January, 1995

Friday was a hectic day at work - but then, most days are. I spent the week clearing my desk of six Priority One tasks, and planned to upgrade two workstations with new software. This would be a happy mindless task to prepare me for the weekend. But then, my boss got his new PowerBook laptop in! If I could get the new machine up and running, and transfer his files, I would be able to arrange a long-term loan of his old laptop.

Unboxing the computer wasn't a problem. Figuring out which cables went where wasn't a problem. Even transferring the files wasn't a problem, although it was an adventure involving three departments, two manuals, and one call to Apple Support. No, the problem was pinning my boss down long enough to delete the company confidential files from my new toy. So, loaded down with the laptop, extra batteries, lots of cables, several floppies, all in a carryall briefcase, I headed home, eager to awe and amuse the kids with my latest toy.

One of our family's rituals is Friday dinner. I stop at the Golden Starches, or Col. Blanders Chicken Blasphemy, or the Chinese Takeout Place. Alana doesn't have to cook, and the kids get yummy healthless food to start their weekend off right. So, loaded down with burgers, fries, and processed chicken gobblets, I headed through the door, to feed and amuse my kids with their tasty num-nums.

Instead, I found chaos.

The dogs were barking. Llerendel, my 4yr old, was a shrieking teakettle. Eileen, my 8yr old, was sobbing on the couch. Carl was slouched down in the other couch. Alana was on the phone, uttering those fateful words, "Pediatrics, please. This is an emergency."

So, I calmly slung the backpack into a corner, dropped the food onto a flat surface, and picked up my noisy teakettle. She pointed to a large, but not immediately fatal splinter in her knee. I picked her up and through the shrieks Alana saying, "Glass... wrist... stitches." I did a double take, and saw that Carl was holding a large blood-soaked bandage on one arm. Performing a quick triage, I yanked out Llerendel's splinter, tossed her to Alana, and went to take a look at Carl.

An old fermented jar of apple juice had shattered while he was picking it up. Luckily, it was on the side of his wrist, and no nerves, tendons, or blood vessels were cut. We waited for the HMO doctor to call back, and give us permission to go to the Emergency Room. After convincing Eileen that her siblings boo-boos were not her fault, I distributed the provender I had gathered. Llerendel quieted down as quickly as a preschooler can, and started playing with her kids-meal toy.

During the car ride, Carl polished off his second Burger O' Month, and started in on the Chicken Gobblets. Since he was in mild shock, not from blood loss but from, well, the shock of the whole affair, he had had trouble walking from the house to the car. There were no nearby parking spaces, so I decided to indulge in my sense of theater, and asked for a wheelchair. We hung out at the Emergency Room admissions desk, arguing whether a Borg Cube from Star Trek could outfight a Shadow from Babylon 5, and finally the clerk and the triage nurse arrived at the same time.

"If you'll come this way, Mr. Hommel, I can get your insurance information while the nurse looks at Carl's wound..."

A scared Carlton, clutching Snowflake-the-only-slightly-dirty-Bear, looked up from his wheelchair. I said, "No."

From the clerk's reaction, you would have thought that I had claimed that medical care was a right to be given freely to everyone, not a privilege to be paid for. "No," I repeated, interrupting her bluster, "I'm going to stay with Carl, while the nurse looks at Carl's bandage."

Carl looked much relieved. I held his healthy hand, while the nurse unwrapped, washed, inspected, detected and so forth, and came to the same conclusion Alana and I had - stitches required, but no permanent damage. Carl looked up at me, and after she left asked, "How did you know I wanted you to stay with me?"

"Special Daddy Magick", I replied.

This is one of my parental phrases, like "Wait until you get older", or "In a minute", or "I'll think about it". A way of not-answering a child's question, because the explanation is not a simple one, or because you want to preserve that aura of Parental Omnipotence.

"Carlton, Eileen, turn around and go close the back door."
"How did you know it wasn't closed."
"Special Daddy Magick."

"Mom, Dad, Carlton pushed me!"
"He did not. You walked next to him, and tripped over his foot."
"How did you know? It was in the other room!"
"Special Daddy Magick."

"I wonder how they get the car into the building where they sell cars?"
"They roll back the roof, and lower it in by helicopter in the middle of the night."
"Wow! Neat! How did you know that?"
"Something I picked up in Daddy School."

Children can't imagine their parents being anything but parents, and are quite surprised at being caught out when they repeat the same misbehaviors the parents did. That, combined with the judicious use of mirrors, listening for specific sounds, and a cursory reading of child psychology, lets us adults keep a half step ahead.

I thought about Special Daddy Magick, while holding Carl while they were stitching him up. This wasn't the first time I've arrived home in the middle of a crisis. Back in college, I turned the corner, and saw the roof of the house next to my apartment going up in flames. "My cats! My books! My dirty laundry!", I said, listing the important things in my life about to go up in smoke.

When Eileen was two, she meticulously plotted, planned, and executed a carefully crafted campaign worthy of Napoleon or Hannibal, to acquire Mom's sharp embroidery scissors. Our reconstruction concluded that Eileen had used her potty chair, a kitchen chair, a butter knife, and a couch cushion (as a landing zone) and pulled off the lift and snatch, from a cold start, in under 30 seconds. Her path then led past the cat, who was given an avant garde one-sided whisker shortening, into the bathroom, where Eileen trimmed her bangs, and then...

Alana looked down from the spaghetti pot, and saw tomato sauce all over Eileen. But wait - that wasn't sauce, it was blood! And it was all over the place! Blood on Eileen's clothes, her arms, the floor, the bathroom sink - everywhere. And it kept coming, from no visible source.

At this point, I walked in. An excited 4yr old Carl ran to me shouting, "Eileen boo-boo! Eileen boo-boo!" I saw blood all over the kitchen floor, smelled the spaghetti pot bubbling over, and heard shrieking from the bathroom. Turning off the stove, I went into the bathroom, saw both Eileen and Alana covered in blood, and heard Alana say, "I can't find where the blood is coming from."

Making a Decisive Daddy Decision, I picked Eileen up, plopped her in the tub, clothes and all, and turned on the water faucet. Ten seconds of warm water later, we determined that the mess was coming from the tip of Eileen's index finger. She had snipped off the last quarter inch.

A few seconds pressure with a gauze pad, and the situation quieted down dramatically. Alana retired to regroup her shattered nerves snuggling with a meek, changed, and toweled off Eileen. I finished preparing dinner, and Crisis Was Averted.

So, I thought as I held Carl, why I would I be coming home in the nick of time like this? I'm not getting home ahead of time, I'm not getting home after the paramedics have been called - I'm walking through the door just as I'm needed. And then it struck me - there really must be Special Daddy Magick!

Imagine that...

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