Most days I love Elvis (my four-year-old, not the dead guy).  Today I would like to send him to boarding school.

He was sick this weekend–woke up Saturday morning sick and stayed sick through most of Sunday, did a lot of sleeping–and that’s where my troubles began.  He took a long nap Sunday afternoon–the good news is, so did I; the bad news is, he woke up at 4 p.m. feeling well again and was thus awake for the next many hours.  I think I coaxed him back into bed at 1:15 a.m. by lying down with him.  I think he actually fell asleep sometime after 2 a.m.  He woke up again at 8 a.m.

All things considered, I was actually feeling pretty bright-eyed and bushy-tailed when I got up today.  The long Sunday nap really did some reparative work, subsequent 2 a.m. bedtime notwithstanding.  However, all things are relative.  What I was not in the mood for at 8:30 a.m. was to chase him and the baby around the front yard in my pajamas.  I was happy to do it in the back yard, but the front yard is connected to the street, and the street is connected to trouble.  The problem is that my children all share an intense dislike of the back yard.  The intensity of the dislike is directly disproportionate to their competence in the area of personal safety.  Thus it is that Elvis and the baby are the children who dislike the back yard the most.  Don’t fence them in.  Sugar Daddy is planning to build a fancy play structure back there this summer, but I have the sneaking suspicion that Disneyland could spring up back there overnight and my two youngest would still prefer to chase balls in front of moving cars.  Once again I have revealed myself to be a pathological pessimist, and if the fancy play structure fails to satisfy, my lack of faith will be to blame.  At least I’m self-aware.  That’s all I can say.

So back to the issue at hand–the lure of the front yard and my vain attempts to increase the attractiveness of alternative venues.  I had no choice but to put the padlock back on the front door.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the padlock to save my life (never mind the children’s lives).  I knew Mister Bubby had had it just the night before, and I’d instructed him to put it on the phone desk in the kitchen, where he insisted it still was, only it was not.  I told everyone that they had two options:  a) help me look for the missing padlock or b) get dressed and get in the car so I could drive to Home Depot and buy a new one.  I realize that choice (b) seems a little extreme, but believe it or not, that is what they chose, so that is what we did. 

Elvis was not happy with any of the decisions I made this morning.  He was most unenthusiastic about visiting the Home Depot, if screaming continuously at the top of one’s lungs for 30 minutes can be characterized as “unenthusiastic.”  I’m sure everyone in that cavernous warehouse store was glad to see, or rather hear, us go. 

And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence

Anyway, I came home with a new padlock, and once again I was able to restrict my children’s mobility to a level I was comfortable with.  I also came home with a pin lock for the back patio door, in anticipation of our second visit with Department of Human Services in three months.  (Hm.  Really more like three and a half, to be fair.)  This is somewhat embarrassing to admit, but Elvis did have another run-in with the sheriffs a week ago last Saturday.  It’s kind of a funny story, provided you were there and have a sick sense of humor.  SD was still in California, I’d had kind of a rough night vis a vis the sleep issue, and Elvis woke up around 6 a.m.  I wasn’t ready to be awake at 6 a.m.  For a while I just lay there in bed and let him kick me in the head.  It seemed like I let him do that for a really long time, but I really have no way of knowing how long it was because at 8:30 I was jolted awake by the realization that there were cops in my house.  Apparently Elvis unlocked the back patio door, went out into the back yard and drove his dump truck around the side of the house, boosted himself up on the garbage cans and unlatched the side gate, and drove the truck up to the front porch only to find the front door locked.  Upset that he couldn’t complete his dump truck-riding circuit as planned, he started screaming, which woke up the neighbors, who came knocking on the door and were unable to get an answer.  (If I couldn’t hear Elvis screaming, I’m not surprised that I couldn’t hear an adult knocking.  I was obviously enjoying a dreamless slumber.  If only I could remember this beautiful experience.)  Hence the summoning of the sheriffs, who arrived to find that they also could not get the attention of the lady of the house by knocking or yelling, and finally gained access to the house by following Elvis into the back yard and through the still-open patio door.  And the rest is my personal rap-sheet history.

I know you’re waiting for the punchline.  See, it’s funny because if I’d simply left the front door unlocked, like a totally irresponsible adult, no one would have been the wiser.  But hindsight is twenty-twenty, as I can tell you from sad, repetitive experience.

The good news is that these officers were much nicer than the ones who found Elvis after his last unauthorized outing.  The bad news is that even nice officers have to report incidents of child neglect to the state.  Ah, well.  Someday I will live in a more corrupt society, but by then my children will probably all be safely out of my custody and it won’t really matter.

If I seem a tad too flippant about this affair, it’s because I know I have no excuse for my failure to keep my son in those quarters of our property where his screaming would not disturb the public peace.  I didn’t realize he could get the side gate unlatched yet–I thought he’d have to grow a couple more inches and refine a few problem-solving skills before I had to worry about that scenario, but naturally I see in retrospect how short-sighted that was.  I should have installed a different lock on the patio door back in March, when my parental fitness first came into question.  It was totally our intention to do so, but the lock my husband bought turned out to be inappropriate for our particular door, and oh, who cares, it doesn’t matter.  My priorities were clearly screwy.  It’s painfully obvious now.  I can’t help but be reminded of Lady Bracknell’s scolding of the orphaned Mr. Worthing in The Importance of Being Earnest:  “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”  Of course, I had lost one child twice as opposed to two parents once, and it’s really not the same thing at all, but I swear that is the exact line that came into my brain as I was sitting there with those officers with nothing at all to say in my own defense.  I simply felt ridiculous.

The frustrating thing is that while it is true that my own carelessness was to blame for this and the last incident, I realize that there is simply no substitute for constant vigilance.  If the back patio door had had a proper lock, there was still the matter of the door to the garage, which Elvis figured out how to unlock within 48 hours of our installing the thing.  Once in the garage, there was nothing to prevent him from opening the outside garage door and winding up in the same place, i.e. on the front patio with no way of opening the door he wished to use for reentry.  I suppose we need to get a new garage door-opener, one that operates with a keypad both inside an out, or something.  There’s really no way to keep him from unlocking the inside door unless we install a lock that requires keyed entry on both sides.  I suppose we should do that, too.  The point is, there is always going to be something that I haven’t yet thought of.  I don’t believe I will ever feel safe inside the house again.

The really ironic thing is that for seven years I lived in apartments, abodes which I could never have child-proofed to anyone’s satisfaction because I was not allowed to install child locks or make any permanent alterations to the front or back doors.  I had to make do with putting things on high shelves and old-fashioned constant vigilance–which was never actually constant, but in seven years I was never once accused of depraved indifference to my children’s welfare.  It wasn’t that I was a better parent then, but that I had different children.  Elvis wasn’t mobile until we moved into our house and he started climbing on stoves and eating batteries out of the Speak’n’Spell.  It makes me wonder what would have happened if I’d had Elvis when we lived in university housing–specifically designed for families–where all the doors, in compliance with state fire codes and ADA regulations, automatically unlocked from the inside.  It was hard enough keeping the less-than-thoroughly-curious Princess Zurg from escaping every time I went to take a shower.  I imagine that if Elvis had lived with us then, I probably wouldn’t have showered at all for nine months.  That might have brought me to the attention of the state, too, but for different reasons. 

Anyway, I am less torn up about this visit from DHS than I was about the last one.  It’s not as though they’re going to take my children away or press criminal charges.  It simply isn’t the purpose of the investigation.  The purpose is to shame me into being more hypervigilant than I have heretofore been.  Unfortunately, I have suffered so many failures over the course of my parenting career that I now have an impossibly high threshhold for guilt and shame.  I’m largely immune to scolding.  A visit with me is not likely to be reassuring to anyone. 

NOTE:  We now have a padlock on the side gate as well, so Elvis should be safe until he learns how to scale it.