It actually gave me hope
It was six months after our marriage had ended and my daughter had yet to meet someone I was dating. As far as she knew (if she thought about it at all), when she was with her mom, I was at home or work, spending too much time on the computer, or not cleaning, or going to film screenings.
But I’d been out a few times with the new girl, and dinner would be our only chance to hang out together that weekend. So, I invited her over on a Friday night for dinner with Simone and me.
Andrea and Simone seemed to hit it off right away, so they colored together at the dining room table while I prepared dinner. My daughter did get a little silly at times, throwing a crayon or pretending to bite it, but all was relatively quiet. The two went off to play in another room, so I set the table, finished cooking, and called to them to wash their hands while I put food on the table. Simone didn’t want to stop what she was doing, and that’s where the fun began.
What would this woman think? Would she ever want to hang out with us again?
Have you ever been to a meal with a strange family and the kids started to act out? You sat quietly, uncomfortable, averting your eyes until it was resolved. Suddenly, I was having a rare verbal tussle with my daughter in front of company. I felt self-conscious reasoning with a histrionic three-year-old.
What would this woman think? Would she ever want to hang out with the two of us again? When I finally got Simone’s hands washed, it was another struggle to convince her to sit down at the table. And that’s when she thought it would be fun to knock her silverware on the floor.
After taking a deep breath and internally counting to five, I gently picked my daughter up in my arms, and took her to her bedroom for a time-out. She screamed, she cried, she made me think I’d never be able to bring a woman home again. I told Simone to call me when she was ready to be polite at the dinner table, closed her door, and went downstairs to apologize to Andrea. She didn’t seem too troubled by it, but I could almost see the pot roast I’d cooked getting cold, could almost smell the fresh asparagus turning from spring emerald to steamed green. Simone was calling, so I headed back upstairs. She was ready to come down.
Tossing.. . cookies?
To lighten things up a bit, I tossed my little girl over my shoulder, and brought her downstairs upside-down (if you’re a parent, you already know what comes next). We were both laughing together by the time I got her to her chair. She stood on the cushion, getting ready to sit down, when she threw up all over herself, the dining room chair, the table. The more fluid parts began to make their viscous way down to the carpet.
Here’s what went through my mind in the first milliseconds:
1. Oh, my poor baby, better get her to the bathroom!
2. It had to happen tonight. I can’t wait to tell this story.
3. I’m never going to have a girlfriend.
I conveyed Simone to her upstairs bathroom, and held her hair back as she vomited another time into the toilet, then removed her soiled clothes, brilliantly pulling her shirt over her head and getting chunks stuck in her hair. I stripped off my shirt, picked up my tiny, naked, whimpering daughter, and ran downstairs.
“I’m sorry,” I said to Andrea, “I need to take Simone in the shower.” I waited for this new girl to say something like, “Well, you have your hands full, I’d better go.” But she just nodded, so I turned toward the staircase.
A beautiful mess
Then: “Hey, do you have any upholstery cleaner for the chair? I already took care of the carpet.”
I may have cried later, but I didn’t at that moment. It was one of those times of pure magic – I’d expected this younger woman to make a quick escape, but instead she was cleaning my daughter’s gastric exhalations out of the crevices of the dining room table. I’d been through half a year without backup, making discoveries about the easiest or best way of maintaining a house and being a parent by default (or miscalculation).
I’d fully expected Andrea to leave me to deal with the mess, the sick baby, the lonely house in the suburbs, my doubts. She’d asked a simple question, but, for me, it caused a momentary shift in my sense of the world, in the possibilities for a happy future.
I held Simone’s warm body close to mine in the shower, calming her, and carefully untangled her hair. I made her laugh by gargling the hot water, and helped her rinse out her mouth. I looked at her open, trusting face, and felt horrible for the evening’s events. I’m still pretty good at beating myself up.
Once she was toasty in her fleece pajamas, sitting on the family room floor with a big plastic bowl in front of her and “A Bug’s Life” on the TV, I went back to the dining room to find Andrea.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What a disaster. Simone’s parked downstairs, and I need to stay with her. So, if you want to go, I’ll understand. I’m just going to put my dinner on a plate and eat it downstairs.” I gave a wan smile, and braced myself for the answer.
She said, “Would it be okay if I stayed with you guys?”
Andrea no longer lives in Colorado — she moved to the East Coast for law school last summer. But I’ll be forever grateful for the way she treated me that evening. It was only my first foray into the emotional juggling act of the single dad’s social life, but the lessons I learned and the optimism it bred have stuck with me.
Excerpted with permission from Best Of The Dating Dad. Original post written in 2004. Eric hasn’t introduced his daughter to a woman he’s dating in a very long time.
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