When Cheeky was born we received a Bugaboo stroller as a gift. At the time it was kind of a big deal, a prestige item for moms in the city, but for good reason. It also happened to be the Hummer of strollers. Big BMX wheels, rack and pinion steering, positraction differential, and enough accessories to assemble a spare stroller from the left over parts. I balked at the idea of getting something so over-the-top (at least by the standards of the time), but transporting a kid around NYC, as we quickly learned, is much easier when your stroller could cameo in a Michael Bay movie.
That does not, however, mean it's perfect. It still requires a competent driver who won't let go of the it on a hill or steer it into a parking meter. The obstacles of the city are manifold, and a wise parent would do well to not take them lightly, regardless of how pimped your ride is.
Two fundamental personality traits of mine are my over-confidence and how easily I'm distracted. Independently, these can at worst be harmless, and each has actually served me well at times. However, the two in combination can be downright dangerous beyond the confines of our home. I'm generally self-aware enough not to be a threat to others, but now that I'm a parent I tend to forget that my sphere of control isn't just my body anymore, and that the little being I'm responsible for keeping alive depends on me avoiding road hazards. Sadly, I'm not always so good at that.
As we were walking to school this afternoon, I stopped at a local hot dog cart to buy Cheeky her lunch (she has restricted her diet recently to only chemically enhanced foodstuffs, much to our dismay). Having equipped her with enough paper towels to plug the city sewer system I proceeded to cross the street, aiming for the narrow edge of the pavement sloped to allow wheelchairs (and strollers) onto the sidewalk.
It had rained the night before, and a small puddle lay at the base of the slope. I was pushing a Bugaboo! I feared it not! A puddle is of no consequence to one armed with a sturdy piece of hardware like ours.
But beneath that puddle lurked a crevasse, one of thousands commonly ignored by the New York City Transportation Board. As the front wheel of the stroller approached, it silently opened its maw....
The stroller lurched to a stop. The handle gave me an impromptu Heimlich maneuver. My daughter, ketchup-coated hot dog still in hand, launched forward.**
Remarkably, Cheeky landed on her feet.
Not so remarkably, she then stumbled backwards and landed ass-first in the puddle.
Did I mention she was wearing a white dress? Yeah. Nice, eh?
There I was, standing on a busy New York corner (which may be the most redundant statement in the world) picking my daughter out of the dirty puddle I had just thrown her into, my eyes down so as not to acknowledge the judgmental stares passing me by. Her pretty white dress was dripping and smeared with the grime of a thousand delivery trucks. Her face was smeared with tears. She was supposed to be in school in ten minutes, and I'd just turned her into a mudflap.
I dug through my pockets, hoping that a towel or a Shamwow would materialize if I just reached deep enough. I frantically scanned the stroller for something...anything...that I could use to dry my child. Then I remembered!
Cheeky had "borrowed" a cloth napkin from a hotel in Boston a few weeks ago. It was a standard napkin you'd find at any hotel restaurant. White. Square. Boring. But for some reason Cheeky would carry it around with her, and by some stroke of luck it was making the journey to school with us.
Hooray for Napkin!
Then, as I dried her legs and patted the folds of her dress, my daughter turned to me and said, "It's OK, Daddy. My dress will dry."
I looked in her eyes, searching to see if tears still lurked beneath the surface. They did not. She had a slight smile on her face. She forgave me, and she had given me permission to forgive myself.
"Are you going to tell Mommy about how Daddy dropped you in the puddle?"
"Yeah, Daddy! You're silly! I can't believe you dropped me in a puddle! It's a good thing we had Napkin!"
And with that she climbed back into the Bugaboo, its wheel now free from the watery trap. She grinned, bit into what was left of her hot dog, and brushed the hair out of her eyes. I shoved the damp napkin under the stroller and pushed her forward. The stroller moved effortlessly, seemingly unaware that it had just conspired to humiliate me. And I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that (for once) the only thing wounded was my pride.
** Before anyone gets all up in my grill about the straps which come standard with all strollers which sat idly by, unused, as my daughter became a projectile should just back off right now. My kid is in the 94th percentile in size for her age and by should all rights be pushing the stroller herself. Those straps are like bondage implements on her hulkish body. I still say it's better to test her reflexes than constrict her circulation. Consider her tested.