Daddy Wars

10/28/2008 By Shawn Burns

When I looked through the window into Erin’s daycare room I saw all three of the teachers kneeling, pinning a thrashing, writhing ball of snakes in tiny yoga pants to the floor. I did a quick surveil of the room, a headcount that confirmed my paranoid instinct: that for some reason it was Erin they were wrestling with as she panicked to get away from them.

I wasn’t any more relieved when I walked in and saw that her face and hands were covered in blood. Blood that was still pulsing out of her nose despite the sopping tissue being applied by one teacher while another held Erin’s flailing arms and the third pinned her legs.

In retrospect that was one of the least stressful parts of my day. It was a moment, one that could be dealt with immediately. It didn’t linger, like the rest of the moments of the day lingered.

It was a Monday like many another. I dropped Erin off at daycare in the morning and then headed off to school. My plan was to sit at my desk and work, writing a paper on Hobbes and absolute power for the rest of the day, with minor interruptions to pick up Emily at the airport around lunchtime and also to take Erin to swimming class in the early evening. I needed to make good use of this time because the paper, like most of the papers I’ve ever written in my academic career (and I’m in grad school now, folks, which means I’ve written a lot of these damned things) was due the next day.

After only an hour of solid work I received a call from Emily saying she was on an earlier flight. No problem. I’d pick her up and be back to school right away, leaving a big block of time to work in the afternoon. But on the drive to Emily’s office from the airport my phone rang. I didn’t answer right away and I checked the message as I was dropping Emily off. A short "This is Erin’s teacher. I just need to talk to you for a moment," was all that was on the system. A little concerned I decided to just drive over to the daycare, a couple of blocks away, rather than calling.

I walked in on the crimson horror movie scene and before I could wonder if this was related to the "I need to talk to you" message from a good fifteen minutes earlier, I saw that the cause of all of the carnage was an absent scab on the end of Erin’s nose. She had done a good header down the indoor slide last week and received a nice carpet burn on her face for her trouble. It had scabbed over, blackening, over the weekend, and for whatever reason Erin had decided to pull the end-cap off just minutes before I arrived. The subsequent blood-letting was quickly attended by the teachers who applied some pressure and were in the process of cleaning her up and putting her shirt back on when I came in. As Cleese would say, "It’s just a flesh wound."

Lamenting a little the fact that my daughter can’t seem to go to daycare without being bitten, biting someone else, burning her skin off on carpeting, or ripping her face off, I composed myself and asked the teacher if this latest macabre tableau was the reason for her call.

No, actually. It wasn’t Erin’s nose. It was her eye. Her goopy eye.

The daycare has a policy of kicking you right to the curb if there is a hint or whisper of pink-eye, so they needed me to take Erin home and not bring her back until she had been cleared to return by a doctor. They were also sending another little girl home. Probably the one who gave Erin the goopy eye.

Not really knowing what I was getting myself into, but hoping that Erin would be okay (apart from the river of blood she had unleashed on the daycare) and that I would still be able to finish this soon-to-be-late paper I packed her up in the car and immediately drove her to the pediatric clinic.

After waiting to see the doctor for an interminable age (or thirty minutes; pick your poison) and after assuring her that I wasn’t there because of the bloody honker, I was asked where I’d like the prescription for eye-drops sent. The doctor couldn’t tell just by looking whether the infection was viral or not (and I’m still not sure which one I ought to hope for) but five days on the eye drops should clear it up.

Five days without daycare.

I packed Erin up in the car again and drove back to school to pick up my computer and books. I hoped to be able to work on the paper during her nap in the afternoon. Well, later in the afternoon. I had already burned the early afternoon. Then it was off to the pharmacy, and by the time we were done with that we were about an hour and half past Erin’s usual nap time. She was in good spirits, and had started to ask for more bandaids to put on the end of her nose; she wasn’t bleeding, she just wanted to play with them. But her good spirits were quickly doused when we arrived home and I had to pin her down like a daycare teacher wrestling with a bleeding panicked toddler in order to drop liquid bombs into her eyes.

She didn’t manage to fall asleep for another hour. And I didn’t manage to do any work. I was so exhausted from the day that I fell asleep myself, dreaming of an absolute monarch who could just terrify the daycare into taking care of Erin despite her possibly-not-pinkeye. I woke up, and woke Erin up, and we went to pick Emily up at work.

Then we went to Boston Market where inexplicably there were about half a dozen people playing Scrabble.

Home again, and bed time for Erin (after more torture and eye drops). And then I pressed on for an hour or so, trying to write a paper.

But the day’s events were lingering. And non-scholastic stress was outweighing my scholastic stress.

To get the paper done would require me to go into school on Tuesday. But that would mean that Emily would have to take the entire day off to stay home. To go to my morning classes the rest of the week would mean Emily would go in late. But she can’t go in late on Thursday, so Thursday I will just stay home and miss class.

And all the while little Miss Erin endures the psychic torture of her parents staring into her eyes and then betraying her with a liquid assault.

Daycare is supposed to make the world predictable, manageable. It is supposed to be an aid. But this week it feels decidedly like an impediment to everything: to Erin’s health, to Emily’s career, to my school work.

Add to this the feeling that I don’t really want to be writing a paper on Hobbes an absolute power, that I’d much rather stay home to take care of my goopy-eyed daughter, and I have the barest hint of an internal Daddy War, career versus family.

But for the moment I can have it all. I wrote a 3000 word paper in three hours this morning, in plenty of time to submit it on time. Emily spent a wonderful day at home with Erin and they will have a lovely breakfast together tomorrow while I go to class. For this week we don’t need daycare.

We certainly don’t need it to goop up Erin’s eye and burn her nose off.

I do like that they provide all of the diapers for the day, though. So I guess we’ll keep going.