Lord of the Rains

Relentless winter rain was turning last night’s snow to slush as I with my head cold and A— with her wooly hat left the lobby of our apartment building, headed for the nearby crosstown bus.

From home to preschool is a mile uphill, and we always walk it. But today was no day for pedestrianism. Even the dog could barely be persuaded to lift his leg.

And taking the bus was a form of bribery. A— did not want to go to school today, but she loves to ride the bus.

“We’ll ride the bus to school!” we proposed, and this enticement sufficed to get the girl dressed and downstairs—where we spied the bus, half a block away, accepting passengers and about to leave.

We ran through the slush, holding hands, my office bag bouncing off my left shoulder, the diaper bag bouncing off my right, the stroller sliding ahead of us, guided by my free hand.

You must fold a stroller before boarding a New York City bus. At the bus doors, I had trouble folding. The stroller would not collapse. The driver and the wet passengers inside stared down at me like bison on a nature show, blinking impassively while contemplating my destruction.

A woman in front of me took A—’s hand, to help the little girl onto the bus while her father wrestled with a child carrying appliance.

I saw myself stuck in the slush. I saw the bus doors closing. I saw a strange lady taking my daughter away.

I grabbed A—’s hand, pulled her away from the stranger.

“I’m sorry, thank you, I appreciate it, but my daughter has to stay with me,” I said. At which point, blessedly, the stroller collapsed. I scooped daughter, stroller, diaper bag and office bag into my arms, ascended the bus steps, and placed my Metro card into the card reader.

The bus driver looked at me and said something incomprehensible. The bus beeped; the card reader blinked red and ejected my card.

I reinserted the card, smiling, already soaked, my daughter and possessions balanced against my chest. Again the red, the beeping, the ejection.

This time I understood what the bus driver was saying.

“Your card’s empty.”

“Oh,” I said, the whole bus watching me and my daughter, every face wondering what refugee camp we had escaped from, and whether the bus driver would show mercy and let us ride on this most miserable of cold wet rainy days.

The bus driver blinked at me.

“Um,” I said.

“Pay or get off” the bus driver said.

Buses accept Metrocards and coins only. You need $2 in coins. I don’t carry $2 in coins.

“Can I give you two dollars in bills?” I said.

“No,” the bus driver said.

So the girl and I plunged back into the slush and began the mile uphill walk in the rain.

“Why can’t we ride the bus?” my three-year-old asked through trembling lips.

Her whole world was now about the bus ride she’d been promised, and the promise I was inexplicably breaking.

“I’ll let you walk,” I said, since walking, instead of riding in the stroller, is also a perk.

I took out her Dora the Explorer umbrella, which we bought two weeks ago at a premium price.

It was broken, I discovered. The umbrella offered no protection whatever from the rain. On the plus side, you could still read the Dora the Explorer logo, so the licensee was getting his money’s worth.

Umbrellaless, toddling along, we made it to a major avenue where the deep, melting ice and snow came halfway up to A—’s knees, and women stared at the idiot father letting his beautiful innocent child flounder about in wetness.

“There’s too much ice, now; you’ve got to get in the stroller,” I said.

“No!” she said.

There was nothing else for it. “I’ll give you candy,” I said.

In the Duane Reade on Third Avenue, I let her pick the candy—she selected something pink and disgusting—while I unpacked the stroller to get at a plastic sheet at the bottom. The plastic sheet is supposed to snap over the top of the stroller, protecting children from rain, snow, and oxygen. I could not get it to snap or stay or even cover the stroller. Strike three.

So we walked the rest of the way uphill, uncovered, rain-battered, she with her candy and I with silent curses.

We reached the school and climbed the steps in the usual way—the girl refusing to climb the steps, me carrying her in one hand and the stroller in the other.

We were both soaked through and I realized I was the worst father walking the earth. All the other kids came in wearing rain boots. My kid was wearing pretty little black Maryjanes. The other kids were damp. My kid looked like she had been swimming in the East River.

What saved me was this:

In the library at the top of the stairs, preparing to read a Curious George book before school began, the girl sat by the radiator and said, “Look, Dad. This hot stuff will get me dry.”

[tags]zeldman, myglamorouslife, parenting, nyc, preschool[/tags]