Save the Children
My daughter asked if she could drive the car and I surprised her by saying yes. It was a Saturday and we were out running errands. We pulled into the parking lot at Annunciation Catholic grade school, the same spot my father tooled around in decades ago with one of his six children on his lap. It was peaceful. Empty parking lot, beautiful late summer afternoon, hurricanes and my daughter's first week of first grade in the rearview mirror.
We had nothing to do, nowhere to go, and I planned on letting her drive until she got bored. So serene was the setting that I noticed for the first time an ivory-colored statue of Jesus, with his arms outstretched to anyone who might need a widdle hug from the prince of peace. As my daughter played bus driver and guided us in and out of a handicapped spot at four miles an hour, she said, "Thank you, Dad."
After 10 minutes, a blue minivan pulled into the parking lot. Five early-30s women piled out. My daughter and I lolled past, smiling, and stopped to chat. I had visited the parking lot the previous Sunday to see a friend's band at the church carnival, and, despite some of the holier-than-thou horror stories I'd heard about my old parish, I found it pretty welcoming.
My daughter started to wave to the women, and at first I thought they were smiling back, as mothers are wont to do when they see a father and daughter together--out of genuine affection, memories of times spent with their own fathers, or solid evidence of another caveman tamed.
"You shouldn't be doing that," cawed the driver, a lanky type who unfolded from behind the airbag.
"That's illegal," said the shotgun rider, a stocky Officer McGruffette.
"Are you kidding?"
"No," said the fearful fivesome, in unison.
"You can be arrested for that," said a graying earth mama whose guiding lights appeared to be Emmylou Harris, Katherine Kersten, and Starbucks.
"Are you kidding?" I repeated. I was trying to get my bearings, wondering if this was some strange flirting ritual I'd missed out on during the Bush years.
"No," they all said. "You can go to jail for that."
"Call a cop."
Four of the five flashed cell phones at me. I circled around, with every intention of leaving. But when McGruffette phoned her husband and started dictating my license plate, and the could-be editor of Quilts Quarterly said, from the back of the van, "Think of your daughter's safety," I lost it. I said some choice things, some of which I am not proud to report here, such as, "Loosen your butt cheeks," "You are such good citizens," and, finally, "Loosen up, you Catholic piece of crap."
"Your belligerence just proves our point," said Quilter, which I have to say was a pretty good comeback.
By now, my daughter had scrambled back to the passenger seat and strapped herself in. She was scared--the shrillness of the church ladies had convinced her she was headed for jail--and at this point I just wanted to get her home. As I pulled out of the driveway, I heard her muttering.
At this point, the story takes an unbelievable turn, as is often the case when God's will comes into conflict with modern parenting. "Honey?" I said, and leaned in to listen to her.
"What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do? What would Jesus do?" she whispered.
From the mouths of babes, I thought, and turned the car around. I knew I had to return to the scene of the crime and make it right. Truly, if I wouldn't be a force for good, a worker for peace, then who would? What chance does the rest of the world have if we can't solve our little differences in God's parking lot?
We pulled back onto the lined asphalt. Thankfully, the women were still there. They were gathered around the minivan, talking about gay marriage and the Promise Keepers convention held in St. Paul earlier this month.
I got out of the car and held open my arms, just like the statue of Jesus. I approached the van slowly and said, "Can't we all just get along?"
McGruffette, the leader, didn't budge. She recognized in my words the plea of Rodney King, and she took me up on all the old culture wars. She unleashed a monologue about Murphy Brown, Dan Quayle, the crime of single motherhood as a lifestyle choice, and the breakdown of the family.
The others softened a bit more. I started babbling. I apologized for saying the things I had said, confessed that I felt a little like Chai Soua Vang in the woods, and tried to talk to them through what always works for me--the universal language of music. I was in the middle of the Ned Flanders shuffle when, from behind, I heard the sound of the seat belt click and the car engine revving.
I was facing the women, so all I could see was the terror crossing their faces. I wheeled around and saw the top of my daughter's head over the steering wheel. Viewed through the driver's window, her face appeared contorted into something out of The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Before I could do anything, she slammed the car into drive and floored it. She started ramming the minivan, which ran into a couple of the moms. McGruffette went down like a Vikings running back. Quilter got clipped with a fender and her elbow hit the pavement and she collapsed in a smear of blood. The other three women fainted straight away.
It happened so fast, I didn't know what to do. The van was smoking, the moms were moaning, and my daughter was sitting in the driver's seat, stunned. I checked to make sure no one was seriously hurt--no last rites would be needed here--and then I strapped my daughter back into her seat, hopped in, and started to drive off.
She jumped out, grabbed one of the women's cell phones, called 911, and had the dispatcher send an ambulance to the parking lot, stat. She's a great kid, but I can honestly say I've never been more proud of her than I was at that moment.
"That's my girl," I said, as we drove down Lyndale toward home. "Okay, now. What's the moral?"
"I know, I know," she sighed, realizing we had to spin it into a teachable moment. "Like you always say: 'Don't waste too much energy fighting stuff like this, because there's more of them than us.'"
Jim Walsh can be reached at 612.372.3775 or [email protected]
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