Papa kisses Cory and Fisher good-bye and heads in to catch a flight.
The car ride home from the airport starts out fine, just a comparison first of flights from San Francisco to each of Warsaw and China, then on to the longest flight Papa has taken so far (to India). A decent song comes on, Cory asks that the volume be turned up, and Daddy drifts away from the car for a bit. An argument in the back forces a return.
D: Hey, guys. Stop arguing.
F: But Cory just…
C: Daddy, Fisher…
D: Guys. Guys. We have a lot of fun things planned for the rest of the day. Let’s not ruin anything on the car trip home, okay?
Five minutes later, zipping down a beautiful patch of highway, Fisher apparently decides to bring the back console down between their car seats. Daddy is only aware of this later, after examining the bits of evidence scattered around the blast crater created by their twin-mageddon, mutually assured destruction, take-it-nuclear backseat explosion. When the first warning signs appear, Daddy tries again with the “stop arguing” and “fun things” and “losing privileges,” but they hit and pinch each other. Then, they report that one hit and the other pinched. Daddy sighs…and turns up the radio. Their voices rise, until it’s near enough to screaming in an enclosed car. For some reason, Daddy has no energy to mediate or outwit or distract or scare…or parent. It takes the last bit of strength just to turn the radio up a touch or two more.
An eternity later, Daddy pulls into the bank parking lot. The fact that they are in the bank parking lot and not in the driveway at home brings them up a bit short.
F: Daddy, Cory doesn’t…
C: No! Fisher won’t…and I don’t like it…and Fisher…
Daddy gets out of the car, visits the ATM, and returns to the car. They are quiet. Daddy asks Cory to explain, calmly, what the issue is. She explains that Fisher put the back console down and that she doesn’t like it down. She can’t, when pressed, quite articulate why she doesn’t like it down. She just doesn’t. Daddy asks Fisher why he wanted the back console down. He doesn’t want to explain that he wanted it down because having it down would irritate Cory, so he tosses around a salad of subjects and verbs that barely passes for English.
D: So, you guys fought and screamed all the way from the airport over a back console, Cory, that you don’t like down for some unknown reason and that you, Fisher, wanted down, for some unknown reason?
They stare. Daddy starts the car, drives through the parking lot, and parks closer to the other stores in the strip mall.
D (turning to face them): Guys, we had a lot of fun things planned for today. The first one was to get ice cream. I thought, you know, after we drop Papa off at the airport, it would be so fun to go get some ice cream with my Cory Bee and my Fisher Bug. But, let’s review. Fisher, you put down that console just to annoy your sister. You pinched her. You hit her. And you argued with her about nothing for about 30 minutes. Cory, you were irritated at that console being down for no reason. You hit Fisher back, and you screamed at the top of your lungs for about 30 minutes. Well, you only screamed at the top of your lungs for about 15 minutes. But, in a closed car, that amount of screaming goes a very, very long way. So, Cory, you lost your ice cream privileges by your behavior. (Her face falls.) And, Fisher, so did you. Your behavior was quieter but still bad enough to lose your ice cream privileges. (His face falls, too.) But, guys, don’t…
C: Daddy, that’s not fair. I didn’t know that we were going to get ice cream.
F: Can we earn it back?
D: Listen, guys, don’t despair. Don’t be sad. Because not everyone in this car lost their ice cream privileges…
F: What do you mean?
D: Well, Cory lost hers. Fisher lost his. But, who’s left?
D (forced big smile): That’s right! So, don’t be sad. All the news isn’t bad! I still have my ice cream privileges. (Opening the car door, getting out, and sticking a head back in before closing the door.) Don’t open the car doors for anyone, guys. There are a lot of strangers in this parking lot today. I don’t know any of them. Better to be safe than sorry.
Daddy leaves them teary eyed in the car. The clerk in the ice cream shop loads up a decent-sized cup with vanilla ice cream, chocolate chips, and chocolate sauce, with some extra cookie dough and extra caramel. Daddy grabs a few more napkins, leaves a healthy tip, and heads back to the car.
C (pitiful voice as Daddy sits down): Daddy, I’m sorry.
F (equally pitiful voice as Daddy takes a first bite): Yah, Daddy, we’re sorry.
They both have tears in their eyes, as Daddy enjoys bites two and three. Cory starts talking meekly through an argument that is supposed to convince Daddy to change his mind.
D (throwing up the right hand, spoon in it, toward Cory through the middle of the car, voice sounding as if his mouth contains twice as much ice cream as is really in it): Mmmm, Cory, hold on a sec. (Shaking the hand, moving the mouth, mumbling.) Hold on, mmmmm, just a second. (Dropping the hand and turning a little.) Have you guys ever eaten something so delicious, something that hits your spot so dead on, that you can’t even focus on two senses at once? It’s like, you can’t even hear what someone else is saying because what you’re tasting is so good, and you’re like on sensory overload if you try to take information in through more than one sense. Well, that’s what that last bite of ice cream was like. It was sooooo creamy and delicious, with a chunk of cookie dough so perfectly proportioned, that I couldn’t even hear you speaking, Cory. I mean, I knew that you were speaking. I could hear the sounds. But, I just couldn’t focus on my ears because of that bite. I don’t even know if any of the rest of these bites…(gesturing to mound of ice cream)…are going to be as good as that last one, but I’m excited to find out. Now, Cory. I don’t have anything in my mouth. What did you want to say?
C (Fisher’s crying a little bit): I’m sorry, Daddy, that I screamed to the bottom of my lungs all the way from the airport.
D (cheerfully): Oh! Thank you, Cory! That is so nice to apologize like that. I appreciate that.
Still sitting in the parking lot, Daddy takes in another spoonful of ice cream. They both cry a little bit.
F (Daddy halfway through the vat of sugar and fat): Daddy, can we earn our ice cream privileges back?
D (throwing up more “stop” gestures): Second, Fisher. (Daddy moves the right side of his mouth around.) Just have this amazing bit of chocolate chip caught. (More mouth movement.) It’s just jammed up in there, and I’m like, “Hey, little chocolate chip! I don’t want to save you for later. Now’s really good for me. The party’s now. Get out from between my teeth!” Okay. Okay. Got it. Now, Fisher, what were you saying?
F: Can we earn our ice cream privileges back?
D: You mean ever? Like, will you ever get ice cream again?
F (quietly): No, today.
D: Today? Oh, no way. That trip home from the airport was the worst. I don’t know why anyone would want to behave like that. It can’t be fun. Not fun then, and not fun now, is it? Oh, what am I saying, with you two kids back there, so happy for me and my ice cream. This is fun!
A few minutes later, there are only a couple of bites left in the cup. Daddy can see by their faces that they fully expect Daddy to relent and offer those last morsels up to them.
D (stopping with the eating, holding up the cup): You know, guys, sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Really. You can. You just reach the saturation point. You hit a wall. Like with ice cream. It can be the most delicious ice cream in the world, perfectly made and mixed, like today’s, but then you just can’t eat any more. It’s like you don’t have room. Sometimes that can happen. (Daddy lowers the cup to his lap, sighs, and stares out of the window. (Ten…nine…eight…seven…six…five…four…three…two…one.) You know what!? Today’s not one of those times.
Daddy eats the last two bites. Their faces fall back down, but it’s when Daddy starts the car to pull away that they realize that they are really, really and truly, not getting any ice cream today. There’s no second trip into the ice cream shop. It’s not happening. They both cry a little bit as Daddy pulls onto the street.
D: Don’t be sad, guys. We didn’t ALL lose our privileges. So, that’s something.
Cory starts screaming about how unfair this all is. At the top of her lungs. Again.
C (sobering up as Daddy passes the grocery store without stopping): I thought you said we were going grocery shopping…?
D (laughing, knowing they love grocery shopping): What the what? Heck no! I can’t take two ridiculous children grocery shopping.
C: I. AM. NOT. RIDICULOUS.
D (laughing): Cory, you are the definition of “ridiculous” right now. You just got in trouble, lost your ice cream privileges, for screaming your head off for a half hour. Then, when you realized that your punishment was going to stick, it wasn’t going away, what did you do? You screamed your head off. That, my little Bee Girl, is the height of ridiculousness.
F: Daddy, I’m not being ridiculous.
D: Maybe not, Fisher, but you also aren’t going shopping.
F: What are we going to do?
D: We are going home, and you are cleaning your room.
They complain a bit but avoid more ridiculous displays. Daddy pulls up. Everyone heads in. They go into their room and close the door.
D (poking a head in): Guys, you have 45 minutes to clean your room. It has to be super clean. All the clothes put away, nothing on the floor, all the toys on the shelves, your beds nice and neat. I’ll come back and check on it in 45 minutes.
Daddy closes the door and settles on the floor to pet Cinder and battle some serious ice cream coma. Forty-five minutes later, there is no more talk of earning anything back, even though their room is as clean as it has ever been.