I love my kids. I do, I love all my kids, from the biggest down to the smallest. This last one, I don’t know, I can’t help thinking I should have been a little more, what’s the word, engaged. Not that there’s anything wrong. He seems to be turning out okay, inasmuch as anybody can be okay given the uncertainty in the world. He plays sports, he gets decent grades, he’s got friends, he’s got a girlfriend, all the signs are okay. What’s to worry about?Still, I wonder sometimes if I should have paid more attention. Played with the Legos, built forts in the backyard, that sort of thing.
I did that with the first two, Tom and Jason. Then we had the two girls, Elsa and Jonna. And I made an honest effort with the dolls and the tea sets. But really, I was running out of juice as a parent by that time. Seven years zoomed by, and then we were pregnant once again. Of course we were thrilled. But he was a bit of a surprise, was Mikey.That was fifteen, almost sixteen years ago. So there’ve been kids in the house for over twenty-five years. And I love that, I really do. But every so often, I’d like a little peace and quiet. A little me-time, as the ladies say. Not that that translates into a bubble bath with scented candles, the whole nine yards, but it is a chance to breathe and relax and not listen to anybody. And not meet anybody’s expectations. It’s a time to eat a hot dog on a bun with mustard and ketchup, but no plate underneath, nothing but a paper napkin between it and the carpet. Darlene’s at knitting class, and what she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.
So here I am, walking in the door, just a little bit late, but that’s okay. I stopped at the store for a couple of things, some of that Bleak Abbey Ale and a jar of hamburger relish. That’s the red kind of relish, the kind with ketchup mixed in. And, believe it or not, a jar of kimchee. I like hamburger relish and kimchee on my hot dog, something you just can’t get at the ballpark. I walk in the door, set my briefcase on the stool and the paper bag on the counter. I let my arms drop to my sides, hanging at the waist, and I breathe. So quiet. Just the ticking of the kitchen clock and the bubbling of the fish tank in the hall. Heaven.
Dinner can wait. The first order of business is to crack open a beer and plop down in front of the TV set. I’d like to be watching the Sonics game, but they aren’t here anymore so I’ll settle for the Sounders. Soccer moves fast enough. I made the JV basketball team in high school but I wasn’t tall enough for varsity. As for my kids, none of them was really interested, except the youngest, Mikey, and Lord knows he’s too short.
I sit on the couch, kick my shoes off, put my feet up on the coffee table. Pick up the remote and start channel surfing. I take a swig of beer and switch to ESPN. A few minutes go by. I start to feel that someone’s watching. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I turn my head to the left, slowly. Nobody there. I turn my head to the right, but before my chin is pointing the same direction as my shoulder, I hear a yell. “Hyaar!” it goes, and there’s a light karate chop to my shoulder.
Instantly I’m up and turning to the back of the couch, and there’s my kid, Mikey, halfway over the back of the couch, laughing at me. “You little shit,” I say. We shadow box, then I try to grab him, but he’s too quick for his old man. So there’s a chase around the living room. Finally, I grab him by the shoulders of his denim jacket and drag him over the couch onto the floor.
He bangs his shin on the coffee table. “Shit,” he laughs. “That hurt.”Then he gives a kick that glances off the table surface, just enough to knock the table to the side and knock the beer over.
“You little pisser,” I say. “You’re gonna pay for that.” I grab him in a headlock and hold him for about thirty seconds. But he’s the wrestler, I’m just the middle-aged dad, so, even though I’m bigger and—supposedly—stronger, he wriggles out and jumps up. “Clean that up, kid,” I say. He runs into the guest bathroom down the hall, grabs Darlene’s nice towels, and thows them on the beer that’s collecting in a puddle on the carpet. “Uh oh,” I say. “You really screwed up now... Everybody knows we’re not supposed to use those towels.”
“Hey, this is an emergency.”
“Maybe it is,” I say. “You better scram. Let me handle your mom.”
“Okay, I’m out of here.”
“Not so fast, kid. What time you coming home?”
“Midnight.” I make the game show wrong-answer noise. “Errh. Try again.”
“Make it ten thirty. And don’t be late.”
“Okay dad. See you.”And he was gone, leaving me on my hands and knees, mopping up beer with Darlene’s guest towels. Empty nest, remember? Just hold out til then.