This morning my favorite cushy socks came up in the laundry rotation. It’s like winning the sock lottery.
In our household, there exists a justice system that parallels the system here in the United States in some ways but also has many differences.
Our Family Justice System:
In our house you are not guaranteed a trial by a jury of your peers. In fact, any peers in the house will be instructed to go home before the trial begins.
There are two judges, a primary or day judge and a secondary or evening judge.
You may be held without bail until a judge and trial are made available. (“You can sit in your room until your father gets home.”)
You may be tried and convicted more than once for the same crime, especially if the primary judge has found you guilty and handed down a sentence but feels that you still do not seem repentant enough. She can then order a second trial when the evening judge gets home from work, after which, a second sentence may be added on to the first.
Or, if you are found not guilty by one of the judges, you still could be found guilty by the other judge based on new evidence, or simply due to the fact that the second judge had a bad day at work and wishes to take it out on the defendants.
You WILL testify against yourself when instructed to do so by one of the judges.
Sometimes being a witness (tattler) can get you into worse trouble than being the one who committed the crime.
Sometimes, the primary judge has had enough, which she will indicate by loudly stating, “I have had enough!” She may then postpone a trial until the secondary judge gets home from work, but when the secondary judge gets home from work and is met at the door by two sobbing defendants and a primary judge who has had enough, he isn’t sure what the primary judge is expecting of him, so he will then repeat in an authoritative voice, the words that the primary judge is silently mouthing from behind the two sobbing defendants.
And finally, your punishment WILL be cruel and unusual (a week without TV, iPad, etc.).
How, in our culture, has it become accepted that the wife is the decorator of the house? Why is it such a crime for me to hang my Pink Floyd “Wish You Were Here” poster in the living room? What’s wrong with white walls? How many candles are too many in a given room? These are some of the questions that have been plaguing me since my wedding day.
Before my wife moved into my apartment and ruined everything, I had a cool living room. The Pink Floyd poster was the centerpiece on the wall, flanked by a battle-ax and a samurai sword that I had gotten awesome deals on at the flea market. On my coffee table sat a stuffed armadillo, and in the corner stood a one-armed mannequin dressed in a tan suede tuxedo and a Viking’s helmet. The refrigerator stood next to the couch, giving me easy access to the beer crisper drawer without needing to stand up and walk into the kitchen.
But it’s all gone now. There is not a shred of my original manly flair left in our current house. Every object decorating our living room falls into one of three categories: flower-plant, candle, or huge word. (The huge words are hung or painted on the wall and say things like “LOVE” or “FAMILY” or some cheesy saying that no self-respecting man would ever utter.)
The walls have been painted a baby poop yellowish-brown, except for the brilliant red “accent” wall, which makes my head hurt and my ears ring when I look at it for too long.
As for the plant category, my wife is constantly bringing home some new potted plant that will only end up being the latest victim of her sadistic need to slowly torture and eventually kill houseplants. They start out well. For at least the first month of them taking up residence in our home, the new plant will be pampered. It will receive a daily watering and even fertilizer to feast on. But then as things get busy and other plants are introduced into the decorating scheme, the once pampered potted houseplant will begin to whither, droop, and inevitably die a slow and horrible death.
There are candles placed everywhere in our home. They are on every shelf, on top of every surface; some even have a small shelf dedicated entirely to the particular candle’s own existence. There are so many candles that if you actually light them all at the same time, it raises the air temperature a full six degrees. And if the rise in temperature weren’t bad enough, each candle has its own smell. When mixed all together, they produce the effect of a horrible three-way collision between a truck hauling fruit, another hauling flowers, and a third hauling spices. It can be overwhelming.
As for the huge-word category, it is probably my least favorite element of our décor. It would be one thing if the huge words spelled out the lyrics of a Led Zeppelin song or a knock-knock joke or something. Instead, they always say something like “HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS” or “LOVE SPOKEN HERE.”
Once, in an attempt to introduce some sort of coolness into our decorations, I had my wife talked into allowing me to paint the phrase “LIVE LONG AND PROSPER” on our living room wall, which satisfied the huge-word-decorating criteria. But just as I was beginning to paint the letters that I had sketched out in pencil, my older daughter entered the room and blurted out, “Hey, isn’t that what the pointy-ear guy on Star Trek always says?”
My shoulders slumped in disappointment.
With a look of disapproval from my wife, my idea to sneak a little coolness into our lives was shot down.
I have since given up attempting to introduce coolness into hour home.
But the living room is not the only space that my wife has invaded and taken over with her brand of decorating. She has had her way with the bathroom as well. It’s been painted a light-purple color, and she has hung mirrors everywhere to make the small space look bigger. Mirrors in the bathroom are fine for the vanity, but why do I need one hanging where I can see myself sitting on the toilet? And not just one angle—I can view myself sitting from the front or side view—I never really realized what funny faces I make when I’m pooping. There is also a small mirror hanging over the back of the toilet that provides a near perfect image of my manly parts when standing in front of the toilet to relieve myself. A floral-print shower curtain now hangs where my Star Wars shower curtain once hung.
She has basically taken over the entire house. Like a virus, the candles, plant material, huge words, and mirrors have spread into every room. All I have left is my shed. It’s where my Pink Floyd poster now hangs and my armadillo resides. It’s where I go and sit to grieve over losing my man-inspired decorating themes.
It would seem that I have no say left when it comes to our choice in home fashion, but at least I still have my shed. If she ever gets the crazy idea to decorate my shed, I’ll burn it to the ground! I’d rather see it ablaze than defiled with the candles, plants, and huge words of cheesiness.
I’m generally a pretty happy guy. But in the midst of a long grey winter, I can get a little down. To be honest, I can get quite depressed at times. My wife claims that I suffer from that seasonal depression disorder. It apparently has something to do with not getting enough sunlight. My sister in-law recommended a special light that supposedly mimics the sun’s light, so my wife acquired one. It is now referred to, by my wife and kids, as “Dad’s happy light.”
I’m not sure if it helps or not, but my wife seems convinced that it does. In fact, she seems to think it will do more than just help with my seasonal depression.
I have noticed that if we have any sort of disagreement, she will at some point after the argument, switch the light on, and point it at me as if it will change my opinion on our disagreement . . . and I think she believes she’s being subtle about it. I have even noticed that as I sit in the glow of the happy light, she will periodically bring up different points of our argument as if to see if the light had softened up my brain and made me see things her way yet, much like a baker checking a cake in the oven. I think she is over-estimating this light’s ability to fix all my perceived faults.
The other night we were the playing a trivia game that required players to have a vast knowledge of current children’s TV shows. My ignorance on the subject was causing my wife and I to get beaten quite soundly by our two girls. So in the middle of one of our turns, my wife got up, and moved the happy light over in front of me and switched it on. I think she actually believed that the happy light would somehow unlock a cache of forgotten Kid TV facts in my brain, or that it might transfer the question’s answers to me through its bright glow. Now I’m skeptical on whether the Happy light will change my opinion during an argument, but I’m certain it will not transfer trivia answers to my brain.
My daughters are quick to pick up on the concept of the light, as well. If I were to come home from work and find them burning our furniture in the middle our living room, all I would have to say is, “umm, I’m not sure this is the best idea, girls . . .” and they both would reply in unison, “JEEZE-O-PEETS, SOMEONE NEEDS TO GO SIT INFRONT OF HIS HAPPY LIGHT!!!” It’s as if my not thinking they should set fire to furniture in our home is unreasonable, and that the happy light would make me somehow more agreeable to it.
I’m starting to think this light isn’t even supposed to help with the disorder . . . if I even have a disorder. I think that maybe it’s just a prop that is used by my family to make me think that depression is the only possible reason that I would ever question their logic and reason.
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Learning to interpret the unspoken communication in a marriage is one of the most valuable tools a husband can have in the pursuit of harmony. While all wives have their own versions of this language, here are some examples of my wife’s wordless vocabulary.
Raised eyebrow . . . . I’m not quite sure yet, but I suspect you are about to do or say something that will make me think you are an idiot.
“Huff” . . . You are an idiot.
“Sigh” . . . I disagree, but it’s not worth the time to argue about it.
“Huff, sigh” . . . You are an idiot, but you already know that, so it is not worth my time to say it again.
“Chuckle” . . . I told you that you were an idiot, but you wouldn’t listen.
“Groan” . . . Please don’t try to fix the washing machine with spare car parts for the fourth time this week, let’s just buy a new one.
“Groan, sigh” . . . I wish you wouldn’t try to fix the washing machine with spare car parts, but I know you are going to no matter what I say.
“Huff, groan, sigh, smile” . . . You are an idiot for trying to fix things that are beyond your capabilities, and I can do nothing to stop you when you are on a do-it-yourself mission, but that is partly why I love you.
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I checked my blog stats and set my phone on the coffee table. The stats weren’t all that important since I had started my blog for fun, and I am not all that worried about how many people read it.
I went back to watching Dancing with the Stars. Well, actually my wife was watching Dancing with the Stars, I just happened to be in the same room.
I check my blog stats again which is odd because I started my blog for fun, and I’m not all that worried about how many people read it. Nothing had changed in the two minutes since I had last checked my stats. I set the phone back on the coffee table.
My eyes were getting heavy and I was just about to fade into my Dancing with the Stars nap when my phone lit up with some sort of a notification. I couldn’t quite tell if it was a WordPress icon that was showing on the screen.
Instinctively I started to reach for the phone to see what the notification was, but then I stopped and reminded myself that I had started my blog for fun and I’m NOT all that worried about how many people read it. I can check it later. I went back to watching Dancing with the Stars.
My mind drifted. I thought about my blog post from yesterday, a post that I was particularly proud of. Who in the world wouldn’t want to follow a blog that offered posts such as the one I had created yesterday? And besides, I had included some new strategic tag words that were sure to attract a whole new demographic of reader.
It occurred to me that I was fretting over my blog again. . . . A blog that I had started for fun and wasn’t all that worried about how many people read it.
“Stop it! Just stop it” I thought to myself.
“Stop what?” My wife asked.
Apparently I had also said it out loud.
“Are you obsessing about that blog again?” My wife added.
“NO! I started that blog for fun and I’m not all that worried about who reads it.”
Just then, the commercial with Jake from State Farm came on the television. I waited with baited breath for him to say “kakis” so I could laugh for the hundredth time and my wife could roll her eyes about me still laughing at a commercial I had seen a hundred times.
Right on cue, Jake said “kakis” and I started giggling.
“She sounds hideous”
I laughed even harder as I reached for my phone . . . . . But then stopped mid-reach. I remembered that I wasn’t checking my stats because I had started my blog for fun and I wasn’t all that worried about how many people read it.
I sat motionless . . . . My hand was partially outstretched towards the place where my phone sat on the coffee table. I hated the thought of obsessing over something, especially my blog which I had started for fun and wasn’t all that worried how many people read it.
As I sat with my arm still partially outstretched, my phone lit up again. . . . Only this time, my slightly more-forward posture allowed me to see that indeed it was a WordPress notification.
My eyes widened.
That made one WordPress notification for sure, and the possibility existed that the first time my phone lit up might be another WordPress notification. I stared at my blog checker . . . I mean my phone. It smoldered with the prospect of blogging fame and fortune.
My hand moved ever so slightly closer to the coffee table. But then I stopped and reminded myself that I had started my blog for . . . . OH SCREW IT! I grabbed the phone. I had to know.
It might be a notification telling me that I have a new follower! Maybe two new followers!
Maybe it was a blog award notification!! Who knows, it could be a notification telling me that Ellen Degeneres had mentioned my blog on her show and i was in the midst of a new follower tidal wave!
MAYBE MY BLOG WAS JUST NOMINATED FOR THE NOBEL PRIZE!!!!!!!!
Frantically, I unlocked my screen. The little red circle told me that I had one new WordPress notification (sigh, I was hoping for two or more). I opened the WordPress app to find that someone had liked my comment that I had made made in response to their comment.
“Sigh. . . ”
“People liking my comment is a good thing,” I told myself . . . . Of course having Ellen Degeneres mention my blog on her show or winning the Nobel prize is much better . . . . .
Fortunately, I had started my blog for fun and was not all that worried about how many people read it. Otherwise, I might be constantly checking my blog stats and worrying about my blog.
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The other day, while driving my daughter’s home from school, the discussion was centered on one of the girls friends, Christiana and how much fun it was to stay at her house.
“What makes it so fun to stay at Christina’s house?” I had to ask.
“They let us watch horror movies,” Natalie answered.
“Christina’s parents are cool, too,” Hannah added.
“Yeah, her parents ARE cool,” agreed Natalie.
The horror movie answer was a bit concerning to me, but had not nearly the sting of the cool parents statement. What made her parents so cool? . . . I had always considered myself to be a cool parent.
I never wore dark socks pulled up to my knees while wearing shorts like my dad had done. And I was always doing fun and entertaining things when my daughters had friends over, like playing my hilarious DVD of Star Trek episodes that had the dialogue dubbed over in German, or performing my famous word-for-word reenactment of Walter Cronkite’s moon landing newscast, using a high falsetto voice. But apparently, it takes something far less substantial to be considered cool to this generation of kids.
In the days that followed the overheard conversation in the car, it would bother me every time I thought about it. I remembered when I was a teenager, and how some of my friend’s parents were so much cooler than others. I couldn’t stand it . . . I had to be a cool dad.
I felt certain that it would not take much to push my stature well into the “cool” dad category. I mean it’s not like I was some socially stunted hermit who was completely out of touch with the youth of today. So for the next few evenings, I plotted the grand unveiling of my coolness.
That Friday, I pulled up to the front of the school ready to impress. I knew that some things never change when it comes to the teenage requirements for coolness, so the first thing needed was some loud bumping music.
I would have preferred to have picked out one of my daughters CD’s to blast, but since my 1998 Buick had come equipped with a cassette deck, this was not an option. Luckily, I still had a few tapes in a shoebox in the garage, and luckier yet, some of my sisters old tapes had gotten mixed in with mine . . . teenage girl music is teenage girl music, I figured.
As I slowly drove along the student lined sidewalk in front of the school, I put in my sisters tape that I had picked out, a band called Menudo, and let it rip. The music was loud and had a catchy beat, but apparently teeny bopper music in my sister’s day wasn’t any better than what my daughters listen to, because I couldn’t understand a word they were singing. It was almost like they were singing in Spanish or some other language.
I had my hat on sideways, and despite the pain in my back, I was leaned way over into the middle of the car like I had seen other cool young people doing. I tried my best to bob my head in time with the catchy, loud music. I spotted my girls standing in the row of students, and stopped in front of them.
Wanting to fully display my new found coolness, I cranked the poorly vocalized music even louder and got out to escort my daughters over to the car. As I approached the sidewalk, I noticed quite a few students laughing and pointing in my general direction. There was a particularly criminal looking group of teen boys that began yelling things like “turn that crap down, grandpa!” My oldest daughter seemed to be upset, and possibly crying.
My youngest daughter marched up to me and screamed, “DAD! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
“What?” I said calmly, “Do the rules of coolness not apply to guys over 40?”
“Why are you blasting 60’s Spanish music loud enough for the whole town to hear?” She shrieked.
“It’s not from the 60’s, it’s from th- . . . wait, that really is Spanish?” I mumbled.
“And why in the world would you walk around in public like that?” she demanded, sounding even angrier.
I assumed she was talking about my hat being sideways and my underwear showing a bit, like I had seen every other boy at the school wearing.
“Dads can’t sport a little sag?” I asked while making gang-like hand gestures that teens nowadays seem to use while talking.
“You have your underwear pulled up, not your pants sagged down!” (By now she was yelling.) “And they are white fruit of the looms with the elastic band half ripped off!!!”
Unconvinced that hiking my undergarments up was any different than pulling my pants down, I turned to walk back to the car.
As I stepped off the sidewalk, the pain caused from leaning over in the car seat intensified and my back suddenly went out, causing me to collapse down on to all fours. The violence of the fall tore my underwear band the rest of the way so that the band was now completely detached from the rest of the underwear. And although I couldn’t turn around to look, it felt like there might now be some butt cleavage showing.
Meanwhile, a boy with purple hair from the group of criminals had broken off one of the Buick’s windshield wipers, and was using it to whip me across the buttocks as I helplessly crawled back to the car and into the driver’s seat. Several students lined up along the sidewalk had their phones held up and I could only assume they were videoing the whole event.
With a bit of difficulty, I managed to get the car door closed and then quickly drove away with agonizing back pain, two sobbing daughters and a pair of stinging butt cheeks.
After several video versions of the whole incident had been posted and viewed on YouTube, it was decided by my daughters, my wife and the principal that I would no longer be picking the kids up from school.
My oldest daughter, Hannah, has finally started talking to me again, and hopefully Natalie will follow.
I have decided that my level of coolness is what it is, and like nature, shouldn’t be messed with.
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Single Family Asylum is a collection of short, humorous stories about the imperfections of family members and family life that have appeared right here on this blog.
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Clack, clack, clack, clack . . .
The sound of my daughter’s plastic, sparkly pretty princess heels echoed throughout the sanctuary as she proudly walked down the aisle of the church to our usual seats.
“Heh-heh,” my neighbor Robert, who also attended our church, chuckled as Hannah clack-clacked past. It was almost certain that he had also heard the morning battle over wearing the clack-clack shoes and a bright green Frog Princess dress instead of the flower print dress that my wife had chosen for my obstinate child. Our houses were fairly close together and our windows were open to let in the warm summer air . . . . and our loud arguments out.
“SHUT UP ROBERT!” I sneered in a whisper-shout, “I remember your kid coming to church with a guinea pig in his coat pocket.”
Robert rolled his eyes but remained silent (probably embarrassed as he was remembering the uproar caused by the stowaway rodent escaping and nibbling on the elderly organ player’s open toed shoes).
We were late as usual. Back when God was formulating the intricate workings of the Universe, he had decreed that our family would never, ever, under any circumstance be on time for his own worship service. . . . . well, with the exception of the one Sunday a year when Daylight Savings gives us an extra hour . . . . and even then, we barely make it on time.
On most Sundays, my wife prompts us to hide with our two daughters in the back reception area and wait for the congregation to stand and sing a hymn so we can slip into our pew with less attention being drawn to our lateness. But on this particular Sunday, the fight over my daughter’s costume/fashion choice left us even later than usual. There were no hymns left to provide cover for our sneaking in. With a few condemning stares and smiles being shot at us, we found our usual seats and sat down.
My wife began digging items out of her Sunday morning purse, which was a normal purse by all purse standards, but was filled with carefully selected child silencing items. There were crayons, mints, paper to draw on, miniature animal and doll figures, and for emergency measures, a small hand-held video game unit with the speaker ripped out.
Sitting next to us this particular morning was Sister Edna, and elderly widowed church member who would often punctuate the pastor’s sermon points by interjecting “In the NAME of JESUS!”
The girls settled into their coloring and playing with their small toys as Pastor Phil began delivering his Sermon. Right on cue, Sister Edna began letting out “In the Name of JESUS” whenever Pastor Phil made a point that seemed to warrant it.
I listened to the sermon as best I could between whisper shouting at my girls for fighting over toys. Natalie had also picked up echoing Sister Edna’s “In the name of Jesus” utterings.
“I have to go poopy.” Hannah said in a voice that was audible to everyone around.
My wife gasped.
“IN the NAME of JESUS,” Natalie added to Hannah’s poop declaration.
Several heads turned in our direction; some of the heads had faces adorned with frowns.
Sister Edna looked at Natalie and smiled.
My wife quickly opened the roll of breath mints that was in her Sunday morning purse and gave each girl two of them. This seemed to keep the girls quiet.
Pastor Phil continued with his sermon on the plagues that were inflicted upon Egypt by God for refusing to let Moses and his people go. There was the plague of lice and one of sores on the people. There were frogs . . . . . I saw a frog in the ditch in front of our house yesterday while I was mowing. In fact, I almost hit the poor thing with my mower. I think it was a momma frog by the way—–
Realizing that my mind had wandered off a bit, I snapped back to listening to Pastor Phil and his sermon.
The sermon continued. Moses was apparently persistent, and Pastor Phil talked about the continuance of plagues. Fiery hailstones, water turning to blood, locusts . . . . billions of locust . . . .swarming everywhere. . . . . like the billions of hornets that came out of a hole in the ground near my shed. The hornets were like a plague. . . . a buzzing, stinging plague. In fact, one of them even stung my first born, Hannah. . . . . kind of like a double plague. But Robert and I had filled a squirt bottle with gas and constructed a makeshift flame thrower of sorts. We covered ourselves in snowmobile suites and motorcycle helmets to act as beekeepers outfits. Then with a shovel, we scooped out a crater where the hole once was and began administering the flames of Hell up on the locust. . . . I mean hornets. Suddenly I felt the intense burning pain of a hornet stinging my back. One of the little devils had apparently breeched my snowmobile suit.
“AHHH, He’s Got Me!” I screamed,”WHACK THE BASTARD WITH THE SHOVEL, ROBERT!!!!!!”
. . . . . I suddenly became aware of my surroundings.
I was standing in the aisle of our church sanctuary, swatting at imaginary hornets. I had just finished screaming, “whack the bastard with a shovel, Robert”. All eyes in the now silent church were on me. Apparently my mind had wandered off again. . . . I might have even been dreaming a bit.
My wife was horrified.
Natalie let out a “In the NAME of JESUS!”
This is where a normal family would have been shamed into quitting the church and never showing their faces there again for the rest of eternity. But my wife was seasoned at covering for our family’s, well, eccentricities. I knew that she would have an explanation for my ridiculous behavior, something like lack of sleep or perhaps the improper dosage of cold medicine. And I also knew that she would expertly plant her slightly exaggerated explanation in several conversation circles that were formed by the wives and mothers of the congregation when the service had concluded.
She had become so good at it, that I would probably end up getting words of sympathy and encouragement from church members instead of condemnations for my unruly outburst.
We are fortunate. My wife knows that despite the outcome, the girls and I have good intentions, and she has our backs no matter how absurd our behavior becomes.
Even before our children were born, my wife and I had decided that she wouldn’t work until both girls were at least in school. We felt that those first five or six years were very important in a child’s development and didn’t want those years to be spent in a daycare.
During those few years, I often worked long hours to make up for the loss of one income, and as a result, I wasn’t always aware of all the day-to-day details of raising two active young girls.
My chance to experience many of these daily triumphs and tribulations came one fall day when my wife ended up coming down with a particularly bad virus that left her incapacitated for nearly a week. During her recovery, I decided to take a few days off from work to fill in as the child minder.
In the middle of that week it became necessary to do some grocery shopping, so without a second thought I made up a list and informed my wife that the girls and I would be going shopping.
“You’re taking the girls?” my wife asked in a concerned tone.
“Yeah, that way you can relax without having to worry about them.”
“Are you sure you know what you are signing up for?” she said with an even more worrisome tone.
I began to get a little annoyed at her lack of confidence in my child management skills. I realized that taking a three and five year old pair of girls to the grocery store would require vigilance, but come on, how hard could it be?
“You just relax, I’ve got this,” I said as the girls and I walked out the door.
The short drive to the grocery store was uneventful and further confirmed in my mind that this shopping trip was a cinch.
Upon arrival, I grabbed a shopping cart and put three year old Natalie in the little flip down seat, and let Hannah take a spot riding on the front of the cart. I dug out my shopping list to have in hand as we headed down the first aisle.
Half way down the first aisle, I turned to place an item in the cart, only to find Natalie was holding a bag of navy beans that I hadn’t placed in the cart.
“Where did you get that, baby girl?” I chuckled as I took the bag from her.
Natalie answered with a blood curling scream that actually made me jump a little.
“DAD! She WANTS the beans!” Hannah advocated from the front of the cart.
“Well, we are not buying beans today,” I said in my firm dad voice and put the beans back on the shelf.
As I made the turn from the first aisle to the second, I mentally noted that I should keep the cart centered between the two rows of shelves to prevent my little grocery thief from being able to grab items off of them.
When I got down to the pasta section, I noticed that the brand of lasagna noodles that my wife normally purchased seemed to cost significantly more than a few of the other brands. But it was hard to know exactly how much because the packages contained different amounts of noodles. So I got out my phone and used the calculator on it to try figure out what the exact cost per pound would be of each brand of noodle. After a bit of difficulty remembering just how to set up such a calculation, I finally determined the costs of each.
“HAH!” I exclaimed triumphantly, “This brand is seventeen cents cheaper per pound.”
I grabbed the new bargain brand of lasagna noodles from the shelf and turned back towards the shopping cart. Hannah was now sitting inside the cart digging into a freshly opened box of cereal that I had selected from the first isle. But it didn’t appear that she was actually eating any of the cereal the she was removing from the opened box fistful by fistful . . . I assumed she was attempting to get at the prize in the bottom of the box. Large amounts of cereal were being thrown out of the box and onto the floor through the holes in the bottom of the cart.
“HANNAH! What on earth are . . . WHERE’S NATALIE?” I said in a panic as I realized that my youngest daughter was no longer a passenger on the shopping cart.
“She went to get lunch,” Hannah replied as if it was not a big deal.
“Does mom let her go get lunch when she takes you guys shopping?”
Hannah looked up from her cereal box digging for a moment and replied, “No, mom doesn’t let us out of the cart.”
“Oh crap!” I thought aloud sprinting down the aisle.
When I reached the end, I was able to determine that my daughter had gone to the left by following the trail of navy beans left like breadcrumbs. Up ahead I could see her standing in front of a lady handing out samples of some sort of food she was promoting. The lady had given Natalie what looked like a chicken nugget and Natalie was busy dowsing the nugget with ranch dressing from a bottle that I had no idea how she came to possess.
“NATALIE! I didn’t know where you were!” I said scooping her up, nugget, ranch dressing and all. Natalie screamed once again and stiffened her body in protest of my picking her up.
“She seems quite hungry,” the teen-aged sample girl said with a smile, “she’s eaten five of my samples.”
But I didn’t have time for niceties, I had to get myself and Natalie back to the cart before Hannah disappeared as well. So once again, I began to run back towards the aisle where I had left the cart and my treasure hunting daughter. But my progress was hampered by a child who was not happy about being torn away from her free lunch. I had never realized until that moment, how difficult carrying an unwilling child was compared to carrying one who was a willing participant. It was very awkward, much like running with a large, screaming piece of plywood in my arms.
When I reached Hannah and my cart, I stuffed the still screaming Natalie back in her seat and pushed on at a faster pace, ignoring the fact that Hannah was still sitting inside the cart. I hoped that picking up the pace was the key to a successful shopping trip with the children by not giving them as much time to get into mischief. However, this didn’t end up helping much at all.
By the time I had finished the second aisle and had gotten only half way down the third, Natalie had escaped another two times from her seat in the cart, helping herself to a box of animal crackers and knocking a jar of pickles off a shelf causing it to shatter across the floor. Hannah had successfully found the prize in the cereal box, which was a whistle, and blew it loudly from her place inside the cart.
And all I had to show for all the chaos was a half-eaten, half spilled box of cereal, a loaf of bread and a bottle of liquid cold and flu medicine. I was beginning to feel light headed from the anxiety . . . but I had to press on. I could do this.
I grabbed Natalie once again and plowed my way down the rest of the third aisle and into the fourth, picking up a store employee with a mop, bucket, and broom who had been assigned to follow us around by the manager.
Progress was slow, and with each stopping of the cart brought a new disaster. I chased girls, put smuggled items back on the shelves and apologized to other customers who had become victims of items thrown or splashed on them. As I turned and looked back down aisle four, it looked like a road map of where my cart had traveled. The path had been clearly marked by a peanut butter wheel track and each stop punctuated by a spill.
I was quickly losing my grip on sanity as we made our way down aisle five. To keep Hannah occupied, I had given into her demand to push the cart. I had restrained Natalie in her seat with the seat belt that I had discovered. The employee with the broom and mop had been joined by a manager who followed along keeping a running tab of items broken. Natalie was like a demon possessed wild cat, screaming and clawing at people who passed by us.
As I walked back to return a customer’s purse that had been swiped from a cart we had parked next to in the canned vegetable section, I was startled to hear the scream of someone other than my two daughters . . . the scream of a lady.
Hannah had pushed the cart full force into the heels of an elderly lady, who now sat on the floor crying. The manager was dividing his time between seeing if she was ok and lecturing me on controlling my children. The employee with the broom was sweeping furiously, trying in vain to keep up with the handfuls of sugar that Natalie was throwing on the floor . . . that’s when things get fuzzy.
I can remember a period of time with people yelling at me, children screaming and food being thrown, but it was all a blur. My mind had checked out. . . .
After an undetermined amount of time in this confusing dream-like state, the spinning of the room began to slow a bit. I gathered my wits about me.
Looking around, I found myself standing inside the shopping cart with the bottle of cold and flu medicine in my hand. The bottle was open, and apparently I had chugged half of its contents while singing “Amazing Grace” in a high falsetto voice. Around me stood the store manager, the still furiously sweeping employee, and the elderly lady who was still crying. Natalie was a short distance away sharing a box of cookies with another customer. Hannah was standing on the front of the cart holding a half-eaten carrot between her fingers like a cigar and moving her eyebrows up and down Groucho Marx style.
“You’re funny Dad,” Hannah giggled.
After quickly writing a check to cover all food items that had been spilled, damaged, and eaten, I grabbed both girls by the hand and exited the store, leaving the cart sitting in the exact same spot where I had just used it as my stage.
Arriving at home, I unloaded the girls from their car seats, and with the Chinese take-out I had picked up, went into the house.
“Where’s the groceries?” my wife asked, “Was there a problem?”
“Nope! Theeee . . . ahhh grocery store was closed, “I managed to fabricate.
“Why didn’t you just go across town to Leonard’s Grocery Store?”
“Uh, well that was closed too. I think it was some sort of grocery store holiday.”
To stop the obnoxious line of questioning, I brought my wife a heaping plate of sweet and sour chicken, and then sat down with my own plate, still reeling from the effects of the cold and flu medicine.
After a few minutes of silent eating, my wife said, “By the way, the manager of the grocery store that was closed called.”
I stopped my eating with the fork of food hovering just outside my opened mouth.
“Oh?” I said sheepishly.
“It seems he failed to charge you for the live lobsters that were apparently killed by somebody dumping some sort of blue liquid into the tank.”
I was busted. “Well . . . that explains where the fabric softener went.”