I had an old man moment today. A few, actually, in a depressingly short amount of time.

I went downstairs to make coffee. Meg was at the table, nose-deep in her iPad researching something I couldn’t see.

“Leanne, come here.”
[faint shouting from upstairs] “Bad or good?”

I’m not sure when that started. Part of me admires her situational awareness of knowing if she’s about to walk into a shitstorm. Part of me simply likes responding “BAD” just to see her sheepish expression when she finally shows up.

A series of thumps, crashes, bangs, and I’m pretty sure at least one shatter erupted from our stairs. Old man moment #1: “Is the child incapable of simply walking around the house without sounding like a stampede?”

Finally arriving and seemingly in one piece, Meg looks up from her iPad.

“Ok, so you said you want this backpack?”
“No, I can’t get that one!”
“Why not?”

I brace myself, knowing that there was absolutely no answer here that wasn’t going to make me roll my eyes.

“It doesn’t have wheels.”

*sighhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh*

“… and I have to walk all the way from the bus to Mickle this year, so I need wheels because carrying my backpack hurts.”

Spoiler alert: it’s about 1/10th of a mile.

“YOU DON’T EVEN HAVE TEXTBOOKS YET”, my internal voice shouts. Externally, I was smart enough not to engage the conversation. Also, this marks Old Man Moment #2. I’m sure I’ll have a number of “Back in my day, we didn’t have the Internet…” conversations, but for now, I was surprised to find myself more in the “… uphill, both ways…” camp of old man bitching.

I did see this one coming though. On the few occasions where the weather is between 71 and 73 degrees and not too sunny but not too humid, I actually emerge from my comfortably climate-controlled office to walk to the bus stop. So I’ve seen the parade of 9 year olds emerge from the bus, pulling their backpacks for the whopping 50 yard walk to their respective houses.

“Ok, how about this one? We can get the matching lunchbox and backpack, but there isn’t a matching water bottle.”

I guess that explains why they need wheels, because in addition to the single folder she has to carry in her backpack, she’s also burdened by a water bottle. Oh, and a small tube of hand sanitizer, because apparently that’s a thing for 2nd graders now.

I glanced up at our cabinet of roughly 50 different water bottles and contemplated forgoing the hot water entirely and simply chewing the coffee grounds on my way back up to my office.

“Ughhhh, ok.”

The eye rolling started a few months ago. I don’t know why I thought I’d make it to her teenage years before having to deal with that. It does give me a nice preview for when the teenage attitude really kicks in, so I suppose I should be happy that I’m getting a bit of an attitude preseason to warm up with.

“Do you want your name written in white or ivory?”
“Um, mommy?”
“Yes?”
“Why did daddy just run out of the kitchen screaming?”

“JAY!”

Before I go on, there’s something that’s bothered me for a while now. When I was young, if my mom was mad at my sister for whatever reason, it would put me on edge too. Maybe it was the palpable tension in the air. Maybe it was a primal self-defense mechanism that knew not to stick my head up when predators were present. Whatever it was, there was always an element where if one of us was in trouble, both of us felt it.

What I didn’t realize is that this would extend to parenthood as well. There are some nights where I arrive at the dinner table and can literally see steam rising out of Meg’s ears. In those instances, I have no reason to think I’m in trouble, yet I share the communal fear of Meg’s potential wrath, limiting myself to one word responses lest I get attacked too.

This time, however, I was clearly the target of her ire.

“Let me tell you what your son did at the grocery store today.”

Never in the history of humanity has a child been referred to as “your”, by one parent to the other, in a good situation. It’s never “your daughter danced beautifully in the recital” or “your son successfully pissed into the toilet instead of onto it”. Rarely, it will be “my child” in the event one parent is trying to stake some genetic claim on an accomplishment, but that’s about as far as the singular pronouns go.

“I was looking for jello–”
“Oh, did you get lime?”
“Shut up.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

She goes on to describe that while she was looking, he set up the boxes of jello on the shelf into an elaborate pyramid. I had a fleeting moment of pride in his feat of engineering that I knew was absolutely not the point of the story.

“And then I hear HIIIIYA…”

Oh shit.

“… and he runs at them and karate kicks–”
“We call it a ninja kick–”
“SHUT. UP.”
“Yes, ma’am.”

My clarification (disregarding how utterly not in a position to be making terminology corrections I was) triggered a Pavlovian response from the word “ninja”, prompting the boy to charge at me, fists flying. His flurry of attacks on my leg really helped set the tone of the situation, as I stood there with my head down for an appropriate amount of time before being dismissed.

I just farted, looked Austin dead in the face, and said to him “You farted.” What followed was a 10 minute wrestling match with him denying it the whole time. Now my nose is bleeding and he ate the rest of the Christmas cookie I was eating when it started.

I’m pretty sure that, in some cultures, that makes him the head of the family now.

“Where’s mommy?”
“Getting her hair cut, so when she gets home be sure to tell her how beautiful she looks.”
“Even if it doesn’t look good?”
“Yes, Leanne. Even if it doesn’t look good.”
“That’s lying.”
“Trust me on this one, kid.”

Whoever coined the phrase “the pitter patter of little feet” clearly didn’t actually have children.

I awoke to the rhythmic clopping of a child walking into our room. Based on the weight and frequency, without opening my eyes I recognized it was the girl and she was alone. I didn’t smell anything out of the ordinary, so that was a plus.

“Mommy?”

I’m not sure how I weaseled myself into such an awesome position, but in the morning the kids always go to Meg’s side of the bed. It doesn’t matter if they are hungry, scared, or just don’t want to sleep, the answer is always to be found with mommy. The only thing I get, and this is verbatim, is “Daddy, where’s mommy?”

“I think I see the elf downstairs, can I go see him?”

Wow, dodged a bullet there. I totally forgot about that damn thing last night. Thankfully, Meg was ever vigilant and on top of things.

I opened my eyes to see a look of sheer terror on Meg’s face. Apparently, we both dropped the ball and now we had a situation.

“Um… it’s early, go back to bed.”

Don’t for a second thing it was that simple. What followed was about 45 seconds of pleading, negotiation, and ultimately threats to get the child back in her room.

We did catch one break. The elf was in our bedroom closet, not buried along with the rest of the Christmas decorations somewhere in the depths of our basement. Meg went to retrieve it while I contemplated going back to sleep to make her handle it. Fearful of what she may do to me if I did, I fell out of bed and stumbled to the door.

She popped her head out of the closet to ensure there aren’t any kids present, ran over to me, jammed the elf down my pants, and pushed me out the door. And they say romance is dead after you have children.

The nice part about forgetting to place the elf this early in the season is that you have a ton of options. Fast forward to December 22nd and this situation becomes a lot scarier as I try to remember where we have and have not placed that little son of a bitch. I toss him on the entertainment center and step back to simultaneously admire my handiwork and give the finger to an inanimate object.

“… didn’t he used to have a hat?” I wonder to myself, panic setting in.

I quickly retrace my steps and find the hat at the bottom of the stairs. As I fought an internal struggle on whether to put it on the elf’s head or shove it up his ass, I looked up to see the rest of my family staring at me from the top of the stairs.

Had we had coffee in ourselves, we may have handled this more gracefully. Instead, Meg and I begin to vomit out a series of potential explanations ranging from bad to god-awful.

“I think he was flying around and dropped it.”
“Maybe it’s a trail to where he is so you can find him.”
“He might be playing a trick on us like the leprechauns do.”

I normally hate the leprechaun thing. I don’t know when this started, but Leanne got it in her head that leprechauns come and mess up your shit on St Patty’s Day, so we’ve had to do that for the past few years. I was quite proud of myself for being able to use this in our favor, even if I didn’t really know where I was going with it as an explanation.

This presented another problem. You’re not supposed to touch the elf, otherwise he loses his magic (I must sound like I’ve lost my damn mind to my non-kid-having friends, but I swear, these are the rules and I didn’t make them up). Now we’d have a hat in the foyer for the rest of the day. I could already see the breakdown where Austin, ever the asshole little brother he is, touches it just to piss Leanne off, which would then send her into a panic and me to a bottle of Advil.

We got lucky again on this one. Before anyone could put too much thought into it, I grabbed a pair of salad tongs and made a big spectacle about moving the hat over to the elf. Ever see a movie where someone is diffusing a bomb? Ya, pretty much like that.

This is just day 1 with the elf. Hooray  :/

“Austin, do you want your waffles frozen or toasted?”

I’m not sure if that’s a thing, eating waffles still frozen, or if it’s just Austin. I’m not sure I actually want to know. At one point, I found it gross, but now it’s more of a warning to steady myself for what’s about to come.

“Toasted.”
“So you want your waffles toasted?”
“Yes.”
“You don’t want them frozen?”
“No.”

I know I tend to exaggerate a bit in these stories, but I swear, this one is verbatim.

You may be wondering why something as simple as breakfast sounds an awful lot like a police interrogation. It’s an attempt — and seriously, let me stress that it is not a surefire method —  at preventing… well, a meltdown, to put it lightly.

Austin has a problem understanding decisions. Sure, if we’re willing to be wasteful, there are ways around it. Or if we’re willing to sacrifice our own choices, which in literally every single case is well worth it to avoid the shitstorm that would follow.

“Fine, you can have my ice cream and I’ll take yours. Just… ugh, just please stop talking.”

This gets more complicated when we’ve made an irrevocable modification to something.

“Actually… I just want peanut butter, not jelly too.”
“Actually… I don’t want my stickers on here.”
“Actually… I don’t want my Play-Doh colors mixed.”

Meanwhile, back at breakfast…

“Do you want your waffles cut?”
“Yes.”
“Pieces or strips to dip?”
“Pieces.”
“You want me to cut your waffles into pieces?”
“Yes.”
“Not strips?”
“No.”

If this is tedious to read, realize I live it.

“And you’re going to eat your pieces with a fork?”
“Yes.”
“Not dip them into syrup?”
“No.”

And so, a few gray hairs later, the boy sat down to eat.

“Um…”

Shit.

“Mommy?”

No. No.

“Actually–”

NO.

“– I want them frozen.”

Naturally, this happens most frequently on the days he has school. Realizing that if we send Austin to school hungry we would be legally responsible for paying for his teacher’s inevitable therapy bills, a defeated Meg stamps over to the freezer to retrieve new waffles.

I do what I can to help:

“Meg, do you want your breakfast frozen or on the rocks?”

“Yum, this is good.”
“See? I told you you’d like apples.”
“Wait, there are apples in this?”
“Yes, traditionally there are apples in apple pie.”
“Actually, I don’t like it.”

For years, I couldn’t wait until I wouldn’t have to answer a dozen “Daddy, will you get me _____?” requests.

Now that I’ve seen her choreographed parkour routine to climb the counters herself, I wish she’d just ask me before she breaks something (either on her or the house itself).

I had a fleeting moment of optimism this morning.

On my way downstairs, I saw Austin’s photo shoot for his first day of school. He’s hit or miss when it comes to pictures, so I was excited to see that not only was he complying with Meg’s request for pictures (both with and without the obligatory “first day of school” sign), but I was also touched when he wanted pictures with each of us individually and then one as a family.

What I failed to realize was that it was part of a cunning plan to delay actually having to go to school. I’ll give him this, he’s a clever little shit.

My first inclination that things weren’t as good as they appeared came as he was packing his snack.

“Mommy, will you open my juice box?”
“I can’t open it now, it’ll spill all over the place.”
“Then how am I going to get it open?”
“You ask your teacher to help you open it.”
“Oh. Actually, I just want a water bottle instead.”

Then came the negotiations. One thing I’ve realized about him is that he needs a win. No matter how small, he will incessantly bargain until he feels like he’s the one who ultimately made the choice. Unfortunately, he was totally striking out when it came to things we could concede.

“I don’t want to wear shoes.”
“I don’t have to go potty.”
“I want to sit in Leanne’s car seat.”
“I want you to carry me in.”

With that last one, he was victorious. But it was less a result of sheer willpower and more of a physical win by default. As Meg lifted him out of his car seat, he… hrm, how to describe this. Ok, ok, remember the facehuggers from the Alien movies? That’s a pretty good visual to describe Meg as we walked into the classroom.

I’ll skip the next 10 minutes. Suffice it to say, they weren’t pretty. This brings us to when Meg and I clearly have to leave but Austin was still attached to Meg’s neck like a parasite. Miss Michelle — god bless her angelic soul — came over and told us she really doesn’t mind dealing with it. She was brandishing a crowbar at the time, along with a look that said she’s clearly done this before.

The saving grace of this whole predicament is that, like a true parasite, Austin detached from Meg only to establish a new symbiotic relationship with poor Miss Michelle’s neck. He still smelled of perfume when he came home. But that was actually a good thing. I was expecting kicking and screaming, followed by a full on sprint out of the classroom after us. Instead, he buried his face into Miss Michelle in what one could optimistically call contentment.

Still unable to drink alcohol, I did the next best thing and went straight to Dunkin’ Donuts to request the strongest coffee they were legally allowed to sell me.

Epilogue:
He loved it. Miss Michelle said he was fine for the rest of the day. When he got home, he excitedly told me he got to be the bus driver. I don’t actually have a damn clue what that means, but I also really don’t care at this point. As long as he wasn’t proudly explaining to me that he shit his pants in class, I’m going to consider whatever he was telling me to be a good thing as long as he enjoyed it.