I confess. I used my infant to help me out of a rather sticky situation. A police situation.
It was a rainy night and my wife and I had Matthew in the car. It was a hasty decision, I admit, but we were hungry, and tired. Matthew was only two months old, just getting used to the world, and he had been doing a lot of crying. A lot of crying.
The crying grew louder as we strapped him into his carseat and began to drive. The rainstorm seemed to grow more violent with each verbal crescendo. My wife drove the vehicle and I sat with Matthew in the back seat. This seemed to make things worse.
“Use the pacifier, idiot!” my wife yelled. (OK, she didn’t say ‘idiot’, but she did raise her voice, from what I remember, due to the high level screaming).
I fumbled for the pacifier as our SUV rounded a corner. Oncoming headlights blinded us as we rumbled toward Sushi Palace. The windshield wipers, on their highest setting, added to the chaos. I could almost feel my nerves beginning to unravel, like a fraying, high-tension cable wire.
“I’ve got it!” I yelled.
Hands shaking, I managed to place the pacifier into Matthew’s mouth. Like a supreme being opening up the Red Sea, or maybe more like the calm of a hurricane eye passing over us, with the pacifier in play, the crying suddenly ceased.
My wife took a hard, left-hand turn. It was then that the police lights emerged behind us.
“The cops!” I yelled. Actually, I didn’t yell, because now that the baby was quiet, I didn’t want to trigger another avalanche. But I felt like yelling, because my nerves were still in disarray.
Ironically, we had just pulled into the Sushi Palace parking lot. Now, forced into a state of perpetual suspension so close to our destination, we became more hungry than ever. I had just begun allowing myself the visual imagery of the first sushi roll, the separating of the chopsticks, the wasabi delicately applied, like a chemist working with a volatile substance. And then of course, the ginger. And the soy sauce. And the green tea. And, more ginger.
As the police motorcycle parked behind us, we could see through our mirrors the menacing officer striding up toward our car, talking into his police radio. It was raining and lightning and thundering, and he didn’t seem particularly happy.
“Ohmigod, I forgot my license!” my wife cried.
Admittedly, our next move came out of pure panic, mixed with an instinct that only a mother could offer. A pair of upstanding parents could easily fall into a life of crime, given the right set of circumstances, I realized at this moment.
As the police officer approached the car, my wife yelled (this time she really did yell): “Pull out the pacifier!”
Each second after this seemed to happen in slow motion. I looked at Matthew, perfectly content in his car seat — an angel really — methodically sucking in a Baby Simpson-esque manner. I felt the presence of the police officer closing in. Furtively, I pulled out the pacifier.
“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Matthew yelled.
This continued unabated as we heard the tap of a police flashlight against our car window. What happened next is pure conjecture, as they say in the courtroom dramas, although I couldn’t hear much, due to the screaming, and my extreme focus on being a convincing father-actor: hiding the pacifier, pretending to make every effort to try to calm my upset child, and seeming truly puzzled at the source of his upset.
I remember my wife rolling down the window, the sheets of wind and rain driving water into the car, thinking that, eventually, this would cause mildew.
I remember the officer explaining, in short, interrupted patterns, that my wife had made an illegal left-hand turn into the Sushi Palace parking lot.
I remember the officer asking for her license and registration, and my wife fumbling for her wallet. All along, the hail of large, heavy rain droplets came down upon the officer like mortar fire during the invasion of Normandy.
The officer did need to raise his voice, as the baby’s screaming got more and more persistent. And to Matthew’s credit, he never even stopped to take a breath. The screaming was like a siren, actually, that just droned on and on. You just wanted to get out of the way.
The officer’s mounting frustration was palpable. I thought that, at any moment, he would arrest us out of pure efficiency, “Matthew, what’s wrong? Matthew??” I improvised, adjusting his car seat straps.
“I can’t find it!” my wife admitted.
She rifled through the glove box, but alas, while we had every possible service bill from Tire Kingdom, the AMC/Jeep dealership, and Midas, the registration was in hiding.
“Do you realize you now have three violations, ma’am?! And, your brake light’s out. Make that four violations!”
“I’m so sorry,” she said. The crying continued.
The police officer looked at us, peered into the back seat, and then, without warning, his hardened face sort of melted, and then came a defeated, exhausted look. “Oh, forget it!” he said simply, and walked away. Just like that.
“OK,” said Butch Cassidy from the driver’s seat. “You can put it back in now.”
Like the miracle of flipping a switch, with the pacifier returned, the crying stopped.
As the police motorcycle zoomed away, we contemplated what had just occurred. Had we committed a crime? Maybe a crime of deceit? It was hard to say.
Insightfully, my wife asked, “Did you remember to order the salmon roe?”
And, I realized, I had.
I also came to understand, in that moment, that mothers are indeed capable of incredible things.
“I have a newfound respect for you, honey,” I said, almost whispering. “I mean, I thought the breastfeeding was impressive, but..”
“Just get the sushi,” she replied.