(Stay-at-Home) Fatherhood is Stage 3: Hubris
There’s this intriguing rumor that when women lay eyes on a man with children, they go weak in the knees. Apparently visions of doting dads stimulate the ovaries. The brutal irony, of course, is that the man is already off the market and
unwilling unable to seal the deal with this resplendent bounty of T&A. So he stands idly by, ogling the women drawn to his stroller, and wonders why it wasn’t this easy in college.
Turns out, when you’re 26 years old and sluggishly heaving two babies through the mall, the only women who seem to notice are the ones old enough to be your mother. They don’t want you; they want grandbabies. Anybody’s grandbabies. You’re merely a means to an end.
You’d try and avoid them of course, but you just ate a foot-long Seafood Sensation from Subway and washed it down with a large Diet Coke. You’re bloated, hot, tired, and—unsurprisingly—a wee bit nauseous. It’s only now that you begin to second guess your plan to go shopping for new pants…with two four-month-olds…by yourself.
* * * *
I had my eye on a pair of Docker’s Alpha Khakis for about three weeks. They’re a pretty slim fit, which means they can’t be found in my rural hometown where any pair of pants that doesn’t billow in the wind is considered highfalutin or (let’s be honest) “totally gay.” So, since I passed my first day of stay-at-home parenting with enough flying colors to turn a rainbow green with envy, I decided to take the show on the road—45 minutes into the big city.
I knew the pants would be there. All I had to do was pack the babies, drive them into town, put them in strollers, wheel them through stores, pick out some sizes, try them on, buy them, get back in the car, and go home with new pants and two babies who would now appreciate the aesthetic of well fitting khakis. Oh, hindsight, your crystal clarity is such a bitch.
I decided to try Kohl’s first, which was just this side of the city. It would be less crowded and could save me a longer trip. Or—as it turned out—it would be an opportunity to push two strollers around the store’s perimeter a dozen times or better. The babies were having none of my shopping day and the only way to maintain the peace was to keep moving. Onlookers’ expressions ranged from sympathetic to annoyed; which is to say at first they were sympathetic, but after dodging the doublewide strollers for the fifth time, they were annoyed. We must have completed a mile long circuit before I finally grabbed some pants and ducked to a fitting room. I hadn’t found the Alpha Khakis, but I did stumble across some jeans. Why not try on something—anything—since I had been there half an hour already? I slipped into some Levi’s 511’s just in time for Charlotte to completely lose her shit.
I scooped her up just as Greyson lent his voice to the disgruntled chorus now resonating through the fitting rooms and into the men’s department. We must have been in that tiny modular room, watching ourselves in the mirror, for ten minutes—just bouncing. I tried to explain to them the importance of trying on clothes before purchasing, that they were getting a very early and privileged lesson in fashion acquisition. But we all knew I was peddling crap. The babies, by this point, were hungry and ready to leave. I peeled the skinny jeans off my legs and put my own pants back on, which now felt baggy and loose by comparison. I may have lost the battle, but I hadn’t lost the war. It was off to the mall.
A man with common sense would have known to retreat. The challenges were too great, but I was too persistent a shopper and too stubborn a father to turn back now. I’m not one to let babies dictate my decisions, even if they are driven by selfish, consumerist desires. A line had been drawn in the sand. Those who could shop for pants with two babies would cross it. Those who could not, would not. And I was mid-stride.
* * * *
I decided to forgo the strollers when we got to the mall. They worked well when we were moving, but you can’t shop and keep two strollers rolling in perpetuity. Try putting on a pair of pants while wheeling two strollers back and forth in a fitting room. Or better yet, don’t. I’ll save you the trouble: it’s impossible. So instead, I put Charlotte in a Moby and left Greyson in his carrier.
That came to 14 pounds of baby strapped to my chest and another 20 or so dangling from my arm. If strollers weren’t a sustainable shopping strategy, I should have realized what a catastrophe this was going to be. I’m a thin guy (hence looking for slim fit khakis); my muscles fatigue quickly because, well, I don’t really have any. How I thought I’d be able to carry all this through the mall—with a diaper bag in tow—is beyond me. But nevertheless, I went in strapped, loaded, and encumbered by more crap than I should have considered hauling in the first place—babies included.
We ate first. Between the two babies, Greyson was making a bigger fuss. And since I typically award the first feeding to the most grating noisemaker, Charlotte had to wait her turn. We then headed to the food court. I stood by a table making faces at Greyson between bites of a foot-long Seafood Sensation, while Charlotte remained strapped to my chest. Together we bounced and swayed in a gentle dance of pacification as I tried not to drop any crumbs on her head. Lots of neck straining and 12 inches of fake crab and mayonnaise later, we recommenced our expedition.
I intended to hit just four stores—the big ones. Macy’s, J.C. Penny, Sears, and Dillard’s. As with most mall layouts, the big department stores are separated by vast oceans of smaller shops. Everything from the whirring gizmos of Brookstone to the fetid scent of Abercrombie and Fitch stand between shoppers and the key players. I’d have have to walk the whole mall if I wanted to see them all. But even the greatest journeys begin with a single step, so I made my first in Macy’s direction.
It was a no-go. They had Dockers, but the Alpha Khakis weren’t coming until later in the spring. So we headed to J.C. Penny. Perhaps “headed” isn’t the right word. We slogged to J.C. Penny. About every 15 seconds I would switch Greyson to my other arm while trying to maintain an easy rock. He was tired, but couldn’t quite nod off. His carrier clipped my thigh with every other step I took.
But we did make it to J.C. Penny. We made it just long enough for me to step in and feel the oppressing heat of a busted air conditioner. I was already beginning to glisten and knew this was no place for a man with a tummy full of mayonnaise, two armfuls of babies, and the intention of trying on pants. We left as quickly as we arrived and went on toward Sears.
By now the futility of my endeavor was coming into focus. Greyson was whining, my arms were aching, and Charlotte had fallen asleep with a steady stream of drool cascading from her parted lips. As soon as I crossed the threshold into Sears, my son was finished. He let out a fatigued cry that let me know he had reached his limit. And the truth was, I had reached mine as well.
I sat his carrier on the floor, looked him in his teary eyes and came clean. “This was too much,” I said. “It’s time to go. I’m sorry.”
I rose up, grabbed the carrier by the handle and started the long march back to the car. I caught a few glimpses of the people walking passed and realized what a sight we must have been. I wasn’t the hero dad I had fancied myself, I was just a worn out guy who bit off a little more than he could chew. Maybe this was why the older women were drawn to us. Maybe their maternal instincts kicked in before I knew I needed them.
* * * *
That evening, I relayed to my wife what a terrible shopping trip I’d had. That after five hours of “shopping,” I had tried on one pair of jeans and never even caught a glimpse the pants I intended to find. But I hadn’t wasted the day. Really, this wasn’t so much about pants as it was finding my limits. I wanted to know if I could take two babies out on my own. The endeavor was equal parts determination and nerve, or—if you put the two together—stubbornness. I had succeeded in so much as daring to try in the first place, and not being afraid to fail.
I would have liked to buy some pants that day; I never intended to walk away without them. But as my grandmother would tell me, I was a bit “too big for my britches” if I thought I could do it with two babies in hand. I guess finally get that expression.