He waits for me.
Before I’ve even stumbled through the door, he scans me…probing for weakness. Huddled in shadows, he watches will all the patience he can command from his 3-year old body.
“Puffy eyes,” he reasons. “Face a little long. Weaving a bit. Probably didn’t sleep last night in the hospital. Excellent.”
Daddy’s home….may the best boy win.
I collapse on the mattress in our living room. Placed there for my frequent late nights with the on-call pager, the patterned white expanse invites me in after nearly 25 straight hours of in-hospital work.
But I see him out of the corner of my eye. The spiky hair, the blue eyes alive with anticipation, the little fingers wrapped around a pleather baseball. Even a blink is risky.
Laying like a dead man, I pretend (with little effort) to sleep. But I can’t relax. Warily, I scan the room with the one eye not buried in a pillow. He approaches, cat-like, on coiled springs for feet. He’s nervous. New to battle, he is. He has none of the scars and experience an old hand like me carries into conflicts like this. I’ve got the wisdom, but his energy stores easily transcend the average life-force of at least 2 functioning adults.
The boy is quite a shot, and he ends our fragile truce with his little baseball. It slams into the bridge of my nose before I even see it coming. Then with a shriek of joy mixed with complete and abject terror, he bolts. Just out of reach on the far side of the mattress, the little perp streaks for the safety of the couch cushions; his legs an adrenaline-charged blur. I lunge, still on my stomach, grasping for quicksilver ankles that leap at just the right moment. Another shriek of triumph becomes abruptly distant and distorted as a pillow wilts over my head.
Alright you little twerp. Time to shake hands with DEATH!
I rise up on my knees, breathing fire and rrrowling with menacing finality. Trapped in the “L” of our sectional couch that has endured too many such battles over the years, the boy realizes his exuberant mistake. Quickly he tries to jump over the backside of the couch, but the seatback is too tall. In desperation, he darts for the end of the couch, where the breeze of freedom swirls enticingly.
Now in control, I use his own weapon against him…and whip the pillow – AS HARD AS I CAN – at his little running feet. If timed well and I hit low, that little kid is gonna flip upside down and land square on the far side of the mattress where I was trying to sleep! On the other hand, I could hit him high and watch in satisfaction as he curls over the pillow and crashes into the armrest.
I hit low.
With a squeal, he tumbles off the couch and onto the mattress – my lair – and I pounce. Son or no son, the child receives no mercy. Every tickle-point is fair game. My cruel fingers send their message of revenge and he writhes beneath me like a possessed rabbit. Once he gets too adept at protecting his vital ticklish flanks, I pick him up by a single ankle, and he stretches out like an accordion, exposing every protected square inch.
Just as he wriggles away, I smush him into the mattress with my entire body. For a brief, blessed moment the living room settles into an eerie silence punctuated only be a weird, muffled warble. But that, of course doesn’t last as his heel jams me in the gut. I shift slightly. Instantly he pops up, “GET ME, DAD! HAHAHAHA!” loud enough to be clearly audible on a jumbo jet tarmac, and vanishes on those feet that never seemed to actually quit moving, even during his brief time as my prisoner of war.
The boy vanishes around the back of the couch. I rush after him, and he in turn squirts around to the mattress side. We pause. A kind of silence again, but filled with the deep breathing of two wounded Titans, warily forming their next strategy.
Suddenly a second pillow warps into my head, followed by 2 other balls of differing shapes and sizes. From the other side of the couch, he pops his head up – fuzzy crown first – laughs hysterically and waits for my return volley of his ammo. I oblige, he ducks, and an entire can of some sort of reed stand blasts into a thousand pieces behind him. Slowly, the fuzz returns. Then a pair of blue eyes, followed by a wide grin which, together with the eyes say silently, “YOU can explain that one to Mom.”
But I’m ready – with balls 2 and 3, and a second pillow I found. I pelt his accusing smile full-force. He topples backward onto the mattress, his legs straight up in the air. I jump up and shower him with balls of every size and make. Some squish into him, others carrom from his body off into lights, windows, the aquarium (sorry, fish…it’s life and death out here).
He rises, a bit woozy….looking about finished. I’ve won.
Suddenly, girls stream at me from every direction. Hair flying, screaming like highland goddesses, 6 hands descend upon me and topple me to the ground with ease. Balls, pillows, blankets and an occasional doll rain upon me. I am powerless in the onslaught.
Just before I black out, I see that terrible, terrible boy. Jumping up and down in irrepressible excitement, he watches his secret weapon conquer his adversary with cruel efficiency. Who can ever hope to conquer a boy with 3 older sisters? This kid commands kryptonite, a cloaking device and a bazooka all rolled into one.
Some wars just can’t be won.