I was at the the other day, listening to a mom talk to her toddler:
OK, Johnny. It’s time to go. Time to go, Johnny! Johnny, let’s go!
Johnny was busy playing with his stuffed iguana. His mom was getting impatient.
I’m going to count to three, Johnny, and then I’m leaving without you. One… two… two-and-a-half… Johnny, I’m not kidding this time. I’m walking out the door. Here I go! ... Aw, c’mon, please, Johnny…
If my dad had to ask my sister or me to do anything three times, that was two times too many. Did we ever misbehave? Of course. But not very often, because my dad always kept his word.
If he said he was going to do something, he did it.
You may remember that , so, growing up, my sister and I spent many a hot afternoon there doing… Not much. Maybe playing an early version of Space Invaders or Frogger on his new-fangled personal computer that looked like this, but that was usually short lived. Why? Because way back when, most people, my dad included, actually used their computers for working.
My dad is a soils (geotechnical) engineer. My sister and I used to say that it meant, "My dad cooks mud pies all day and then writes reports!" Though there is, in actuality, a bit more to it than that. Soils engineering requires a lot of math and science so picture a guy who looks like Dilbert, but who wears a hardhat and rubber boots. Then you’ve got my dad.
On one hot and dry afternoon, my sister, a friend of hers and I all went to spend the afternoon with my dad at his office because my mom had an appointment out that way. My Dad is a no-nonsense kind of guy. It’s hard for him to switch from his work face to his dad face quickly — something you have to do when watching kids.
After a bit, my dad told us he had to go out and look at a job site. We piled in his pickup truck and made our way up the dusty, golden hills of Walnut Creek.
He told us he had to meet with some clients and he said we could play. He asked us not to wander away from the car. I think we lasted about two minutes before we noticed the neighbors had a swing set. It was right next door to the house he was working on so surely he would see us. Surely he wouldn’t leave without us. Besides, we had a friend with us, a witness!
We sure were wrong.
When my dad said, “Stay next to the car," he meant it. He’s not counting to three and then saying "pretty please," like Johnny's mom. If you are not where he asked you to be, he will leave your ass on the top of a hill in Walnut Creek, playing in the backyard on a swing set of a family you don’t even know.
Of the three of us, I was the youngest and had a vivid imagination. When we noticed my dad's truck was gone, I quickly decided that I had better get to work. Since we were probably going to have to live there for the rest of our lives, I started to collect twigs and leaves to build a fort that would protect us from the elements. You know, like the Swiss Family Robinson. (Maybe I’d even tame a monkey for a pet.)
I was pretty excited because our new house had this amazing swing set, too! And I just knew that when the family who lived in the house saw how clever I was, they would simply fall in love and want to adopt all three of us. My sister would say something like, "Thanks to you Judy, we're saved!" My mind continued wandering when:
“Judy, what are you doing?” My sister said in that big-sister tone of hers. “What’s with you? Get up, we’re walking back to dad’s office.”
Or, we could just do that, I guess.
We started off down the hill. We walked past a man watering his lawn. My sister asked if she could borrow his phone. Her friend and I waited outside while she went in and dialed my dad's office number. He was there, and so was my mom. My sister told her where we were.
When my sister came out, we said thanks and continued downhill until our mom passed us on the way up. Exasperated with us and my dad, she drove us home.
We never strayed from the car again. I also don't remember my sister's friend coming over to play too often after that. But she was probably just mad that she couldn't live in my cool-as-hell fort for all eternity.