how'd pickup go, he asks me
Buster was a hot pile of mess this afternoon when I picked him up from preschool. He’s four, in the year of growth that most early childhood experts describe as “(strap on eye protection, throw a water balloon filled with ketchup against the wall, shrug)” and us laypeople refer to “the fournado.”
I would like you to come with me on the 10-minute journey from pickup to… where am I? Honestly, I don’t even have an endpoint to this story, which is what blog readers and studio execs love to hear.
Buster comes running out of his classroom, his backpack bumping against the backs of his knees.
Me: Babe! How was your—
B: Do we have a mop?
Me: We have a Swiffer.
B: (suddenly out of breath for no reason) CAN I HAVE A PET BAT? Fleas fleas fleas Freddy fleas?
Me: I think we should put it on your birthday list.
(Looking at a category-two fournado, people. He’s breathy and you can see the whites all the way around his eyes, but the good news is he’s in high spirits and seems to be fixated on random objects for just enough time to answer a single question, but not long enough that I have to break his heart and tell him no, dude, no pet bats.
Also, please note the master stroke of the “birthday list” evasion. It’s not a no, see, so the kid doesn’t freak out, but what are the chances that he’s going to make it all the way home and be like, “Promises were made, Kathleen. Pull up my Amazon wish list and search for bats, comma, live. I want a carnivore.” Very slim. VERY slim.)
In fact, by the time I said “birthday list” he was already walking away from me, shedding layers.
Me: Woah, buddy, did you want to leave your backpack here?
(Okay, it’s gonna be one of these now. Pro tip: The only way to navigate a category-three fournado is by cheerfully pretending that he didn’t hear you the first time and continuing to move with confidence toward the direction of the nearest five-point restraining harness.)
Me: Grab your backpack, kiddo! (Sashaying, honestly, toward the door.)
(God damn it.)
B: What about my lunch?
(OK, see, yeah, this one’s my bad. Usually I pack him a lunch in the morning while I’m packing Chicken’s lunch, and he eats it as soon as he gets out of school, at one of the tables in the lobby, which saves me the hassle of trying to talk him out of Annie’s Mac and Cheese every goddamn day. But today I didn’t pack a lunch because I was gone all weekend and we’re out of a few things, but the things we’re out of are BREAD and FRUIT and Chicken’s lunch today looked like both his parents perished in a car crash and his new guardian, played by Ashton Kutcher, packed it with whatever the fuck happened to be in his takeout menu drawer. I was planning to take B to the store after school.
But it’s cool, I have an ace in the hole. Seriously, he’s gonna be so happy, he’s gonna do the jaw-drop long gasp of delight, we’re gonna skip to the car together, it’s gonna be epic.)
Me: We’re grabbing lunch on the go today, babe. I was thinking… (pause for dramatic effect) McDon—
(MAYDAY MAYDAY the fournado has been upgraded to a category four! I repeat a category four! He just shit all over McDonald’s and they have MONSTER TRUCKS in the Happy Meals right now, which is literally this child’s version of an all-female Ghostbusters reboot WITH Chris Hemsworth as the secretary.)
I finally got him in the car and while his body was no longer a boneless sack of limbs being dragged across the parking lot, his mind did not forget what the fuck was going on right here.
B: I hate this. This is the worst day of my life.
Me: I hear that. This is not going the way you hoped.
B: TELL ME ABOUT IT.
Me: Why don’t you tell me what you want, and we can talk about what’s possible, and figure out something that’s good for you.
B: I want you to give me a sandwich—
Me: Okay! I can—
B: — So I can slap it out of your hand.
(OK I seriously… I can’t even type it without laughing. THIS CHILD. THIS CHILD RIGHT HERE. Staring me dead in the eyes in the rear view mirror. I feel like “I want you to give me a sandwich so I can slap it out of your hand” is the preschooler equivalent of like those words in German that describe a very specific universal feeling, like “The relief of peeing in your own toilet after you’ve spent all day at an outdoor music festival.” WHO AMONG US has not felt that feeling: I want you to give me a sandwich so I can slap it out of your hand. God damn it I love him so much.)
Me: Hm. Well, I can’t let you hit.
B: I said slap. SSSSSSSLAP.
Me: Yeah, heard you the first time, same thing, bud. Do you actually want a sandwich or do you just want to slap a sandwich?
B: I want you to go away forever.
Me: Sorry, you’re stuck with me.
B: I want you to leave me in the car while you go to the store. Nope, no Mommy. Don’t want you. I hate you. I hate you forever.
Me: That’s okay! I love you forever, no matter what.
(I’m not trolling him. Chicken went through a thing at about this age where he got really afraid that his anger would “break” his relationship with us, and so he’d pretend he wasn’t angry until he was so angry he couldn’t stand it, and then he’d make threats that he hated us or wanted us to die, just to see if we could be driven off by the intensity of his feelings.)
B: You won’t love me forever when you’re dead.
Me: No, I still will love you, even when I’m dead.
B stares out of the car window, his angry chin beginning to curve into something else.
(Here it comes)
B: I’ll miss you when you’re dead.
(The fournado has turned. Tears tremble in his eyes. I reach back to take his hand.)
Me: That won’t happen for a long time, kiddo. My mom is still alive, and HER mom is still alive.
B: But what about her mom?
Me: She has passed. Her time here is over.
B: You mean she’s one of my ancestors?
Me: Yeah! Exactly!
B bursts into heartbroken sobs. Jesus, get this kid a nap.
Me: Baby! What’s wrong?
B: I MISS MY ANCESTORS.
AAAAAAAND TIME. That’s ten minutes.
Suffice it to say, I’m packing lunch tomorrow.