It’s a holiday from preschool for my grandsons, aged 2½ and 4½, who live in a suburb of Chicago. My husband and I, babysitting, choose a normally sure bet for a successful excursion: the Kohl Children’s Museum.
Packing for such a trip is a chore during Chicago’s third coldest winter. Sweatshirts. Overcoats. Boots. Shoes. Hats. Gloves.
While engaged in this extensive packing, I don’t think about angels — whether they exist, how to recognize them, or if I might meet one this very day.
As we stomp snow off our boots and pile into our rental car, I feel that I have forgotten something. I go back into the house and walk around, hoping to jog my memory, but no luck.
Halfway to the museum I remember, and tension enters my body as if someone had thrust an icicle under my clothes.
I was supposed to ask Dane, who is newly toilet-trained, to use the bathroom before we left. Not only did I forget, but the rental car contains no backup clothing.
I try to relax, telling myself that all I have to do is ask Dane, upon arrival, if he needs to go.
We enter the museum, stow our coats and get our hands stamped. Then I swivel to look pointedly at Dane.
“Anybody need the bathroom?” I ask.
“No, Grandma,” he says.
He is already running towards a favorite exhibit. The grocery store in this museum is wonderful with dozens of pretend fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy pretend packaged goods and realistic-looking bread.
Dane gathers a week’s supply of vegetables in his cart and turns towards the pasta when suddenly he stops. A stricken look comes to his face.
I bend down just in time to see a band of moisture begin at the intersection of his pants legs and travel towards his cuffs.
“I peed,” he says.
“Grandpa will guard your shopping cart,” I promise, scooping him up like a baby and dashing towards the restroom. I don’t know why I’m running, since it’s already too late.
The women’s room is empty. I bend down near the sinks and rapidly remove Dane’s shoes (thankfully dry), and his wet pants and underwear.
“You’ll have to wear something else,” I say. Then I remember the rental car. No extras there. What can he wear?
My eyes fix on his green sweatshirt. I strip it off him and examine the arms. Maybe.
“Let’s put these on your legs,” I say, squeezing his feet through and yanking. For a moment I marvel at my ingenuity until I realize that there is no way to finish the job. I can’t zip sweatshirt, which now hangs around his hips, exposing everything.
Although Dane isn’t crying, I’m close.
At that moment, the restroom door bangs open and a mom walks in with her toddler. She grasps the situation as quickly as if someone had radioed her.
“Need a diaper?” she asks. Dane doesn’t wear diapers, but this might be a solution. Would museum authorities object to a little boy in a diaper and no pants?
At that moment, a second mom walks in, pushing two children in a double stroller, with a third clinging to her arm.
She is even faster than the first mom. Her eyes scan the wet pants on the floor, the green sweatshirt and the diaper I’m trying to convince Dane to wear. “Do you need pants?” she asks.
This is the moment when I enter the Twilight Zone. “The Twilight Zone” was a TV show in the early ’60s where mysterious things happened in a semi-supernatural way. I blink and stare at her.
“Here, I’ve got extras,” she says, rummaging through a sack that hangs from her stroller.
“I’ll mail them back,” I say, my heart suddenly overflowing.
“No need. We’ve got so many hand-me downs. Take ’em.” She pulls out pants exactly the right size and blue, a color Dane likes.
I thank her repeatedly, while I bend over to dress Dane. “You make me feel like crying,” I say.
The mom smiles. She lingers in the doorway of the bathroom as I prepare to take Dane out. “Here’s something for his wet clothes,” she says, and hands me a plastic bag.
Still struggling for a way to express my gratitude I ask, “What’s your name?”
I don’t know what I’m going to do with her name, except remember it for a few minutes and then forget it, but somehow it feels more human to ask.
“Casey,” she says.
This is not a common name, but it’s an important one in our family. Dane’s dad, my son-in-law whom I love dearly, is named Casey.
Casey the man is a good dad who strives, ever since his boys were born, to protect them from bad things like injuries, sleepless nights and, of course, potty accidents.
This mom’s name is Casey?
“Casey,” I say, “Thank you.”
Dane is tugging at me to return to his play, so we exit the bathroom, my emotions swirling. We’ve been touched by an angel. In a sense, all parents become angels, with new kinds of empathy after they have children.
But this wasn’t just any angel. This was Dane’s angel. I have no doubt.
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at email@example.com