This column appeared in The Herald-Sun in June 2014:
I was walking down Club Boulevard in front of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, pushing John Michael in the jogging stroller.
I glanced to my left at the source of the laughter: A blond-haired man in his 20s, head poking out the passenger window of a gray pickup truck – a cross between Nelson Muntz on “The Simpsons” and a retriever savoring the breeze.
The truck kept on going, turning left onto Ninth Street, and I pondered.
Did he laugh because, in violation of antiquated gender roles, I – a MAN – settled for the woman’s work of pushing a souped-up baby carriage?
Was he cackling to quell the gloom and emptiness inside?
Or did he think I was somehow caught in the clutches of fatherhood like a clumsy, foolish bear stumbling into a steel trap? Was his laughter supposed to signify schadenfreude that he enjoyed the freedom of riding in someone else’s truck while I’m saddled with onerous parental responsibilities?
He can keep his so-called freedom. I didn’t fall into a trap. Our child wasn’t an accident. We sought him out. I knew before he came into our lives that it would change everything, upturn old priorities and deconstruct outdated assumptions into new realities.
So, let him laugh. I’m a parent now, a proud member of a not-so-secret society, and I think I even know the handshake. Sort of.
I stood in the Harris Teeter on Ninth, baby cradled in the crook of my elbow, his arm around my neck. Catherine was shopping for groceries in the dairy section. I mulled a puddle of skim milk splattered on the floor.
“Excuse me, sir?” a woman’s voice called from the frozen food aisle. She pushed a cart with her own little girl, just a few years old. At first, I didn’t think she was talking to me, so I kept looking for my reflection in the white liquid. “Sir?” she said.
I met her gaze. “Oh, sorry,” I said. “Yes?”
“Isn’t it true that if I buy one more Hello Kitty, I’ll turn into Hello Kitty?” she asked, cutting a quick look at her child and then back to me. That look said: “We lie and swear to it.”
I didn’t really waste time dwelling on the existential crisis of fomenting dishonesty in front of her child and mine. Clearly, her daughter wanted all things Hello Kitty, she wanted them all right now and Mom needed adult backup to cover her retreat.
We’re parents. We’re part of the same tribe. Never leave a squad mate behind.
“Sure is true,” I replied with a nod to the daughter. “If she buys one more Hello Kitty, she’ll get the whiskers, the ears, even the little red bow.”
Mom asked her daughter: “Do you want that to happen to Mommy?”
Naturally, the little girl smiled and nodded.
“Yikes,” I said. “Good luck with that.”
I hauled John Michael away in search of salsa and redemption.
I pray he’ll never fall into a Hello Kitty phase. I fear I’ll wake up with the whiskers, the ears, even the little red bow.
Wes Platt can be reached at email@example.com or 919-419-6684. Follow on Twitter at @HS_WesPlatt. Connect on Facebook at facebook.com/wesplattheraldsun.