The four of us are sitting around the table, eating stew that my wife has made in the crock pot using mostly leftovers. It contains taco meat, fiesta chicken, bits of pot roast, grilled elk and a bunch of fresh vegetables. The word medley comes to mind but I know that it doesn’t quite do it justice. I take a bite of what I identify as beef and say to my wife, “Listen…babe…” and she turns to me because that’s always my opener when I’m about to strike a bargain that weighs heavily in my favor. “Listen…babe…” I say, “What if you clean up here,” and I wave my hand over the table and my bowl of Carnivore Delight, “and I’ll go put the kids into pajamas and put them to sleep.”
“SOLD!” she screams and we all stand up, parting ways.
ABOVE: QUINN’S LATEST INVENTION.
In the bedroom I strip the kids out of their filthy, booger stained, food caked, dust-crusted clothes and begin to dress Quinn in her nighttime wares, which usually just consists of a pull-up since she refuses to keep her clothes on. Rory, meanwhile, hides under a blanket and lies completely still. I turn to him and say, “Where is Rory? Quinn, where is Rory? Here’s his blanket but I don’t see Rory,” and I hear a little giggle slide out from under the mound of softly undulating fabric. “Well,” I continue, “I guess we’d better just start jumping up and down on his blanket and hope there’s nothing under there that will get crushed!” There’s another soft giggle and then Quinn is hopping up and down on the bed, seemingly to “warm up” and I pause to wonder if she actually knows her brother is hiding under there. I assume that she does and is simply excited to “get her crush on.”
I stand up and count to three and throw my entire body weight down onto the little blanket, hunching my back and forming a small enclave in my torso for him to – sort of – fit into. I jump once, twice, again and again and again, and Rory is laughing and Quinn is pulling at my shirt because I think she wants me to move so she can have a turn to stomp on his body.
I pull the blanket back and I say, “What the H-E-C-K are YOU doing under there?!” And he laughs and grabs his blanket and pulls it over his head and, always a sucker for the unexpected, instead of repeating the process I ever so quietly lie on the wooden floor and slide myself under their bed… waiting… waiting… waiting…
Eventually I hear Quinn giggle and I can see a shadow moving on the floor and so I let out a little growl and I hear her squeal and then Rory sits up and says, “Dad?” and I thrust my arm out from under the bed and curl it onto the top of the mattress with an enormous snarl and both kids scream and I grab Rory’s leg and begin pulling him off the bed. His little hands grab for the bed frame but it’s useless because me, being a monster, am much stronger than a defenseless little boy. I yank him off the mattress where he collides with the floor and laughs and I say, “Come to me, little boy, I am going to eat you!” and he screams and says, “Don’t eat me, Daddy!” and he kicks out of my hand and I try to grab him again but he’s gone too far and I don’t want to expose myself to the light (what with being a monster and all) so I go for the little lamb that’s wandering around at the back of the herd. My arm curls back onto the top of the mattress and I hear Quinn scream and then, because there’s only about eight inches between the floor and the top / bottom of the bed where my nose is, I actually feel her jumping because the slats are mashed into my face but it stops quickly enough because ah-ha! I’ve got her and I pull her off the bed and this little goat isn’t getting away. I drag her under the bed kicking and screaming, her fingers pressing against the wooden floor until she’s been gobbled up like some little character in a fairy tale.
I shout, “Jade! Come find Quinn!” and my wife comes meandering in, expecting to see me but only finds Rory on the floor, still in his dirty clothes saying, “Monster got Quinn!” and my wife says, “Uh… Quinn?” and I say, “Shhh! Quiet! Don’t say anything. We’re hiding!” but Quinn says, “I’m right HERE, Mommy!” and, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before but my children are really horrible at Hide-and-Go-Seek. Quinn shrieks, “I want to hide ah-gain and Rory says, “I want to count!” and so he goes with my wife and I quickly pull the venetian blinds aside and make Quinn stand tip-toe on the very edge of the windowsill and hang on for dear life while I try to make the blinds look as natural and unlumpy as possible. Ultimately, I end up just leaning casually in front of them like, “What? These blinds? Don’t mind them.”
Twenty seconds later Rory comes tearing back into the room with my wife close behind. Rory says, “QUINN! QUINN! WHERE ARE YOU!?” and Quinn, she is, if I do say so myself, in a fantastic hiding spot. Very unexpected and, as of last night, previously unused. It’s very difficult to find new places to hide in an 8×8 box with one bed, a tent and a bookshelf in it.
I hear Quinn mumble something behind me and I say, “Shhh!” and Rory says, “QUINN, WHERE ARE YOU?” and then my wife says, “Quinnie, where aaarrreee you?” and my daughter just can’t take it anymore. She leaps from the windowsill, out of the blinds, over my shoulder, onto the bed, pops up, throws her arms in the air and shouts, “I’M RIGHT HEEERRREEEE!” and Rory says, “Found you!” and I say, “Uh… sort of.”
Before I can say, “Okay, bedtime,” Quinn runs out of the room and says, “My turn to count!” and really, truly, it wouldn’t be fair otherwise. The only problem is… where do I hide this kid? In the closet behind old clothes? Top of bookshelf? Under pile of dirty laundry? No… I’ll sneak him right out of the room! I turn to grab him and his little feet are just sticking out from under the bed and I say, “Rory, get out here,” and he says, “Daddy, I’m hiding!” and I say, “We already hid there! C’mon! I got an idea!” and I grab him by the ankle and yank him out and, while he’s hanging upside down like a possum I silently tip-toe into the bathroom and set him down oh so carefully into the tub and I gently reach up and with the lightest fingers, I begin to slide the curtain to the right, in order to block us from — Rory grabs a clumsy handful of the shower curtain and yanks it — SWISH! SWOSH! CRUMPLE!
I hear Jade laugh in the other room and I know we’re busted. Go team. Quinn shouts, “–nineteen…twenty! HERE I COME!” and then she runs past the bathroom and into the bedroom and I think, “At least we fooled the little one,” but before that thought is even out of my mouth Rory is shouting, “QUINN! WE’RE IN HERE! IN THE BATHROOM! IN THE SHOWER!” and I’m trying to hush him but he’s laughing and wrapping himself up in the clear shower curtain and pressing his face into it.
Quinn runs into the bathroom and points at me and says, “FOUND YOU!” and I say, “Never choose a 2 year old to be on your team in the International Series of Hide-and-Go-Seek Olympics.
ABOVE: “And thank you for Mommy and thank you for giraffe and thank you for diarrhea. Amen.” And that’s straight from the mouth of babes.
Properly worn out, we lie the kids down – Jade and I together, even though she cleaned up the dishes already – and we say our prayers and we shut off the lights and we give Quinn her baby and Rory his trains and we turn on the music box / pony that plays It’s a Small World and say, “Goodnight!” and, “We love you!” and, “See you in the morning!” and, “Sleep tight!” and, “Bye-Bye,” and, “We’ll leave the door open just a crack, okay?” and then the ritual and the routine is over and it’s just the two of us, my wife and I, and our family is one day closer to the arrival of the baby and I try to imagine how much fun it will be to play Hide-and-Seek with an extra person.
We turn and, instead of going into the living room, we slowly tip-toe into our bedroom and turn on the baby monitor and watch the kids go to sleep on the tiny black and white screen.
“Found you,” I whisper.