It’s Saturday, my day to take the kids so my wife can have a break. She deserves it; Pilates, or yoga, or ballet, something to help her open the floodgates of the reservoir of stress she’s built up over the course of the week, and which I will help refill while she’s relaxing.
“You’ll be careful, won’t you?” she says, her forehead creased with parallel lines like the kilts she used to wear as a girl.
“Of course we won’t, sweetie,” I say as I kiss her tenderly. “Saturdays with dad are for real risk-taking, not the phony-baloney kind the elementary school teachers talk about when all they mean is writing essays about dead pets.”
“All right,” she says, but I can tell she’s not completely mollified.
“I won’t let them do anything I wouldn’t do,” I say.
She snorts. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”
I head out to the car where my two boys–Scooter and Skipper–are already strapped in the back seat, ready to go.
“Yay–Saturday with dad!” says Skipper, the younger at 8 years.
“Can we do something self-destructive, dad?” Scooter, his 10-year-old brother asks.
“Well, sure, Scoots. But first I want to make sure you eat a balanced breakfast, so you have enough energy to carry you through the day.”
“You mean like the food pyramid in the school cafeteria?” he asks.
“No, I mean a donut and Strawberry Quik. The kind of good, wholesome food I grew up on, not the naturally-sweetened sawdust mom buys at the natural food store.”
We swing into the donut shop where we have spent some of our most treasured moments, bonding as we soar on a sugar high that Jerry Garcia would die for, if he weren’t already dead.
Smoking is bad for you if it doesn’t get you high.
“So what do you guys want to do today?” I ask as we slurp and chew our purchases.
“I’d like to jump off of something really high!” Skipper says.
“I want to blow something up!” Scooter says. I have to humor him on this point, because there are laws regarding destruction of other people’s property. “Maybe later, when we get home,” I say.
He doesn’t take this well. “But then mom will stop us,” he says, pouting.
“Not if we don’t tell her beforehand,” I say. “You see, it’s always better, easier–and more fun–to ask for forgiveness than permission. Understand?”
“You did what?”
He says yes and turns back to his donut. “C’mon, you can eat in the car,” I say.
We head to a nearby playground with a monster jungle gym that’s really only appropriate for Army Rangers.
“Bet I beat you to the top!” Skipper says and he’s right; he’s an agile little devil and he scrambles up the bars like a monkey on a mission ahead of his big brother.
“I’m king of the world,” he says, as he steadies himself, then prepares to jump.
“Now remember what I’ve told you,” I say with a note of fatherly concern in my voice.
“Right. I have two legs and only one head, so jump feet first.”
“What happens if you land on your head, dad?” Skipper asks.
“You could be paralyzed.”
“What’s that mean?” Scooter asks.
“Well, most likely you wouldn’t be able to move your legs any more.”
“Gosh,” Skipper asks. “Do we know anyone who’s paralyzed?”
“Well, sure, Skip. You know Charles Krauthammer, the man on Fox News mom likes so much?”
“Well, he dove into a swimming pool that wasn’t deep enough, hit his head, and now he’s paralyzed.”
“Really?” Scooter says, his eyes as big as saucers. “Why does mom like him so much?”
“Scoot,” I say thoughtfully. “When you’re a little older, you’ll understand that mommies like the idea of daddies who don’t have much going on below their belts.”
I keep things cryptic–birds and bees style–because the agreement in our family is that our children will get their sex education only through independent, approved sources, like the third-world kids who received low-cost laptops and promptly put them to use surfing porn sites on the internet.
Skipper’s ready to go, and he rocks back and forth a few times, then flings himself off the jungle gym into my waiting arms. “There,” I say, “wasn’t that fun even though mom would yell at you for doing it?”
“It was!” Skipper says with excitement. We continue in this fashion for an hour or so, then Scooter reminds me of my promise to him.
“You said we could blow something up,” he says.
“All right–let’s go to the store.”
We drive over to our local mom-and-pop hardware store, where customer service is still taken seriously, and greet Harvey, the third-generation owner.
“Hey there kiddos!” he says as he gives each of my boys a cavity-inducing lollipop. “What can I do for you today?”
“We need something small, not too expensive, that we can blow up,” I say. “Something that will make a gigantic boom but is still legal for us to drive around with.”
“So,” Harvey says thoughtfully, “no nitroglycerine.”
“That’s probably more advanced than the kids are ready for.”
“How about spray paint?” he asks, and I have to admit the suggestion is a good one.
“You know, I used to love blowing up cans of spray paint when I was a kid,” I say, waxing nostalgic.
“You can hold one of these babies in your hand, toss it into a fire, run like heck, and it’s totally safe.”
“You’re sure about that?” I ask. “It’s been a long time. There might be new risks I’m not aware of.”
“See for yourself,” Harvey says as he hands me a can of candy apple blue sparkly paint. I take my glasses off and begin to read the label. “CAUTION,” it says in big bold letters. “HIGHLY INFLAMMABLE.”
“What’s that mean?” Scooter asks.
“Well, ‘flammable’ means it could burst into flames, and ‘in’ means ‘not’–right?”
“So it’s safe?” Scooter asks.
“Sounds like it. Let me read the rest of it.”
I scan the label carefully and when I’m done, report my conclusions. “Nope. It says nothing about throwing it into a freestanding Mexican front-loading fireplace or oven with a bulbous body and usually a vertical smoke vent or chimney. Must be okay.”
We pay–a little more than we would down the street at Home Depot, but the personal attention we received was worth it. Once we get home, I take some cardboard and newspaper and put it into our chiminea. I light the fire, wait until it’s blazing, then turn to the boys for final instructions.
“Okay,” I say to them. “Scooter, you get to throw the can since it was your idea. You both have to be ready to run. All set?”
They nod, serious expressions on their faces as my tone has conveyed the gravity of the situation to them.
“Okay. On your mark–get set–go!”
Scooter executes a perfect underhanded toss into the fiery pit, and we’re halfway across the yard when the can explodes with a boom like a jet breaking the sound barrier. We turn to watch the chiminea shatter into a thousand pieces just as my wife returns, looking relaxed, refreshed, and ready to deal with the anarchy that a man and his boys are capable of loosing upon a quiet and peaceful home.
“What was that noise I heard as I drove up?” she asks.
The boys are silent, and look at each other with guilty expressions on their faces. I’ve taught the kids that honesty is not just the best policy, it’s the only policy. I’ve told them it’s something you have to do if you want to go to heaven. If that place doesn’t appeal to you, well then, yeah, you have other options.
“Mom,” Scooter says, his head downcast, a note of seriousness in his voice that is belied by the SpongeBob SquarePants sneakers he’s wearing. “It was me.”
She frowns at him, clearly unhappy. “What could you possibly do to make so much noise?” she asks.
“I cut a great big fart.”
Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Scooter & Skipper Blow Things Up!”