday, at 5 months, 4 days, 14 hours and 59 minutes into his short life, I had to be the first one to leave my child alone… with perfect strangers.

I decided I needed to hit the gym more regularly. It had something to do with the cookie craving I had been fighting since 5:13am. Our gym has daycare for infants starting at 6 months. I figured, at 5 months, The Understudy is very mature for his age, so they’ll never suspect anything.

I entered the gym sporting my workout shirt complete with dried oatmeal on the front and my spit-up-badge-of-fatherhood stain on my left shoulder and The Understudy brilliantly portraying a 6 month old. I open the door to the kid area to find 36 screaming kids, 3 ladies pinned against the wall and two mothers actively throwing their kids into the Royal Rumble then sprinting out the door. OK, there were like 6 kids, the ladies looked super calm and confident and I was just freaking out because I was about to abandon my child. I act as calm as possible and ask how this is supposed to work. They let me know if the kid is crying for 10 minutes, they will come find me. If he poops, they will come find me. If he begins gambling or writing Shakespeare, they will come find me. Then they tell me there is a channel on the cardio equipment so I can watch him. As I hand over my only child I begin to let her know what he likes, what he doesn’t like, how he can kind of sit up but it usually ends in a face-plant, how if he cries he likes to be on the left shoulder looking over your back, etc. etc. Then, I realize she is looking at me like I’m Balki Bartokomous explaining the crucial importance of the Bibbi-Babka Ditty while baking bibbi-babka’s. So, I wish him luck, tell him to be good and to not gamble more than his allowance. I stand there and try to act cool and when they ask me if I’m ok, I reply with the obvious, “Don’t be ridiculous,” in my best Balki impersonation. (I don’t think they got it.)

I walk out of the room and begin hyperventilating and crying hysterically. Suddenly, I am surrounded by 3 sets of beautiful identical twins comforting me, telling me it’s always hard to leave your baby the first time and they know how I feel and I’m such a manly man for caring so much and that… OK, that didn’t happen at all. Except for the crying. Don’t judge me.

What really happened, in short, was this… I ran to the locker room to put my stuff in the locker, ran back into the gym area, went straight to a treadmill and looked for the kid channel. It wasn’t there. I tried another treadmill. Not there. Now, I’m really hyperventilating. I go towards the Childs Play area to cancel the whole deal and stop short to ask someone what channel it is. Channel 21. Ok. I feel better. I walk away thinking, this should be posted everywhere, all over this damn gym for all of us that just want to stare at the screen and stalk our children. I hit another treadmill, punch in the numbers, and palpitating paranoid parental relief is finally mine. I put in my earphones, and walk over to the weight lifting equipment. After each set, I look towards the Childs Play area to see if they are trying to find me. After each set of three, I stroll briskly to the treadmill to check the screen. So far so good, except that I’m extending my workout by 20 minutes.

Then, it’s time for my run. I “calmly” walk to the locker room for my sweet, Beastie Boys approved headband. Locker room, locker, headband, close locker, run back to gym area, stare at Childs Play area door to make sure they weren’t looking for me while I was gone, stroll casually to treadmill, channel 21, someone is holding him. He seems ok. I start walking. I pull up the running app on my iPhone, they put him in a bouncy chair, I force myself to look away from the screen, quickly look back at the screen, begin running, he seems ok, stare at screen, stare at screen, BREATH! At a quarter mile, I see them put him into the crib and attend to other children. Oh boy. This is bad. At a half mile, people are looking his way. Oh boy. It’s really bad. Someone walks over, picks him up, I pick up my pace. At 3 quarters of a mile, it appears he is definitely crying hysterically, wondering why his father has abandoned him. I pick up the pace even more. I haven’t run this fast in my entire life, but I must get this mile in. It’s just 1 mile!! I run as fast as I can, eyes glued to the screen. I finish the mile, world record time, gasping for air, jump off, run to the locker room, grab my stuff, sprint to the Childs Play area, swing open the door to rescue my child from the evil demons that he thinks are his new parents and… He’s fine. What happened to the screaming baby in the tv monitor? Why doesn’t this kid seem like he’s being tortured? I smile, go get my perfectly fine baby and ask the lady holding him if he was ok. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says in a brilliant Balki impersonation.

Dad Lesson Learned:

I’m sure I’m not the first parent to have palpitatingly paranoid parental anxiety of leaving their little one with strangers for the first time. They probably thought the worst was happening as well, when in actuality, everything was just fine. I’m not telling myself that I need to get over all the little anxieties that are going to come along and to just relax. I am telling myself that once it’s over, I can laugh at the anxiety and realize that in the end, I’m a parent and I’m going to freak out. Being a parent is not easy and our minds play crazy tricks on us. Even though I’m only a few short months in, I’m sure there will be many, many more times that my brain plays tricks on me. The question is; In the end, will I be ok and come out just fine as a Dad?

Don’t be ridiculous.

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