the worst play date ever

Pull up a chair, cats and kittens, and let me tell you the story of...


*Nah, it really wasn't that bad. 
There was only a little blood. 
But at the time, it definitely felt like:

it was so bad
i took no pictures
there are no more pictures in this post
that's how bad it was

wait no sorry there's one more at the bottom

The Boys are Back in Town

11:45 am, a busy coffee shop with high ceilings and local oil paintings on the walls.
Bespectacled twentysomethings type on their Macs.
An elderly owl-faced lady sits in the corner, watching the Friday foot traffic outside and crocheting tight little loops of purple yarn.
Jazz plays softly, occasionally blotted out by the hiss of a milk steamer or the cheerful clatter of a fork against porcelain.

Suddenly, the sun slides behind a cloud. 
Lighting slashes across the sky, and rain whips against the wide windows as conversation hushes and all eyes turn toward the hooded, lurching form at the door. 

A mother, wearing a giant toddler in a baby sling on her chest, and gripping the wrist of a three-year-old with a whine on his lips and murder in his eyes, fumbles her handbag as she tries to turn the door handle. 

The three-year-old kicks the coffee shop door open violently. It swings into the shop and bounces off of the legs of a quadriplegic man in a wheelchair. 

Man: Oh!
Katie: Oh my God, I am so sorry. Chicken, did you see what just happened? Honey, you just hit this man!
Man: It's okay... it's not like I could feel it!

He laughs. 
Katie laughs. 
This man is obviously Jesus. 
In her head, Katie calls this man Todd the Quad.
In her head, Katie begins writing her suicide note.

That was the first thing that happened.

No, But That's TOTALLY OK to Cry Over

Chicken and Buster locate the train table in the back of the cafe, the whole reason Katie felt safe even attempting an out-of-the-house play date. Katie instructs Chicken not to let his brother run away while she orders some food and drinks.

Barista: Hey! How are you?
Katie: What?
Barista: How are you?
Katie: Fine, sorry. Wow, or maybe not, right? HAHAHA!
Barista: (laughs weakly, shoots quick glance around to make sure there are witnesses). So what can I get you?
Katie: I need an Americano and two kids' steamed milks with a little vanilla in them. And for food, can I get--

Out of the corner of her eye, Katie sees a blur of movement as Buster comes tearing around a large table toward the cookie display, his arms extended and the word "CAKE" already forming on his tongue. Chicken, following directions for the first time in his entire life, rounds the corner at a sprint and screams, "CATCH!" as he tackles his brother. Their bodies slide across the polished concrete until they bump into the glass-fronted cookie case. Chicken lies on top of Buster, pinning his arms to his sides. Buster is giggling.

Katie: -- -- -- yep, looks like I'm gonna need a couple of cookies, and two ham sandwiches, please.

The entire cafe is watching this family with the detached curiosity of anthropologists. "Hunh," they seem to think. "The customs of this tribe are unknown to me."

Katie shepherds the two boys back to the train table and returns to the counter to bring two lukewarm steamed vanilla milks back for the kids. Chicken, whose instincts for vanilla milk are basically truffle-hog level, arrives in his chair at the moment his milk cup lands on the table. He pushes Katie's handbag aside so he can really get all up in that, and knocks over Buster's entire cup of vanilla milk. He looks up at her with eyes so wide she can see her own face in them.

Katie: It's okay, baby. That was an accident. Just drink your milk.

Katie runs back and forth from the table to the napkin station, which is all the way on the other side of the cafe. But are we calling these "napkins"? They are translucent squares of post-recycled non-bleached environmentally-sustainable GARBAGE that couldn't even soak up the sweat from Katie's forehead. They are thinly sliced bark, y'all.

A man pauses at the table. The smell of body odor and hair oil surrounds him, and he wears scuffed, soft-looking thick-soled brown leather boots and an overstuffed stained backpack. He looks like Bill Nye the Science Guy. He smiles at the kids, showing teeth black at the gums, then looks at Katie, helplessly pushing these apparently waterproof napkins around in a milk puddle on the table. 

Bill Nye: What happened?
Katie: Oh, just something totally predictable.
Bill Nye: Kids can always be counted on for that.
Katie: Tell me about it!

He keeps walking. Katie keeps wiping. A moment later, he returns - Katie notices his smell first, and looks up to see him standing next to her with a clean, wet bar towel. 

Bill Nye: Here you go, this might work better.
Katie: Thank you.
Bill Nye: No problem. You have a beautiful family.
Katie: Thank you. Really.

The towel does work better. 
Bill Nye leaves. 
At some of the tables he passes, people lean away from him. The crocheting lady scoots her seat. A couple of clean-cut guys in dress pants and ties uncross, then recross their legs away from him. A moment later the barista delivers a new vanilla milk to the table.

Katie: (surprised) Wow! Thank you so much! That's so nice of you.
Barista: The guy bought it.
Katie: Which guy?
Barista: The homeless guy.

Bill Nye the Homeless Guy bought my kid a vanilla milk.

PART 3: 
A Game of Chess Against Our Old Adversary

Katie checks the time. It is just now the hour of the agreed-upon play date. She types a quick text to her friend: "I'm here!" She hits "send" just as a train-whistle scream pierces the air.

Chicken is standing over the body of a 9-month-old baby girl. And not, like, a stocky, thigh-rollin, already-rockin-deltoids baby girl. Chicken is standing over the conquered form of, like, a bird, basically. He holds a wooden train clenched in each fist. Katie runs over just in time to hear him say, in a sing-songy voice:

Chicken: Baby, I don't wiiiiike when you touch my twaaaaains! Okaaaaay?
Katie: What happened?

The little girl's mom scoops her up and cuddles her child to her cheek, like a teacup poodle on the Fourth of July, or a fearful guinea pig.

Katie: (to the mom) I'm so sorry. I didn't even see what happened.
Mom: It's okay. (Translation: Not okay.)
Katie: Chicken, look at how small that baby is.
Chicken: No.
Katie: Look at how little she is, honey. You are big and strong and you have to be gentle with the little baby. Look at her, she doesn't even know how to stand up yet. 

It's true. She looks like a just-born deer, wide-eyed and clinging to her mother's lap as she balances on coltish, quivering legs. Chicken could snap her like a dried spaghetti. So, for that matter, could Buster.

Chicken: She twied to gwab my twains, Mommy.
Katie: (gets down low and whispers right into his face) If. You. Touch. That baby. Again. We. Are. Gone. 
Chicken: Oh.
Katie: Do not even look at her. Play on this side of the table, or walk away.

Chicken chooses to play on the other side of the table. Katie pulls out her phone to see if her friend has texted back. Just then, she realizes... Where's Buster?

Katie: Buster?

He's on his tippy-toes, his fingers clenching the edge of crocheting lady's table. He fixes on her half-eaten blueberry scone. Katie can see his eyes dilate. She runs over and catches his hand, no joke, half an inch from the scone. Crocheting lady freezes and her jaw drops open. Katie can't tell if she's apalled at the depravity of this juvenile scone-groper, or if she's super impressed at the way Katie hurdled that double stroller parked in the middle of the cafe in order to collect her wayward son.

Another scream rips through the air.

Katie whirls around to see Chicken locked in a battle of tug-of-war with a little girl (who we will call Sally). At least Sally is his own size and appears to boast approximately the same ratio of piss to vinegar as Chicken does.

Their little hands tremble as they scream in awful harmony into each other's faces. A four-inch wooden Thomas train smiles vacantly from between their sweaty little fingers. 

Katie runs over, drops Brady by the table and assumes he'll find something to play with that isn't strange pastries. 

Katie: What's happening here?
Chicken: (red-faced) She's twyin to take my TWAIN!

Just then Sally lets go of the train, not in surrender, but in a calculated act of agression that works just as she hoped it would. Chicken lands on his butt on the concrete floor and starts to cry. She snatches the train from his now-limp hand, and PUSHES HIS FACE back as she walks over to a basket on the floor and drops the train in, where he lands on top of ALL THE OTHER TRAINS.

Katie realizes, now, who she is dealing with. Sally didn't even want to play with the train. She merely wanted to collect it, stand guard over it, and wish all these toddlin' motherfuckers WOULD come try to play with one of her trains. Another kid sees Sally's loot, checks Sally's scowl, and runs a soft fingertip over the train tracks, whispering "choo choo."

Katie and Sally make eye contact, and Katie nods, as if to say, "that's a power pantsuit play, sister. Don't get it twisted - I'm coming for you, Sally, because mark my words this train table WILL BE FREE. But, respect."

Postcards from the Edge

Sally gets a fistful of some other kid's blonde curl.  While the child wails, Sally's mom leans over and drops a forkful of scrambled eggs into Sally's mouth. Sally chews.


Katie finds Buster sitting at a table across the cafe with a nice lesbian family, eating their food and playing with their six-year-old's Hot Wheels. They all smile and wave at Katie as if to say, "we'll keep him!"


Sally and Chicken find themselves face-to-face once again.

Chicken: You seem upset.

Sally's mouth twists into a snarl, but she turns and stalks away, dragging her basket of trains behind her like an ogre with a club.

Chicken: She seems upset.

Chicken: 1.


Katie decides it is time to get the fuck out of this cafe. Her phone buzzes.

Jen: Just parked! See you in a minute!

Because Kids

Katie sees her friend Jen walk into the cafe, harried, just out of the rain, lugging a still-tiny Aiden in his covered car seat, and holding her daughter Elisa's hand. Elisa is three, just like Chicken. Katie waves. The next five seconds unfold in excruciatingly slow motion. 

Elisa looks up and sees Katie.

Elisa smiles. 

As her lips part in a sweet grin, a viscous stream of pale brown liquid falls from her mouth. 

It looks like she is pouring out some of the chocolate milk shake she drank in the car on the way over. You know, for her homies. Except, from her mouth.

Katie cocks her head. This picture doesn't make any sense. Pink rain coat and matching boots, big brown eyes, happy smile... leaking brown mouth juice?

Katie: What...?

Elisa's chest kicks out like she's just been hoofed in the back by a mule. At the same instant, her eyes and mouth pop into three, identical shocked "OH!" shapes, and a wave of vomit spatters onto the floor at her feet. 


Rain boots were a good call.

Conversation Between Friends

Jen: I'm sorry we have to cut this short...
Katie: Are you kidding me? Of course. I'm so sorry she's sick.
Jen: Well, she still wants a cookie.
Katie: Of course she still wants a cookie.
Jen: Man, I can't believe it...
Katie: Really, it's okay. We need to get out of here before we tear this motherfucker down. 
Jen: (laughs) Oh no.
Katie: Yeah, it's probably past time for us to get out of he--

Katie and Jen's friend Hannah walks in with her two boys, Cameron and Blake. Cameron is three, like Chicken and Elisa. Blake is almost 2, like Buster. 

Hannah had said she would try to make it to this play date, but wasn't sure if she would.

Katie wonders what Hannah sees when she walks into the cafe. 

She imagines Hannah is wondering if the play date location has been moved to, well, not the seventh circle of hell, but maybe like the third or fourth, based on the "holy shit we are on lockdown" eyebrows and hysterical giggles that seem to leak from Katie's mouth like chocolate milkshake vomit every time she tries to speak.

Katie: Hannah! Chicken, look who's here! It's Cameron.
Chicken: I wanna go home.
Katie: Yeah... I know...
Hannah: How are you guys doing?

She's not asking "what's up." She's asking "what's going down."

Jen: Elisa just barfed.
Katie: I cannot even discuss what we have done to this place and these people.
Hannah: Well, you've been here for awhile.

Katie is grateful for these friends who understand that it is not a matter of whether children will make enemies of the general crocheting public, but only a matter of time.

Katie: I'm so sorry Hannah, but we have got to get out of here. Buster stabbed that girl in the face with his triceratops earlier.

Oh yeah I forgot to tell you that Buster totally stabbed Sally in the face with his fucking adult shoe-sized hard plastic triceratops. I was scared she was going to lose an eye. But then, I wasn't. Because if ever there was a b who could rock an eye patch...

she's got a taste for human flesh

Hannah: How many trains does she have in that basket?
Katie: Trust me, she was asking for it.
Chicken: Why was she asking for it?


Katie: She asked Buster if she could borrow his triceratops in her face.
Chicken: Oh.
Katie: Yep.

Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning's End

Katie: CHICKEN?!?!?

She spins around, scanning for his shining brown cap of hair at the level of tabletops and elbows of standing cafe-goers.

She spots him leaning with all his might on the front door. The door hovers open, an inch, now two. It's a busy street outside, and too easy for Katie to imagine that small body getting swallowed up by bigger bodies, heavy rigs, tires that spit dirty rain water on the sidwalk.


He hears her - he must, she's yelling - but doesn't stop. He has told her that he wants to go home, and now home is where he shall go, and it's Mommy's choice if she wants that to be the one in Seattle, or the one that people talk about when Aunt Francie finally succumbs, peacefully, surrounded by friends and family.

The door is open three inches, now four. Enough that Chicken gets an arm through. He sees Katie running for him and starts to push harder. He wants to go. He said to her, a minute ago, "I want to go." She didn't listen. She can't get there in time. He's going to run into the street. It's raining.

Suddenly, the whirr of a motorized wheelchair hums through the room.

Todd: Hold on there, now, buddy.

Chicken freezes, his right arm and most of his torso already reaching into the whirling street.

Todd the Quad rolls toward Chicken, slowly enough that he doesn't spook the lad, but quickly enough to get there in time to insist, through the forward motion of his chair, that Chicken retreat into the cafe again. The door sighs closed.

Todd: You gotta wait for your Mommy, buddy.
Katie: Thank you.
Todd: No problem.
Katie: Really, thank you.
Todd: Really, no problem.


So that was the worst play date ever. Or, at least, so far.


This blog post is dedicated to two people who had, in a way, the least to give, and who were most willing to give what they had.

Todd the Quad and Bill Nye the Homeless Guy, I gave you silly monikers for the sake of shorthand and a giggle. I think you would both laugh if you ever found yourselves on this obscure square millimeter of internet. 

Todd, you saw my child on the loose; you saw my panic and you stepped in, reached out. The irony of those turns of phrase does not escape me. How many eyes, connected to how many still-stepping legs and still-reaching arms, saw that my son was about to run, and chose to sit? Though you could not reach, somehow you did. Probably it would have been fine if you hadn't. Probably. My son is sleeping in dinosaur pajamas. Thank you. Really.

Bill, while dozens of others coolly scored me, and my mess, you handed me a towel. While I had the cash to buy more milk, you did it for me, and left without a word. It was my problem and you helped me, and there was no way I was ever going to be able to pay you back. You told me my family was beautiful. I didn't know it at the time but I felt off-kilter and defensive, like I and my boys were the only off-key strings in a symphony of violins. You told me my family was beautiful. Thank you. Really.

A man with numb arms caught my son today; a man with no bed treated us.


This post is not dedicated to Sally.


But still, respect.


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