“If it was going to be easy to raise kids, it never would have started with something called labor.”—Anonymous
I was looking for some quality time with child #2; he’s five years old, cuts his own hair, and is self-taught in a hybrid version of martial arts and tumbling. “Hey, J, how ’bout you and I catch Iron Man today?” Eyes bulging, toothy grin. “Really, just us … can I bring a friend?”
Having kids is like lifting weights. To get strong, you lift small amounts consistently, lots of reps. Occasionally we test our strength and go for a personal best—muscle-ripping, face-crunching pain, but pure satisfaction with a successful “lift.” Today would be one of those days—a full max lift. I would attempt a personal best.
“J, let’s not just get one friend, let’s get all four!” He knew the team. At five years old, that’s about the number of pure contacts they have. So we called Thomas, James, Teddy, and John by phone and set up the pick up schedule for each kid. “I am Iron-Man,” as we tackled each other on the grass, and Jason inadvertently stepped on my nuts.
There’s a speed at which kids travel, and in larger packs, this approaches the speed of space shuttle reentry into the atmosphere. You have to keep the protective tiles in place and accept that some will fall off. You only need about 75 percent to keep the craft (or person, in this case) from self-destructing. These were the thoughts and utterances I repeated as kid #2, kid #3, kid #4, and kid #5 were all safely buckled into the wagon. Deep breaths, crack a few fart jokes to keep them on your side, but stand strong against the penis and butthead words. Don’t use threats, use choices ... give them plenty. Ah, parked in the busy lot, the simple yet direct rules of engagement were being barked. “We will hold hands and create a train through the parking lot. We will pick a buddy, we will look at his face, and we won’t lose him. Stay close to me. This train is moving out, men!”
The train idea was pretty darn clever. Complete with whistles, chugging, little heads, and arms moving in unison. No derailment, no head-ons. Ticket procurement went well as we entered the lobby of Edwards 15 Cinema Center and glared at an octopus of tunnels and doors. Planning error number one: didn’t bring treats and snacks. Lost a couple shuttle tiles. They huddled around a video game, and everybody rooted Jason on to capture the smegmamonster, or whatever was flashing and clanging ... actually played without any money—the beauty of being five! I was eventually greeted at the counter, straining my neck every few seconds to keep track of my crew. I use colors and height rather than faces to keep track of the kids. Got them all as I ordered four sodas, candy, and popcorn. Juggled the goods, rounded up the boys, and searched for our cinema route. “Remember, keep your buddy close, remember his face ... my name is Jason’s dad, if things go sideways.”
Found our route, and we chug-a-chug-a-choo-chooed our way towards the mystical powers of Iron Man. This is cake. I am super Dad; this will get me late night action for sure! Got the kids seated. A few discrepancies in who sits next to whom, so I mentioned at the half time they could make changes; not to worry now! Timing was perfect; they are seated with candy and sodas in hand.
Lights go out, and Jason has to tinkle. Okay, okay, not a problem. Let’s see ... everybody stand up, we’re going to the bathroom. A chorus of “I don’t have to go” rings out. Meanwhile Jason is standing, doing the tinkle dance. When the dance starts, he has exactly two minutes and twenty-eight seconds before an uncontrollable wiz. Negotiating hard with the boys now. No way am I leaving them alone. At two minutes, I have them all hustling up the isle to the bathroom. While we enter the head, I encourage everybody to tinkle. Jason is fast at the urinal, getting most in the tank and some on his shoes. Teddy needs to go number 2. “No problem.” I get him situated, while Thomas and John start a small water fight in the sink. “No toilet paper, Mr. Jason’s dad,” I hear from behind the door. “Turn the water off, guys! Okay, James, I’ll get you something.” Quickly I grabbed for some paper towels, look over, and Jason is sitting on the bathroom floor tying is urine soaked shoelaces. He needs help, the water fight begins escalating, and James is calling out for help.
Okay, a few more tiles have fallen off the Shuttle. No problem, only need 75 percent for safe reentry ... only 75 percent. I’m strong, I’ve seen worse. Not fully convincing myself, I’m now mentally referencing self-help books and a mid-week Dr. Laura tirade. Paper towels now transferred under the door, he manages to finish up with some complaining, but no treason. As I bend over to help Jason with his shoes, my glasses fly into the urinal. They think this is funnier than any movie and begin laughing hysterically. I gently reach for them and proceed to wash with scalding hot water and soap.
“Guys, the movie is starting. Let’s blow out of here.” It’s totally dark in the theater. The train is hooked up, and I am acting as the Little Blue Engine. “I think I can, I think I can ... I think I can find our seats. I cannot see shit! There is some slight whimpering coming from the cars behind me, but they are holding strong. Our seats are gone. I left the popcorn for protection, but somebody hawked our real estate. There are no seat police, and getting mad is futile. The place is packed and people are beginning to heckle us for blocking their view. Stuff like, “Hey dad, plan you day a little better and you wouldn’t be ruining ours!” I’ve got two seating choices: split up the group in the middle of the theater, or go Row 1 and stay strong as a group.
“Hey, you guys ever sit in the FRONT ROW?!” Say something with enough enthusiasm to a kid and you’ve got a sale. I could feel their little hearts a-pattering, like they were going to First Class, or they get to hold the class hamster. We marched down to the pole position, and grabbed six seats, smack dab front row-center. Their little heads cranked back, stared up, and bigger than life stood Iron Man and his host of heroes. The boys never moved, they never uttered a word, they never asked for another snack, they never changed seats, and they never complained.
There was magic in that front row. Without those series of fateful events, I would have lost too many tiles and burned up on reentry. A little frazzled, a lot thankful, I cranked my neck skyward, enjoyed the movie, and basked in the success of completing my personal best.