Cyclops in Vegas

Listen to the full Shelter in Place episode above.
Illustration by A.J. Fitzpatrick

“These children were left alone,” I could hear the woman saying even though she had her back to me. Her voice was shrill and angry. “Your babies could have walked off. If you don’t cherish your children, then you should reconsider being a father.”

My husband Nate was silent, but I could see in his posture the twitchy defensiveness of an animal ready to fight or flee. I was close enough now to see the woman: short gray-white hair, breezy, loose clothing built for comfort, and a gold cross around her neck. As I stepped onto the curb, she spun around and pointed her finger at me.

“And you. If you’re the mother, you should be ashamed of yourself.”

I want to stop here and say that I don’t disagree with this angry stranger. My kids are 8, 6, and 3—not babies, but still too young to be left alone in public—even for the short time it took Nate to find me at REI, unlock the car parked by the entrance, and make it back to the table where the kids were sitting.

Our Pandemic Odyssey, the story of how and why we left the only place that feels like home, is a complicated one. But for now suffice it to say that the combined challenges of pandemic living with three small kids, wildfire season, distance learning, and the financial stress of startup living had reached a fever pitch. In less than two weeks we’d gone from swearing we would never leave Oakland to packing up our lives and cramming it into our Odyssey—that is, our minivan. 

“We live in a world

that continually primes us to be

the worst version of ourselves.”

Author Robert McKee said that “true character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.”

If he’s right, then my true character leaves something to be desired. Because when Nate threw his hands up and retreated inside Panera, abandoning me to this well-meaning grandma who was all too eager to let into me, all I saw was an angry cyclops ready to gobble us up. 

From political debates to the daily news, that ugly scene in Vegas looks a lot like our world right now. We live in a world that continually primes us to be the worst version of ourselves. We devour social media that paints our enemies in a negative light, and consume news that supports the beliefs we already have. As much as I’d like to believe that I would’ve acted more graciously with that woman if my life hadn’t felt so difficult, I’m afraid that Robert McKee is right about my character.

Listen to the full story on Shelter in Place Podcast here.

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