NO DOUBT ABOUT IT: Good parenting requires a healthy respect for forgetfulness and a working knowledge of when to use it. Women who give birth claim that after delivery they forget all about the pain. Since our daughter was adopted, what I’ve forgotten is all the pre-adoption paperwork. That, and what exactly we used to do on Saturday afternoons before our daughter came along.
Did we sleep? Read? Eat? It’s been wiped clean. And it wouldn’t be healthy to stack up those long-gone weekend afternoons against the reality of what we do these days. There’s simply no comparison, though even I must admit that some parenting Saturdays stand out more than others. There was that one Saturday, for instance, when I had a breakdown in Chuck E. Cheese.
My husband and I had agreed to take our daughter and Ava, her best friend, to Chuck’s. Now I know what the look on Ava’s mother’s face meant when I said we’d never been before, that we’d be happy to do it, how bad could it be? Ava’s mother smiled a knowing smile. She may have patted my hand.
It started as we opened the door and I was knocked back by a sense of panic. I reflexively checked the occupancy sign at the front door: 410. We were at the maximum. The place was rocking. I saw my husband check my face for any sign that I might bolt. Initially strengthened by his sensitivity, I locked my hand into his, looked straight ahead and elbowed my way in. Ninety minutes later we emerged utterly changed, and not just by the pizza in our hair or the ranch dressing that somehow got ladled into my purse.
Technically, I really didn’t have the breakdown in Chuck’s: I waited until we got into the car. What would have been the point in shrieking, rending my clothes and throwing my food while still inside? I mean, everybody was doing that.
No, it wasn’t until we were safe in our seat belts that I realized I was shaking. I felt the quickened pulse in the vein of my neck. Slowly I turned to the back seat, not choosing my words carefully and said “Well, that was…” and was cut off by the sounds of the two little girls swapping prizes, laughing about the games they had won and vowing to return soon. They had had a really good time.
Worried that I was alone in my dismay, I checked the side of my husband’s face. He had visibly aged in the afternoon. Good, I thought, we agree.
What I had liked about the day was the hour before the din in the restaurant. We had all gone to a planetarium, where we had watched a kids’ guide to the stars and ridden a low-tech space shuttle simulator. The kids seemed to like that, too, but they loved Chuck E. Cheese’s. Chuck himself must know why, because those little girls can’t wait to go back.
What I was reminded of is the value of choosing what to remember.
As we were driving home, a memory popped up, of Kiddy City on Northern Boulevard in Queens — long gone, but not forgotten by me, apparently — and of the Lollipop Farm in Westbury, Long Island, leveled years ago and replaced by a strip mall. I was about to tell my husband that when I was a kid everyone always had a wonderful time at those places, when I realized that it probably wasn’t true. Probably my parents shook in the front seat as my sister and I replayed each magic moment in the back. But I don’t remember that they ever mentioned it.
On Sunday night my daughter and I reviewed the weekend events: There was that new movie we rented Friday night, the outing with Ava, her favorite baby sitter Saturday night, church, a brunch and riding bikes together on Sunday. What did she remember as the best time?
She thought for a moment. “Being with you and Daddy,” she said. What I hope to always remember is how that made me feel.