We will go to the post office.My two girls and I will walk.It is close, so close, in fact, that the old stone building where it’s housed would be visible from our third floor apartment window if not for the still older stone buildings blocking the view.I open the window, thinking what a quick and agreeable walk this will be as the November morning air blows into the room bracing, but the sun over it shines.Maybe winter won’t be as grim-reaper gray as last year.Maybe we can spend one last day in the park.This will be an unfettered, uncomplicated day off.We have no plans.We can simply enjoy what could be, by certain measure, the last day before my daughters need to go back to school, before they start calling friends, before they couldn’t care less, before they leave the house without first checking the temperature or listening to anyone who cares enough to have checked it for them.This day, before all these others, remains open and my call.We need only to go this short distance from our door to the post office to send a medium-sized package.
This should be fun.
Louise cries, face to the floor.The shoes are no good. I insist, while trying to convey empathy for the fashion frustration surrounding footwear that doesn’t match the dress.Julie stands over her little sister basking in her own current state of non-tantrumness.I insist to Louise again and urge her to think about the sun in the sky.I insist, mentioning that I’ll let her put on the stamps at the post office.
At this, Louise rises and shuffles toward the door, releasing a stuttered sigh past wet cheeks.It probably will be okay.We can do better than this.Though, Julie is concerned now because she wanted to be the one to put on the stamps.I’m concerned that we’re taking the three flights down our steep, spiral wooden staircase too fast.I remind everyone how we’re not in any kind of hurry.
Outside, I try not to notice the dark bank of clouds that have shown up overhead.But none of it is important now, because the vigilance required in the street has superseded weather as we approach the first crosswalk.I take care that Julie, who no longer holds my hand, stops at the curb and that Louise, who still does, doesn’t slip out of my grasp and into the road crushed with city buses, delivery trucks, sedans late for work and dingbats on scooters.
We come upon the city’s central square where we must swing wide of the irritable pit bulls belonging to the more irritable owners camped out days and nights here.We eye the fellow pedestrians dangling lit cigarettes at Louise’s eye level.We avoid getting clotheslined by unstoppable mothers pushing strollers, in determined tandem, across the sidewalk.We ignore the discarded piece of pastry on the ground that pigeons have been pecking at which one of the girls might get the idea to retrieve and finish, ingesting a host of new and merciless germs.We skirt the minefields of poo, pit bull and other varietals.
The girls know the way.They practice at careful.But at the corner, where we make a left, they gallop ahead, turning out of my sight.I speed up during these seconds spent imagining they’re being nabbed by someone, beady-eyed and cackling.
I’m now being paranoid or helicopter parenting, I can’t remember which one.I meet them around the corner where they are alive and breathing onto the glass of a clothing store.They sketch pictures in their fog.Louise has taken to touching her mouth directly. I nudge them on.The wind picks up bringing flecks of rain with it.
“You know, Daddy,” Louise announces, “I like my shoes now.”
“You see, I told you they were beautiful.”
“I just saw a thing terrible,” Julie changes the subject.“They closed the post office.”
This was not the jaunty walk I signed up for.Nor is childhood meant to be teeming with this much everyday calamity.From my recollection, mine certainly wasn’t in any way, whatsoever.But now envisioning what could possibly go wrong has become my full-time job.It’s the poster Mike Pemulis has in his room in David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, “Yes, I’m paranoid – but I am paranoid enough?”Is it further worrisome that I apply to parenting an axiom of a drug-dealing fictional character penned by a suicidal novelist?
Still, none of it changes the fact, that indeed the post office is closed.I failed to remember the renovations that have halted services for the morning. The girls ask what we’re doing now, to which I respond in an Up-With-People enthusiasm, “Going back home to unload this enormous box I’m carrying!”
The rain arrives, as punctual as a blind date.My positive outlook also never included umbrellas.The sense of danger remains, but by now I’ve instructed by myself to settle down.So when Julie jumps from the top step of the entrance of the post office as we turn away from the closed door, I only offer a half-hearted “Easy!”Julie then slips, manages to clear all five cement steps and crashes her hands and knees on the pavement below.
She holds the position for a moment like she’s kneeling before saints.I hold my breath over a rosy vision of her shaking it off.Instead, she breaks her silence to emit shrieks of pain that could level city blocks.She raises her hands to the heavens, scraped and bleeding.
I hoist Julie’s growing, injured self in one arm with the package still in the other.On the way back, she rests her head on my shoulder howling at my ear.Icewater falls harder in droplets and soaks us.Louise looks for puddles to jump into.I hurry back to the apartment like a grunt carrying the war-wounded to the medevac chopper.
On the way, Louise could take candy from a stranger. Julie contracts airborne ebola.The oceans rise.Santa Claus comes by to say he’s not real and also Al-Qaeda.A child protection agency sends out an APB on “Some jackass who can’t even get to the post office.”My wife calls in from work with a bad premonition.The kitchen is on fire.My girls will want to put up Katy Perry posters.Or, worse, the Mike Pemulis one.
But there’s actually no smoke.At the bottom of our building staircase, I put Julie down as she dries her own tears.Okay, things are all right.Let me just wring out my pants.You’re a real trooper.Julie nods over her valor in action.
It’s then she notices she has a rip in the knee of her tights.The tears return.
With lunch giving us a new perspective on life, we agree to try this again.This was funny.This remains a simple errand.
We head back to the post office.Julie has a pair of fresh Hello Kitty bandaids across her palms and holds them in the air in a permanent gesture of surrender.I’ve suited them both up in the raincoats and rainboots this time, which Louise is fine with as long as she can also carry an umbrella.We return outdoors to find the rain has stopped, though Louise continues through the streets with the umbrella open, shielding herself from the sky.
The post office has reopened for the afternoon.The girls take turns putting on stamps on the still soggy package.We hand it to the unappreciative postal clerk.I congratulate our whole group and remark on the working together. Julie and Louise skip gracefully back down the formerly-tragic steps and out into the world of sharper edges.
Now our day can begin.
Later,I hear the mighty breathing of their sleep from the hallway.We’ll wait and see what peril comes tomorrow and hereafter, far beyond steps at a post office.We’ll see what else of my disquiet thoughts I can share in the words written beside the last light left on in the house.But the girls, I imagine, will be ready for whatever waits to dash us upon the rocks while I will, eventually, learn to share the faith they have in me to ferry them past it.Until then I stay up later, marveling at how I could have ever regarded these moments as small.