The Dark Crystal Diaries are an account of the 3-4 years I spent as a “stay-at-home-dad.” The following took place in Spring 2007.
The church basement is teeming with children. Amid the screaming, I can hear it.
That’s my cue. Stand up. Scan the room. There she is, by the oversized doll house.
I can tell by the look on her face that she has been the victim of a crime.
“What happened?” I silently mouth these words with an exaggerated look of concern.
“Daddy,” she cries again. “She took it away!”
We’ve been here before. Avoiding a crisis requires skill, poise, and, sometimes, guile.
I contort my face as if to say, “Oh, is that all?” With a shrug of the shoulder and an inaudible psssshaw! I hope to convey the total unnecessary-ness of this drama.
“Let her have it. You can play with something else,” I say with my eyes. It’s all in the eyes.
For two hours on Monday and Wednesday mornings, I accompany my daughters Clara and Magdalena to this toddler’s playgroup. There are approximately twenty children enrolled here, each with a unique, and discernible personality.
I give them nicknames: the Librarian, the Mute, the Queen Bee, the Psychopath. I call my own daughter the Dark Crystal. Not out loud, of course.
“Daddy, SHE TOOK IT!”
Clara is three years old. To strangers, she comes across as a delicate sort. In reality, she has the killer instincts of a Hollywood agent. She knows I don’t want to leave her sister unprotected. Magdalena is only nine months-old and has just learned to sit up. Perched on a padded rug adjacent to the main play area she makes an easy target for the older boys. They circle like sharks.
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” I can see the corners of her mouth turning downward now. Her chin begins to twitch. Three years old and already a master of brinksmanship. Kissinger would blink.
Among the mommies and the babysitters, I stand out as the only daddy. Make that the only man. I hate to speak too loudly here. The bass notes in my voice are conspicuous.
I scoop the baby up. Getting to Clara is like crossing 1st Avenue in the middle of a block. Older boys whiz by on the backs of four-wheeled zebras. The Queen Bee falls at my feet, pushed down by the Nose Tackle.
“C’mon guys. No pushing,” I say with only halfhearted sincerity. The Queen Bee has occasionally been less than friendly to Clara. But parental etiquette dictates that I pause to help her up.
True to form, she yanks her arm away from my helping hand with a look of contempt. In a single, fluid motion she hops to her feet and thumps the Nose Tackle on the back of the head.
I remember Clara and leave this mess for someone else to clean up.
When I get to her, she is no longer crying. Instead, she is making an imaginary call on a toy telephone. She seems surprised to see me.
“Oh. Hi, Daddy!” She offers me the phone. “It’s Mommy. Do you wanna talk to her?”
“Oh, no thanks. I’ll talk to her later.” Sigh.
Clara drops the phone and charges past me toward the trampoline. I turn in time to see the Queen Bee and the Nose Tackle sharing an awkward reconciliation. The leader of the playgroup gets them to hug.
I have to smile. Perhaps I’ve been too hard on the Queen Bee and all the others. I shouldn’t be giving them these awful nicknames. They’re just kids, after all.
Then, amid the screaming…