No Moral Here

Margot Page essays

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Perfect father leaves the baby in the car; mother who can’t keep track of anything is relieved.

Mothering is one giant pile of anecdotes and lessons, have you noticed? Our eyes are opened a jillion times a day, and those of us with word processors don't seem to be able to shut up about it.

Which is useful, because sharing our stories is how we get smarter. 

The other way is to make our own mistakes, and I don't have time to make ALL THE MISTAKES IN THE WORLD.

But no one ever seems to tell stories, anymore, of the mistakes that have no moral. Perhaps it’s the time thing. No time for a story unless it will teach us a Thing? I don’t know.

But I have a story with so little moral it would make poor Aesop crap his pants. If my story DID have a moral, it would be this: Neener neener.

Because my husband had this perfect-husband-and-father schtick going, and I couldn’t get out from under it. He’s SUCH a great dad, SO involved. (Really? We’re still going to be impressed by involved?) And Husband truly is those things–yay. Of course he also has just as many foibles, stupidities, and genuine meannesses as anybody does. But Anthony shows well. His shortcomings are quiet and sneaky, invisible to the general public.

This can get tiresome as fuck, to tell you the truth, for one who keeps her faults right out in the open for all the world to see.

But there was this one time.

When I was pregnant with our third child, I dreamt about leaving the baby behind. On airplanes and in theatres. At the park. Once I brought the baby to work, filed it under “b” while I went to meetings, and then left for home while my baby waited patiently in the filing cabinet. 

I awoke nightly in terrors and sweats, and stayed haunted most days. Because these dreams had a scary basis in reality: I am a loser of keys and eyeglasses, a leaver-behind of jackets and coffee mugs. (Not Anthony. Anthony gets the oil changed. Anthony saves his receipts.)

“I’m bad with items,” I routinely apologize to clerks, as they hand back the Visa card I’ve left at their counter.

I’d never been bad with people, but babies are small.

What if. . .?

Then Youngest was born, and her big brother and sister danced and smiled. She was our pet and we took her everywhere. I was quite careful, and remembered her every time.


When it finally happened, it wasn't me who did it. It wasn't me at all.

The weather was October-awful, so Anthony dropped me off with the big kids (not that big—ages four and seven) while he tootled off with carseated Youngest to park the car. As we headed for indoor entertainment at the Pacific Science Center, Middlest chattered without pause about whether he should join the Major Leagues when he grew up, or be “one of those traveling chess-player guys.” Eldest tolerated it.

The focus these activities required of each of them would prove useful, soon.

Every parent for a hundred miles was desperate that morning, so the line was long. We were almost to the front of it when my husband sauntered toward us through a pause in the rain. Unencumbered and smiling—what a nice day he was having!

When I mouthed at him, “Where’s the baby?” he actually blanched. Then spoke not a word, just spun on his heel and tore off.

I waited. Tried not to throw up.

In support of my car-key inadequacies, our family doesn’t lock its vehicles. Youngest was portable and so cute—anyone wandering down Second Avenue would be a fool not to take her. The big kids, absorbed, had missed their dad’s entire saunter-spin-retreat, had no inkling of the danger we were in.

A few minutes or years later, here they came, all two of them.

Anthony looked shaken and human. Anthony, who never gets upset and never raises his voice, while I flail and lose my temper and forget. Anthony, who would never leave the Visa card behind.

Just the baby.

It was the kind of mistake you cannot draw a lesson from. “Try not to leave the baby in the car”? Surely you knew that one already. And it revealed no higher character flaw or weakness in Anthony, but I could live with that.

Youngest had apparently slept through her entire abandonment and rescue. Her siblings oohed and cooed and tried to wake her, to show her some miracles of science. But she was sleeping the sleep of the newly born, tiny fist in perfect mouth, working out miracles of her own.

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Margot Page

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