F (just after a fight scene from a superhero movie): If I were a superhero, I would turn myself into a normal person.
D: Why would you do that?
F (still watching the aftermath): Because then I wouldn’t have to fight all the time. (Pause.) I don’t want to fight all the time.
D (looking up at his earnest little face): But, superheros can fight really well, Fisher Bug.
F: I know that.
D: And they are super strong and can fly and shoot things and have all kinds of other powers.
F: Yah, that’s true. But I want to be happy with my life…(pause)…not just fight with my life.
D (smiling up at him from the floor): That’s an interesting perspective, Fisher Bug.
F (smiling back down from the couch): Thanks, Daddy.
It’s an amazing thing to have the smell of your feet feel like home to someone else.
F: He’s in your room.
When Cinder isn’t underfoot, he can often be found sleeping on or near a pair of regularly worn shoes that Daddy is not actually wearing. Like most puppies, he loves shoes. He wants to lay on them, carry them around, chew on their laces. In the morning, after taking care of “good boy potty” out on the gravel or the bark, he comes back in and tries desperately to thwart Daddy’s attempts to put on and tie his shoes.
D (pushing his head away): Cinder, stop! (Attempting to tie.) Cinder, buddy, seriously. Why do you have to chew on my shoes? (Grabbing his head, tousling him, rubbing a thumb along his gums, pulling his ears.) Knock it off, you little chister.
A great thing about giant schnauzers (and some other dogs) is that they use their front paws like hands sometimes. Kohl used to reach out with one front paw, flop it down on Daddy’s arm or shoulder or hand and pull it. He wanted something. Maybe just a good petting. He’d occasionally reach out and cover Daddy’s phone, as if to say, “Stop paying attention to that thing. I’m right here.” Sometimes he’d flex his paw to dig his nails in a little and release. Then do it again. “No, really, I mean it, pay attention to me.” Maybe it was just the size of his paw. It felt like a furry hand, reaching out, insisting.
Cinder is the same way. So, Daddy’s heart melts a little when, bending down from the office chair in the early morning to finish tying those shoes, Cinder, having just come back from “good boy potty,” sits down right there, stares, and then reaches out a leg, placing a hand-like paw directly on Daddy’s shoulder.
D (lifting his head): What’s up, buddy? Morning to you, too.
Instead of messing with Daddy’s tying, Cinder just sits there, paw on shoulder. Aaaaaawwwww. Sometimes Cinder genuinely seems like Kohl reincarnated. Daddy finishes and makes to straighten up. Cinder removes his paw. Daddy rubs Cinder’s head and turns to the computer to read the morning news as the coffee machine makes a cup: aftermath of earthquake in Nepal (awful), Jeb Bush would still have invaded Iraq (awful and dumb), conservatives mad that Michelle Obama acknowledged the American black experience (so dumb), quarterback facing probable discipline over deflated balls (if he weren’t smokin’ hot, would anyone care?)…wait, what’s that smell?
D (no, really, what’s that smell?): Whoa, Cinder. That’s foul. You need to…
Daddy looks right. Cinder is sitting in the exact same position, but he is holding his right paw, the one that had been on Daddy’s left shoulder, slightly off the ground. Daddy quickly pans left. What the eff is that? THAT, it turns out, is a piece of bark from the side yard. Stuck to Daddy’s T-shirt. Stuck to Daddy’s T-shirt by shit. By dog shit. Dog shit that reeks.
D (standing up): Cinder!! God dammit!
Cinder just looks up with sad puppy dog eyes. “Can you help me clean this?” Anger dissipates. Daddy picks Cinder up and heads outside. He uses a stick to knock the shitty bark off his T-shirt into the garbage can and removes the shirt. “Cinder, stay.” Cinder stays. Wet towels. Washed paws. Grumbling. Dry towels. More grumbling. Washed hands. Paw clean, Cinder’s morning energy returns. Let’s play!
When the kids get up, Daddy tells them the story, which they think is among the funniest things they’ve ever heard. They howl with laughter.
D: You know what the lesson of this story is?
F: Ummmmm…Cinder doesn’t know how to wash his own paws?
C (cackling): No, it’s poo stinks!
Daddy gives them a cleaned up version of “either scrape the shit off the grass in your back yard today or you might be scraping it off your left shoulder tomorrow (aka “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”). They don’t really get it.
There’s too much poo and laughter involved for anyone to concentrate.
Their babysitter starts discussing “college” and “change” with the twins.
Soon she’s graduating, headed overseas for a part of the summer and then east for college in the fall. It’s probably better to introduce the transition well in advance. Daddy comes home after the kids have that discussion and are in bed.
F (wide awake): Daddy, I don’t want…
C (groggy): Daddy, do I have to live…
F: …to go to college.
C: …at the school at college.
D (quietly): Hi, guys.
F: Oh, hi, Daddy.
C: Hi, Daddy.
F: Can I er eh uh tell you something?
C: Victoria said that when you go to college, you have to live at the school.
F: Yah, and I want to live in a house, not at the school.
D: Wait, what?
They explain that they understand college to mean that you don’t live with your parents anymore, that you live at the school, and that they don’t want to go to college if they can’t live in this house with Papa and Daddy and Boston and Quincy and Cinder and the two remaining fish. “At least, can we live in a house on this street, and not at the school?”
C (reassuring herself): College is a long day away. I go to elementary school, then middle school, then high school, and then college, and then work, and then you die.
D: Well, that’s awfully dramatic.
F: Then, you die?
D: That work period Cory is talking about lasts a looooong time, Fisher.
F (resisting the whole concept): Daddy, I don’t want to go to college.
D: Well, that decision comes a long time from now.
C: Like, when you’re 30 or something.
D: 18. When you are 18.
F: Is Victoria 18?
F: Were you 18 when you went at college?
D: TO college. Yes, I was.
F: Oh. (Pause.) Daddy, how many years are there until I am 18?
Daddy smiles and answers. The next morning Cory is in a mood. She doesn’t want to do anything necessary to get ready for school, at least when Daddy asks her to do it. It’s like pulling teeth. Daddy’s teeth. One at a time. With no anesthetic. Daddy’s ability to contain her piss and vinegar is in rapid depletion. Fisher is waffling between Daddy and compliance and Cory and rebellion.
C: But, it’s not fair! Kids have to do everything they’re told, and adults can just do whatever they want. You can do whatever you want all the time, and kids just have to be boring.
D: Cory, when you are 18 and head off to college and are ready to live all by yourself, you can do whatever you want. You will be free to make good choices and bad choices and whatever choices. In fact, you are free to do that right now. A good choice is to brush your teeth. A bad choice is not to. You have me here…
C (petulant): But, kids don’t get to…
D: …to tell you what’s a good choice. When you head off to college by yourself, you will have decide on your own what’s a good choice and what’s a bad choice.
C: …do anything they want.
D: And you won’t have Daddy there to help you. Or Papa. Or Boston. (Piling it on.) Or Quincy. Or Cinder. Or Emma. Or Auntie Ann-nuh. You will be an adult and you will be all by yourself.
C (sobering up a little): I’m not going to be all by myself. Fisher is going to go to college, too.
D: Not necessarily at the same college, Cory. He might be in New York and you will be in Boston. So, Fisher might not even be there.
C (sobering up more): Well…
D: And then you will be an adult, and you can basically do whatever you want. And there will be no one there to correct you.
F (choosing compliance): Daddy, I’m going to brush my teeth.
D (as he rushes to the bathroom): Thanks, Fisher.
F: That’s a good choice, right?
D: Right. (Staring at little Miss Thang.) Cory, brush your teeth please.
F (through the buzz of his brush): Daddy, how many years is it until we er eh uh go to college?
Cory drops her shoulders and heads to the bathroom. It’s unclear what breaks through to her or whether the morning’s just played out. At school drop off, she sees her friends and runs over to them, before coming briefly back.
C (whispering in Daddy’s ear): Daddy, I’m sorry for being sassafras to you this morning.
D: Thanks, Cory. (Rising.) Bye…
C: Wait. I want to tell you something. (Daddy lowers himself. She’s still whispering.) When I go to college, I want to live with you and Papa and Fisher.
D: Okay, Cory. We’ll think about that over the next twelve years. Okay?
C (not listening anymore): Okay! Bye, Daddy!
Back at home, Daddy looks around as Cinder jumps up and down. No Bloody Mary to be found.
The adults take seats in the “auditorium” (aka large room). The kindergarteners stand in lines outside.
The music instructor (paid for by separate funds of the PTA due to the ridiculous lengths richer people go to avoid providing quality public education to everyone) signals. Another teacher starts the processional. Somber-looking kids begin walking into a room full of smiling adults. It looks like every child’s pet just died, but actually they are just a little nervous. There are lots of people here. Strange people. Staring.
Each kids scans the audience pretty frantically until…BAM. Eyes lock on someone familiar, and a smile breaks across the face.