Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Stay alive! I will find you!

I go to the gym two or three times per week, always with my daughter in tow. We call it the "kids' place," since while I'm working up a sweat she chills out with the other ankle-biters in the 2-hour-limit childcare room.

I started my LA Fitness gym membership a month or two after moving to Southern California. The day my wife and I casually wandered in to check out  membership pricing (a word to the wise, there's no such thing as casually getting prices from LA Fitness, something I learned the hard way), Addison got one glimpse of the slide in the "kids' place" and forgot entirely about us. She was in heaven for the entire hour that we ended up negotiating with the sales staff, and we had to literally drag her away.

So, imagine my parental anxiety when this was the face I got the next time I brought her to the gym for my first real day of working out:

This is the face of abandonment, and it tore me up. I almost dropped the gym membership, but when we debriefed the experience at home later Addison cheerfully agreed that the kid's place was "fud" (fun), so I decided to at least work through a trial period. Every time I dropped her off I felt like Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans,* trying to convince her that I'd be back, and not to give up on life:
"You be strong, you survive . . . I will find you! No matter how long it takes, no matter how far, I will find you!"
And for weeks, I left her side with this image in my head as I stretched my guilty quadriceps:

Now, she didn't usually cry more than five minutes or so, which was still hard enough to see. I'd wander over to check on her through the window every ten minutes or so, just to make sure that she hadn't thrown herself off a cliff into the slow-motion infinity of the ground reaching up to meet her (see The Last of the Mohicans for obscure references).

By the end of the month, Addison and I had worked through those dark, heart-rending goodbyes with the following routine: A drink from the water fountain, a big hug, and a big kiss before passing her over to the workers. After about 12 visits, the tears ceased, there were mostly no lips quivering, and there was a little girl who continued to exclaim that the kid's place was "fud!" and that Cindy, Valerie, Brynna, Trish, and Bree (all caregivers), and Ashleigh (the front desk girl), were all "nice!" Ashleigh gave Addison a cheap Christmas penguin wearing a Santa Claus hat that Addison still plays with in her car seat.

Last week, a woman holding a tearful little 18-month-old boy watched as I said,
"Where's my hug?"
and then
"Where's my kiss?"
and then handed Addison over the low wall to Cindy.
"Does that work?" she asked in disbelief.
It does now. But first there were cliffs, and a desperate plea to stay alive.

* This scene from The Last of the Mohicans has inspired no shortage of parodies and copycats, but my personal favorite is this bit from Seinfeld.