This week’s poem continues the humorous theme as Ogden Nash (1902—1971) gives us the benefit of his experiences of fatherhood especially as they relate to journeys by car.
…an accurate definition of a millionth of a second is the interval between the moment when you press the starter as you begin a six-hundred-mile trip and the moment when two little tired voices inquire from the back seat, “Are we nearly there yet?”Ogden Nash (1902—1971)
Poem 180. I Want a Drink of Water, but not from the Thermos
Have you ever lost your early start on a six-hundred-mile trip and had to spend the night in an individual wayside slum instead of the cozy inn at which you had foresightedly engaged rooms because child A couldn’t find her absolutely favourite doll, and when she did find it, child B hadn’t finished plaiting her hair yet?
Then you will agree with me that an accurate definition of a millionth of a second is the interval between the moment when you press the starter as you begin a six-hundred-mile trip and the moment when two little tired voices inquire from the back seat, “Are we nearly there yet?”
Then again, consider the other millionth of a second which lasts a year, when Time stands still, and Eternity in the lap of Infinity lingers,
Which is while you sit in helpless paralysis while child B carefully slams the door on child A’s fingers.
Take the battle royal whose results no bachelor need ever have computated,
Which is the struggle to sit nearest to the open window, a struggle the prize for which is the privilege of sticking the head and arms out in just the right position to be immediately amputated.
Yes, for the father of none to thank his stars I think it only behooving,
If merely because he has not had to content with little ones who will descend from the car only on the traffic side, and preferably quite some time before the car but not the traffic has stopped moving.
Yes, he can roll along as confident as brass;
No restlessly whirling little leg will knock his spectacles off as he confronts a bus, no little hand groping the floor for a vanilla ice cream cone with chocolate thingamajigs on it will suddenly alight heavily on the gas.
As the father of two there is a respectful question which I wish to ask of fathers of five:
How do you happen to be still alive?
As stepfather to two boys rather than girls, I can confirm that similar frustrations are the lot of every parent. I think this poem hits the nail on the head, and the title strikes so true too.
Ogden Nash was an American humourist and poet who was tremendously good at rhyming words, even using deliberate misspellings for a comic effect (as in “computated” rhyming with “amputated” in this poem or in the example given on Wikipedia:
A girl who’s bespectacled
May not get her nectacled.
This poem demonstrates his habit of writing pairs of lines that rhyme but are of wildly differing length and metre, his accurate observation of the ups and downs of travelling with children in the car, and his envy of those individuals who are able to go their way without myriad accidents and interjections.