Father bother, Day 3

Today I didn’t even get everyone downstairs before I screwed up. Technically, it started last night, when I let them stay up past their bedtime. They pulled the old trick of starting a project five minutes before bedtime, opening a new LEGO set and balking that they weren’t finished when I announced that time was up. They know full well that no dad can say no to those little plastic bricks….

“Alright, go ahead and finish it, but finish it quickly!” I admonished. After I thought about it, I added, “But you have to go to bed the second you’re done — no extra time for playing with it!” [Like I was going to enforce that; after all, this was the Star Wars Clone Trooper Battle Pack we were talking about.]

It was Christopher’s set; he bought it with his Christmas money last weekend and of course waited until the least opportune time to put it together. This project required only one of them, but of course I couldn’t exactly send Matthew to bed — “You go on to sleep while we stay down here and have fun without you.”

The set that launched a thousand tears.

Nope, he waited patiently for a shot at messing with his big brother’s toy. Which is why I nearly flew off the handle when Christopher refused to give him the chance. He had a barely contained smirk as he flew the BARC speeder with clone commander and ARF clone trooper right in front of Matthew’s face, then refused to share. He barely consented to let Matthew play with one of the measly bomb squad clone troopers — sure, they’re cool because they’re orange, but there are two of them and they look the same, and what’s the fun in commandeering a toy from your brother if he still has one just like it? Nope, Matthew wanted control of a unique element of the set, and he wasn’t going to get up from his fetal position on the living room floor until he got it.

After a few minutes of tears, we reached an accord. Matthew would have one minute to fly the BARC speeder — with the ARF clone trooper — while Christopher brushed his teeth. [In the future, he might get supervised visitation rights every other weekend.]

The upshot is, the boys were up 30 minutes past their bedtime — on the worst possible night to do so. Today was Band Day, when Christopher has to be at school an hour early for his elective class. It’s the day I most dreaded, as well as the one I most looked forward to. Kim gave it quite the build-up before she left town. Every Band Day, she and Matthew drop Christopher off, then have to find a way to spend the extra time before the other classrooms open and Matthew can go to school. They usually end up at the Panera across the street, where he flirts with an older woman — the eighth-grade sister of one of Christopher’s fellow band students, also waiting for the normal school day to begin.

I wanted to spend some time bonding with him at Panera, but we had to get past the early start first. This wasn’t a good day for anyone to be cranky, tired or slow, and we hit all three this morning. I woke both boys up, then talked to Matthew about the day ahead while we waited for Christopher to get dressed. He tends to drag his feet, allowing me to get Matthew’s breakfast ready in the meantime — something that usually involves simply pulling the top off of a fruit cup.

See, Matthew has an unusual metabolism — he consumes roughly twice his own weight during the course of a day, but never eats more in one sitting than, say, our hamster. He’s a nibbler. And he never eats anything substantial for breakfast; lately, it’s been a fruit cup, which holds him over until morning snack time in his kindergarten class. His recent favorite has been mandarin orange slices in a cup of sugary goop, so before I went downstairs, I asked him, “Do you want oranges again this morning?”

That was my first mistake. In our house, you never offer what you aren’t sure you can give. It’s a simple rule, one that I forgot — verify, verify. Well, after Matthew gave his enthusiastic approval to the idea of oranges for breakfast, I came downstairs and verified that we had none left. I slinked back to the bottom of the stairs to break the bad news to him, and of course he immediately collapsed into the fetal position at the top of the stairs, sobbing in his own, special, silent way.

“Don’t cry! We have other fruit cups! Want some diced pears?”

“No,” he choked out in a barely audible gasp. “Oranges.”

“I’d give them to you if we had them, Matthew, but we don’t. How about some strawberry applesauce?”

“Just. Oranges.”

“A banana?”

“Just. Oranges.”

“But we don’t have any! And you have to eat something.”

“Just. Oranges.”

“Will you at least get something to eat with me at Panera?”

“Just. Oranges.”

“So you’re not going to eat anything else?”

“No.”

“Then you’d better brush your teeth. I hate to send you to school with no breakfast, but we’re running late now and we have to hurry.”

That’s when Christopher came to the rescue. God love him. There are times when he can be a typical older brother — antagonizing Matthew for the sake of pure enjoyment — but there are other times when only he can make things right again in Matthew’s world. And that’s just what he did. He walked up, assessed the scene, sat down next to Matthew and had him giggling again in less than a minute.

I’m not sure what he did, really — something with a finger person, where he used two fingers to “run” and act out various silly situations that he narrated. These scenes usually end with the finger person meeting his untimely demise due to a long drop off a cliff, and today was no exception. In this case, the finger person was using a jet pack to blast off from the floor, but the jet pack ran out of fuel at his apex, leaving him to scream during his free fall down the stairway. Of course Matthew followed, delighted at the prospect of death for the finger jet pack guy, and repeating every one of his brother’s motions, words and screams with a smile.

We made it downstairs in a good mood, but we were now past Kim’s designated departure time. The boys agreed to eat dry cereal in the car, so I grabbed a box of Trix, two bowls and two spoons as we ran out the door. I steered with one hand while I poured cereal with the other, handing the first bowl to the back seat and turning around just in time to see brakelights ahead. I managed to miss the car that had inexplicably stopped in the middle of the street, although I had to run up onto the sidewalk to do it. It’s just a good thing the boys didn’t want milk on their cereal, or I might have run over the fire hydrant that was inches from my bumper.

Now fully awake, we drove the rest of the commute in record time and got Christopher to band only three minutes late. The next stop was Panera, where we found a prime parking spot and were about to walk in when Matthew asked, “What’d you bring for me to do?”

“Do?” I repeated.

“Yes! Did you bring my DSi?”

“No, you don’t play that on school days.”

“Well, did you bring me something to color?”

“Was I supposed to?”

“Mom does!”

Uh-oh. This was uncharted territory. Now I had a kindergartener expecting to be entertained for the next 45 minutes. I’d sorta thought he might sit and nibble a cinnamon roll during that time, which in retrospect was a ridiculous expectation. Kim always preps me before she goes out of town; why didn’t she tell me about this? Or maybe she did. After all, she says I never listen to her. At least, I think that what she says.

“I think I have a pen and some note paper in my laptop bag? Would you draw with those?”

“No, that’s not fun.”

“Of course not. Okay, let me go see if I happen to have some crayons in the glove compartment.”

That’s really not an unreasonable expectation; Kim might have put some there. She has them in her car. In fact, I’m fairly certain she has supplies for every known contingency, filed away alphabetically in her glove compartment. I opened mine to find a tape measure, a superball and a straw.

“Hey, how about a ball? Want to play with this?”

“Dad! I can’t play with that at the table!” [Great. Now he develops manners.]

“Want to measure our table? That sounds like fun!”

“Daaad!”

“Okay, let me see if I have anything else in my laptop bag.” [The laptop bag! Of course!] “Heyyyy…would you like to play on my computer?”

“That doesn’t sound like fun.”

“Why not? It’s games!”

Suddenly his eyes lit up and a wicked grin spread over his face. “You have games on your computer??”

“I’m pretty sure I do; let’s find out!”

Videogames made my day a better place to be.

To my great relief, my laptop had a fun little pinball game on it, providing him with minutes of fun. But it bought me enough time to drink some coffee, clear my head and download a game to my cellphone as a rebuttal to the inevitable “I’m bored again.”

But between the two, he stayed content until it was time to walk him back over to school. I only hope I haven’t set a bad precedent for Kim’s Panera mornings with the Bored One; I’m fairly certain she doesn’t want him playing on her computer when they’re there. So I might have destroyed another of her carefully nurtured routines; guess we all have to be good at something.

I can’t say that Panera was the bonding experience I’d been hoping for, but at least we had fun walking back to school — I killed off a few finger people in the crosswalk….

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About Dan Bain

Dan is an award-winning humorist, features writer, emcee and entertainer from Raleigh, NC. His collection of humor essays, A Nay for Effort, has earned him fans from one end of his couch to the other. Why not join them and buy one? (You won't have to sit on his couch.) Dan will donate 10 percent of the book's proceeds to education. You can check it out at www.danbain.net; thanks!
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