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Never a Dull Moment 

Don't get me wrong. I've got nothing, relatively nothing, against kids.

I used to be one myself. Some of my best friends are kids, or at least used to be. They are the hope of the future, even if many of them don't show a lot of promise at the current time. I've got nothing against kids. ...

(This doesn't mean that I do not appreciate the humor in a good anti-kid joke when I hear it. W.C. Fields was a master of this sort of thing, e.g. when the woman asked if he liked children Fields replied, "I do if they're properly cooked." In another movie, Fields made to swat his bratty daughter when his wife intervened. "She's not going to tell me I don't love her!" That's me and kids. Nobody's going to tell me I don't love them. But I digress. ...)

Keep all this in mind as my grisly tale unfolds. ...

The phone rings Sunday morning between pancakes. It is Tara, youngest of my children and mother-bear to four of her own. Her husband is out of town today and she is craving some fresh air. Since Stephen, 7, and Veronica, 5, love horses, she's thinking of an afternoon at the Fair Grounds. Would I like to serve as an escort?

I pretend to drop the phone while I fumble for excuses. The best I can come up with is that four kids, ages 7, 5, 2 and 1, are not best placed at the race track I am picturing myself desperately scanning the curly-edged pages of The Daily Racing Form, trying to come up with an exacta that will cancel the pending need for an ATM visit. Suddenly, the paper is being ripped from my fingers, mustard sprayed on my trousers, squeals poured in my ears by four thrashing crumb-snatchers who strongly resemble my grandchildren.

So with the equivocation worthy of a politician in an election year, I tell Tara we should go for about an hour, two or three races at the most. I tell myself we can't get in too much trouble in that given time. ...

How utterly wrong. We pull into the parking lot, unload the multi-stroller, head for the admissions gate. So far, so good.

About a half-block away, our pathfinders Stephen and Veronica spy a barred gate. With my usual low sight and lower foresight, I don't realize they've gotten too far ahead. Through the bars, they farther spy breathtaking horses about to be ridden by men in breathtaking colors. It's enough to take your breath away. ...

"Stephen! You close that gate right now!" shouts Tara, just as he runs on ahead and pulls it open. Before I can even add one of my customary profanities, something happens. Stephen gives a yelp and there is more blood to be seen than at Shiloh before breakfast. Somehow he has caught his index finger in the gate and is about to learn that when flesh clashes with iron, flesh usually loses. ...

The next thing I know, I am in a car hurrying to Children's Hospital by Audubon Park. Stephen is crying because of his finger, Veronica is crying because of Stephen, and Savannah and Daisey are crying because they are Savannah and Daisey. Tara and I are trying hard not to cry, but only Tara is succeeding. ...

Then we are all in the Emergency Room, forms to be filled out, cell phone calls to make. After a while, a nurse comes to lead Stephen, Veronica and their mother to a place where the important stuff happens. ...

And I am alone with Savannah and Daisey, The Unaccustomed Babysitter. Unskilled, too. ...

I think on this. I cannot remember having a babysitter who was not a relative. This I blame for my puzzling sexuality. ...

I look into their incredulous faces and they look into mine. They don't seem bored for the first 90 seconds. Then I launch into every routine I ever remember seeing a mime perform on The Ed Sullivan Show or near Jackson Square. The girls are particularly impressed by my impression of a mime milking a cow, but too soon they have seen it all before. ...

By now we have become the focus of all around the room, which is heavily peopled by other ailing children and all who love them. They are all staring at me like I was Art Carney riding with the Galloping Gooses. "Ripening is all," quipped King Lear. ...

"I'm not their father," I try to explain to the room. "In fact, I'm proof that men of a certain age shouldn't be fathers."

Next, we try the rewards of the vending room. By turns, Coke is forced over 1- and 2-year-old lips until bellies are full and dresses are as soaked as the diapers they cover. Not until too late do I think of the sugar and caffeine involved. ...

This assures that the next couple of hours will be filled with non-stop clapping, singing, dancing and Hide-and-Seek, wrapped loosely around trips to the water fountain, studies of aquarium life and walks through the parking lot, all aimed at settling the tug-o-war between laugh and cry, weep and grin. ...

At some point, I began to think that not only were these lovely children mine, but so, too, were all the hospital's children, and guess what? I was great at it. Suffer the little children to come unto me. ...

Then suddenly Stephen is in front of me, showing off his sling and his stitches, and his mama is again handling all the children so that I won't have to pretend I'm handling two. ...

A fool can only think foolish thoughts.

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