You see, fatherhood has immediate solutions. You or your wife having a breakdown? Tag out. Child is screaming? She must be sick, or tired, or hungry, or thirsty, or wistful, and there are cures for such things. The prospect of being stuck in the snow with a toddler, however, has no immediate solution.
It started at about 10:00 this morning when the snow made its entrance. Okay, I think, We'll get a few flurries and then it will be on its merry way. But no, the snow kept coming. The red button is pushed at the county office: we're going home early. I think happy thoughts of playing in the snow with my daughter. The hours pass like days, the students ramp up with excitement, and when the precious time approaches we get an email: expect delays.
At about that same time I get a call from my wife. Expecting a relaxed update, that she'd enjoyed her brunch plans and made it home safe and well, I pick up. But she's not home and she's not entirely safe. She's stuck in weather-related traffic and has been for hours. Needless to say, it's stressful for her and for me. Time passes. The first wave of busses (all three of them) come and go and I am still faced with a room full of overexcited 13-14-year-olds and a nagging worry about wife and child being caught in the snow, which offers no intention of stopping. An hour and a half beyond the expected time of departure a heroic coworker offers to take my students so that I can leave.
The drive home is both harrowing and encouraging: neighbor helps neighbor move vehicle through the hills of snow-now-ice. The three miles are a blur as my mind is helpless but to fixate on the looming problem: wife and child being caught in the snow.
I get home, yell at the dog who has made the Forbidden Chair her bed for the day. I change clothes and prepare food for my wife and continue to scarf chocolate for myself. 'Something about tannins or cacao or something,' screams someone in my brain. I call, hoping to be able to prepare a service of brunch that will be comparable to the one she missed thanks to Old Man Winter.
When I call back my wife has moved only a few yards in 40 minutes of traffic.
Now I cannot relax. There is no solution: do I go and 'get her'? Dump my car in a parking lot and assume her role as driver, introducing a third factor of anxiety to a car already with two? Do I hike the five miles or so to their car and sling wife and child over my shoulder and run them home personally? The impotence is maddening.
I pray. I pour myself a drink. I try a round of my beloved LOTR card game. I pray some more. I give half-hearted attempts to calm family members. Mostly, I just panic.
I do laps downstairs, jumping jacks, push ups. I count trees. I beg my left brain to come online but it won't. So, I stare out the window and expect them to show up safe. I plead with my logical brain again, even anticipating the imminent relief accompanying their arrival. But imagining their arrival is all but impossible. I stare out the window some more and watch a stalled school bus make its escape. I shake my fist and hate every passing vehicle that is not my wife's.
I write this blog entry.
But the panic sits there on my body and drives out the air. It saps the blood from my arms. The only option is go monk, to blank the mind of all but God, but I guess I am too controlling for that. Instead, I am going to will my wife and daughter to return so that I can feel safe again. It doesn't work. The fear is too real, and even going through the worst case scenario thing (which would have been them abandoning the car and me going to get them) doesn't help because there are too many variables, too many possibilities for my anxiety-stricken mind to compute.
And then she calls. They've moved about a mile in an hour, but they're okay. Spirits are up. My wife is Super Mom and my daughter is the Patron Saint of Fun and Patient Toddlers. The panic has no purchase. Traffic is even moving again.
It is worth noting that my daughter was the Über Child throughout all of this. She sang and entertained herself, said cute things to keep my wife calm, and only cried after five hours of being stuck in the car with only a few snacks to go on. I've applied her for a congressional medal of honor.
There's one more call and one more panic attack. In the end they arrive, as they always do, safe and sound. My relief is immense. My fear is left to slither back into the shadow and say, 'Next time...' and we eat a brunch of French Toast at 7:00 in the evening. I regret that there were no breakfast meats.
Dylan Moran once remarked on the pointlessness of fear. Christ said something similar. But it's a byproduct of life on Earth, the last kid on the bus who refuses to get off or listen to reason. It's an unpleasant thing but we deal with and we move on and we enjoy the snow.