A door slams once, twice, three times.
The fifth time the door slams I open my eyes. I walk into the guest bedroom where my wife is listening to the NPR One app and fixing her hair. I ask the question, and she says:
“Harry is letting me know he’s upset about losing TV privileges.”
A little background. We went to Winston-Salem this past weekend to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday, and Harry behaved poorly. He threw toys, books, and food. He whined. He swung his stuffed monkey at us whenever his every whim wasn’t catered to immediately. In short, he acted like a spoiled diva, making me feel like a terrible failure as a parent. My revenge: no TV for a week.
“Great,” I say and wander into the kitchen to make English Breakfast and Eggos.
As I’m eating, Harry walks in. On a positive note, the kid has gotten into the habit of dressing himself without any threats from me. This morning he wears skinny jeans (my wife bought those, not me), a neon yellow soccer shirt, and an Under Armour fitted golf hat that, lately, he even wears to bed. Clutching his monkey, he sticks his lower lip out and tucks his chin to his chest.
“Hungry?” I ask.
Without a word, he walks into the kitchen and removes leftovers from the night before: half of a pepperoni, pickle, and spicy cheese sandwich. Balancing the plate on his free arm like an experienced waiter, he carries the food into the dining room and sits down.
“You want something to drink? Tea like me?” I hoist my mug into the air, black tea steaming.
“I’m not old enough for old man tea. I’m not an old daddy yet.” He spends a few seconds dismembering his sandwich, and he comes away with a trophy from the killing: a soggy bit of pickle slathered in mayonnaise. He pops it into his mouth.
“Daddy, when I get old like you do I have to get a tattoo?”
“‘Fraid so, Harry Man. It’s the law.”
“It goes back to Lincoln and the Gettysburg Address.” I clear my throat. In my best sartorial voice, I say, “‘Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth a new, um, country where all men were equal and stuff and they had to get at least one tattoo.'”
“You’re weird, Daddy.” He frowns. “And you’re joking.”
“I’m joking, buddy. You don’t have to get a tattoo.” It takes some serious restraint on my part, but I refrain from jumping for joy and explaining to him how tattoos, in my opinion, are too in vogue nowadays, and that some people–not all, but some people–seem to get them because they are desperate for a ready-made identity, something that might make them if not cooler at least more noticeable and artistic and (ew!) profound. On this subject my wife says I’m both wrong and a jerk, and she’s usually right about most things. Still, I have strong opinions on the matter, and if I, an introvert who prefers to observe rather than engage with people and the world they inhabit, could do it over again, I wouldn’t get any tattoos, primarily because I forget I have them until some well-meaning stranger asks me why I have a spork on my arm, and I have to explain himself. I hate explaining myself; therefore, I hate having tattoos.
“No,” I say again, “you definitely do not have to get a tattoo.”
“Good because I don’t like pokey things.” (Pokey things, in Harry Speak, mean needles.)
He finishes his sandwich, throws his trash away, and dives into the couch headfirst. “I want to watch TV,” he says, his voice muffled because his face is buried in my wife’s butt pillow (literally, the pillow is covered with cartoon butts of all shapes, sizes, and colors.)
“No TV today,” I say.
“Then what are we going to do?”
He sighs. “Daddy?”
“Maybe I will get a tattoo.”