A bell is going to ring. Soccer is going to start. Bedtime approaches. A ripe smell suggests a shower. Or there’s dinner. Or lunch. Or breakfast on the table. (Always a meal.) Or, or, or…
Daddy or Papa becomes a broken record: Eat. Finish. One, two… Drink. Wash. Go. Dress. One, two… Bite. Stop. Pick out. Comb. One, two… Brush. Clean. Hurry.
It is rare that Fisher gets truly frustrated by any this, but he does get faux-frustrated. He’ll be roaming around or putting random things in a plastic bag for some unknown reason or futzing around with a metaphorical pretty bush, and Daddy will put on the black hat, indicating that push has come to shove.
D: Okay, Fisher, I’ve told you two, three times already. Listen to my words. If you aren’t brushing your gums by the time I count to three, you are not going to be able to read Harry Potter tonight, so you better get crack-a-lackin’. Do you hear me? (Nothing.) One…two…
F (dropping whatever he’s doing in faux-frustration): Okay, Mr. McKeaney!
D: What did you call me?
F (moving toward the bathroom with an impish gait and grin): Mr. McKeaney.
D (making to give chase): You better not call me Mr. McKeaney, I’m your daddy, and…
F (moving quicker to outpace Daddy): You are Mr. McKeaney when you are making me do things!
It’s become a “thing.”
D: No, Fisher, we can’t ride bikes right now because we have to get ready for…
F: Okay, Mr. McKeaney!
D: No, guys, you need to finish your breakfast because…
F (with a smile and under his breath): Okay, you Mr. McKeaney head.
D: Hey, guys, no, don’t get that stuff out. That’s going to make a mess, and we don’t have time for…
F: Arrrg. If Mr. McKeaney says so, I guess we just have to go what Mr. McKeaney says.
D (dramatically): Don’t you call me Mr. McKeaney!
F (smiling): Okay, Mr. McKeaney!
D: Because if you call me Mr. McKeaney whenever I tell you something that you don’t like, then, when you are acting like a chister, not listening to your Daddy or Papa, I’m going to call you Bartholomew Ignatius Demetrius Hickenlooper!
F (both of them laughing): That’s not my name!
D: Oh, yes, it is. When you are dillying or dallying, you are Bartholomew Ignatius Demetrius Hickenlooper!
F: And, you are Mr. McKeaney!
D (picking him up as he laughs): Okay, Bartholomew Ignatius Demetrius Hickenlooper!
“Mr. McKeaney” always tickles Daddy, for some reason, and if in response they aren’t laughing by Ignatius, Hickenlooper usually gets ‘em.
A big smile greets Daddy at the door the day after a tummy ache so bad that Daddy had to come back from San Francisco to collect her. “Daddy, come look!” Fisher chimes in, “Yah, Daddy, come!”
The source of the excitement is a cup of dessert “dirt” (chocolate pudding topped by crumbled cookies with gummy worms lounging on top) to be taken home with each child. Daddy carefully places each treat in a cup holder in the car for the trip home.
F: Oh, thank you, Daddy, for putting my dirt up there. That way I don’t just think about it the whole way home. That’s not good. Now, I can just forget about it while we drive.
C: Daddy, can I have just one bite of mine before we eat dinner?
D: Oh, no, Cory, that wouldn’t be good. In fact, I do have one question that I am going to ask you. Just one question. And I am going to ask you. Are you ready?
C: Uh huh.
D: Was your tummy better today?
D: Oh, no! It wasn’t?
D: Oh, that’s such a bummer. Because one thing that kids with achy tummies should never eat is chocolate dirt, that is definitely NOT what the doc…
C: Tricked ya! (Laughing.) Tricked ya!
D: …tor ordered. When you have dirt in a cup but your tummy is hurting, the only thing for it is for a Papa or a Daddy to eat that dirt for you. You know, so it doesn’t go bad, so…
C (smiling wide-eyed, nanny-nanny-bootwhacker style): Tricked ya! My tummy is much better today.
An hour and fifteen minutes after Daddy’s hour-and-fifteen-minute commute north to San Francisco, the cell phone rings.
The caller id indicates a Los Altos number. It’s the kids’ school secretary. Cory is in the office, complaining of a tummy ache. “Do you have a moment to speak with her?” Cory is six-ish. She’s not very good at phone conversations. Daddy asks short questions and makes reassuring noises. Cory either says “yes” or nothing. The secretary-cum-nurse gets back on the line. Because Daddy is so far away and Papa is just as distant, trying (yet again) to submit an application for an Indian visa, she agrees to try to work some magic with Cory.
An hour later, the magic fizzles. Daddy packs up for an hour-and-fifteen-minute commute south from San Francisco to collect Cory. Given the time, Daddy collects Fisher.
C: Daddy, thank you for picking up Fisher, too. I’ve been missing Fisher because I just had to sit in the office all by myself. Except Miss Jane.
D: That’s not sitting by yourself. I like that picture you were drawing with Miss Jane. She’s nice.
C: I like her.
D (watching her closely): I can see that. (Seeing many things.) And you and Fisher are in different classes anyway, so why did you miss him any more than usual?
C: I don’t know. I just missed him. And, I just missed you.
D: But, did your tummy hurt?
C (um, oh yah, that): Uh huh. (Pause.) Daddy, what are we going to do when we get home? Can we watch a Jake?
D (exuding dramatic sympathy): Well, your tummy is hurting so super bad that you couldn’t stay in class, Cory. When I was young and my tummy was acting up like yours is, my parents had just the thing: a nap. It’s practically required in circumstances like this. Yep, the only thing for it is a good solid nap. (Her face goes blank.) I don’t think anyone can watch a Jake very well, when their tummy is hurting so much. So, first thing’s first. A nap, for sure. Maybe two, three naps. I don’t even know. We’ll just have to play it by ear. Take it one step at a time. With someone afflicted with your delicate constitution…
F: Oh, Daddy, that’s a good idea. I am not very tall, and I want to be taller, so that’s a good idea to take a nap.
D (okay, random): What do you mean, Fisher?
F (beaming): When you sleep, your body grows. And, I want to grow taller, so I am going to take a nap today.
C (glaring at him): For how long…
D: That’s right, Fisher. Your body heals itself while napping, and Cory’s body sure needs healing today. So, nap it is.
C: But…Daddy…then can we watch a Jake?
D: Oh, I don’t know about that. We’ll see. I mean, who knows whether we’ll have the energy. We’ll probably need to eat some plain crackers and drink some…water. See how we feel. We don’t want to upset our tummies. We just need to take it really easy today. While all of our friends are playing kickball and racking up stars at the Y…well that is not for us today, no sirree. It’s batten down the hatches. (Reaching back at a stop sign to pat her tummy.) Oh, Cory Bee, how is your tummy? I’m not driving too fast, am I?
She looks away and out the window. At home, after a forced hour-and-fifteen-minute nap, plain crackers, a cup of water, Cory is feeling, amazingly, much better. The two of them gather paper and paint-markers and set up on either side of Daddy at his desk. “Daddy, what should I draw next?” “Daddy, look at what I drew for you!” “I’m going to draw a Halloween picture.” “Daddy, don’t look at what I am drawing for you! I’m not done yet!”
Over the course of the next hour-and-fifteen minutes, they create away, Daddy asking at five-minute intervals, “You know, I wonder what [fill in the name of a friend from the after-school program] is doing right now?” On the off five minute intervals, Daddy asks after Cory’s tummy. She reports serious improvements. Plain crackers were apparently just the trick. Mid-dinner, Daddy wonders aloud whether, if Cory happens not to be feeling well again in the morning, a visit to Dr. Niki might not be the recommended thing. Dr. Niki might have the perfect shot for this situation. Daddy mixes in lots of hugs and kisses.
C (whispering in Daddy’s ear just before she’s lifted off the floor and placed in her bed at bedtime): Daddy, do I have to go Dr. Niki tomorrow?
D: Let’s see how you are feeling in the morning, Bee Girl. Let’s just see.
C: I am going to sleep really good so that I feel better in the morning.
D (tucking a blanket around her): That’s a great idea, Cory.
C: Because my friends probably missed me so much today.
D (continued tucking): I’m sure they did. But, if you don’t feel better, no problem. We’ll just zip over to Dr. Niki and see what she recommends, a shot or…
F: Good night, Daddy. Thanks for picking me up early today. I had fun with you because you’re my Daddy.
D: Good night, Fisher. I love you guys.
F/C: I love you, too.
All signs point to a clean bill of health for Cory, stomach predicted to be much improved. Having watched his sister and having enjoyed his afternoon so much, it’s not at all clear that her “bug” won’t, by morning, have made the leap to him…
F (holding Daddy’s hand): That’s just the er, eh, uh…
D: Pumpkin Blaster. That’s the Pumpkin Blaster.
F: We don’t even need to do the Pumpkin Blaster, right, Daddy? Because the Pumpkin Blaster just wastes pumpkins, right?
D: Right. It shoots small pumpkins that smash all over, and…
F: But, why do they just waste those pumpkins like that, Daddy? I don’t like that. We don’t need to do that Pumpkin Blaster.
F: Because if you just put pumpkins in that gun and shoot them and stuff, then that’s just wasting pumpkins, right, Daddy?
D: Kind of, yah.
Everyone experiences three or four hours of wonder that is the pumpkin patch to beat all pumpkin patches, trains, hayrides, pony rides, the petting zoo, a carousel, on and on. As a last activity before heading over to buy carving pumpkins to take home, Fisher lines up the Pumpkin Blaster. BOOM! Splat!
P: Nice shot!
D: Good one, Fisher.
Fisher ignores the praise.
P: Aim for the truck, Fisher.
Fisher silently shifts the sight up for a longer shot. BOOM! And splat!
P: Nice shot!
Third and final shot…BOOM! Splat!
F (excited, holding Daddy’s hand): I just shot three of those pumpkins from that blaster!
D: You did a great job hitting those targets, Fisher. I liked watching…
F: Daddy, can we do the Pumpkin Blaster one more time?
D: I don’t know…
D: Oh, wait, yes, we can, but we have to buy our pumpkins and head home now. We can do it again, but it’ll have to be next year, okay, because we really have to buy some pumpkins and get home.
Fisher joins in, as Daddy walks away, singing, “Boom! Splat! The sound of my heart, the beat goes on and on and…”
Fisher sits on Daddy’s lap in the early a.m., both looking out the window into the backyard as Fisher wakes up.
F (mixing up “ask” and “tell”): Daddy, can I tell you a question?
D: Of course you can ask me one.
F: How do fleas get here?
D: Well, they live outside, and when one of the dogs goes outside, those fleas jump on the dog, and the dog brings them back inside.
F: No, but how do they er, uh, eh get here so much?
D: Well, then the fleas that the dogs bring in lay eggs. More fleas hatch from those eggs.
F (a little frustrated): No, Daddy, but who put them there?
D: Do you mean who put the eggs there? The adult…
F: No, I mean, who put the fleas there, how did they get there for the first time?
D: Oh, fleas have been around for millions of years, so…
F: But, who put the first ever flea there?
D: Well, nobody knows for certain.
F (reaching up to touch Daddy’s face): Did God put the first ever flea there?
D: Some people think so. Some people believe that living things developed over millions of years, from the tiniest things, like viruses and bacteria, into bigger things, like fleas, and so on until really big living things like you and me developed. That’s called evolution. Can you say “evolution”?
D: And some people believe other things, too. A combination of God putting fleas there in an instant, BAM, and evolution putting those fleas there over millions of years of evolution.
F: Daddy, what do you believe?
D: Like everyone else, I don’t know for sure how the first flea ever developed, but I believe in a combination.
F: God and evolution?
D: Yes. I don’t believe stories that people tell, that one day there were no lions or zebras or birds or humans or fleas and seven days later, WHAM-O, BAM-O, there they all were. Those are just stories.
F (thumb touching Daddy’s chin): Oh.
D: And, I think questions like this — how did fleas get here — are questions that we may never know the answer to. (Pause.) Fisher, how do you think the first flea got here?
F: I don’t know. That’s why I asked you, Daddy.
D (wondering what he’s really thinking about all of this): Well, anytime you have any good ideas about how fleas first got here, I want to hear them, okay, Fisher?
F: Okay, Daddy.
D: Because I always like to hear what people think the answers to the hard questions are.
F (still absently touching Daddy’s chin): Okay, Daddy. I’ll tell you. I like to tell you those things.
Unclear whether he is mixing up “ask” and “tell” again.