Chapter 5: Snacktime
I'd like to think that I came into my own as a parental figure after Lizzie left to resume her freshman year at McGill University in January. When she was around, parenting was all about…conforming. I had to adhere to society's rules: bed times, square meals, bathing and the like.
After she left, I began to redefine parenthood. I was able to make my own rules: go to sleep when you want, eat snacks if you feel like it, and bathe…well, daily bathing was still strictly required. I mean, have you smelled a five year-old lately?
I thought I was a revolutionary during those first few weeks. But, if raising children has taught me anything, it's that no matter what I do, I'm wrong.
Case in point: making lunches.
Now, Lizzie had made the kids' lunches when she was around, and I was all for it. We would split the morning chores right down the middle: she made breakfast and lunch, and I woke Marti and Simon to make sure they were packed up and ready for school. Her lunch was a classic: sandwich, fruit, chips, and a desert.
After she left, I decided to reform the process by making lunches the night before and putting in plenty of delicious (read: unhealthy) snacks instead of the healthy crap she put in them. However, my revolution was over before it started.
When Marti and Simon got home from school after their first day back from break, I asked them the same thing I ask them everyday: "How was your day?"
Usually, I got very unrevealing, stereotyped answers, such as "Fine," "Good," or "Okay." Today, Simon yelled, "Poopy!"
Before I could respond to the oddly revealing answer, he ran upstairs and shut his door behind him. "What happened?" I asked Marti.
"You screwed up lunch," she responded in a tone that implied I should have known that I was wrong.
"Where do I start? You didn't cut the crust off his sandwich…"
"Why can't he eat around the crust?" I interrupted, inwardly grimacing. Dad had asked me that same question when I was about Simon's age.
"I don't know! What am I psychic? Just don't do it again! He ran up to me at lunch and started whining to me in front of all of my friends until I cut the crust off his sandwich myself. It was so embarrassing!"
"I'm sure it wasn't that bad."
"It was! He also made me trade chips with him…"
"What? Why did he want to trade chips? He loves Doritos!"
"He loves classic Doritos. You gave him blue ranch. And even after that I had to beg Stacey to give him an apple because he didn't want extra cookies…"
"He didn't want extra cookies? What kind of Venturi is he?"
"Apparently a smart one. Derek, between the chips and the sandwich and the lack of fruit the only thing he liked was the stuff I gave him." She continued muttering under her breath at my inability to make school lunches all the way up to her room.
"Fine," I mumbled to myself. "If he wants a sandwich with the crust cut off, I'll give him a sandwich with the crust cut off." So, even though I originally wasn't planning on making their lunches until later that night, I walked into the kitchen and pulled out everything I would need. Bread, roast beef, apples, bags of classic Doritos, and two cookies. As I cut the crust off Simon's sandwich, I grinned. This was the lunch to end all lunches, I was sure.
The next day, I waited by the door for Simon and Marti to come in and proclaim that they ate the greatest lunch off all time today. When the bus rolled in at exactly 3:17, I asked, "How was your day?"
I was expecting enthusiastically positive answers: "Awesome," "Amazing," "Life fulfilling!" (Okay, so maybe I wasn't expecting Simon to say that one lunch fulfilled his life, but a guy can dream, right?)
"I hate you!" Simon yelled in a similar reaction to the day before. Sure enough, he ran up the stairs and slammed his door shut.
I plopped into my chair and buried my face in my hands. "What did I do now?" I asked Marti, who sat on the couch opposite me. "I cut off the crust, I gave him only one dessert, and I even gave him the chips he liked. Why is he still so mad?"
"Because you cut the sandwich horizontally," she said in that stupid tone once again.
"Why does that matter?" I asked exasperatedly. It was such a pointless detail! I mean, how can you even tell if a sandwich is cut horizontally or vertically when the crust is cut off?
"To him it does," she shrugged as though this was just another fact of life, like the sky being blue.
"How was I supposed to cut it then, Little Miss Know-It-All?"
"Diagonally, duh." Okay, so I'm not sure if she said duh or merely implied it, but it was clearly there.
"Well, how was I supposed to know?" I hollered. She seemed put-off by my tone, but I was frustrated. How many tries was it going to take to get this kid to eat his lunches?
"You could ask."
"Yeah, because five year-olds are always so clear in expressing their needs." What was she thinking?
"You know that's not what I meant." No, I don't. "Call Lizzie. He always ate her lunches." Oh. Her.
"I can't bother her. She has class." Well, that's not true. She said I could call her anytime if I needed help, but this wasn't one of those times. I mean, who needs advice on how to make lunches, of all things. At least class was good excuse not to call her.
"That's a terrible excuse. You know she said you could."
"Fine, but I don't need help. How's that for an excuse?" I asked her accusingly, perhaps a little too harshly as she jumped up in a huff.
"Be that way then!" She stormed up the steps to her room, looking all too much like the teenager she was still two years away from being. Before she slammed the door behind her, she shouted, "By the way, it's a crappy excuse!"
"Watch your language!" I yelled up the steps, but she didn't respond. Sighing, I headed into the kitchen and began to make the lunches while Marti's advice was fresh in my mind. After making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I was sure to cut the crustless sandwich diagonally.
Okay, so after two days of failing, I was hoping (no, praying) for any response other than "I hate you," or "poopy." But, when Simon responded to my simple question of "How was your day?" with a scream of frustration as he ran up the stairs to his room, I wasn't exactly relieved.
"What did I do now?" I asked Marti after she put her backpack down in the foyer.
"Why should I tell you?" she asked harshly. "Yesterday you said that you didn't need help." Oh right. That.
"Well, I do need help," I reluctantly admitted. "Just tell me what I did wrong this time. It was a crustless sandwich, I cut it diagonally…"
"But you filled it with peanut butter and jelly."
"He loves peanut butter and jelly!" Okay, this time I seriously had no idea what I did wrong.
"He loves peanut butter and jelly on Thursdays. Just like he loves turkey on Mondays, roast beef on Tuesdays, pastrami on Wednesdays, and tuna on Fridays."
"Wait, there's a schedule? How come I never heard of it?"
She shrugged. "You never asked. I assumed you knew because you got it right the last few days."
I began to rub my face. "Ugh, there's a schedule!"
"Nora always used the cold cuts early in the week so they wouldn't go bad in the fridge." I think she knew that the logic behind the schedule wasn't what bothered me because, unexpectedly, she decided to disregard our fight and pat me on the back. "You could've asked for help."
"I didn't think I needed it."
"I guess you were wrong."
"Listen, I'm not trying to make mistakes. I'm trying…"
"All you're trying to do is be independent of everyone else."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing. But instead you're trying make yourself seem original and unique and god's gift to parenting, which you're not."
"Not yet," I quietly defended.
"Not ever if you keep acting like this! You can't just throw away everything that everyone before you has done. If everyone else sucks at parenting, how do we have a functional society?"
"Societal conditions aside, I'm not throwing away everything."
"Really? What do you call your 'no bedtime rule?' The 'eat-when-you-want rule?' The 'bathe-when-necessary rule?'"
"Hey, we both know that I rescinded that last rule after Simon took advantage of it for four days."
"That's four days too many! We need structure! We need rules!"
"You have structures and rules. Just very liberal rules and very loose structure."
"That's what you call it? Liberal rules and loose structures? What would Dad and Nora say?"
"I don't know!"
"Maybe we should call Casey and Lizzie and ask them. I'm sure either one of them would have some interesting things to say about the situation."
"I'm sure they would, but I don't have to consult them on every decision."
"Yes, but you're supposed to be a team. And you have yet to even discuss the tiniest details. When are you going to take us shopping for new winter clothes? Simon can't keep wearing our ancient hand-me-downs forever!"
"Let's get back to what's important here…"
"You mean your resistance to ask for help, your asinine rules (or lack thereof) or your inability to make lunches that Simon will eat."
"I said asinine not ass."
"Hey! That time you did!"
"I'm surprised you don't have a liberal rule about cursing." She rolled her eyes at the mention of my rules.
"Don't you take that tone with me young lady." I waved my finger in her face as my father had done numerous times before.
She ignored me. "Listen, you need to get over your own insecurities."
"What do my insecurities have to do with anything?"
"They have to do with everything. You somehow think that because you aren't entirely sure you can do this on your own that you have something to prove. You already proved that you're a great parental figure over the last two months. Use the rules that got you this far, even if Dad and Nora and Casey and Lizzie helped make them. Call for help. Stop trying so hard to prove something to everyone else and buckle down to do what needs to be done."
I mulled over her words before the strangeness of our conversation became apparent. "You realize you're eleven? How do you know what I'm thinking?"
"I'm almost twelve. And besides, you know this conversation is all happening in your head."
"I said, 'I guess you were wrong'. In case you weren't listening to everything else I said, tomorrow is peanut butter and jelly." She got up from the sofa and went into her room to start her homework, leaving me to ponder the incredibly strange conversation that we apparently did not have.
With a sigh, I pulled out my cell phone. I begrudgingly dialed Lizzie's number and waited for her to pick up.
"Hey Derek, what's up?" she said calmly.
I was slightly surprised by her composure, considering the last time I called her at school she was frazzled by some exam or something. "Not much. How's it going at school?"
"It's okay," she admitted. "Freshman classes are much easier the second time around. The accident might have been the best thing to happen to my GPA." Her joke fell flat, although we both attempted to chuckle. "Seriously though, what's up?"
"I'm insulted. Why can't I just be calling to catch up?"
"Because last time you called me was to say that our parents were dead. And I can't remember the last time you called me before that."
"Fair enough," I conceded. "Listen, I'm having trouble making lunches that Simon will eat."
I was completely serious, but strangely enough, she laughed. "That's weird."
I had to laugh along. It really was a ridiculous situation "Yeah, I know, but he keeps crying to Marti every time I get it wrong."
The laughter on the other end stopped abruptly. "Every time? How many times have you messed up?"
I paused. "Three times."
"Three?" The laughter on her end resumed. "What did you do?"
"The first time I gave him the wrong chips and too many cookies and I didn't cut the crust off his sandwich or give him an apple."
"Okay, so what did you do the second day?"
"I fixed all of that, but I didn't cut the sandwich diagonally."
"Yeah, Mom always used to do that." Her voice trailed off. "What about the third day?"
"I fixed that, but I gave him PB and J instead of pastrami."
"Oh, you didn't know there was a schedule! It's turkey on Mondays, roast beef on Tuesdays, pastrami on Wednesdays…"
"PB and J on Thursdays and tuna on Fridays," I finished. "Marti told me."
"Okay, so now you know the schedule. Sounds like you've got everything down."
"Are you sure I didn't forget everything? I can't have him not eating his lunch one more day."
She laughed again. "I really think it'll be fine tomorrow."
I was about to say goodbye and hang up before Lizzie interrupted me. "Wait Derek. Casey called me yesterday. She said that she wanted to talk to you about getting some new winter clothes for Simon and Marti."
"Yeah, I was just talking to Marti about that." Well, not really. I think. "Should I just call her?"
"Yeah, she's not that busy tomorrow I think. I'll talk to you later Derek. Let me know how it goes tomorrow."
"Okay, I will. Bye Liz."
"Bye Derek." I hung up and went into the kitchen. As I pulled out the bread, peanut butter, jelly, chips, apple, and cookies, I had only one thought: if Simon doesn't each this lunch, it's Lizzie's fault, not mine.
The next day, I braced myself for the inevitable. When Simon and Marti came home, I delayed asking my usual question. I didn't want the "poopy," the "I hate you" or the frustrated screams. But, I had to ask: "How was your day?"
"Fine," Simon said, as though it was the simplest thing in the world.
I was about to collapse in my chair and groan when I realized what he said. "Wait, you said fine!" I grabbed his shoulders and began doing a little happy dance in place.
He looked me in the eyes. "Yeah, fine." He started staring at the floor and tried to squirm out of my grasp, but I wouldn't have it.
"So, you liked your lunch?"
He shrugged. "I ate it." Then he ran up the stairs as fast as he could, clearly uncomfortable with my display of happiness.
"Yes!" I launched into my full-scale happy dance around the floor. "He liked it, he liked it," I sang. I even grabbed Marti and made her dance with me.
She giggled as I twirled her around. "Way to go!"
"I know!" I yelled as I hugged her tightly and swung her around the room.
I was reaching for my phone to call Lizzie when I heard Marti tease me while walking up the stairs: "One down, a thousand left to go."
I collapsed into my chair with a groan. A thousand left to go. Maybe if I'm lucky I'll get him to eat five hundred of them.
Sorry if this update is a little shorter than the last, but I wanted something short and sweet (especially because classes started up again today and my time to write will rapidly begin to decrease). If you are confused by Derek and Marti's faux conversation, I intended it to be Derek's subconscious projecting itself through Marti. Also, I just have to say that when I was in school, my mother used to have a very similar lunch schedule. Although I didn't realize this until high school, my sister always complained when we received a deviation.
Like I said at the end of the last chapter, I think this chapter is a huge clue as to what Simon's future will hold. It will become more obvious in due time.
As usual, your reviews mean everything to me. As much as I love the "favorites" and the "email alerts" (and I really do love them), if you don't review I have no idea how to improve my story! So please give me feedback!