Now that the baby’s arrival could occur at any minute—at the movies, at work, in church (baptism on site–so convenient!)—my husband and I have been chatting with increased frequency about what kind of parents we’ll be, how we’ll handle the bumps in the road, and so forth. We’ve been reading the books, watching the DVDs, etc. But nothing will likely be more instructive than the advice imparted by the father of my husband’s boyhood friend one hot day in McAllen, Texas, in the late 1970s.
Yes, on that day, my husband and his buddies were piled into the back seat of a sedan driven by Mr. Spellmann. These boys of about 11 or 12 were no doubt jabbering about the relative strengths of Obi Wan v. Yoda in a fight when Mr. Spellmann turned onto the busy main drag in McAllen. While that normally wouldn’t catch the attention of his knobby-kneed, striped polyblend T-shirt-wearing passengers, it did on this day. Because Mr. Spellmann was driving the wrong way on the main drag. As they yelped and pointed and unintentionally swallowed their Dubble Bubble like cartoon characters, Mr. Spellmann calmly draped one arm over the back of the sedan’s bench seat and kept the other loosely resting on the wheel. He gave a quarter-turn toward the wide-eyed backseat passengers and said:
“Kids, the secret is not to panic.”
Now, Mr. Spellmann was no reckless hooligan. To the contrary. But when faced, accidentally, with adversity, he delivered a pronouncement of such calm, logical majesty that its legacy carried forth through the decades from its humble beginnings on that McAllen roadway. The utterance never propelled him to fame as a parenting guru with a series of books or a talk-show career, but certainly that is a gross injustice. One we will rectify in our own small way whenever our baby hits an octave of wail or contorts her face into a scrunch of irate annoyance the cause of which we cannot determine. One of us will turn to the other and say, “Kids, the secret is not to panic.”