The leaves from the tree drooped over the sidewalk. “Low bridge! Low bridge!” I proclaimed, as I sped up slightly and pretended to get eaten by the canopy of branches.
The boys laughed, delighted. Jack had chosen “sit” and Peter “stand” in our sit-and-stand stroller, making the front-weighted contraption harder to steer. But both boys were happy without the help of treats or snacks or toys. As long as that was true, they could ride upside-down, as far as I was concerned.
This was my wife’s final birthday present: “Tomorrow morning I want to sleep until I’m ready to wake up.” I figured 10 o’clock should about do it. It was a quarter till 10. We had dined on garishly pink very berry muffins (their favorite), and a sausage-and-egg sandwich on a french toast bagel (mine). It was only 9am after that, so then we walked to Wal-Mart to do some shopping… and stalling. After all, I only needed a gallon of whole milk. And another 30 minutes.
Jack turned and started another one of his let’s-play-a-game mixtures of reality and imagination. “Let’s pretend that those leaves electrocute you.”
“Okay,” I replied, and proceeded to jiggle and made a bzzzzzzing noise like I had 1.21 gigawatts coursing through me. More smiles.
“And when you get electro… electrocuted, you lose two mushrooms.”
Hmmmm. Two mushrooms… not two hearts? We had been playing lots of Lego Star Wars on the Wii, and he had asked to play before I shuffled them all out of the house so we could walk to the bagel place for breakfast. “Dontcha mean two hearts, Jack?” Nope. Two mushrooms, he said adamantly. Ahhh. I remembered that we were looking at Super Mario Galaxies 2 when we wandered to the electronics part of the store. And Lego Harry Potter. And Lego Batman. And a host of other games that elicited can-I-have-that begging. So mushrooms were on the brain.
To the side of the stroller, the new $30 DVD player bounced atop the wheels. I hiked up the bag a little bit. Didn’t want to damage this one… as it was replacing the controller-less one we were using now. You know, to substitute for the previous $30 one we destroyed. Like the milk, the DVD player had become a necessary ingredient of parenting.
Peter decided he, too, would sit, making it a sit-and-sit stroller. I liked this better, because now I could see his smiling eyes over the binky in his mouth. We approached some overgrown grass shadowing the sidewalk. I asked, “Will those electrocute me too?”
“No. Those don’t count.”
The orange juice bottles rattled as the divisions in the sidewalk went kachunk kachunk kachunk beneath the stroller. It was a pretty nice day for a walk. Despite the wrestling and under-the-table shenanigans that told me It Was Time To Leave at the bagel place, they had been pretty good boys. I almost regretted not buying them any of the please-can-I’s from Wal-Mart, but really, they have enough stuff.
Jack said something to me, but I couldn’t hear it over Peter’s look-at-me’s and the cars whizzing by. I asked him to repeat it as we turned off the busy street.
“– don’t count…” he was urging me. “Don’t count?” I repeated, puzzled. “You don’t want me to count? Like 1, 2, 3, 4, 5?”
Peter, looking up again at me with his binky-suppressed grin, covered his eyes in an approximation of a game of hide and seek. “1, 2, 3, 4, 5!” he exclaimed, remembering us playing at The Cove picnic yesterday.
Jack clarified. “Noooo… I said, the weeds don’t count! You don’t lose any mushrooms if you touch them.”
“Ohhhhh…” I smiled as we continued on. We passed some more weeds, and Jack reversed his decision. He often does. The back story or rules often develop as time goes on.
“If you touch these weeds, you’ll lose 1 heart,” he said. Suddenly mushrooms were out; hearts were in.
Peter bounced happily in his seat, and told me, in his best Italian, “You lose-a one heart. You lose-a the heart.” Many of Peter’s sentences these days sound vaguely Italian: phrases like “he like-a me” or “I make-a you laugh” or “you move-a over” or “these shorts no fit-a me.”
“I thought you said the weeds didn’t count.”
“No. THESE weeds by our house count. THOSE weeds back there don’t count.” With Jack, there’s always an explanation or a rationale, however small.
Peter looked up at me with a tinge of sadness and said, “I lose-a heart tooooooooo.” To continue this frequent call-and-response, I echoed him. “You’re going to lose a heart, too?” He finished the litany appropriately with a trademark “Yeahhhhhhhh.”
Almost home. No cars on this street, our own delightful cul-de-sac. Peter hops out of the back of the sit-and-stand stroller because he has dropped his binky on the street. I retrieve it for him and he pops it back into his mouth, earning an “ewwwww” from Jack. “That’s dirty, Dad, he di’n’t even wash it! He put it right back in his mouth.” I agreed with Jack, saying, “It’s like he licked the pavement. Yuck.” Peter might have caught on to some of this, because when I motioned for him to give me the binky he gave it up without a fuss.
Now Jack had escaped from his perch in the front of the stroller. “Let’s race, Dad! You can’t catch me!” Peter immediately chimed in, “Can’t catch-a me!” The two began running down the newly christened racetrack of a street.
I chased them down the street as a lazy stray cat watched us in disgust. We were a little sweaty when we finally made it home, me always moderating my pace so as not to pass Peter, and Jack always holding up and waiting for us to reach him. Soon we were home, and we sprawled into the kitchen and the den as I put away the milk and began unpacking the DVD player. Upstairs my wife was just starting to stir. Just another great Saturday morning.