The days are finally getting longer, you can tell. But I don't know about the sunrise. Wood is playing the game I played all last year: she usually lets me sleep until around 8:00 a.m. when she and Juniper have already spent an hour or more talking over oatmeal and a single cup of coffee; Wood now knows the darkness of the early morning when whatever godforsaken bit of our daughter's dysfunctional physiology informs her that it's time to rise before the sun. I know parents who want to teach their toddlers good manners or how to recite the goddamn quadratic equation, but the only thing I really want my daughter to learn is how much pleasure there is in closing your eyes again with one temple resting against a warm pillow despite the morning light and drift quietly back into a cozy morning sleep, an act for which she seems to have absolutely no appreciation.
Juniper has always hated riding in the car, but now that she can really talk the whining is getting worse and worse. We usually agree to let it plateau at a low drone in the backseat as we drive off to the zoo or the store for more diapers. I occasionally find myself locked in epic battles of impossible, shrieking logic with her as we drive and there are no cheerios to be found when the only snack I've packed is cheese, or no cheese to be found when the only snack I've packed is cheerios. Today, the "low oil" light went on while we were in a desolate area and Juniper had a fit while I coasted towards the nearest post-apocalyptic gas station. We took one look at the post-apocalyptic gas station and the crack whore who was smiling at the loosey she just bought there and we both wished it was a little nicer. Juniper stopped crying and said, "No Dada, Juney not like it." I didn't like the looks of it either, but a crack whore is a far cry from a guy with a mohawk, football shoulder pads, and a wrist crossbow. While trying to do my manly duty and check the oil, I had to go search the floor of the car for the goddamn straw from her juice box for the third freakin' time to stop her hollering, and somewhere among all that there might have been a moment when I wished I was in a nice office somewhere; a clean, quiet, carpeted office where the only foul smell was some distant secretary's microwaved lean cuisine. I even thought, for a moment, that I would rather face the wrath of an angry senior partner than try to explain to Juniper one more time that the song she wanted to hear was on the other side of the cassette tape and that I couldn't just snap my fingers and make it start. And then the middle eastern man behind the bulletproof plexiglas and the cash-turnstile at the post-apocalyptic gas station laughed at me when I asked if I could pay for my three quarts of 10W40 with a credit card, so I returned to the car to dig among the crevices of the seat for enough loose change to buy one quart of oil just to get us to a goddamn service center without bulletproof plexiglas between me and the guy there who would steamroll my wallet. There have to be safer jobs in Beirut, heck, even Baghdad, I thought as I slid $1.50 worth of nickels and dimes into the bulletproof cash turnstile: nickels and dimes that I'd dug for among stray pirate's booty and discarded Trader Joe's apple bar chunks slowly disintegrating in the deepest and darkest parts of our Volkswagen's interior.
Among the many now-broken promises I made to myself before I had a kid was that I would never let my car or my home smell like I had a kid. I remember visiting Wood's friend who had a baby when we were all relatively young and thinking, "Dear God, how do they live with that diaper stench!" that hovered in the air above the diaper genie in her McMansion's nursery. In the squalor of our San Francisco apartment I would have purchased a Glade Plug-in of that very smell, just to cover up the actual stench of living with a 15-lb pooping machine in a few hundred square feet of living space. But even that smell was nothing compared to the interior of our car right now. If you took a short ride with us, you'd think I was getting a commission from the county to pick up fresh roadkill, and that our trunk was filled with the necrotic flesh of a few dozen flattened raccoons. Like anything, I have come to think of the smell in positive terms. It's simply the best theft deterrent in the city of Detroit. No 13-year old joyrider is going to spend the time to pick the lock off a club in a car that smells like that.
With $1.50 worth of generic oil finally lubricating our German engine, we drove on through the Motor City, and the faint burning smell of the few drops that fell on the top of the engine came in through the heating vents, smothering the smell of rotten food like a match to a fart. I thought, for a moment, I might have glimpsed why all that Mommy Wars crap from last year was such a big deal: even without the pressures of feminism, putting one's ambitions on the shelf is frightening, despite how easy the decision was for me and how certain I am it was the right one. But I could not help thinking about how a cocky punk version of me had once stood as a finalist before the Rhodes scholarship panel and told them he was going to do something great with his life, and how he certainly didn't envision that something to be spending his days in a stinky car arguing with a two-year-old about whether or not he does, in fact, have any cheerios.