I’ve been trying to remember all day, what that animal at the end of Dr. Doolittle (the book, not the movie) is called. I think it’s a Pushme-Pullyou.
That’s what I should’ve dubbed Chickadee.
Monkey had a birthday party at a local kids’ museum to go to, and I called the birthday mom to ask if she thought there was enough age-appropriate stuff there for Chickadee; if so, I would buy us tickets and we’d come in as well. Oh, she said, we have several kids who aren’t coming. Just come on in and let her join the party. Was she sure? Oh, sure, they had other siblings coming, please just join us.
So we went.
We hadn’t been in the car ten minutes when it started.
Mind you; it was a LONG day for the kids. I got them up much earlier than is fair or good in the summer, particularly for a SATURDAY in the summer. The good news is that we got about an 8-mile training walk in this morning before Chickadee had to be at Tae Kwon Do. The bad news is that in the time it took us to walk 8 miles, our five (collective) children had already had an entire’s day worth of swimming and running around. So from THAT Chickadee went and had an hour-long class (while Monkey stayed and played some more), and then here we were headed to a PARTY at a SPECIAL PLACE on top of that.
So I’m aware that complaining in any way is akin to shaking up a soda and then whining when it explodes everywhere. I KNOW, okay?
There we were, headed to the museum, when Monkey pondered aloud that he’d known Huck, the birthday boy, (remember him?) for “over a year.”
I laughed, and reminded Monkey that he’d known Huck FAR longer than a year. In fact, they’d been in school together for nearly 5 years, and—
“MAMA,” Chickadee huffed from the back seat. “He SAID he’s known him for OVER a year.”
“I know, Chickie, but I’m saying it’s been even LONGER than that.”
“Anything LONGER than a year is INCLUDED in OVER A YEAR,” she countered. There is a tone of voice that she takes with me that makes me want to pick her up, cradle her gently in my arms, stroke her hair, and then put her in the blender on “Puree.” This tone of voice says that she fails to understand how I remember to breathe, what with the enormous burden of stupidity I carry, day in and day out.
Our eyes met in the rearview mirror, and she levelled her gaze and set her chin. She was right, and she knew it, and she also knew that she was being an utter snot, but she figured she had me on a technicality. Monkey’s eyes darted between us; he’s too smart to get into the middle of these things, but not quite bright enough to at least pretend that he doesn’t think that maybe THIS time, we’ll just engage into hand-to-hand combat until only one of us survives. (It’s sort of touching and a little sad to see that flicker of recognition of what his life could be like as an only child. You can just tell that in his mind’s eye, he’s sitting on the couch, pop-tarts lined up as far as the eye can see, holding the remote and never ONCE having to watch Saddle Club ever again.)
I took a deep breath and counted to five while I exhaled.
“Chickadee. You are correct. But my POINT is that they’ve known each other a very long time. Just as YOUR POINT seems to be that you intend to argue with anything and everything I say. I don’t like your tone of voice and I don’t like it when we argue. Why do you do that?”
Silence. Something on her foot became very interesting and in need of further investigation.
“Hello?” She looked up. “I asked you a question. Why do you do that, argue with me for no reason?” Deer. In. The. Headlights. “Do you even know?”
“No. Will there be ice cream?”
Right, why investigate your need to make my head explode when we could be talking about frozen dairy confections.
I launched into a brief rumination on the generous nature of Huck’s family to have invited Chickadee to join the party, and how I was sure it was going to be tons of fun, but that if she felt the need to be argumentative and fresh we could always just wait in the car until Monkey was done.
Suddenly both children morphed into little angels.
There was plenty to do and see at the museum, and both kids had a blast and ran around at about eleventy miles per hour for the two hours we were there. At one point—while we watched a demonstration of the Van de Graaff generator, before each child had a chance to go make their hair stand on end—Chickadee folded herself into my lap and reach up and behind her head to sort of hug my neck. I snuggled into her and said, “Awwwww, thank y—” and then stopped, because her backwards hug had turned into her hands in my hair, pulling it every which way. I captured her hands and tried to smooth my hair, saying, “MUST you do that?”
She tipped her head backwards, laying the top of her skull on my chest, and staring deeply into my eyes. “Yes,” she intoned, matching my pitch and cadence, “I MUST.”
(Hey, I asked.)
Both kids had two pieces of cake each, too. I tried to get them to down their meth chasers, after that, but they said they were full. Chickadee continued working her way from station to station while Monkey joined the pack of feral boys who were now simply running laps around the main exhibit room.
When he cut a corner too close and bonked his head on a pillar, it was time to go. We collected goodie bags (pausing for a brief meltdown over the inequity of lollipops involved, because LORD KNOWS we hadn’t had enough sugar) and made our way back to the car.
In the car, Chickadee sniped at Monkey for singing, then claimed his balloon was scratching her. She was in a righteous funk by the time we got home.
[Overstimulation, it could happen to your child. Know the warning signs:
1) Your child is HAVING FUN.
2) That fun EVENTUALLY ENDS.
3) There is no 3. That’s it. Good luck.]
When I announced we would have showers and dinner and then perhaps that game of Life I’d promised earlier, Chickadee announced Monkey should shower first. I countered that for volunteering him, SHE would go first, and then there was wailing and gnashing of teeth and “you can’t tell me” and “I’m never showering” and more longing peeks at my blender.
“If you do not pull yourself together, we will skip Life and you can go right to bed.” Apparently I had just announced that there was no Santa, no Tooth Fairy, and no more ice cream.
“MAMA!” she screamed at me, from halfway up the stairs, “YOU! PROMISED! You have to KEEP YOUR PROMISE!”
“That’s true, I did promise. I would like to keep my promise. But you’re not making good choices right now, and I’m not going to reward you for being mean to me. Get it together, or we won’t play. I want to play, don’t you?”
She stomped the rest of the way upstairs, and then—magically!—washed away her funk. After her shower, she was a changed person. She returned clean and damp and ready to set up the board and charge me $5,000 for every 10 I spun. (I don’t know; I think she may have made up that rule.)
Monkey, on the other hand, rinsed away the very last of his energy with his shower. He came downstairs pink and fresh and lay down on the couch and told us he’d play some other time. I watched his eyelids twitch as he valiantly tried to focus on the cartoon at hand. The plate of food I brought him went untouched, probably because he lacked the strength to lift it to his mouth.
Meanwhile, Chickadee was picking out her twins (“A boy and a girl! No, wait—TWO GIRLS!” “Congratulations, honey… they’re bouncing baby… pegs”) and winning the Nobel Prize and cheering when I sold my best-selling novel (how did they KNOW?). By the time she’d reached retirement, she was falling over giggling every time she had to play banker; the goal was to give me as many bills as possible, every time. “I’m RICH!” I would declare, fanning myself with $5,000 bills. “I can’t wait to buy BOARDWALK!”
“MAMA,” she rolled her eyes at me. “Wrong game.”
Monkey snuggled into his pillow after I placed him in bed, and sighed as his eyelids (finally) let go and closed. I kissed his head and whispered that I’d see him in the morning.
I pulled his door shut and went into Chickadee’s room. I pulled up her covers and started tucking her in.
“I’m too HOT,” she said.
“Sorry. Push the covers back, then.” She wriggled free and splayed her legs atop the blanket. “Just don’t come crying to me when you’re too cold, missy.” I waggled my finger in her face and she laughed.
“Can we play Life again tomorrow?”
“We miiiiight, Rabbit,” I answered. “But now it’s time to go to sleep.” She bounced on the mattress a little and I pretended not to notice. “Sleep tight, sweetie. I love you.”
“I love you, Mama. Mama? Next time I’m going to be a SUPERSTAR.”
“Okay, honey. Night.”
“G’night. Don’t stay up too late, Mama!”
Tomorrow I am totally buying Boardwalk.