Though I’d planned on Lily being at least four or five years old when she saw her first live stage musical, some extraordinary circumstances led to her getting a crash course in theater etiquette on a recent Sunday.
Rarely do I have to see a show on Sunday afternoon for a review, but in this case, I needed to get to Dexter to see “Damn Yankees” at the Encore Theatre. Because Joe and I had gone to the U-M/MSU game the day before, leaving Lily with her grandparents for a few hours; and because I’d had to cover a local movie premiere on Friday night; I was loathe to miss a four hour chunk of my Sunday with Lily, too. It seemed there were no other options, though, unless she and Joe came with me to the show. And because Joe had never seen “Yankees,” despite knowing its songs, and because he really wanted to check it out, we decided to go ahead and give Lily a chance at being a Broadway musical baby.
I’ll confess I was utterly stressed on the drive to the theater. Lily hadn’t had her nap, so we expected her to konk out for the duration of the ride, but she didn’t fall asleep until about 10-15 minutes before we arrived; because toddlers are impossible to rush, and because of packing, we were going to be cutting it close, time-wise; we’d planned for Joe to take Lily out to the park and a nearby Dairy Queen if/when she got restless during the show, but I couldn’t find my phone in my backpack, and Joe’s new phone was rendered unusable because it was “locked”; and because we didn’t make the final call on taking Lily until just before leaving, I needed to try to purchase an additional ticket for her next to us, yet I couldn’t call (see phone disaster above) to make the potentially-tricky arrangements ahead of time.
These are not good signs, I thought, trying to keep from having a full-on anxiety attack while sitting in the back seat next to Lily. But we were all in now. No turning back.
We got there with five minutes to spare, so I ran to the box office to buy a ticket for Lily, which fortunately wasn’t a problem; and Joe and I held Lily’s hands and walked with her into the dimly-lit theater, finding our seats.
The show soon began, and Lily sat snuggled up against me on my lap, making me wonder at times if she’d fallen back asleep. But according the Joe, she was awake throughout, watching “Yankees” unfold – sometimes she even clapped after numbers, with our encouragement.
She made it to intermission, and we took her out into the sunlight to get some air and walk around, but she still generally clung to me while Joe got her some water and a snack. We asked her if she wanted to go back and see the rest of the show with Mommy and Daddy, or if she wanted to go to a park with Daddy, and she said, “Show with Mommy,” so Joe and I looked at each other, shrugged, and said OK.
Shockingly, she made it through the second act, too – albeit while sitting on my lap and munching on what remained of her Veggie Straws. (Note to self: bring quieter snacks for Lily next time; I worried that the older couple in front of us got an earful of unabashed crunching and just had too much Midwestern politeness to say something or scowl at us.) Yes, occasionally Lily made strange, quiet little noises and reached out to bring my face close to hers, but otherwise, she was a little angel.
When we got out of the theater, she said, “I need more food.” And she was right. It was dinner time. So we walked to a nearby restaurant that had outdoor seating, got a table, and ordered up her favorite mac and cheese. We had a nice dinner, and before heading to the car, Joe and I started to talk in occasional spelled words, as parents do, about the possibility of stopping at the Dairy Queen for dessert. Lily had exceeded all our expectations and seemed in a great mood, so we thought, “Why not?”
We got her a kid-size chocolate cone, and each ordered something for ourselves, then settled in at a nearby table to eat. We were practically a Norman Rockwell painting come to life (see video below).
Shortly after this exchange, Lily, hyped up on sugar, got restless and started marching and running around, encouraging us to chase after her – which I did around a nearby building, until we came back around to Joe. Lily was giggling throughout all this, and wanted to go around again and again.
You’d never know that things were about to go due south – in a bad, bad way. But such is the way of parenting little ones, I’m afraid.
For the hour was getting late, and we all needed to make the 40 minute drive back home before it grew dark. But Lily desperately needed to have her diaper changed, and Joe needed to get gas, so we spotted a nearby gas station, and Joe drove his car to it while I accompanied our running, laughing daughter there.
Unfortunately, there was no changing station in the station’s restroom (I wish I could personally subsidize one in every public restroom in the U.S.), which was also a single bathroom. (Why oh why didn’t I think of changing Lily when we were at the restaurant, for the love of God?) So I did what reluctant parents always have to do in these situations: I set up her mat on the icky floor and pulled out the wipes, a towel, and a diaper.
Lily, meanwhile, was still in party mode, turning the light on and off, singing and chattering to herself, and running in a circle. It was at this point that I noticed that nearly the entire backside of her pants were soaked. (Not from her diaper, but from something else that’s still unknown.) Oof.
Eventually, I coerced Lily down onto the mat on the floor and started to change her. While getting her diaper off, she started fighting me and screaming, “Daddy do it!” (Meanwhile, a woman accidentally stepped into the bathroom, looked down at me struggling with Lily, apologized, and left, which made me wonder, “Did she not hear the screaming through the door?”) I didn’t see a good way to switch Lily off to Joe, so I tried to just hunker down and get it done, but Lily was kicking and crying to beat the band.
Finally, Joe knocked on the door and let himself in, taking over diaper-changing operations. Not that that quelled Lily’s screaming, of course. But in that moment, I’d had enough, so I stood up and left, electing to get a moment away to collect myself.
So I stood outside the front of the station for a few minutes, then heard Lily’s cries getting closer as Joe carried her out to where I stood. She was wearing her spare pair of beige pants from the diaper bag.
“She wanted you to do it as soon as you left, of course,” Joe said. He handed her to me, and we went to the car. Lily didn’t want to get in, and she screamed that she wanted her purple pants back on, and wanted the beige pants off. In the “pick your battles” world of parenting, I thought, she can’t put the wet pants back on, but if she wants these pants off, whatever. So I yanked them off her as she wailed, to Joe’s bafflement, and ducked into the car. We somehow got her strapped into her seat against her will, and she kicked and yelled like a wild animal. And although I thought she’d just fall asleep after we got on the highway, since she didn’t have a full nap that day, that’s not what happened. The anger revved her up for most of the hellish ride back home.
And with the anger came an increasingly bizarre series of demands. “I want to get out!” We’ll get you out as soon as we can, I promise. We’re heading home right now. “I want my purple pants!” But they’re all wet, sweetie. “I don’t want to go home!” Huh. Well, is there a hotel you’d recommend? “I want my poopy diaper!” OK, you’ve lost me on that one, kiddo.
What could we have done differently, I wondered? Could we have avoided this somehow? Did this happen because, after sitting for the show for so long, and getting ice cream, she needed to run around for a longer time? Was this the lack of a substantial nap catching up with us? Was the whole afternoon a huge mistake solely because of the way it ended?
I still don’t know. But sitting in the backseat that evening as the skies darkened, watching Lily’s bare legs flail against me and anything within reach of her car seat, just broke me. We’d all had such a lovely time together – one of those experiences Joe and I will likely remember for years to come – and I hated that this unfortunate turn colored the whole day.
But Lily did eventually scream herself out, and, defeated, she held onto my hand. I rubbed my thumb over the top of her little hand and said, “It’s OK, sweetie. We’re almost home. We’re almost there.”
Before having Lily, I thought that kids have good days and bad days, but that’s not right. The days are pretty much always a mixture of both. Even this morning, after watching Winnie the Pooh (the originals, which I absolutely loved as a kid myself) for a while with Lily, all snuggled up and cozy in my bed, I was shocked by Lily’s out-of-nowhere tantrum when the tape ended and I shut the TV off. She went crazy, kicking and screaming, and I thought, “Well, there’s another nice parenting memory marred.”
But I guess I shouldn’t think about things this way. It’s all part of the yin and yang of parenting. Many people like to paint parenting/motherhood with a monochromatic brush – either all good or all bad. But the truth is, it’s often both heaven and hell simultaneously. Not just in the span of days, but sometimes in the span of a only few minutes. Things can turn on a dime.
And that’s just something I wasn’t expecting.