By Matt Gordon
Children are beasts.
I already knew this of course but each second is a reminder.
My day begins in the shower and before the water can even hit my frail, tortured frame, the claws start scratching at the locked bathroom door. “Dada . . . Dada . . . Dada . . .” the mongrel horde drones. These are not the Walking Dead; rather, the Running Alive. My oldest boy hides and tricks and tackles, forever climbing and forever flailing, a blurred menace of frenetic activity. My youngest child is nocturnal, flipping days in for nights and wrenching me into the doldrum oblivion with her. Wailing, she is more a night creature than a child—some sort of bat or possum.
Nothing proves the animalistic tendencies of my brood quite like the middle child. He decided to toilet train himself recently. This involved him defecating in his diaper and then manually emptying that diaper into the toilet (and on about every other surface of the bathroom and himself). He is head-heavy, guaranteeing that he is in a perpetual state of falling, like a bowling pin in an earthquake.
Last night I was eating a pear, as one does for dinner when life has descended into utter calamity. I chose a pear because it was handheld, and nowadays I have approximately four seconds to prepare a meal before someone starts bleeding or becoming an intrepid Poocasso. My middle-born saw my choice and asked for it. This is not new. I could begin eating the very earth or my shoe, and my children would then demand that very same earth or sneaker. Does it even count as sharing when everything is shared? At some point I have nothing left to share because nothing in all the world is solely mine. “Bite, Dada? Bite?” came his wild-eyed pleas. I gave him the pear.
I looked away for six seconds, likely in order to attempt to put out the small inferno my oldest boy had started.
When I turned back I saw this:
Beasts, I tell you. Beasts.
I showed the remains to his mother—for surely he gets this, all this, from her.
“He doesn’t even like pears,” she said.
I thought about making a quip using the word appearantly. But I couldn’t. The monsters had scurried up to the roof where they were holding some neighbors hostage with explosives. Duty calls. And doodie. Always.
I wake up to thumps and screams from above. I lumber upstairs to see what mess awaits. I clean the mess and begin readying the boys for bed—this begins as soon as they wake up because I know it will take me fifteen or so hours to land that particular plane. There is a few-hour window where each boy imitates the Tasmanian Devil, whirling and frothing, as I try to pin them the requisite time it takes to wriggle them into pants. We terrorize the neighborhood, local parks, and stores. We vandalize houses and yards. Then we have breakfast.
We fill the crevices of our home with crumbs. We scatter the sharpest of microscopic toys in places sure to find feet. We wrestle, which turns quickly into a one-way assault—I lay prostrate on the floor taking the daggered knees and digging elbows till lunch. An hour of television. Praise, Disney. Praise.
Then it is nap time. Which means seventy-four trips up and down the steps warning the boys that if they don’t lie still right now there will be repercussions unimaginable. We threaten their toys, their savings, their futures. They laugh and continue on with their bedroom parkour.
We head outdoors, taking eventually every possession we own with us. The backyard begins to resemble the small landfill adjacent a daycare. There is a permafrost layer of Mattel.
We head into the woods to whack each other with sticks till someone bleeds.
We pick up the yard, which means I try to put toys away at a faster clip than my boys get them back out. It usually only takes four or five hours.
Then we march back inside, tracking mud and ticks and blood and feces with us as we go. Sometimes an extra child or two makes their way in with us.
Meanwhile, our youngest cries. Or eats. Or covers whatever adult is caring for her with bodily fluids of a sort.
Dinnertime. A time when we gather up, say Grace, and then cover every square foot of our home and body with food. Lots of yelling. Even more threats. The fighting is intense but brief, on par with the Anglo-Zanzibar War of 1896.
During the Dinner Debacle of 2022 a child tends to disappear. The chaos lifts and someone is missing. And then we hear the most dreadful parenting noise of all: silence. Usually this means someone has jammed wadded up newspapers deep into the plumbing or smuggled the engaged garden hose into the living room or has drawn a tranquil nativity scene on our bedroom wall using molasses.
After sneaking in a trip to the ER, we prepare for bed. The beds, however, have not adequately prepared for us. For beds, in these special years, are not cozy places for rest; they are wondrous play things. We climb and jump and fall and overturn and giggle and shriek and puncture. After eight or so hours of this, and with the aid of a tranquillizer dart used on rhinos, we get two of our three beasts down and in the dark.
I close the door gently, and all is still.
For eight seconds.
“Dada . . . Dada . . . dada . . .”
The tribal chant begins like Jumanji but with worse outcomes.
I open the door.
“I love you sooooo much, Dada,” says a little voice in the dark.
“I wuv sooo much, Dada,” echoes a smaller one still.
Bruised and broken, I bask in the bliss.
“Don’t wish it away,” comes the advice of everyone who is not living the day-to-day hell that we are. I wonder if they would say the same thing to captives undergoing daily torture?
“Someday you are going to miss this, Inmate 70683.”
I hate that advice so much as I limp through this season.
There are some seeds to swallow down with this whole parenting thing—that’s for sure. But with the tender echo of “I love you, Dada” filling my mind, my body, my heart, I think of the sweetness of this particular fruit too.
I breathe with perspective, knowing that we get one life to live and give and willing myself to make the most of it. I take the next step forward, literally and figuratively, and my foot finds a tiny, razor-sharp pterodactyl that feels like it gashes its way through flesh to bone. I limp on in the dark, awaiting the light, yet trying to savor the seeds and fruit, all.
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