F/C (standing in the front yard): Can we please do the Halloween decorations now?
Daddy surveys the front porch. The bench sits there as usual. A few struggling, replanted fuchsias, are surrounded by a dozen pumpkins, all patch-bought. (The vines belched up nothin’ this year.) The morning started with carving, so one of the pumpkins is now a jack-o-lantern. That, and two bats hung from the eaves the prior weekend, do the bare minimum to transform a pretty weak-looking harvest theme into something ever so slightly Halloween.
Daddy waffles. (It’s only five days to Halloween anyway…what’s here could do…it all seems like work, rather than fun…)
Daddy rallies. The three get busy. Webs are stretched over the first window. Everyone steps back to assess early progress. Daddy looks sideways at Cory. She shakes her head rapidly in approval. Daddy glances at Fisher.
F: It looks good, Daddy.
D: Guys, I think we might need some more decorations.
F (as Cory widens her smile): Do you think so? But, where could we get some?
D: I mean, we only have like six or seven spiders…
C: We could buy some more or…
D: The store! Let’s do it! Go, guys, go! Shoes on! In the car! Before I change my mind!
They scramble toward the house.
D: Go! Go! Go!
It is getting dark by the time they carry bags of rats, spiders, and skulls out of the car. All three get to work. At one point, Daddy overhears them…
C: This is so fun, right, Fisher?
F: Yes, I love decorations.
C: We are staying up so late.
F: Cory, is it past our bedtime?
C: Yes, Fisher. Look how dark it is outside.
F: Is it past 10:10?
C (confident gesture): Oh, yah, it’s like half past thirty, so…
It’s 7:50….ten minutes before their bedtime.
C: It’s so fun staying up late like this.
F: I know! I am making a line of spiders so they could clackety-clack along this bench. Do you think Daddy’s going to let us keep decorating until it’s morning time?
C: I hope so!
F (seeing Daddy): Daddy, is it past 10:10?
D: Oh, yah, guys, it sure is late. We better wrap soon.
F: Aaaaw, do we…
C: No, Daddy!
F: …have to!
C: It’s only like 10:10!
Two verses into a lullaby and both are out only ten minutes past usual. In the morning, they act super-groggy, informing Daddy that they are an “extra bit tired” because they stayed up so late decorating. Daddy makes sympathetic noises in agreement. What’s a few white lies to go with all those black spiders this time of year…
It rains on the walk. Soaked, dogs and all, Daddy spies plenty of temporary dams, formed by clumping leaves and dirt. The puddles welling up behind the dams cry out for a kid to kick the debris out of the way, to set them free. The kid in Daddy hears those cries loud and clear. Daddy’s foot twitches. Let’s kick them! It takes some will power to resist the urge.
D (collecting the twins, just after an early morning portion of “The Sound of Music” and just as Papa fires up the waffle iron): Come on, guys! Whoever wants to help Daddy with a rain project needs to get flippies and a raincoat!
F/C: A rain project?
Fisher hurries to get ready. Cory takes a little cajoling. Daddy arms them on the front porch with plastic golf clubs that they never really used for anything else. The three march down the street. It takes a demonstration or two. Then, BAM, they are off to the races.
They whack the leaves, they pull and scratch the debris, and the water, covered in bright yellow pollen, slowly starts to flow again. “Daddy, can we do more puddles?!” Eventually, they stamp around, splashing water everywhere, swinging the golf clubs, working together to “clear the blocks.”
At one point, Daddy gets ahead of them and looks back. They are lifting golf clubs overhead together, singing, “She’s a thirty-six, a willa whisk, a clown…how do you solve a problem like Maria? How do you catch a cloud…” until…
C: Fisher, look another one! Let’s clean this one!
F: Okay, Cory!
The day starts off with a solid (and hilarious) thirty minutes of pure heaven, so it can only be downhill from there…
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…