Friday, June 24, 2005

Mission Responsible

“Quinn, can I put you down you as the back-up person to contact in case something happens to Hayden at summer camp?”

“Of course.”

And with those two words, I am now on every Emergency Notification List in Los Angeles County.

If you are reading this and don’t have children, here's the deal: when you are a parent, every week at least 10% of your waking hours are spent filling out Emergency Notification forms for your child. The school/camp/church group/chess club simply can’t rest with only fifteen different ways to find Parent and/or Guardian. No, they must have two back-up people who can be contacted in an emergency. Sometimes, if they want to see how easily you cry, they demand three.

After the parents, the first back-up is usually chosen for geographic desirability or familial obligation. That is, it is either someone who already has a kid at the same school (“I’ll be your contact person if you’ll be mine”) or it’s a relative who, in a crisis, can be counted on to trek across town to pick up your child without complaining -- at least not until Christmas when said relative goes a little heavy with the brandied eggnog.

If this was the only emergency contact, I would be on maybe fifteen lists. Twenty, tops.

But there’s the second spot. The second spot is both deeply inconsequential and terribly fraught. I know when I start racking my brains for a person to put in the second spot I think: Okay, this person will never be called upon. But, suppose they are? Somehow, I am unavailable. Consort is unavailable. The other mother at the school cannot get there. This would be an extraordinarily unusual situation. Clearly, this would be a...catastrophe. A cataclysmic earthquake, say, followed by a devastating fire, which leads to an outbreak of some pavement-eating bacteria which renders the Santa Monica freeway a kind of goo. Whoever is in position two might be required to tie Daughter to her back and barricade themselves in the nearest Chuck E. Cheese until the crisis has passed.

That part's easy. I also need someone who answers his or her cell phone.

I suspect working at home plays a large part of what makes me so popular as a backup. I also suspect being the kind of mildly obsessive overgrown Girl Scout who keeps a well-stocked emergency kit in her trunk adds to my popularity. But why stop here? I also have four different kinds of sunblock in my glove compartment. Four! I keep two different kinds of dental floss in the car as well and a change of underwear for a medium sized caravan of nomads. Plus, I have a book on local hiking trails -- but mostly because it has an illustrated pull-out section on what to do in case of snakebite. This should give you a sense of the kind of edgy risk-taker I've become in my maternal phase.

I also suspect that it’s the same part of my psyche that, when I was young and unattached, made people rush up to me and say “Could you drive me to the airport?” In my 20s, I was Girl Scout-ish (which, in Los Angeles, meant you said things like “No, your cat doesn’t want to get stoned. No, she doesn’t…No, she...Look, just give me the cat.”) and I was punctual. These weren’t qualities young men looked for in a date, but they were qualities yound men looked for in a limo driver.

No sane person likes stalking a parking spot at LAX on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I, however, would bask in the inner glow of accomplishment when the debauched young man in my passenger seat would mumble something like “Uh, yeah. Thanks. Whatever...” before jumping out and heading off for a long weekend of anonymous sex on a Caribbean island.

More than a few times I'd find myself stuck in the bumper-to-bumper morning crush, heading home to try to grab a shower before work. But I was a good friend. That is what mattered. I was needed. Only lately did I realize I was needed by people I wouldn't trust alone in a room with my purse. I no longer feel the need to be needed by people who must be reminded “Please don’t bring complete strangers home for sex. They might kill us in the night. And if they don't, talking to them at breakfast is awkward.”

But I still like to be needed in a responsible, maternal way. I like knowing that a former child actor, perhaps the least likely candidate for normal adult emotional responses, is someone reasonable people can see taking care of their kid. And sometimes I like to imagine the disaster which has devastated Los Angeles, somehow incapacitating other parents and first-contact people. I envisage myself on a main thoroughfare, capably driving a commandeered Metro Bus, delivering the first forty of my little charges to higher ground, calming the younger ones, inspiring the rest.

“It’s okay, kids,” I say in a tone both strong and soothing. “I happen to know the Bakersfield Chuck E. Cheese bolts from the inside, and we’ve got plenty of tokens in the emergency kit”

6 Comments:

Anonymous Kate said...

Happy, happy, you are back! Hope things have slowed down for you a bit. Have finally realized that your writing, in both content and style, remind me of Jean Kerr with hints of Bailey White. Are you familiar with their works?

5:48 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Not only am I familiar with them, I would strongly suggest anyone reading this who isn't familiar with them to stop what they are doing and get their books right now.
Both women have caused me to snort indecently in public while reading their works. I am honored to be in their company in any way, shape or form.

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You didn't mention this fun fact when choosing the second spotter: The second choice (which is actually 4th position off the bench), must be someone you trust to tend your children in an emergency, but should also be someone who you don't care whether you ever see again.

The second spotter may take offense at not being given the top job and, reliving all those "chosen last" moments during schoolyard games, become bitter and resentful.

It's like asking someone to mind the guestbook at your wedding. "I don't like you well enough to have you in my wedding party, but if you'd like to stand on your feet at the back of the church and hand folks a pen, that'd be great!"

Oh, did I say that out loud? Hmmm...sorry...carry on.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous DC said...

Another take on the emergency contact dilemma...

We move a lot, and on those occasions when we're new in town, I find myself pretty hard up for names to fill those two slots. Suddenly I entertain thoughts like, "well, that lady at the DMV smiled at the kids," or "I know the guy who hooked up the cable has a van and a cell phone." Really, I just leave them blank and hope that this won't be the month of the apocalypse that knocks out my husband's and my six telecom gadgets simultaneously.

But for the 3,000 miles between us, I'd ask you to do it. You seem very qualified...

Love the blog and look forward to each new entry. Thanks!

DC

PS-What did you think of that "Goodbye Girl" remake a couple of years ago?

4:38 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

I didn't realize there was a negative implication to being asked to be the 2nd contact, but it occurs to me that you don't have to TELL the person that she is the 2nd contact. And no fair to infer from the lack of familial relationship, either. So, um, Quinn - about that camp form I was filling out? I swear, you were the first - in fact, the ONLY - contact.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Melissa,
I have no problem with second position. In fact, if I was first on all the fifty-seven forms I am on, I'd awaken hyperventilating at night.
DC,
I didn't see it. I meant to, but Daughter was in an age where sleep was both fraught and fragile, and I spent evenings either convincing her to sleep or catching up on my own. After a month, I raised my head and looked around and noticed I had missed all 177 showings of it.

10:30 PM  

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