2.

The remainder of the clean-up goes well. I clean the brown handprints off the various things Jonah touched in the bathroom. Then I clean the vomit out of the sink and off the bathroom counter. The taste in my mouth is awful, so I brush my teeth thoroughly with the electric toothbrush and use some mouthwash.

Jonah has begun throwing toys out of the tub and saying, “Uh-oh!” I admonish him for it, but not very seriously. He’s doing it just to get a rise out of me anyway and to make me his personal slave for the moment. I wait until he’s thrown all the toys out, then I give them back to him. Throwing them back out one at a time should keep him occupied for a couple of minutes.

I stand up straight, stretch, and take some mental inventory. My lower back is slightly sore from the flexing, bending, and straining I’ve done so far this morning. My nose picks up a remaining stench, and I realize that I meant to take out the trash as soon as was convenient.

The trashcan is located right next to the cat’s litterbox, and from the looks of it, she apparently had a Thanksgiving meal sometime over the last couple of days. The litterbox has a white plastic liner in it. It’s intended as a convenience so that when the current stock of litter has been rendered entirely unscoopable due to the cat’s abuse of it, the liner and its contents can just be removed and thrown in the trash.

Scooping the cat litter in our house has never been textbook, however. Commercials for products such as Fresh Step show an animation of the cat covering her business the way she’s supposed to, daisies and sunflowers shooting up and blooming wherever she has placed her paw to scratch. Yeah, right. They didn’t count on our cat being afraid to scratch at the litter. Oh, she still scratches, but she scratches the wall next to the litterbox. She has done this for ten years of her life now, and we expect she’ll never learn. Besides, you can’t teach cats how to do stuff like this. She has it set in her head that scratching the wall somehow covers up her stuff. You can’t argue with instinct.

Thus, the litter never clumps where she’s peed. The urine just kind of sits on top of the litter and then sinks into it, rendering everything it touches unclumpable. We have this porous scoop that’s supposed to pick up the clumps and then let all the loose stuff sift through it, so with our cat it picks up poop while all the pee settles in and contaminates the remainder of the litter, making it useless. She always pees at the front of the box, making this horrendous sludge there that releases a toxic ammonium odor throughout practically the entire house. She can shut the place down with just one pee, and I swear she pees like a freaking elephant, this gigantic spray that can turn the desert to quicksand.

Since my stomach has already been sufficiently churned for the day, and since I’ve already dealt with every other conceivable bodily function, I figure I could stand to put it through some more hoops and take care of the cat litter, especially considering the trashcan is already an abomination. My approach is to run the scoop through the part where the cat pees and pick up as much as I can get. Then, with the trashcan up against the edge of the litterbox, I quickly bring the scoop over it and dump it before too much can sift back through the scoop. If my timing is right and I’m a little lucky, I can do it without sprinkling the floor. I’m never perfect, though, and sometimes I don’t judge my movement right and hit the side of the trashcan, sending clumps of pee-soaked litter skittering across the floor in the general area. This is exactly what happens.

Not only that, but it gets on the bathroom rugs, and I realize I’m at least going to have to beat them out before I’m done. I’ll probably actually have to wash them, and I seem to remember that Melody had just washed them yesterday. Jeez, that was a waste.

I get the litter scooped and cleaned up to my satisfaction, and there is enough clean litter left in there to last a few more days. Hopefully. I toss Jonah’s toys back in the tub for another round, then grab the broom we keep in the bathroom to clean up the cat’s stuff. I check back behind the litter box and see a few stray cat turds. This is to be expected. The cat likes to do #2 in the back of the box, and I think sometimes she hangs her pooper right out the back end. That’s the only way I can figure the poop gets back there. She certainly doesn’t scratch it out. I grab some toilet paper, pick up the turds, and toss them in the toilet. I then place my left hand on the front of the box to move it back against the wall, and that’s when it all gets a little worse.

Because the cat is dead set on peeing right against the front edge of the litterbox, sometimes she overdoes it and creates the same problem with her pee that she does with her poop. It goes out the front of the box. But instead of getting all over the floor, usually what happens is that she directs her stream into the front of the plastic liner, which sticks a little bit outside the perimeter of the box all around. The pee gets trapped in little wrinkles and folds in the plastic and goes unnoticed until I put my hand on it. For some reason, I’ve never learned, and it gets me every time.

“Gyah!” I exclaim. This elicits a laugh from Jonah and an imitation: “Yah!” Cat pee spills out of the puddle it has made in a deep fold of the litter liner and begins to spread rapidly across the floor toward the rugs. I stand back up, propping my arms on the counter for support. In haste, I hop over to the sink, using my arms to swing me over the spreading pee puddle. The counter is still wet and slippery from the wipedown a few moments ago; my arms slip out from under me, bringing me down to hit my chin on the counter. I shuffle my feet to catch myself and minimize the damage and slip my bare feet right into the cat pee.

My teeth rattle on impact and vibrations go through my skull. I don’t notice this, however, as much as I do the renewed disgust from getting cat pee all over my feet.

“Agh!” I say.

“Ha ha, yah!” Jonah says.

Behind me, toys are thrown right into the cat pee, which at this point has found all three bathroom rugs: the rug in front of the sink, the rug in front of the bathtub, and the rug in front of the toilet. There was much, much more pee in that dip in the lining than I had thought.

Jonah exclaims with each toss of a toy, and he seems to be very amused about where they have landed.

“Jonah, I swear!” I say.

“Yo, yah!”

That’s a first. I’ll have to remember to tell Melody later, if I survive the day, that is —I think Jonah was trying to say his own name.

I am reminded of a joke I once read as a kid in some joke book. Actually, not really a joke, just a funny thought: “When you get up in the morning, eat a live frog whole. Then no matter what happens, the worst part of your day is over.”

“God, let this be my frog,” I pray.

I pick up the toys and toss them in the sink, then turn on the faucet and let them rinse. I grab a cleaning rag and spread it over the pee. It darkens as the pee begins to soak it through immediately. Since the rugs are ruined anyway, I walk across them to the shelf where we keep the washcloths, grab one down, run it through the faucet and clean off my feet. I rinse it out, then use it to wipe down the counter. I remind myself to bleach the counter and the sink later. Or I could have Melody do it while I head out on a three-week solo vacation to recover from a day that starts like this.

I grab up the rugs and rush them out of the bathroom, telling Jonah over my shoulder that I’ll be right back and not to worry. He begins to protest anyway. He thinks once we’re out of sight, it means we’ve probably died, that civilization has ended and he has been left destitute.

I toss the rugs into the garage by the laundry hamper. I hear a new episode of Stick in the Mud starting up.

Ezra’s cries are intermittent, now. When I can get to him, I’m sure I can talk him out of crying and into doing something else. That’s a comfort.

“Daddy, I want some tea!” Daniel shouts.

“Not right now, bud,” I tell him.

“But I’m really thirsty.”

“Get some water.”

“But I want tea! Mommy said I could have tea,” he said.

From the time he could talk, Daniel’s been playing this card on me.

“I’m sure she did, but I’m taking care of Jonah right now, Daniel. We’re having problems.”

Stick in the Mud notwithstanding, Daniel gets out of the computer chair and begins stomping in circles around it to demonstrate his frustrations. The floorboards rattle and boom throughout the house. He’s a big kid for his age; he weighs 75 pounds, and I swear if he grows any bigger, his stomping will go right through the floor and into the crawlspace.

“Daniel, I will help you,” I say. “But Jonah’s in the bathtub and he’s upset. Just wait.”

“Fine,” Daniel says. “But I’m not going to look at you for the rest of the day, not for a million minutes!”

This conversation takes place entirely over my shoulder and behind my back as I’m sweeping through.

I return to the bathroom to find Jonah trying to climb out of the tub. He’s quit crying, as he’s realized he can just take care of this situation himself. I can see the rapture on his face as he realizes he might soon be running around the house naked, possibly marking his territory if he feels the need.

“No no, baby,” I say. I gently nudge him back in, but he loses his footing, slips, and lands on his back. He slides a bit toward the drain. Water splashes into his face. He gasps, then starts coughing and crying, upset about the predicament as well as his blocked goals. The bathroom amplifies his cries again to beyond deafening.

I sigh and proceed to scrub him down. He protests the whole time. It continues through his extraction from the tub, but thank God, I get it done with no more incident.

I get him dressed for the day. This process is normally a battle anyway, but I was ambushed this morning, and it turned into the worst sort of guerilla warfare. We’ve got Charlie all over the place, I think.  Where’s my air cover? My air cover, God in other words, is probably laughing his butt off right about now.

Jonah is now dressed. It is 6:45. By the time I get his shirt over his head, he is finally over his stuff and ready to play a little more. In all the drama, he completely forgot about Melody. Well, that’s one way to distract him, but I had really just intended to turn on some Leapfrog and see if I could kind of zone him out.

I leave him to play in his room, which consists mostly of pulling all his board books off, tossing them around the room, and saying, “‘dere!” This is his variation on “there” and is very similar to what Ezra used to say at this age when tossing objects like a cell phone or a remote around the room: “Right there!” I roll my eyes at the mess Jonah’s making, counting my blessings that at least it’s not something I’ll have to fumigate the house to clean up.

Ezra’s crying and fussing is still in its dying throes. “I want Mommy!” he keeps spitting out.

I open the door into his room. He has a few drying tears, but it looks like there have been no fresh ones for a while.

“Hey,” I say. “You need to work on getting happy right now, buster. Daniel didn’t mean to push you over. He said he was sorry. You need to forgive him.”

“No, I don’t wike ‘dat,” he says. This is his present variant on “I ain’t gonna’.” He has others. “I don’t know ‘dat,” he then says, as if it clarifies his position any further.

“Ezra, I’m not going to tell you again. It was an accident. These things happen when you guys get rambunctious. You need to forgive Daniel, okay?”

No! I want Mommy!”

I go for the thing that always works: “Do I need to give you a spanking?”

His expression changes from anger to desperation. He covers his eyes and says, “No-oh-oh!” For him, saying I might spank him seems to mean I already have.

“I don’t want to spank you, but I might have to if you continue to be like this.”

“No!”

“Okay, are you going to be happy?”

“Uh, yeah!” he says. He quickly wipes his eyes, stands right up, jumps up and down a couple of times, and then is a whole new person. This transformation never ceases to amaze me. It makes me laugh.

“Okay then,” I tell him. “Let’s go out and make up with Daniel.”

He runs out ahead of me. Well, it’s not running, exactly. Ezra hops, skips, and jumps anytime he goes anywhere according to a rhythm that only he hears. He began doing this around the age of two. The party in his head never stops. That is, when he’s happy and upright and not throwing these tantrums in the middle of the carpet.

Daniel is perched with his knees on the rolling computer chair, which is backed far away from the desk. He is barely leaning his elbows on the desk. If the chair moves away another couple of inches, he’ll spill into the floor and then I’ll have a whole new battle to comfort him. This has happened before. Prevention appears to be the name of the game today, and I’ve done shoddy work on that so far. I maneuver around Ezra to push Daniel’s chair nonchalantly back toward the desk. Daniel shifts his weight somewhat to accommodate the repositioning, but he still remains rapt on his streaming Stick in the Mud. Team Farty McGee appears to be beating team Skidmarks by a healthy, sound 300 juicy turds so far.

Ezra glances at the show, but he has a one-track mind that can’t be diverted from its present course. He taps on Daniel’s shoulder.

“Dan-al, Dan-al,” he says. “I forgive you.”

Daniel hasn’t noticed he’s there yet. “Daniel,” I say. Still can’t get through. I say his name louder. Doesn’t work. “Daniel!” I bark, not quite at the top of my lungs but sharply enough.

“What?” he says. He’s turned toward me, but his eyes have a thousand-yard stare. It’s likely been a while since he blinked.

“Ezra’s trying to say something to you.”

“What? Oh.” He looks down and notices him.

Ezra puts his hands over his mouth and smiles a huge, toothy smile. He mumbles something that neither of us can hear.

Daniel quickly decides Stick in the Mud is more important.

“Speak up, Ezra.”

He mumbles into his hands again.

“Daniel, Ezra’s trying to say something to you.”

“What? Oh,” Daniel says.

“Say it again Ezra. Take your hands off your mouth.” I forcibly remove said hands, firmly but not unkindly.

He mumbles again, the words a little more audible. Again, though, neither of us can hear. Again, Daniel returns to his show.

“For crying out loud,” I say. I grab the mouse and pause the show.

“Hey!” Daniel says. He wrestles the mouse away from me and pushes play again.

“Both of you! Is this going to take all day? Listen!” I grab the mouse back from Daniel and pause the show again.

“But Daddy, I was watching that.”

“Hush and listen. Pay attention to Ezra. Now, Ezra, tell Daniel what you want to tell him, but say it loudly enough so we can hear.”

“I forgive you,” he squeaks.

“Louder, Ezra. We can’t hear you when you talk like that.”

I forgive you, Daniel!” he screams at the top of his lungs and laughs.

We both jumped. “Hey! You hurt my ears and you scared me, Ezra!” Daniel says.

“And Daniel, are you sorry you hurt Ezra?” We’re working backward here, I know, but look at the talent on hand. You use what you got.

“He hurt my ears, Dad. He should say he’s sorry for that.”

“Daniel, quit being so dramatic. Tell Ezra you’re sorry.”

His brow is furrowed and he looks anything but apologetic, but he complies. He huffs, “I’m sorry I hurt you, Ezra. I was being careless. I’ll be more careful now.” This is a mantra he’s been saying since he was three and a half. It’s lip service, but it satisfies.

“Okay, now give each other a hug,” I advise.

Daniel groans and hops down off his chair. He and Ezra hug and then immediately begin tickling each other, which turns to wrestling and genuine guffaws of laughter. It’s a proud moment for me as a father, thinking I somehow made this happen.

“Okay, you guys be careful with each other. I don’t want you getting right back into the same thing.”

They ignore me and continue on.

“You guys have eaten breakfast, right?” I survey the kitchen table. Half-eaten pancakes and syrup everywhere. Ezra and Jonah’s pancakes look like they’ve barely been nibbled. Yeah, that’s about right.

“I need to eat something,” I say, mostly to myself. I’ll just eat what they left behind, which would be more than enough. I can count on one hand the number of meals I eat a week where the portion was originally meant for me. I eat food the kids have already touched and/or chewed and spit out because I can’t stand to see it go to waste.

“I want eggs!” Ezra says.

At the same time, Daniel shouts, “I want goldfish crackers!”

“Daniel, come on, not in the morning.”

“Mommy said yes.”

“Knock it off. She did not.”

“I want tea, Daddy. You never got my tea.”

“How about this: we can all have orange juice or apple juice.”

“I don’t want applesauce right now,” Ezra says. They’re both standing up right now, looking at each other as they talk to me. There’s some sort of code they use with their eyes, I think to communicate the strategy by which they’ll try to drive me crazy in this particular situation.

“I didn’t say applesauce. I said apple juice.”

“Oh. I want apple juice,” Ezra says. “And I want chocolate milk the straw.” This is how he asks for chocolate milk in a cup with a lid and a straw. It has never been, nor apparently will it ever be simply “chocolate milk.” I guess he fears that if he were just to ask for that, we’d expect him to drink straight out of the carton of chocolate almond milk, and Ezra’s much too classy for that.

“Yes Ezra, I’ll get you that. Daniel, you want any juice?”

“I want tea!” Daniel says.

“Daniel, it’s—” I look at the clock, “seven in the morning right now. The sun’s barely up. It’s too early for tea.”

“Mommy said yes.”

“Gyah!”

“Fine. I’ll drink apple juice, and it’ll make me sick and throw up because it’s not tea, and then I’ll be sick for the next hundred million, billion hours.”

It’s like arguing with a cat that just had a flea bath. He’s determined to be ticked because I don’t have the boobs to qualify me as a respectable adult in this house. Although if she were here, Melody would say he does the same thing to her, that they all treat her like they’re treating me. Well that may be true, but they turn on the angelic charm when the both of us are in the room and play her as the good cop against my bad cop.

This is the moment those Facebook memes were created for. You know the ones—they say something like this: “When I was a kid, we didn’t have iPhones, Smart Phones, or any phones but the landline. We learned to respect our elders, speak only when spoken to, chew with our mouth closed, and not interrupt the hipsters’ enjoyment of their grande mocchacino latte at the Starbucks our parents inexplicably took us to.” Then a bunch of childless opinionated thirty-somethings flock to the post like flies to a turd with comments like: “Amen, that’s right” and “When I was a kid, my parents spanked me if I so much as thought about talking back, and I’m definately [freaking sic] better for it.” These same folks have decided that to have children would cramp their style, and apparently God has called them to tell other people how they’re screwing up at raising their own with stupid, pointless memes like this one. And the meme is usually written with simple white lettering against a black backdrop, no cutesy little pictures or treatment by “someecards” because, you know, this stuff is ‘da troof and needs to look serious. I reiterate, none of these people have kids, and if they do, they’re those one-child yuppie types who think that child-raising “has its ups and downs” but can still afford to chime in with the childless as if there’s commonality there. All that to say, none of these people have a clue what trying to handle a situation like this one is like, when giving one child the discipline he needs means that a child in another room, during that time of healthy discipline-giving, is preparing to take a bath with the toaster.

So rather than go with what Facebook would preach and send Daniel through the wall for all his insolence, I ignore him and pour him a cup of apple juice. If he doesn’t drink it, Jonah will be along directly and will probably spark a territorial battle in the doing.

I give Ezra his beverages, then warm up the little boys’ remaining pancakes and have some breakfast. Melody has brewed an especially strong pot of coffee this morning. God bless her, the woman does know my needs.

Things achieve a calm state after all of that. I can’t believe it. Hell on earth has turned to heaven. Ezra and Daniel are now laughing together at Stick in the Mud. The show has absolutely no redeeming value save one: it’s bringing my boys together. They’re repeating some of their favorite copraphilial jokes to each other as well as cheering on the teams in the lead. (It’s ever been in Daniel’s nature to cheer on the winner no matter what the sporting event. I have to stay my hand when he cheers on the Cubs every time they give the Cardinals a good trouncing. The kid doesn’t understand the concept of the underdog. I picture him cheering on Apollo Creed when we finally get to watch Rocky together.)

The monitor to Jonah’s room is turned on. I hear things being tossed around back there, some of them hitting the wall and likely putting dents in it, but he’s happy. Very loud, but happy. After each bang and crash, I hear varying exclamations: “Dyeah, whoa, go!”

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