Cory stares through a tired fog as Fisher leaves the dinner table to go potty. Abruptly, she gets up as well, padding over to Daddy, arms up for a hug.
D (turning in his seat, hugging her): Cory Bee, you are one tired little girl tonight, you know that?
C (hugging back): Uh huh.
Still scared of phantom spiders running around his bed, Fisher has been sleeping in the bottom bunk with Cory. The company at night means she doesn’t sleep as deeply or long. Cory releases the hug. She repositions herself on Daddy’s left side. She drapes her right arm down Daddy’s left. She tries to rest her left arm on Daddy’s left shoulder, but it is awkward. She puts it back around Daddy’s neck. She lays her head down on Daddy’s shoulder, looking out the window.
C: Daddy, I saw a picture in my room. Baby Cory is putting her head on your shoulder.
C (pressing her arm along Daddy’s): Like this. Daddy, do you want me to show you that picture?
D: I know that picture well, Cory.
C: You have a lot of freckles on your back, Daddy.
C: Daddy, can I stay here for a minute?
D: Of course you can. (After a few seconds…) Cory Bee, you are one tired little girl tonight, aren’t you?
Silence. Daddy reaches up to rest his hand on her head. Well more than a minute passes before either moves.
Look at her, does there have to be…something more than what they see Wholesome and sweet, so young and complete…her daddies’ Cory Bee…
C: Daddy, why does Sandy change her hair like that? D: Well, she thinks she needs to change. C: Why?
D: Well, it’s complicated. She has been so good and has been so hard on Danny the whole movie for being a boy and…(pause)…you know what, Cory?
C: What, Daddy?
D (switching gears): Sandy just wanted to be crazy and have fun for one day. It was the last day of school, and she just wanted to let go and have fun for that day.
C: Oh. I don’t like her hair like that, Daddy. And, she is smoking. That’s not good, right, Daddy?
D: Right. That’s what I mean. Do you think Sandy really likes to smoke?
D: No. Her friends have to tell her what to do with the cigarette. They have to tell her to throw it down because she doesn’t really know what to do with it. She’s just pretending to smoke.
C: Yah, she doesn’t like to smoke, right? It is good that she just throws that cigur down in the dirt and steps on it. Smoking is esgusting.
D: *Dis*-gusting. Yes, it is.
C: And she dresses in all that black, a black shirt and those black…bottoms. I don’t like that either.
D: Well, it’s the last day of school, and it’s a carnival. She wanted to dress crazy, all in black, and she wanted to pretend to smoke, and she wanted to dance so super fun, and…
C: And wear her hair all crazy, too?
D: Yup. She’s just having fun being crazy for a day.
C: Like Halloween?
D (considering…): Yup, kind of like Halloween.
C: Oh. Halloween is fun.
A few days later, Daddy downloads pictures from the camera, which he has indicated to the babysitter that she should feel free to use.
Totally fine. No bigs. It’s just trading cute bows and ponytails for hair teased Texas big. For one day. Pshhhaw. Nothing. It’s not like she’s dressed, or will dress, any time soon, as in, not within the next fifteen, twenty years, in skin-tight black leather pants. Puh-lease. Harmless fun. She doesn’t even have hips to pop. And, cigurs are definitely esgusting. Smoking kills. Cigurs’ll stay esgusting. She hates them. Forever. Solid. So silly to draw connections that just aren’t there, right?
Chills. (Not those kind.) And they’re multiplyin’. Next time they’re trolling NetFlix, Daddy’s gonna grease the wheels toward Spiderman and My Little Ponies. Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie. Much more wholesome than the Pink Ladies…
Each kid wearing a black blanket at breakfast to ward off the morning chill…
F: Daddy, can you tell us that story? D: Which one? F: The one about how er, eh, uh Kohl comes over to live with Boston and Quincy? D: Sure. Maybe tonight.
C: Why haven’t you told us that one, Daddy?
D: Because you haven’t been as interested in bedtime stories. On the weekends, you keep asking to watch some TV instead.
C: Well, Daddy, we just like to watch some TV so we can see all the good actors.
F: Yah, there are so many good actors, Daddy.
D: Like who?
F: Like Spiderman and…um…Green Lantern and…
C (shaking her head knowingly): And Barbie. Daddy, she’s a *really* good actor.
D: That’s hard work. For a cartoon. To act like that. I can see why you would want to catch that.
F: Yah. Spiderman has to act like a spider, so…
C: And Barbie has to act like…(pause)…Barbie, so…
F: Yah, Daddy, can you act like a spider?
D: Not as well as Spiderman can. And I certainly couldn’t pull off a credible Barbie.
Some mornings, every inch toward camp is a struggle. Cory refuses, for no stated reason, to eat the bowl of cereal that she just asked for. She keeps sneaking smoothie…by sticking her certainly dirty finger into the cup rather than drinking it. Fisher yells what he thinks are funny things out the front window at early morning passers-by. “Hey, poop on the butt!” Fisher tells Cory, “You are an F word!” And, when Daddy reprimands, they laugh. Cory tells Fisher to whisper the actual F word in her ear. Daddy grabs Fisher by his ear just as he’s about to comply.
When Daddy rushes outside to move the bins to the curb before the truck arrives, they laugh together and yell, “I can see your booty, Daddy!” at the top of their lungs. “Shake your booty!” More laughter. Both intentionally put their socks on inside out. He tries to get her to hide with him in their closet. She urges him to set up some sort of makeshift gymnastics apparatus near large plate glass windows that have been thinning since the 1970’s.
D: Guys! Sometimes I just want to throttle you two!
F (smiling): What does that mean?
C (laughing): I think it means give kids gum.
F: Is that what it means, Daddy?
D: Um, no. It means wrap your hands around someone’s throat and squeeze it. Like Gollum. But, it’s a figure of speech. Today, it means that I want to give you each a good hard pinch-twist for not listening better to your Daddy.
C: Daddy, let’s play a game! Fisher, Daddy is Gollum! He wants to thottle us. Run, Fisher, run!
They run. Ten minutes later, as Daddy stands at the door waiting for them to head to the car, they demonstrate a modified version of their game where they pretend to trip together, fall to the floor, and then Fisher faux-“thottles” Cory. Maybe he’s now Gollum? She’s Frodo? Who knows. At least he’s not trying to bite her finger off.
Now that another enchanting family morning has ended, it is worth noting two things. Daddy will regret teaching them what “throttle” means. (“Daddy, sometimes I just want to thottle you!” is coming. Or maybe, with laughter, “Daddy, do you just want to thottle me right now?”) And, any morning filled with more laughter than argument is a good one, even if most of that laughter is at Daddy’s expense.
F: Cory! No, you can’t buy that, Cory. Cory, you are cray cray. We cannot buy that! Those kids just don’t need that, Cory. C: But… F (little boy voice reaching for stern): No, Cory, no. That is just cray cray!
Daddy follows the “cray cray” to relocate the twins in Target. Other shoppers and store employees are smiling at the conversation.
The goal of the trip is to fill a duffle bag with fun, educational materials for Victoria, the babysitter, to take with her when she goes abroad later this summer. She is going on a service trip to Thailand to help rehabilitating elephants, volunteer in a school, etc. The program permits participants who wish to to bring one bag of gifts for kids at the school. For her birthday gift, her (brilliant) mom directs Daddy and Papa to have the twins fill Victoria’s red-and-white duffle for her.
The higher purpose of the trip is lost on Cory for the first half, definitely, and maybe for most of the second half, too.
C (holding up this): Daddy, I like these ponies so much. Can I please buy this?
D: Cory, remember, this trip isn’t about buying things for us. It’s about buying things for Victoria to give to the kids she visits in Thailand.
C (reluctantly parting with the My Little Ponies thing-a-ma-jig but pointing at that): Oh, Daddy, glitter markers! Can I please…
D: Cory. We are not here today to buy things for you or for me. We are here to buy things for the kids in Thailand, okay?
C: But, Daddy, I really…
D: I know you like glitter. I mean, who doesn’t? On another trip, we might be all over those glitter markers, but do markers dry up?
C (shoulders dropping): Yes.
F: We can’t buy that for er, eh, uh those kids, Cory. Because they will dry up like Daddy says.
At the register, Daddy spies some glitter pens tucked away on the side of a very full duffle bag. Daddy asks the clerk to set those aside. Cory tries to hide a smile. In the car on the way home…
F: Victoria is just going to give those kids pencils and crayons and erasers…
C: And coloring books and toys. Because they don’t have many toys.
F: Some kids don’t have as many toys as we do.
C: No, no. They just don’t have toys like we do, right, Fisher?
F (voice rising): Toys? No, they don’t have so many toys, Cory. Some of those eh, er, uh kids don’t even have (strong emphasis on the “lets”) toi-*lets*!
C: What did you say?
F: They don’t even have toi-*lets*, Cory. They just go pee-pee and poo-poo right there. On the street or something. They don’t go in a bathroom or even have a toilet. So. No, Cory. They don’t have so many toys.
C: Yah, they don’t even have toys or toilets. (Pause.) But, Victoria can’t bring them toilets, so…
Figuring that the toys-to-toilets connection counts as some progress, Daddy leaves the matter of whether all kids in Thailand, ahem, lack toilets (or whether all kids in the U.S. have them) for another day. Later that night, the twins present the overstuffed duffle at Victoria’s birthday dinner at the house. Victoria is speechless. Her mom, the mastermind, tears up. Her sisters smile. And, the twins do seem to get it. Maybe? Sort of? If so, finally.