Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Interview With A Vampire

Today marks the passing of one of those parenting milestones that I’m none too proud of: This afternoon was the first time I ever swore at the kids, Natalie specifically, but Matthew was there too. I didn’t mean to, if I had the chance to think about it, I wouldn't have, and I’m sure Natalie had no idea what the word meant (in spite of my intonations when I bellowed it). I’m not going to tell you that it was completely unavoidable, as I could have picked a better word to use, but it was a similar reaction to smashing my thumb with a hammer. Something had to be said, and that's what came out.

The day had been long. Matthew didn’t grace me with his usual lengthy sleeping pattern of two two-hour naps, but instead barely cleared an hour in the morning and a little more than that in the afternoon, and Natalie was—she admits this even—a little high-strung today, as if the walls of this house became her prison and all she could do was go a little crazy, a little institutionalized. We all do it, and today was her day. I had nothing planned to do, no outings, no trips to Target and no balloons at the Party Store, which leaves everyone a little bored by the time three in the afternoon rolls around, and that is precisely when this little story unfolds.

It seems that the kids see me as little more than a six-foot-tall jungle gym, and as the day gets on, they gravitate to me like climbers to Mount Everest with all intentions of making the summit before nightfall. Usually, it doesn’t take Natalie long to end up on my shoulders, holding onto my hair or ears or covering my eyes in the name of fun. All I have to do is knee down and she’s up my legs, over my hips and has each leg hooked over a shoulder quicker than a reeses monkey after a banana. For Matthew, maybe he’s a little more patient or a little less assertive, but it takes him a few minutes to get into the fray. Soon enough, it is a general melee, and it may be a little ruckus to a bystander, but that’s what father’s are for; I’ve read that you should swing your kids by their legs (no not Matthew, yet), run around the room with them on your shoulders, or pretend to toss them into the bathtub from the center of the room. It contradicts the soft loving gestures of their mother and it shows them the world from a different point of view. How many of us get the chance to see their living room upside down or swinging around in circles by our arms? That’s right, none of you.

By this time, Matthew is repeatedly jumping on me. I’m laying on the floor of the bonus room, and “Seinfeld” has just started. He is walking more and more, so now he can take a “running” leap at me from a few feet away, and he grasps every opportunity to do so, always finding that soft spot between my belt buckle and my rib cage—you know, that soft spot that lacks general muscle development other people who exercise would call an abdomen. At least it is cushiony, and Matty loves to jump on me. Bursts into a wide-mouth howl of laughter every time I go "oomph!" But, he leaves himself exposed after the initial jump, so I grab him and toss him up in the air a few times, to his utter squeals of joy, and if I’m lucky, a string of droll will find its way from his mouth to my face underneath. That’s the way I know he’s had enough, despite the squeals. Gnat almost always wants a piece of the action too, so I give her a turn, but since she tops the scales at about three times what Matthew weighs, her ride is considerably shorter.

Then the wrestling match starts again, the clash of three forces meeting on the battleground of the bonus room, surrounded by toys, letter blocks, Leap Frog activity tables and an odd assortment of Barbie paraphernalia. Then it happened. I had just given Matthew a faux-pile drive into the carpet and I had my left arm around Natalie’s head and I was tickling her mercilessly. Giggles all around, sloppy, wet, drippy giggles from both of them, punctuated by the occasional slurping sound of sucking up drool from laughing so hard. Nice. It's the height of fun.

Out of the blue, I feel a tremendous pinch on my arm, like someone had just staple-gunned an inch of skin together. I look down: Natalie bit me! Right in the arm, with just enough skin between her teeth to puncture, and it hurt like someone jabbed me with a hammer and nails. My reaction was as customary as if my hand had slipped off of the wrench while working on my car or if I had hit my head on a pipe under the sink: I pushed her head off of my arm and barked, “Damnit!” while jumping up.

Right then, I felt bad, instantaneously, not for what I said, because I knew she didn’t know what that word meant as she’s never heard it before, but for how she looked when I said it. She had, not a look of horror on her face, but one of those “uh oh, I don’t know what 'damnit' means, but by the tone of his voice, this won’t end well for me.” And it didn’t. I shoved her in her room, sternly scolded her by telling her that she shouldn’t bite people, and slammed the door.

I knew she felt bad about it because it was quiet in there, and I know she didn’t mean to bite me so it would hurt. She was just playing and it got out of hand. I know she knows this becuase usually, when she feels she’s been wrongly incarcerated for some crime she’s surely innocent of, wails of tears and shouts of pity emanate from the cracks in the door. This time, her guilt means silence, and my arm developed two penny-sized bruises where her fangs had been.

Moments later, Kara’s car pulled up and everyone recognizes that sound no matter where they are in the house. Elsa jumps up from a dead sleep in the hallway and bounds downstairs to the front door, tail wagging; Matthew perks up and fishes out that “oh thank God, she’s finally home” whimpering cry he’s so good at, all the while making tracks toward the stairs to glimpse her; and from behind the door, I hear Natalie jumping up and down, elatedly exclaiming, “Mommy’s home, mommy’s home!” over and over.

I open the door and kneel down to her, asking in my best Robert Young tone, “You know why I put you in here, right?”

Her eyes hit the floor, “Because I did something to Matthew…” she trails off.

“What? No. You bit me!” I lift of my sleeve and show her the Dracula holes in my arm.

She gazes at them and is quiet for a couple of seconds, perhaps contemplating her response, vigilantly crafting the careful structure of her gracious apology, hopefully to lift forever our relationship from predator and prey to that of daughter and father, all the while addressing the situation as cautiously as possible, being diplomatic and ever tactful. Her mouth opens, the tearful, woeful apology is about to spill out…

Instead: “Mommy’s home!” Her eyes grow wide, and she skirts around me and runs toward the stairs as if nothing ever happened.

Damnit!

Thank you Robert Young. “Father Knows Best” my eye!

To her credit, she did later come back and say that she was sorry, that she “got too excited,” like the time she threw sand in that kid’s face. She gave me a hug and said, “I’ll never bite people again.”

So, I didn’t win any Father of the Year points for this one, and justifying it by saying that’s how people talk these days doesn’t make it right. I’m no preacher when it comes to my language in the real world—when especially frustrated, I can weave a colorful tapestry of four-letter words that would leave few unimpressed—but, as a dad who is trying his best to raise a lady and a gentleman (an ever dwindling subspecies of mankind it seems these days) I would like to keep the real world and its language on the outside of my front door for a few years longer, if possible.

It could have been worse, I guess.

I mean, really, she could have taken my arm clean off with those choppers!

1 comment:

Tris said...

It may not be long before the tables are turned. My son dropped the s-bomb in the middle of a conversation just as natural as anything, then realized he was talking to his father. The look on his face told me it wasn't necessary to discuss it, because he was mortified. Now it's one of my favorite parenting moments.

 

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