How NOT to Cross a Ditch with a 3-Year-Old

By Cliff Springs

Okay, okay okay.  You can probably already guess by the title that this isn’t going to turn out well. 

I have two season tickets to the University of South Carolina Gamecocks basketball games.  The best thing about having these tickets is that the past three seasons, I’ve been able to alternate taking my kids with me.  My oldest is 5, my twins are 3 (girl/boy).

A few weeks back, a friend offered me two more tickets to one of the games.  I got this crazy idea to give my wife an evening to herself—I decided to take all three kids to a game by myself.  In retelling this story since “the incident”, many of my wife’s friends immediately start laughing at this point, somehow assuming that I was asking for trouble taking two three-year-olds and a five-year-old to a game by myself.  I’m proud to say they were wrong in their assumption.  I managed my kids just fine.  Although the twins got a bit more restless as the game went on, all in all, there was nothing about the evening that would make me avoid a second attempt should another extra pair of tickets suddenly manifest.

No, “the incident” was purely my own doing.

My wife and I decided that we were ready to cut back on our sports attendance this year and gave up our football tickets and reduced our Gamecock Club membership level.  The costs for the games had gone up significantly and it had become a chore to arrange for babysitting for the kids every time there was a game.  As I mentioned, however, I kept the basketball tickets solely because I could use them as an opportunity to do something individually with each of my kids.  Unfortunately, by lowering my membership level, I had to also give up my nice parking spot right next to the arena.

This is where the problem starts.

Once last year, with my then two-year-old daughter by my side, we found ourselves in static traffic with game time looming.  I pulled over to follow some other vehicles as they parked behind a warehouse across some railroad tracks from the arena.  It turned out that after crossing the tracks, you were right at the back side of the arena—a pretty convenient parking space in fact.

Since I no longer had my parking space, I decided to park behind the warehouses again.  What I didn’t really remember was the terrain that must be traversed in order to cross the two railroad tracks.  First, you must descend about 15 feet down a fairly steep slope—steep enough that someone else had strung a cable up the other side to help everyone shinny up the embankment.  When it was just me and my two-year-old the year before, I simply held her and shuffled down the slope.  All of my ridiculous childhood near-death experiences with Brian Carter have left me with superior balance as an adult.  I rarely stumble in such situations—and didn’t last year or the night of “the incident”.

But on this particular night, I had three kids.  I grabbed my 3-year-old boy and proceeded downward after telling my girls to stay put.  My oldest girl either didn’t hear me or didn’t listen and started down while holding my baby girl’s hand before I realized what was happening.  Suffice it to say that my baby girl was basically being dragged face-first down the side.  After a quick rescue and a stern rebuke to my oldest, we all crossed the railroad tracks.

Here is where it gets a little more interesting.  Before you can climb the other side, you must hop across a ditch that’s probably 3 feet wide—just narrow enough to straddle, but wide enough to have difficulty “un-straddling” without worrying about splashing or get bogged in the soft mud.  Fortunately, there were some other game-goers behind me who offered to hand me my kids across the ditch.  One-by-one we crossed, scooted up the hill, and on to the game from there.

With about 10 minutes left in the game, the twins were getting restless and the game was running long—well past all of the kids’ bedtimes.  So we left.

As we approached the steep bank from the other side this time, I looked for an alternate route down that might lead to a narrower place to cross the ditch.  I found a nice concrete structure that made for a very stable standing spot to make crossing easier—or so I thought.  I went back up to the top and got my son.  As we stood there, I realized that I could jump the ditch with one of them, jump back, get another, jump the ditch, jump back and jump with the remaining child.

I’ve had surgery on both of my knees.  That just didn’t seem like a good idea.  But the ditch just wasn’t wide enough to warrant such exertion.  I picked up my boy and extended my arms outward—almost fully reaching over the ditch.  It was so-o-o-o close.  I surmised that I could—with a very, very slight nudge—toss my boy the remaining 8 inches beyond my reach.  It was truly—I’m being honest here—only slightly more than a “drop” onto the other side.

Now let me digress for a moment and emphasize that my boy—though often a youngster of few words—has proven himself to be quite agile and physically coordinated.  I had no doubt that he was capable of landing safely on the other side.  But to be certain, I left the decision up to him.  He didn’t hesitate before proudly declaring “yes”.

I know, I know, I know.  But you really had to be there.  It was so-o-o-o close.

So I gave the traditional pre-launch count:  “1… 2… 3…”  And with a gentle forward motion, lifted him into the air and confidently let go.

Before I proceed, let me emphasize that the “throw” was perfect—gentle and well-aimed.  But my boy let me down.  As penance for what I’m about to tell you, I have spent weeks telling all of my friends with young children that three-year-olds are not capable of “sticking a landing” (to use a gymnastics term).  Anyway, my boy landed with an unpleasant thud—face-first.  At no point, did he extend his arms or brace himself for a softer landing.  It was as if I had tied his hands and feet behind his back and tossed him like a sack of potatoes.

Thupthdk!

I think that was the sound.  But that’s not the worst of it.  He bounced.  When he did, his feet slid a few inches downward. 

No, that’s not the worst of it. 

When he slipped, his feet came to rest on an unstable ledge of mud that bogged down enough to let his feet take hold… and form a pivot point for his entire body that caused him to do the Nestea plunge backward right into the middle of the ditch.

At this point, all sorts of thoughts race through your mind, but the wails of a three-year-old who just got thrown into a ditch by his dad quickly snap you back to reality.  He was standing dead center of the ditch—about 7-8 inches deep with mucky water—crying for Daddy to do something.  At first, I lifted him out of the water, trying not to get the crud all over me as well, but I realized that I probably wasn’t entitled to stay clean after what just transpired.

So I hugged him and told him how sorry and stupid Daddy was.  He turned to me with tears—and mud—dripping from his eyes… and nose… and mouth.  He really ate the bank to put it bluntly.  I used my shirt to wipe his face clean and hugged him some more.

It was right about this time that I looked back up the hill to see the horror on my daughters’ faces.  My baby girl whined with uncertainty, “Daddy, I don’t want to go in the water.”  My shortcut clearly hadn’t worked out.

I carried my boy back up the hill and led my brood down the original path on which we came.  It turns out that it’s easier to cross back the other direction that it was to come in the first place.  I easily placed my kids across the ditch with no physical exertion whatsoever.  Perhaps I should’ve just done that from the start.

When we got home, my boy didn’t get two feet inside the front door before exclaiming, “Mommy, Daddy threw me in the water!”  Naturally, I had to defend my athletic prowess by putting blame where it belonged.  “No, the throw was perfect!  YOU didn’t stick the landing!”

That defense didn’t carry much weight with my wife who immediately threw the boy in some water herself—the bath.  Afterwards, we had to dig the rest of the mud out of his nostrils with a q-tip.  Definitely not one of my finer parental moments.

The next day at school, my boy made certain everyone he met knew that his dad had thrown him in a ditch.

Now you know too.

–CS

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