I Carved the Pumpkin, but I Did Not Carve the Deputy

capt-jack-sparrow.jpgLast night was “Pumpkin Carving Sew Dreadlocks into a Pirate Hat Make an Infant Sized Bald Eagle Costume from Scratch” night at our house. What? You don’t celebrate this time-honored tradition of gourd mutilation and frantic last second costume construction, too? It must just be a local cultural colloquialism indigenous to procrastinators, over-ambitious amateur seamstresses and parents with no concept of the passage of time. (Wait… Halloween’s tomorrow?)

Arriving home from work at 6:30 I was greeted at the front door by an enthusiastic five year old who was excited to finally get to carve the pumpkin and an enthusiastic one year old who was excited to finally get to slap madly at my quadriceps. After retrieving the pumpkin from the porch I lugged it into the dining room and placed it on the table, it promptly rolled onto its side. I picked it up and again it fell over. Finally I jammed a dish towel under one side like a drink coaster under a wobbly table leg. With serrated knife in hand I was prepared to fashion a 15-20 minute conventional facial expression of triangular geometric shapes (mostly isosceles but maybe scalene if I was feeling crazy) until Jack said that he wanted a Spiderman pumpkin. As he helped me eviscerate the innards of the pumpkin I tried to persuade him to reconsider, but his resolute man-crush on Spiderman could not be influenced. My über parenting gene took over and I vowed, “If my kid wants a Spiderman pumpkin damnit my kid’s going to get a Spiderman pumpkin.”

Right then Kathleen came downstairs, frazzled from wrestling Adam to sleep, but finally ready to put the finishing touches on Jack’s Captain Jack Sparrow costume. To date he’s been an owl, Frodo from Lord of the Rings, Edward Scissorhands, Harry Potter and now Keith Richards.

While Kathleen roasted the pumpkin seeds then helped Jack into his pantaloons I crudely sketched Spiderman’s face on the pumpkin. While Kathleen arranged a Rastafarian wig with 3-foot dreadlocks on Jack’s head I methodically scraped away at the webbed mask design with a dull nut pick. While Jack danced around the dining room looking more like Bob Marley’s bastard love child than an effeminate sea pirate I ditched the ineffective nut pick in favor a razorblade with electrical tape wrapped around one side. While Kathleen forced a pirate hat over the wig and Jack complained it was too tight causing Kathleen’s face to turn red and a vein I’ve never seen before to appear on her forehead I ate heavily salted roasted pumpkin seeds and replaced the razorblade with a church key style can-opener with triangle can piercing head. While Kathleen hacked at the wig with scissors then sewed the remaining dreads to the lining of the hat and Jack stood transfixed in the middle of the living room in his pirate costume doing his best kindergarten romance novel cover pose watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” I got our pumpkin in a headlock and dug deep grooves into the skin with a edge of a flathead screwdriver.

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Captain Jack will get you high at night

When again Jack claimed the hat was too tight, Kathleen finally gave up and turned her costume-making labors to Adam’s highly elaborate Bald-Eagle get-up. She created an owl costume for Jack when he was one year old (not sure where this ornithological predilection towards neotany comes from) and I think she feels like she owes a similar effort to Adam.

About 5 minutes later I looked up from my pièce de résistance to see Jack standing about a foot from the television repeatedly pulling his shirt up and exposing his chest like he was seductively plying dollar bills from sex-crazed blue hairs at the back stage post-party of an Off-Off-Broadway production of The Pirates of Penzance; Charlie Brown was getting another rock instead of candy which I hope he hurled through the front windows of the neighbors that felt compelled to add to his neuroses; and Kathleen was sitting in the center of an unsettling pile of bald eagle pieces like a poacher butchering her prize-catch for sale as a coveted black market aphrodisiac.

At 9:30, three hours after it all began; I sat mildly triumphant at the table coated in orange shavings with all 10 fingers still attached and a pumpkin propped on a dish towel with Spiderman’s face carved into it. A lit candle was placed inside, all the lights off were turned off and I waited to hear Jack’s words of approval. “That’s pretty good Daddy.” Pretty Good? Pretty Good? I felt like I’d gotten a rock in my bag instead of the Mini-Snickers I was expecting.

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Amazing what you can do with a nut pick and some determination

I got Jack into his pajamas and brushed his teeth and within minutes he was asleep. While Kathleen continued to Frankenstein baby eagle pieces together I sat on the couch with my dinner, a bowl of re-heated spinach linguine in a congealed scallop and crab cream sauce. Maybe it was that we finally had a moment to ourselves, maybe it was the sense of accomplishment I got from carving the face of a superhero into the skin of a glorified squash or maybe it was the aphrodisiacal properties of the felt eagle wings but I placed my bowl on the end table and seductively approached Kathleen who was holding the beginnings of a feathered skull cap.

Without looking up she flatly mumbled, “If you try to hold my hand, I’ll slug you.”

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The Multiuse Child: From Floor Cleaner to Bubblewrap Substitute

all_misfit_toys_welcome_here.jpgIt’s been nearly three weeks since Jack and Adam’s fifth and first birthdays respectively and it still looks like FAO Schwartz wiped its ass with the boy’s playroom; and not the fun section of FAO Schwartz where Tom Hanks slide steps versions of Heart and Soul and Chopsticks with Robert Loggia on an oversized floor keyboard reigniting the youthful exuberance and sense of childlike wonder in the hearts of curmudgeon CEO’s everywhere. For that reason, despite a painful separation process that has required some counseling for Jack and even a tingling in his hands that has been since diagnosed as Phantom Toy Syndrome, we thinned the herd by exiling its weakest, slowest and most politically volatile members to the Island of Misfit Toys.

Our Island of Misfit Toys is actually just our attic which, in comparison to the boy’s toy room, looks like Katharine McPhee puked in a Toys for Tots collection barrel. The jettisoned playthings that inhabit our poorly insulated atoll of rejection were played with at least once in their lives though, not like the original ignominious self-loathing commune of castoffs from Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer infamy.

But do you know what I think? I think kids would play with a Charlie in the Box, what they won’t play with is a moping sad sack of a crank toy with a voice like Rip Taylor going through puberty. And who was the elf on acid who would put square wheels on a train, and to that end why would they have square wheels lying around Santa’s workshop in the first place? That’s just dumb. And the cowboy on an ostrich? First, he’s clearly riding an Emu as Emus have three toes whereas ostriches have two. Second, I’m near certain that this toy would be as big as Vegemite sandwiches in the land down under. Third, is Toys R’ Us called Toys R’ Aus in Australia? It should be and they should sell Cowboys on Emus. Next, a bird that swims, huh? It’s called a penguin. Morgan Freeman called dipshit, you’re due back on the set. A squirt gun that shoots jelly? Really? What, like an endless supply of jelly? I’m to assume then that the gun comes pre-loaded with jelly then and you’re telling me every kid in America wouldn’t love to have a jelly gun at the breakfast table? Just pair it with Wonder Bread and a peanut butter slingshot, problem solved.

As both Jack and Adam received so many (so damn many) thoughtful gifts of gold, frankincense, Mir and Spiderman paraphernalia I wanted to beat the drum of gratitude for everyone’s generosity and to reveal the top three games and toys we’ve been playing and playing with since their parties in early October pa rum pum pum pum.

3. The Floor Buffer– This game was originated and popularized with Jack when he was two years old, but has recently experienced a bit of a resurgence with Adam. Jack or Adam will lie down on the kitchen linoleum on their backs and I’ll bend down over them and place my right hand on the inside of their right knee. I’ll then begin to pinwheel them in a clockwise motion until they are spinning at a rate of 78 RPMs. If they’re wearing polyester, I pre-treat the floor with Swiffer Wet Jet cleaning solution and if you listen closely you can sometimes hear The Glenn Miller Orchestra’s rendition of Chattanooga Choo Choo.

2. Drink Coaster Roulette – This one is primarily a game I play with Adam during which he’ll lie on the living room carpet while I drop rubber drink coasters on him. Actually, I drop them and catch them a split second before they land on his face. Like its adult counterpart Russian Roulette, one out of every six will be a live bullet/coaster and connect with its target. On these loaded chamber drops I shift my hand slightly so that it lands with a dull thwap on his stomach which he finds both hysterical and useful for avoiding condensation circles on his footy pajamas.

1. Time Machine
– We have in our playroom the cardboard box that our television came in. It’s a heavy-duty corrugated cardboard box with dimensions adequate for comfortably holding a 25 inch TV or 60 lbs of time traveling children. The boys will run into the playroom and Jack will yell, “Quick Adam. Get in the Time Machine!” The box will be lying on it’s side so after Jack slides into it head first and Adam bangs his forehead on the top edge and falls over in a state of semi-consciousness, I fold the four flaps shut, tape them down and send the box UPS Ground Delivery to Albuquerque. What can Brown do for me? It can ship my damn kids to New Mexico so Kathleen and I can finally get some sleep.

Just kidding valued employees of Child Protective Services, I actually just fold the flaps shut and spin the box around a few times, face it away from the door, then run into another room and hide. The boys wait a few seconds then burst from the Time Machine and try to find me. Originally, the game involved the boys being transported to different lands and times populated by toys and action figure they interacted with and learned from, but now it’s dissolved into an unnecessarily elaborate game of Hide and Seek.

So since most of their birthday presents are still in their original packaging I wanted to give everyone some accurate gift suggestions in case you are planning to Christmas shop for Jack and Adam this year. High on their wish list right now are Spic and Span, floor buffer pads, beverage napkins, packaging material, Styrofoam peanuts, a flux capacitor, a peanut butter slingshot and finally a Cowboy on an Emu.

I hear they’re big in Australia.

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The Polyester Suit Tissue Paper Cape Combo – Great for Getting into Corners

See Jack. See Jack Eat. Eat Jack Eat.

ally1.jpgExcept that Jack doesn’t eat.

He avoids food the way Tom Sizemore avoids his parole officer, but who really wants to hear yet another parent kvetch the “o woe is me” routine while waxing dietetic about the caloric trials, travails and tribulations of duping, cajoling, bribing, force feeding, and stuffing daily rations into a picky eating five year old?

We all have kids who store bites of food in their cheeks like a manic squirrel preparing for winter and who remember they have food in their mouth only when they start talking 15 minutes later and the pulpy mash that might have been a chicken nugget drips down the front of their shirt.

We all have kids with fussy palates who can eat a pound of cooked bacon, but take an hour to eat half a bagel; who eat pickles like they’re in their second trimester, who like Raman Noodles more than a off-campus college sophomore, and who would rather eat a bowl of frozen peas than a bowl of cereal, right?

A friend recently sent me a picture from his daughter’s birthday that Jack attended a couple weeks ago and Jack had an expression on his face that essentially epitomized his selective approach to eating; An approach that includes an intense aversion to chocolate birthday cakes, but not to the frosting. He’s the dark-haired little boy in the back row, the one in the 10th percentile for weight, the one who has the muscle definition of Calista Flockhart, the one with the facial expression that says:

“Man, I wish that was a bowl of frozen peas.”

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What’s that you got there? Chocolate Cake? Can I get a piece that’s all frosting?

The First Rule of Fight Club? Have Your Children Put Lincoln Logs in Your Shoes.

fight-club-dvd.jpgMy job requires me to travel frequently enough for me to know that housekeeping doesn’t appreciate it when you 1) hang your suits from the sprinkler heads 2) drape wet towels over the curtain rods and 3) leave the tub filled with ice and unconscious victims of a complex black market kidney removal scheme, but not often enough for me to legitimately complain about it. Like anyone with kids though, the most difficult part of traveling for me is the separation anxiety that surfaces with each call home, with each child I see holding a father’s hand walking down the street, with each Lincoln Log jammed into the toe of my dress shoes.

There’s a line in the movie Fight club that goes, “Everywhere I travel, tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pat of butter. The microwave Cordon Bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample-packaged mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight? They’re single-serving friends.” As I tear the safety strip from my sample packaged mouthwash my “tiny life” right now is curled in his bed, sucking his thumb, threadbare dishtowel he’s had since before he could walk clutched in his hand, sleeping in the guardian shadows Van Gogh’s Starry Night and his classic King Kong and Godzilla posters. As I pilfer my seventh set of hotel shampoo-conditioner combos my “tiny life” right now is curled in his crib lulled to sleep by the ebb and flow of the cappuccino setting on the white noise maker.

As I stand at the window of my fifth floor hotel room watching the lolling ripples of the dark harbor and the empty office buildings across the water, random windows glowing they resemble elevator button panels indicating the approaching floors of my fellow single serving passengers, I’d rather be standing in the in the upstairs hallway of our house listening to the synchronized breathing of Jack and Adam, nodding my head to the nocturnal symphony of their two-piece band.

Have you ever seen those commercials in which they show the road warrior archetypal business traveler, accustomed to life on the road, habituated to a single-size lifestyle? These giants of the garment bag, these sultans of the suitcase. This is not me.

The hipster doofus falling asleep face down on the keyboard of a laptop wearing blue tooth ear piece while editing a power point presentation. This is not me. (Well, maybe the hipster doofus part.)

The road weary middle manager ironing blue oxfords while brushing his teeth and synching his laptop with his PDA. This is not me.

The career salesman in black socks and boxer shorts surviving on $9 half cans of Pringles and $14 splits of Corbet Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon from the mini bar. Closer, but still this is not me.

The guy who tries to wearily make himself a cup of coffee at 6:00 am with the single-serving size coffee maker and pours the contents of the first ½ and ½ container into the cup, but then inexplicably pours the contents of the second ½ and ½ container directly into the garbage can and drops the empty container into the cup. That’s me.

The guy who packs Listerine Whitening Pre-Rinse and Face Soap in identical single-serving size containers then proceeds to wash his face with the Listerine in the shower. That’s me.

The guy who wakes up disoriented in the confusing darkness of a strange place unable to remember where he is and why he’s there, desperate to find familiarity in the shadows ribboned across the bed, the ominous silhouettes of strange furniture or even the unrecognizable texture of the blankets he clung to during the night. That’s me.

The guy who paces the floor of his unremarkable hotel room at 2:00 in the morning holding a single piece of wood he found jammed into the toe of his dress shoes, unable to sleep counting every single minute until he returns home to his tiny life.

That’s me.

Milton Berle Must Have Loved Apple Picking

apple-pick.jpgWhen I’m leaving work each evening I call home to let Kathleen know that I’m on my way and that dinner had damn well better be on the table when I get there.

Or in other words I call to thank Kathleen for finding time between changing diapers and training Adam to toddle these diapers into the kitchen where he disposes of them in the garbage pail under the sink , bringing the boys to doctor’s appointments where Jack screams like Janet Leigh in the shower anytime the nurse approaches him with a needle, getting the boys and herself dressed sometimes multiple times during the day, sending Jack off to kindergarten and calling the bus garage yet again to have the bus return to the house after the driver forgets to pick Jack up despite Jack him standing on the porch with his backpack , straightening up the house, doing the laundry, unloading the dishwasher, vacuuming the carpets, washing the kitchen floor, getting Jack off the bus from school, taking Jack out for bike rides, taking Adam out for walks and somehow retaining her ever-loving sanity (to name a dozen or so of the 1000 things she does during an average day) to actually prepare dinner for the family.

She does this I assume because she loves me, pities me or because she knows that otherwise I’d be eating day old sushi from Price Chopper, Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and cans of Campbell’s New England Clam Chowder.

Anyway, Jack will normally answer the phone which gives me a chance to ask him about his day. The other day when I called Jack answered the phone:

Hello. Who is this please?

Hello Jack it’s Daddy.

Hi Daddy.

How was school today Jack?

It was good Daddy. We went on a Feel Trip and we went apple picking.

A Feel Trip Apple Picking, huh? Did you have fun?

Yeah but I didn’t like the trees. They had big pricks on them?

(Where did they take you, Boogie Nights Orchards?)

Wait, what? They had what on them?

The trees had pricks on them Daddy and one of them stuck me I the hand.

(That’s either a Salvador Dali painting or The Johnny Appleseed Story starring John Holmes)
Do you mean the trees had prickers on them and you got one stuck in your hand?

Yeah, they had big pricks and now I have a big prick.

(To hell with these penis enlargement emails I keep getting, I’m going apple picking.)

Invisible Monsters and the Departure of King Brian

awfm130.jpgSoon after Jack was born I began having these strange and sometime unsettling day dreams about saving him. Elaborate scenarios wherein I would rush into a burning house, or rescue him from drowning, protect him from an attacking dog, or the most common was the one where someone tried to kidnap him and I would save him but only after a brutal fight with the abductors that leaves me injured, sometimes fatally. In fact, in most of the situations in order to prevent him from being harmed I had to sacrifice my own wellbeing, my own life.

These delusions of parental heroism have intensified since Adam was born last year and I think the reason I have them is because whereas I’ve always been confident about my physical strength, capabilities and athleticism, how fast I could run, how much I could lift, how much pain I could endure during training or a competition when it comes to what it takes to be a good father, being a good example, teaching my children the right principles and values, spending enough time with them, loving them enough, I’ve always felt I was a failure.

If I can’t say the right words, act the right way, love them the way that, in my heart, I desperately want to then I’ll protect them with brute force.

Yesterday morning as I was leaving for work I told Jack that he should bring King Brian to school with him. When Jack was about three years old I would read Darby O’Gill and the Little People to him in an Irish accent every night and without fail he’d be asleep by the final page. King Brian is the King of the Leprechauns in the book, but eventually King Brian became an imaginary friend that Jack and I shared. All Jack had to do was say, “King Brian.” and he would appear ready to tell Jack a story or climb into his pocket or have a sleep over with him. Even though I was obviously doing the voice of King Brian Jack would never address me directly, instead holding out his hand for King Brian to stand in then talking to the empty space in his palm.

When I arrived home from work I asked Jack if he brought King Brian to school with him and he said he had not. I asked him why and he said that it was time for King Brian to leave. Leave? Why would King Brian have to leave? Jack was standing on the couch in front of me; his eyes welled up and his face contorted into an anguished mask and he began to cry.

“Wait, Jack, what’s the matter? King Brian doesn’t have to leave.” I picked him up and hugged him.

“Yes he does. It’s time for him to leave.”

“But why? Did something happen at school? Did someone say something?”

“No. Nobody said anything. I’m growing up and it’s time for him to leave.”

“Growing up doesn’t mean he has to go Jack. If making King Brian leave makes you sad then you should let him stay.”

“No Daddy. It’s inside me now. I’ve made my choice. He has to leave now”

He cried harder and I tried to hold him tighter. I sat down on the ottoman and cradled him into my lap while he wept and clung to my shirt. I didn’t know what to say? I never know what to say when he’s upset like this, but this was different. Jack loved King Brian imaginary or not, he loved him and now he was choosing to send him away. Why? Why would he choose to separate himself from someone he loves? Growing up? He’s only five years old. He looked up at me with tear-filled eyes, “Daddy, you have to leave, too.”

“Me? Why do I have to leave?”

“You just do Daddy. You have to leave and so does mommy.”

Kathleen came into the living room; we were both on the verge of crying. Something had happened to make Jack want to send us and King Brian away. Something I couldn’t protect him from. All I could do was hold him as he cried, pained by some invisible monster telling him he was too old to have King Brian as a friend, telling him Kathleen and I had to go away too. Without lifting his face from my shoulder he asked, “Daddy when are you going to die?”

“Not for a long long time Jack.” Death? Jack has yet to experience death. No family members, friends or even pets have died since he was born. Where was this coming from? Why the fuck wasn’t I a better father, a father who knew it was death he was afraid of, a father who knew the right thing to say to reassure him, to make him stop crying.

He cried harder and asked Kathleen when she was going to die. She told him the same thing I did. Not for a long time. It didn’t matter. He was inconsolable. Minutes passed and no one said anything, no words just the trembling sobs of child lost in the wilderness of life, death and the pain of loss and separation.

“Daddy I think I’m going to get sick”

Still holding him I sprinted up the stairs to the bathroom where he knelt down on the cold tile and put his head over the toilet. I rubbed his back for a moment then stood up and stared down at him. He looked so small, fragile, defenseless…alone. He didn’t get sick and we were able to calm him down enough and get him into his pajamas. 15 minutes later he was asleep on the couch, Kathleen and I on either side of him whispering about what happened. Concerned, confused, and scared.

We were awakened at 2:00 A.M. by Jack’s terrified screams. I jumped from bed and ran to his room where he was standing in the middle of his floor screeching “No No No No No No….” hands extended as if to protect himself from someone or something attacking him. I’ve never seen him so scared. Even after I picked him up and rocked him back and forth he still cried and trembled. Even after I told him it was just a dream, that it wasn’t real, that I was there and it was going to be alright he kept looking around the room searching for whatever had slithered from the depths of his imagination. Even after putting him back to bed and laying with him for over an hour he slept fitfully, rolling back and forth, trying to escape the monsters. The ones in his head, the only place I couldn’t protect him.

Once I was sure he was asleep I kissed his forehead, stood in the middle of his room and watched him sleep. As I stood there I felt powerless. There was no one to chase; nothing to fight. It didn’t matter how strong, how fast, how big, how physically determined I was I couldn’t protect him. I couldn’t save him. Before me was my child, vulnerable and there I was a helpless, weak man motionless yet wanting to swing wildly in the air, to throw punches at the invisible monsters.

Because it’s the only thing I know how to do. Because it’s the only thing I’m good at.

I Pledge Allegiance to Lap Dances and Dollar Store Energy Drinks

rip-it.jpgJack’s 5th birthday was this past Saturday so that meant Friday marked our annual frenetic last minute party planning scramble to finalize the most critical detail of any child’s birthday party; the make or break element that could mean the difference between your son or daughter securing future invites to the parties of friends and classmates or securing their permanent place as a party pariah. I’m alliterating about pricey goodie bags lavishly filled with useless crap and even though we were expecting 15 kids which equates to (let’s see….a2 = b2 + c2 – 2bc…carry the 3…subtract the hypotenuse) 15 goodie bags I believe you simply cannot put a price tag on the preemptive prevention a child’s social ostracization.

Heading up this year’s bric-a-brac scavenger hunt was yours truly so upon arriving home from work at around 5:00 I put Jack in the car and immediately headed back out. Kathleen yelled to us as we left that Jack hadn’t eaten dinner yet so I promised her I would make sure Jack got something to eat even if that meant reallocating some of the funds from the goodie bag coffers for food because I believe you simply cannot put a price tag on a child’s nutritional health and wellbeing.

20 minutes later we arrived in the parking lot of our Shangri-La. A place of idyllic beauty, Americana bliss, consumeristic indulgency and cut-rate merchandise; a Xanadu called The Dollar Store. Where better to stockpile for your child’s fifth birthday party than at a public market of borderline recalled toys, knock-off soft drinks, cleaning products, tchotchkes, knick-knacks and flea market quality junk with the same pricing model as a stripper at the Blue Moon Cabaret in Poughkeepsie, NY? Breakfast Cereal? $1. Lap Dance? $1. Dish Soap? $1. Grind my crotch into your thigh? $1. Styling Mousse? $1. Bury your face in my cleavage? $1. It should be pointed out that I believe you simply cannot put a price tag on the most important meal of the day, grease-cutting action, hair care products and XXX Adult entertainment.

As Jack and I wandered the aisles basking in its capitalistic glow of pricing homogeny I was stopped dead in my tracks. “Jack…. We’ve struck the Motherload.” Forgotten was my charged task of locating goodie bag filler as before us was an entire aisle of Dollar Store energy drinks. From the legion of 16oz cans of liquefied pure energy stacked nearly to the acoustic tile ceiling the one I selected was called Rip It Energy Fuel. It claimed a “crisp, clean taste” that I discovered in energy drink speak actually means “room temperature fermented apple cider cut with Triaminic” after cracking open a can right there in the store. Despite the medicinal apple orchard taste I put three cans in our shopping cart because I believe you simply cannot put a price tag on using caffeine, Ephedrine, glucose, and stimulants derived from small Venezuelan shrubs to artificially enhance your metabolism by blocking adenosine and increasing dopamine levels.

Our time in the store after I chugged an entire can of Energy Fuel is a little hazy, but as we pushed through the front door into the cool evening air I came to and realized that along with two cans of Rip It we were carrying armloads of Spiderman posters, Spiderman playing cards, and other Spiderman paraphernalia for Jack’s Spiderman Themed party the next day. Once in the car I cracked the seal on another Rip It and commented to Jack, “Jack, this stuff tastes horrible.” To which he quite expectedly said, “Let me try it Daddy.” Imprudently I handed the can back to him, told him to just take a sip, and drove out of the parking lot.

When we reached the traffic light to leave the parking lot, I reached back for the can. Jack handed it to me and it was ½ empty, or ½ full depending on your attitude towards life. “Jack you drank half the can!” I blurted out. “But It tasted good” he replied. I checked my watch. It was after 7:00, he hadn’t eaten dinner yet and now was all hopped up on caffeine, sugar, processed amino acids and synthetic stimulants. “Daddy I’m hungry. Can we get McDonalds?” He jittered from the backseat. Of course you’re hungry I thought, you’ve got the munchies.

In an effort to calm him down and get something into his empty stomach I agreed to buy him a Happy Meal with Chicken McNuggets on the way home. With the Golden Arches at least 10 minutes away I tried to keep Jack focused. I asked him if he had learned any new songs at school that week. He thought for a moment and said, “We learned the Pledge of Allegiance.” “Really? Can I hear it?” I asked. Another moment of silence then slowly he recited the entire Pledge. I nearly cried. I wanted more. I asked him to recite it again and he did. Usually when I ask him about school I have to use an Irish accent and assume the persona of a leprechaun named King Brian to get a straight answer, but now pumped full of energy fuel I was getting long form oaths of patriotism without having to use accents, cajoling or role playing.

I was about to ask for a Pledge of Allegiance/God Bless America/Neil Diamond “America” medley mash-up when he saw the McDonalds. The spell was broken. We went in and got his Happy Meal and then drove home.

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One nation, under god, indivisible… hey, what did you put in this?

Even though Jack’s buzz didn’t wear-off until nearly midnight I went back to The Dollar Store, bought out their supply of Rip It Energy Fuel and have been spiking his juice boxes ever since. Selfish? Maybe, but even though energy drink consumption by children causes sleeplessness, nervousness, elevated blood pressure and heart rate, and can contribute to childhood obesity in my opinion you simply cannot put a price tag on the joy a father feels when his child displays blind patriotism, actually answers the question “How was your day at school?” and conveniently forgets to tell Mommy that Daddy’s idea of dinner is a Red Bull knock-off and highly-processed deep fried chicken pieces.

Actually, I can. It’s $1.