One of the things that always works to calm down my four-month-old daughter Ellen is to walk her around. If you're moving, she's generally happy. Since today it was about 65 degrees here in Washington, D.C., I figured I'd bring her along with me when I went out for a walk tonight. She's been out with me before in her baby carrier, and has invariably been quiet the whole time, usually falling asleep after just a few minutes. She seems to love it.
It was pretty dark tonight, but I take a series of smooth, paved trails through a park, and only have to walk down one road for about a block to get there. There's usually not much traffic, but tonight as I was crossing that road, I was scared out of my wits when a car flicked its lights at me as I was crossing. Scared, because it had been driving without any lights, and I hadn't noticed it until I was already in the street. It wasn't even a close call, and clearly the driver saw me, but when you're carrying your baby, that's the sort of thing that takes the starch right out of you.
By itself, that would have been no big deal. Like I said, there was no real danger, I was just startled. So I continued my walk into the park. But Ellen started to complain. First it was just a bit of whimpering, then some intermittent crying. I kept going, figuring she was tired, and that the walking would be just the thing to soothe her to sleep. Not so.
For whatever reason, the crying continued to increase in intensity until she was into the “truly upset” range. “Oh well,” I figured, “I guess I don't get to take my full walk tonight.” I turned around, and when Ellen continued to freak out, I called my wife so she could come meet us in the car so we could get Ellen home the sooner to figure out what was up with her. As I was walking back to meet up with her at the parking lot, I saw some cars go speeding up the hill not far away. “Probably the same idiot teenager that was driving around with his lights off - out having fun tonight.”
Again, not so. No, as I walked up to my wife's car, I found out exactly what those lights were, as no less than three police cars came zooming up to box us into the end of the parking lot. It seems that the police had “had a report of some guy wandering around in the woods with a baby.” My response? “Yes, that's exactly what I was doing.”
Fortunately the officers were very reasonable and polite about it. They believed my account of events immediately, and after simply noting my name and address, bid us a polite good night. Frankly, it's nice to know that the response in our neighborhood is so sure and swift. My wife took the baby and walked the three blocks home (she'd forgotten to bring the car seat), and I drove the car back. An episode of Whose Line Is It Anyway? went a long way toward calming me down a bit, but the surreality of the whole event is still with me. I'm sure I'll have some interesting dreams tonight.
And at the end of it all, I have to wonder if the same goon that was driving without his/her lights was the person that phoned me in. If so, it says something fairly interesting about their priorities. Whomever it was, I definitely won't be taking Ellen for walks after dark any more. Not because I don't think it's safe (I do), but because I don't need that sort of hassle when there's a possibility that Ellen doesn't even like it for some reason.