The Time We Visit the Wise Old Monkey and Are Forced to Eat from the Sandwich of Knowledge

Harry emerges from the garage holding a plastic ninja sword and a purple tube of bubbles.

“Daddy, we’re going to play spies.”

“But I’m mowing the lawn.” (We have an old-timey mower not powered by gas. Very cumbersome, but relatively quiet.)

My son steps in front of me, shoves the purple tube of bubbles into my midsection. “You’re playing. Your name is Tiny Max, and my name is Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy. Let’s go to headquarters! They have a serious mission for us!”

He takes off running, and after I trip over the lawn mower and bruise my shin, I jog, reluctantly, after him.  He climbs atop a white door that leads down into the storm shelter/place where our HVAC unit is. The door is covered in pollen, and I say:

“Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy, might we postpone this serious mission until after hay fever season? I’m feeling a bit stuffy-nosed.” The only reason I started mowing the lawn in the first place: to get a reprieve from setting up another obstacle course for the lad, and then have him tell it isn’t anything like American Ninja Warrior on TV.

“Silence,” he says. He swipes at me with his ninja sword, but my reflexes aren’t what they used to be and I get hit in the ribcage.

“Harry, you’re going to Time Out now.”

He whines, pouts, calls me a jerk, and all I can think of hitting the road Woody Guthrie-style, thumbing it across this great country of ours and never coming back.  But I love the kid, and one of my longterm goals is to not be an asshole.  So, instead, I gently drag him to his bedroom and shut the door.

“Four minutes,” I say and set the alarm on my iPhone. Within ten seconds, I hear him playing, his Lego ninjas embroiled in yet another dangerous plot involved lava, flying knives, and a missing skateboard.

The alarm sounds, and I open the door. “You’re free. Apologize for hitting me with the sword, please.”

He makes a witheringly condescending expression reminiscent of the one John Houseman made in these famous Smith Barney commercials: “They make money the old-fashioned way, they earn it.”

“Daddy, it wasn’t me who hit you. It was Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy.”

“You’re Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy.”

Shake of the head. “I’m Harry.”

“You’re Harry and Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy. Apologize or you’re going back to Time Out.”

“I’m sorry,” he says chucking a handful of Legos over his shoulder. He stands up and sprints toward the door, accidentally (on purpose?) giving me a dead leg as he passes by. “Come on, Teeny Tiny Max, we gotta get back to headquarters.”

“What happened to Tiny Max?” I say jogging after him as he kicks—literally kicks—open the front door.

Heading down the steps, he yells over his shoulder: “You’re old so you’re getting smaller and smaller. Now come on!”

We recover our weapons—at my insistence I’m given a red tube of bubbles in lieu of purple—and we run over to a blooming dogwood tree in our front yard. Harry/Eric the Diamond Ninja Spy points up at the tree and says:

“We’re here to see the Wise Old Monkey. He’ll tells us where the gold glitter bombs are hidden.” He pokes me in the leg with his plastic sword. “Go up there, talk to him, hurry!”

I climb into the tree and speak to a tree limb covered with black ants. “Wise Old Monkey, these glitter bombs are quite dangerous, and we need your help disarming them. The last thing we want is for Harry Daddy Silly City to get covered—again—with glitter.”

“What did he say, Daddy?”

I tilt my head. I nod. I cup my hands as if I am about to take communion. I pretend to take a bite of something and wince.  “The Wise Old Monkey says we must both eat from the Sandwich of Knowledge. It tastes terrible, he says, but it’ll give us vital information as to the whereabouts of the infamous glitter bombs. Here, quick, take a bite.”

Harry chomps down and spits on the ground. “Ew, gross. Nasty. Thank you Wise Old Monkey, but we have to go find these glitter bombs. Daddy, get down! Let’s go!”

I stay put.

“Daddy, now! We’re running out of time! There’s asteroids heading to our town, and we have to be there to ninja kick and ninja punch them before they destroy the bakery and the Play Zone and all the houses!”

“My name’s not Daddy,” I say. “It’s Tiny Max.”

“No, your name is Teeny Tiny Max. Now come on, Teeny Tiny Max, before I barf.”

“Why do you have to barf?”

He drops the sword, falls like a marionette whose string has just been cut. Laying in the grass, he squints up at the sun.

“Why are you going to barf?” I ask again.

“Because the Sandwich of Knowledge had bleu cheese on it,” he says. “I stinking hate bleu cheese.”

Fortunately, he recovers and we go onto to find and disarm all “sixty ninety eighty million” glitter bombs and destroy the asteroids falling from the “lava sky.”

Having saved Harry Daddy Silly City, we return to the Wise Old Monkey, who rewards us with a candy bar from the Tree of Sugary Delights.

“Teeny Tiny Max,” he says glaring at the imaginary candy bar I hold out for him, “you know I don’t like caramel.”

“Tell it to the Wise Old Monkey.”

He snatches the imaginary candy bar and starts climbing up the tree. “I will,” he says. “I stinking will.”

 

 

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Fake Pooping and a Trip to McDonalds

At 9am, Harry, dressed in way too-tight pajamas, enters the kitchen where I’m hiding and demands that I take him to McDonalds for breakfast. His hands are on his hips, and he is wearing a blue Under Armour hat, the same lid he wears every day and tries to wear during bath time and bed time. My wife worries he’ll go bald wearing a hat every day, but I don’t spend a tenth of the time she daily devotes to worrying about hair–hers and our son’s.  I’d miss all my soccer matches if I did that, and I’m not missing my soccer matches.

“Take me to McDonalds,” he says. “I’m hungry.” His eyes sparkles when he notices some cash sitting on the counter, and just like that, he is no longer preoccupied with greasy food.  Brown eyes glittering with desire and mischief, he pulls his step stool over, climbs up, and snatches the money.

“Toys, toys, toys,” he says waving the bills around as if he is about to make it rain at a strip club.

I take the money back. He pouts.

“I want you to buy me a toy,” he whines. “I know you have money. I see it right there in your hand.”

After six months of being a stay-at-home dad, I realize that the kid knows all of my tricks. Usually whenever he asks for a toy (and he asks for a toy a minimum of eight times per day), I pull out my wallet and show him I have no cash. He then points to my debit card and tells me to just swipe it, and I lie to him (it’s okay to lie to children) and say I don’t have any money in the bank, but not to worry because we have a nice house with a nice refrigerator that has plenty of food in it.  “And,” I add, “we have excellent health coverage.”  To which he haughtily responds, “I want a toy.” At this point, I filibuster like one of those Republican windbags in Congress.  I go on a diatribe about the “emotional dead end of constantly wanting things,” and he yawns and stamps his foot, and then says, “Just use a credit card.” The word credit is a trigger word for me, and I can’t resist the urge to inform him about the evils of buying worthless crap on credit, at outrageous interest rates.  When he invariably asks what I mean by worthless crap, I do not say what I want, which is “Worthless crap is any overly-marketed plastic toy made in China by basically slave kids who don’t, like you, have a stay-at-home dad/ATM machine to abuse.” Instead, I flex my emotional maturity muscle and say, “Daddy has to go to the bathroom. Excuse me.”

“No toys,” I say and stuff the money in pocket. I pick up the book I’m reading. I kiss his forehead. I walk to the bathroom, locking the door behind me.

“Do you have to poop, Daddy?” he says as he tries to open the door.

“Yes,” I lie.  “Daddy’s tummy hurts. Give me a minute.”  Closing the toilet lid, I sit down with my book and read exactly three and a half sentences of Lit by Mary Karr before I hear a polite knock on the door.

“Yes, Harry?”

Another knock. Even softer than the previous one.

“Harry, I’m pooping.”  Not really. But as aforementioned, it is perfectly acceptable, perhaps even advisable to lie to/deceive your child once in awhile.  Example: say you need a break from playing Legos or watching Sarah & Duck so you empty out half of the remaining OJ and announce that you need to take the carton outside to the recycling bin, and while you’re out there, you find your son’s soccer ball and, imagining that you’re a world class midfielder for Tottenham Hotspur, you take some corner kicks—two or thirteen—and then, just to taste sweet freedom for a few more seconds, you pull up some weeds, write something profane in the inch-thick layer of pollen on the recycling bin, and watch a baby squirrel nibble on an acorn. Total time killed: 4 minutes 21 seconds. Value: priceless.

“Daddy, I want a sausage biscuit and a hash brown from McDonalds.”

“Okay. After I’m done in here.”

A moment of silence. Then: “What do I want for breakfast, Daddy?”

I look up from my book. I stare at the back of the door, where there is a black, Harry-sized footprint near the bottom.  “Are you testing me?” I ask.

“Yes. What do I want for breakfast?”

“A knuckle sandwich?”

“No.”

“Existential clarity?”

“No.”

“A steak sandwich and the Beatles’ White Album?” 

“No, Daddy. You weren’t listening.”

“I’m actually an above average listener,” I say.  “In fact, whenever someone else is talking, I deliberately empty my brain so I can concentrate on what–”

“You’re not as good a listener as me, Daddy. I’m gooder at soccer than you, too.”

“Oh yeah,” I say, my blood coursing through my veins.  I inhale, exhale, dog-ear my page.  Accepting defeat, I unlock the door and pick up my son.  I look him in the eyes.

“Harry, I will happily buy you a sausage biscuit and a hash brown if you give me five minutes of alone time. Just five minutes. Okay? Please?”

Harry looks at me as if I am slow.  “Daddy, why didn’t you just ask?”

I drop him like a sack of potatoes.  Grinning mischievously, he says, “See you in five minutes, Daddy” and sprints into the living room, where I hear him using our couch as a trampoline.

 

 

 

Gone Fishin’

Dear Harry,

Yesterday, we went on our first fishing trip together. We hit up Wal-Mart where I bought a fishing license and some “red, slimy worms” and off to Lawton Park we went. You are really good at casting, but not so good at being patient with the fish.

“Why aren’t they biting?” you asked as you sat Indian-style on the dock. You wiggled your line around and squirmed a bit and then laid down. “Daddy, watch my line for me. Tell me if I get a bite so I can reel it in, okay? Okay, Daddy? Daddy, watch my line!”

You pulled your Atlanta Braves hat down over your eyes, rested your fishing rod on your chest, and pretended to snore.

“Tell you one thing, Harry. You’re already acting like a fisherman.”

“I know. I’m awesome.”

Indeed, Harry. Indeed.

Here’s hoping we have better luck on the next fishing trip, Harry. I love you very much.

Sincerely,

Dad

Super Mega Candy Land

Dear Harry,

We did it. Finally. After years of plotting and dreaming, scheming and planning, we have created the ultimate utopia for kids. Behold, Super Mega Candy Land!

Allow me to explain.

Yesterday, we were playing with scuba guy action figures in the backyard when your guy, Eric Lightning, fell off of the picnic table and landed in a field filled with poisonous chicken nuggets. Eric Lightning, tired and hungry, ate one of the poisonous chicken nuggets, and his stomach cramped and his butt fell off and just as he was about to die, my scuba guy, George Looney, swooped in to save the day.

“Come with me,” George Looney said and carried Eric Lightning to a patch of clover in our backyard. He sat Eric Lightning down on a piece of tree bark that we had been using as a surfboard/flying saucer. George Looney plucked a clover (not a four-leaf, unfortunately), and handed it to Eric Lightning.

“Eat this candy,” George Looney said. “It’ll reverse the effects of the poisonous chicken nuggets.”

You then looked at me quizzically and said, “Daddy, this isn’t candy.”

“Trust me,” I said.

“But candy is bad for you. It has too much sugar. And Eric Lightning isn’t real.”

I held George Looney up to your face and said, “Harry, we are now in Super Mega Candy Land. Everything you see is candy. The leaves. The grass. The trees. All of it.”

“Is that true?” you asked.

I nodded. “Here’s the best part.” I paused for dramatic effect. “It all tastes like candy, but it actually has all the nutrients, vitamins, and other healthy stuff that vegetables have. So, essentially, you can eat as much as you want, and it’ll make you stronger and bigger and healthier.”

Your eyes got as big as dinner plates. You actually said, “Wow.”

It was the first (and perhaps last) time I have ever impressed you. I’ll remember that moment forever.

After that, Eric Lighting ate his fill of grass, which tasted like Hershey’s Kisses, and he didn’t die. In fact, eating all that candy that looked like grass made him grow huge muscles, pearly white teeth that could chomp through metal, and X-ray vision. George Looney also developed super powers because of his time in Super Mega Candy Land, namely, invisibility and the dubious skill of being able to tell time by licking trees.

Harry, we spent the better part of an hour discussing Super Mega Candy Land.

“I want to live in Super Mega Candy Land,” you said. “For real live there.”

Then, I, your dorky father, gave the most cheesy response ever. “But Harry, you can go there anytime you want. Just use your imagination.”

Harry, if Super Mega Candy Land was real, I would take you there. But only after you finished your chores.

Love,

Dad

Harry Writes a Story

Dear Harry,

For Valentine’s Day, you and Mommy bought me a book of writing prompts called 642 Big  Things to Write About, Young Writer’s Edition.  You told me you wanted to write “creepy stories” together, ones about “bad guy villains” and, of course, “lava and sharks.” Below is our first ever collaboration.

You find a key outside of a creepy old building. What does the key open? Where does it lead? 

Harry finds a skeleton key outside a creepy old building. The key unlocks a skeleton-shaped door that leads into the creepy old building. Insides, Harry sees a room filled with skeletons. One of the skeletons attacks Harry, and he beats it up by using a sweet ninja move and superior intelligence. The rest of the skeletons are nice, and they give Harry some hot chocolate and a present wrapped in seaweed. The hot chocolate tastes terrible, but Harry rips open the seaweed-wrapped present. Inside the box is a new, blue Power Ranger costume. Harry puts on the costume, but when he tries to take it off, he can’t because it sticks to his clothes. There’s orange sticky goo all over the costume, so Harry takes out a knife from his pocket and cuts off the sticky costume. Then he drinks more of the terrible hot chocolate and sings “My Old School” by Steely Dan with the skeletons, who, after the singing stops, tell Harry that they prefer gansta rap. 

Thanks for the book and the laughs, Harry. I look forward to working with you again.

Sincerely,

Dad

 

Disgusting Dessert

Dear Harry,

A few minutes ago, you declared you wanted something sweet, and then went into the kitchen and got out strawberries, mint chocolate Oreos, and Maple syrup. Standing on your step stool, you dropped a plump strawberry on the kitchen counter and crumbled crushed up mint chocolate Oreo icing on top of the fruit. You took a bite. Frowning, you said:

“Needs something.”

You then poured a lot of Maple syrup on the strawberry, creating a gooey mess on the counter. You took another bite and squealed.

“Now that’s yummy,” you said. “Daddy, try a bite.”

“No, thanks,” I said. “You eat it.”

Smiling, you said, “Don’t worry, I will!”

Although I find most of your culinary creations repulsive, I love you very much, Harry.

Sincerely,

Dad

Paperback Sausage

Dear Harry,

This morning, you asked for ten sausages for breakfast, and after you began eating the four I made, you twirled your fork around the air and sang a modified version of The Beatles’ “Paperback Writer,” one of your favorite songs (and mine).

You sang the words “Paperback Sausage” as you chewed sausage links, grease covering your lips and cheeks. When you finished, you asked me to watch TV, and I promptly said no because you lost TV privileges for 3 days during the Super Bowl when you chucked a slice of pizza at your mother.

“Tell me a story then,” you said.

“We’ll play a game instead,” I said. “Tell me why that orange kitty keeps trying to go into our garage.”

“You go first. It was your idea.”

“Fair enough. The orange kitty keeps trying to get into our garage because he wants to lay in your new hammock.”

You smiled and said, “The orange kitty keeps trying to get into our garage because he wants to hide in my toy box.” You paused. “Why is he trying to hide in my toy box?”

“Probably because the orange kitty owes money to the gray kitty, and the orange kitty has the money, but he’d rather spend it on sushi-grade tuna instead of paying his debt.”

“Yeah,” you said, “that’s probably not why he’s hiding.”

“Why then?”

“Because the orange kitty doesn’t need money. He just needs to ride my new motorcycle, so he can find his missing family.” You chew and swallow. “But the orange kitty could just use his legs to go find his family, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said. “Besides, he wouldn’t look as cool as you on the motorcycle, right?”

You frowned. “Daddy, kitties don’t care about being cool like me and you.”

I found your logic to be unassailable, so I just made you some more sausage and looked out the window as you ate.

Love,

Dad

 

Reading is Fundamental

So I’m sitting on the couch having an afternoon cup of tea and enjoying the sweet sound of silence when my son Harry walks into the room and dumps a dozen or so I Can Read! books by Mercer Meyer into my lap. Looking down at the book pile, I say:

“Okay, so you want to go bowling.”

“No, Daddy, you need to read to me.”

“I can’t read all of these.”

“You have to read all of them.”

“How about I read five?”

“You have to read all of them.”

“Make it six.”

“You have to read all of them.”

“I’ll read seven, and then I can go back to staring out of the window. Deal?”

pirate   “You have to read all of them.” Glaring at me, he adjusts the pirate hat on his head, settling it on what I can only describe as a rakish angle.  He kicks off his fireman boots one at a time, the left one landing on the end table near the window. As I’m wondering just how much grief I’m going to get from my wife for the kid size 5 boot print on the end table, Harry places his hands on his hips.

“Read,” he says.

“Let me finish my tea first, Harry.”

“You have to read all of them now.”

“Why now?”

Elongated sigh. Exasperated look. The same look I give him whenever he asks why it is necessary to wear underwear before going outside.  He says, “Because I’m your son and you’re my dad and you have to read to me every single day.  That’s the rule.  Everybody knows that.”

The boy is right, but I don’t care for his accusatory tone, especially given the amount of time, energy, and thought I’ve put into the subject.  To me, reading is a religion, and like any devout person, I see it as my duty to indoctrinate my child at a very early age.  Why else would I have kept a detailed journal of every single book I read to the kid while he was still growing inside my wife’s belly? What other reason could I have for reading Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! to him during snack time, The Cat in the Hat when it’s raining outside, and The Monster at the End of this Book before bedtime? Does he think I ask him to write his ABCs and his name and other basic words purely to torture him?

Okay, I know the lad is only four, but surely he must know that, in addition to having published a few books myself, I was an English professor before he got booted from two preschools, making it necessary for me to abandon my career. Surely, he is aware of how much my wife and I care about his intellectual well-being, how, with the aid of his grandparents, we have deliberately stocked his bedroom with hundreds of books, some of which he uses as ramps for his toy cars.

“Daddy, I just farted. Does it stink?”

“Very.” I sit my tea cup down and pick up Just Helping My Dad by Mercer Mayer. I pat the couch cushion beside me. Harry climbs up, digs his elbows into my ribcage, and orders me to read.

I point to the first word in the book title. “Call out the letters you see here.”

“Why?”

Again, I fight the urge to defend myself. Should I tell him that, according to an article on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, parents should point to individual words as they read because that, along with other basic strategies, will help a child learn to read?

“Just spell the first word in the title, please.” Again, I point and Harry shakes his head.

“I’m not going to do it,” he says. “I want to hear the story.”

“I’ll read the story after you spell out the word.”

A grunt followed by a snort. I tap my finger on the first letter in the title, and he begins to spell. “J-U-S-T.”

“Good job, Harry.” I begin reading the story, which is a charming and an instructive book about Little Critter helping his Dad with household chores and errands.

On page 8, there is a scene where Little Critter fixes breakfast for his Dad, making a huge mess in the kitchen in the process. I point to the Dad, who has his hand on top of his head and his eyes are wide.

“What’s the Dad thinking?”

“Why are you asking me that?”

read Because of a very helpful article on icanteachmychild.com, which claims that parents should ask lots of questions about the story as they read, that’s why! I take a breath.

“Come on, Harry, just tell me what the Dad’s thinking, please.”

“He’s upset.”

“How come?”

Harry points to the spilled cereal and milk on the kitchen counter. “Because Little Critter made a mess.”

I thank him for participating and read on. Much to my delight, Harry laughs when Little Critter tries to fix the overflowing toilet (“Poop water,” my son says), and he smiles when the Dad tucks Little Critter into bed (“Just like you, Daddy.”). Closing the book, I turn toward my son.

“Harry, tell me two things that Little Critter did to try and help his Dad.”

My son slaps the side of his head.

“Please,” I say, “I want to see what you remember about the story.”

“I don’t remember anything. Now read me another story.”

“Not until you tell me two things Little Critter did.”

“Fine.”  He throws his pirate hat across the room. He crosses his arms. He sticks out his lower lip.  “Little Critter painted the garage and Little Critter pumped gas.”

“Very good,” I say. “Do you remember anything else he did?”

“Yes.”

“Well, can you tell me about those things, too?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because,” he says dropping another book into my lap, this one called To the Rescue, “you only asked for two things.”

Dennis the Talking Rock

Dear Harry,

This morning, we walked downtown to the coffeeshop to get some hot chocolate. Halfway there, you said, “Tell me a story, Daddy.”

“You first,” I said, and then added, “and it has to have a happy ending. No lava. No snakes. No swords. No death.”

Nodding, you jammed your hands into the pockets of your soccer jacket and walked along. After a few seconds, you told this story.

IMG_3242“Once there was this little boy named Smharry Smhuckleberry Smeverhart. He lived in Hartsville  on College Avenue.  He liked toys and Legos and hot chocolate. He wore cool clothes like sweet Army man vests and soccer cleats. He had a birthday and then it was Christmas and he got lots of toys and then his Mommy and Daddy met and got married and hugged and kissed. They had me, the real Harry. The end.” You hissed at a black cat nearby, and the cat ran off. “Your turn, Daddy,” you said shuffling along the sidewalk.

“I’m nervous,” I said. “This is kind of like going on stage right after Jerry Lee Lewis set his piano ablaze while singing ‘Great Balls of Fire.'”

“Huh?”

“Never mind,” I said. “I’ll show you a clip on YouTube later.”

“He really sets the piano on fire?”

“In the movie version of Jerry Lee Lewis’s life, sure, he does.”

You stopped dead in your tracks. You demanded to see the flaming piano video right then and there. I pulled out my phone and found the clip on YouTube. Your eyes got very wide while you watched. You said how awesome the video was, how big and scary the flames were, and then you demanded to watch it three more times, each time laughing like a crazy person. It was pretty cute.

“Again?” I asked, and you started walking down the sidewalk.

“Nah, let’s go get hot chocolate and you tell me a story now.”

I caught up with you and told this story.

“So there was this rock named Dennis, who was stuck in a crack in the sidewalk. Whenever squirrels would walk by, Dennis would yell at them: ‘I’m stuck! Get me outta here! Help me help me!’ But the squirrels just looked at him funny and said, ‘Acorns!’ Whenever dogs would walk by, Dennis would yell, ‘I’m stuck! Get me outta here! Help me help me!’ But the dogs just looked at him funny and said, ‘Kibble!’ Whenever people would jog by, Dennis would yell at them: ‘I’m stuck! Get me outta here! Help me help me!’ But the people just snapped pictures of Dennis the Talking Rock, put their earbuds back in, and kept on walking.  Finally, there was this group of little kids walking on the sidewalk, and again Dennis yelled at them: ‘I’m stuck! Get me outta here! Help me help me!’ All but one of the kids pointed at the rock, laughed, and kept on walking and eating their ice cream cones. But one little boy named Harry actually stopped. Holding his ice cream cone, he bent down and looked closely at Dennis the Rock, who said, ‘You have to get me outta here.’ Harry said, ‘You’re a strong rock. Get yourself out.’ ‘I can’t,’ Dennis the Rock said. ‘Yes, you can,’ said Harry. ‘Just try really, really hard.’ Dennis the Rock then began rocking himself back and forth inside the crack in the sidewalk until he became unstuck and rolled free.  Harry said, ‘Now what did you learn, Mister Rock?’ Dennis the Rock blinked twice and said, ‘Next time, I’ll yell louder.'”

You laughed, and I asked you what you thought was so funny.

“Rocks can’t blink,” you said and we stopped at a STOP sign near downtown. “Whoa,” you said, “how did we get here so fast?”

“Time flies when you’re telling stories,” I said.

“Daddy, time can’t really fly.”

“It can,” I said thinking especially since I became a father.

I love you very much, Harry. Keep telling stories, and if ever you come across a talking rock, make sure to teach him a valuable lesson about self-reliance.

Sincerely,

Dad

 

More Broccoli, More Sriracha

Dear Harry,

Last night your mom made chicken stir fry with assorted vegetables and jasmine rice, and when she placed this healthy and delicious meal on the dining room table you pouted.

“I’m not eating this,” you said crossing your arms and sticking your lower lip out.

“Then don’t,” I said. “Everything is a choice.”

Beside me your mom sighed.  She was tired from working all day and upset that she’d spent all that time and energy cooking a meal for you which you rejected without even tasting a bite.

“Harry,” she said, “you’re not getting anything else. Try it, at least.”

Grimacing, you slumped in your chair. You sat up, poked at the chicken with your fork, and then slumped in your chair again. The expression on your face screamed, “This is disgusting adult food and I hate you all because you didn’t serve me chicken nuggets slathered in Maple syrup.” But, to your credit, you didn’t throw an all-out temper tantrum.

“Come on, buddy,” I said feigning a calmness I did not–I repeat, DID NOT–actually feel. “Pretend you’re a Veggie Monster like me and hunt down that scrumptious broccoli.” To illustrate my ridiculous point, I stabbed a piece of broccoli with my fork, contorted my face like a demonic herbivore in the throws of a vegetable binge, and then bit down hard. “Delicious broccoli! I need more, more, more!”

I stabbed another forkful of broccoli and looked across the table. You were smiling. Barely.

“Try it,” I said, “be a monster like me!”

C033S009_007Using your own fork, you stabbed a piece of broccoli and sneered, but just as you were about to transform into a Veggie Monster and eat something healthy for a change, you saw mom’s bottle of Sriracha. You dropped the fork.

“I want that,” you said.

“It’s really spicy,” Mom said.

“I want it.”

“Give it to him,” I said.

Mom squeezed a blob of the red sauce on your plate, and you began dipping the broccoli into the Sriracha and eating piece after piece after piece. When you’d finished all the broccoli that was on your plate (and leaving the other vegetables and meat untouched), you looked at mom.

“More broccoli,” you said. “More sauce.”

Stunned, Mom put more broccoli on your plate, and you ate it all, ignoring her comments about going easy because the Sriracha was really hot and it might give you a stomach ache.

After dinner, you left the table, and I looked at your mom. “Call Guinness,” I said. “That has to be the first time a four-year old ate broccoli and Sriracha at the same time.”

Son, I love you very much, but the evidence that you’re a weirdo (like your mom) is mounting. Don’t ever change. Except please stop wiping your nose on my shirt; it’s disgusting.

Love,

Dad