It’s officially Summer Vacation around here, as of about a week ago. Seems like every year about this time we go through a transitional period. Moving from the predictable structure and rhythms of school, to, well, the opposite: Chaos.
It takes us — and by “us,” I mean my wife Hilary and I — approximately one week to gather data sufficient to inform the process of planning the remainder of our boys’ summers. During this week of data-gathering, of limbo, all hell can break loose. End of the Festival of Samhain-type break loose.
From the comfort of our bedroom downstairs, we have heard the telltale sounds of Tivo upstairs before the sun has risen. Someone is clicking willy-nilly from one station to another. It’s early enough that much of the programming, I imagine, is sweaty people on elliptical trainers. But also shows about one or another group of nightmare-inspiring vampire people, or maybe a random showing of “Jackass,” sure to incite future hijinks with speeding shopping carts and the like. I’m much too tired to actually get out of bed and investigate, like a proper parent might do.
Instead, I weigh the risks. Run the numbers. Assume the worst: Our 8 year-old has hacked the Playboy Channel and is watching “Journey to the Nether Regions.” Or perhaps even at this ungodly hour, some mischievous HBO scheduler is burning “The Shining” into our 2nd grader’s impressionable brain. If the latter, Everett will never ride a Big Wheel, never agree to stay at a big old hotel again, and probably stop bouncing a tennis ball off the stairs over and over again. I can live with these possibilities. In fact the tennis ball thing holds quite a bit of appeal. So I allow myself to drift back to sleep, even as the Tivo “bloop,” bloop,” “bib-bloop” beckons off in the distance.
I haven’t exchange a word with my wife lying next to me. But I am 65% certain she has just done the same calculus in her own head. Maybe even running different worst case scenarios, than I could groggily call up. Obviously her scenarios, too, weren’t overpowering enough to warrant a trip upstairs to investigate. Bloop. Bloop. Bib-Bloop.
Another example. Max and Everett have been using the World Cup as an excuse to wear pajamas all day. And by “all day,” I mean, every day since school has ended. If I think about it, I don’t believe I’ve seen Everett wearing anything other than a pair of pajama shorts bearing a pattern of a tropical jungle and the number 29 (or 62, the pattern is a little confusing). Nevermind why there are bright yellow numbers pasted on top of dark jungle scenes. That’s probably some subversive shit, too, but I will have to try to wrap my head around that another day.
And Everett is unapologetic about this. Completely un-self-conscious. Belligerent, even.
We have pointed out that he has worn the same pajamas for, like, a week. Expecting him to show surprise, an age-appropriate recognition of the prospect of scabies, or embarrassment. Nope. Instead, his voice is insistent, the pitch rises. The vein in his neck pops to the surface and he juts his chin out and upwards. “Dad, this is Summer! I’m wearing exactly what I’m supposed to be wearing!”
He’s so passionate and self-righteous about these crispy pajama bottoms. He is very likely to send the whole inmate population into a frenzied coup if I were to provoke him any further. The balance is that delicate. Razor’s edge. So I back down. Practically handing him the Tivo clicker, with lowered eyes and bowed head, right after I navigate down the Tivo on-screen guide to highlight the Playboy Channel’s “Foursome: Walk of Shame.” Ultimate show of submissiveness on my part. Had I taken a different tact, reasserting my authority, this whole place would erupt into something of Attica-like proportions. By this point, Everett has almost certainly seen that movie during one of his 6 am Tivo sessions. So this is no exaggeration.
Then came the Popsicles.
Over the course of the last week, we have entrusted the boys at home on their own for a few hours here and there. Hilary is at work. I’m working with some new consulting clients or running errands. Max knows where the fire extinguishers are. He is adept at texting, even if the texting more involves his mother or I trying to interpret what a red-faced, tribal-looking emoji totem pole icon is supposed to mean. And Max probably does not really want to kill his brother. At least not intentionally. The same could not be said of Everett, but our 8 year-old is probably not quite up to the challenge of physically overpowering our 12 year-old. At least I think I could make such a statement in a police report with a straight face.
I returned home one afternoon this past week to find both of my sons wearing their could-stand-up-on-their-own pajama bottoms. Ensconced in one of the World Cup games played by teams whose official initials I could not decipher. A quick scan of the room did not reveal any evidence of wrongdoing. The dog’s eyes did not betray abuse. If anything, in retrospect I saw enthusiastic conspiracy in those brown-red eyes. I think the dog may be the happiest life form in our house when she and the boys are alone. But that is a blog post for another day.
I only began to get suspicious when the boys started whispering to each other in the midst of fake-looking wrestling. The kind of wrestling you do to get close enough to your partner-in-crime’s ear, such that a whispered phrase sounds only like labored breathing and grunting to the casual, unsuspecting observer.
But I am neither casual, nor unsuspecting.
After an hour or so, both boys happened to wander outside of the living room, leaving me alone. I used my brief seconds of solitude to investigate. Scanning the room in earnest for anything even remotely incriminating. Without their guilty eyes watching mine, poised to destroy evidence via some distracting ruse or another. I’ve fallen victim to several such ruses, and those are only the ones I know about.
I turned my gaze behind my back on the couch, where no fewer than 5 pillows were piled. Seemingly a perfectly legitimate stack of pillows to angle one’s head perfectly towards the TV. The better to comfortably take in hour after hour of World Cup play. In fact, I had been happily, comfortably leaning my own head against this pile for the past hour or so.
I pulled one pillow off another. My pace quickened as I began to feel I was on to something. I felt keenly aware that the inmates would be returning to their cell within moments. At the bottom of this innocuous-looking pile, I found the contraband.
A box of Popsicles. Completely empty. Eviscerated. Flattened. Several plastic wrappers ripped open and empty. Sitting under my head for the last hour. Basically hidden in plain sight. Brilliant.
I felt certain that neither Hilary nor I had purchased this box of Popsicles. Quite certain. So I placed the box on the living room table in full view. Smack in the middle, on display. It could not be missed.
Everett returned to the living room first, immediately saw the box, and turned his body away from mine, fake-watching the World Cup game. No doubt his mind spinning, panicked. Waiting for his older brother to come in and save the two of them somehow. His face flushed red, praying that I didn’t say anything, start shouting about trust, responsibility, and teeth falling out. I’m sure his little brain ran his own little set of numbers: Maybe the box was there all along, and Dad still hadn’t seen it? Maybe Dad saw it, but mistakenly thought Mom bought the Popsicles, or that the Popsicles were somehow Mom-approved. Maybe Dad just didn’t assign a high-level of importance to this particular transgression?
Then, Max shuffled back into the room, and the jig was up.
Both boys fessed up to their roles in this particular fiasco. Max copped to sneaking down the street to Safeway to make the illicit purchase. I nearly choked on my own spit when I learned that the box didn’t hold, say, 6 or 8 Popsicles. It held 12! And these sneaky little bastards had eaten all 12 in one sitting! The two of my boys had sat happily, stickily on the couch devouring these Yellow Number 5 bombs. As to the brilliant hiding spot, Everett confessed that he had hastily hidden the evidence under the pillows when he heard my car pull into the driveway. Guilty, guilty, guilty.
The punishment? Absolutely nothing. At least none handed down by Hilary or me. We figured those 12 little sticks of colorful nastiness would take care of that for us. While there is no dosage warning on the side of a box of Popsicles, there probably should be. Twelve Popsicles are their own punishment.
Thanks for reading.