“Dinner’s in the microwave. Girls are fed and already bathed,” a celebratory smile ended her updates.
I forced a smile into, “OK.”
“Something wrong?” she asked, still smiling - meaning the tales of a salesman’s death didn’t measure worthy of destroying her anticipatory joy.
“No, I uh…uh, was listening to a sermon on the way home and it kinda got me,” I lied through truth. “Have fun tonight. You deserve it.”
“An entire three hours of shopping! I could spend your next three paychecks.”
“That’d be a pretty hard thing to do,” I unconsciously verbalized while doing the math of three times zero.
“What do you mean?”
Seeing that she was serious, and that the painted smile covering her arduous day had suffered a direct hit from an unintentional water balloon toss, I gathered my composure. “Nothing dear, just in a quirky mood. You go have fun.”
She made it out the door with my Crayola’d attempt at repainting her face. I’d ruined it. But it paled in comparison to the ruins that lay before us.
She’d trained them so wonderfully. They stayed upstairs for as long as they could take it. It was their lesson in our home’s dominion. Daddy kissed mommy first and they shared their moment in peace before the quiet was exchanged for joyful cheers of my arrival. It made me feel like a champ twice in less than two minutes every night. Tonight - twice the chump.
“Daddy, you beat home Jerry!” My oldest, the captain of the two, ran a daily contest (at age four) to see if I beat the neighbor home from work. She gave me stern talking-to’s when I lost. I think she had her fifty-cent allowance riding every day with Jerry’s daughter. Tonight I wished I had lost, and her four year-old praises ran hollow.
“Daddy! Hug!” My two year-old charged at me like Mike Tyson in his prime. She embraced me, then backed away and grabbed my scabbed earlobe between her thumb and index finger. “Forry!” she apologized with a frown. “Forry, daddy.”
Last night, I joked about it. Tonight, I was silent. The pain from her touch shook me, though minute. On this occasion of her habitual meddling with my droopy earlobes, it incited nausea, causing me to crack my neck in front of her and shudder.
“Pop,” she mimicked before seamlessly transitioning to her favorite subject. “Dora. Dora,” she said, searching again for my lobe.
At ‘Jump in, vamonos,’* I lost it and headed for the restroom. Swiper came for Daddy today kids, and you’ll never find his smile now.* I’d been in there a couple of minutes. I flushed to cover up my escapism.
I wiped the teetering orbs attempting to abandon this sinking ship upon the stiff, four year-old poke from The Captain, “Girls first, Daddy.”
“Oh, uh, um, yeah, uh,” I stammered.
“Girls first. You broke the rule.”
Turning, I replied, “do you need to go…sweetie?”
“Yeah, but now I can’t. Hafta wait for you to go again so I can go first.”
“But, I didn’t…”
“You didn’t what?”
I stared into her digesting eyes, eager to compute my every word.
“Okay, you’re big enough now. I won’t lie. I went first. But, that’s okay. You can go now.”
“Big enough? You said ‘girls always first.’ You said, ‘good boys know to treat girls that way and to remember it when I get bigger’. You said….”
“I know. Sorry.” Another stray water balloon. “Alright, tell ya what. You go and then daddy will go again. That way, you’ll be first.”
Her smile led to her immediate de-pantsing and she sprang for first place on the seat. My face melted upwards and I became her mush.
Moments later, she stood outside the open door, arms folded, waiting on what she called my ‘noisy pee-pee’, and stole peaks between my pant legs and the seat at regular intervals. I had nothing. “Jesus, please,” I said as my eyes turned to the heavenly bathroom lights with words I couldn’t say earlier.
“Don’t worry, Daddy. He’ll make you last and me first. Says so in the Bible.”
I let go and beamed noisily, releasing the orbs down the slides to their scabbed lifeboats. The Captain rejoiced and sprawled into the living room to exclaim the good news. “Daddy’s last! I was first!”
She reached Tyson, who halted her with an extended arm and open hand, “Fwiper, no fwiping! Fwiper, no fwiping! Fwiper, no fwiping!”*
*Dora the Explorer references
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