Tonawanda News — It started on a road trip.
Those are rarely fun, as a parent. Oh, it’s fun when you arrive at your destination, but the hours in the car ... not so much. I stocked up on snacks, books and non-obnoxiously loud games and grimly passed them back to the boys — restless as only active small children strapped down in car seats for hours can be — as the whining escalated and patience frayed.
We were finally back in Western New York, but still more than an hour from home, when it happened. One of the items I’d squirreled away for Sam, a small coloring book packaged with stickers and markers, had been eagerly accepted and quite successful in keeping him busy while his brother napped. My husband and I gratefully used the time to, you know, actually talk for a while.
An hour from home, we decided to reward the relatively good behavior with a stop at an ice cream parlor in Batavia. (Oliver’s, if you’re familiar with it.) I stepped inside to verify their hours, then emerged to wave to my husband from the steps. He had already gotten out of the car to unstrap the kids. I just noticed a rather flat expression on his face when he spoke. “Why don’t you come let Sam out?”
Uh oh. I knew that tone of voice. Something was wrong. Was there a potty accident? Are we getting kid attitude from one of them? I trotted back to the car, uncertain of what I’d find, and I opened the door.
And I had to walk away for several moments. I leaned against the side of the car. I closed my eyes.
And I laughed until I cried.
”Momma?” came the voice of a 4-year-old who is suddenly uncertain of the reception. I returned to the car.
Did I mention that last packet had markers in it? It did. Four of them, red, yellow, green and blue. Which were the colors of the spots and stripes and designs now winding their way around and over and all about the arms, legs, hands and face of my younger son, who had spent the past hour or so gleefully decorating himself.
It was surprising and creative and it was impossible not to laugh. (Maybe it would have been more possible if they’d been permanent markers. They weren’t.) I got him out of his car seat and marched him into the ice cream parlor, past the slightly baffled face of the girl working there and into the bathroom, where he was scrubbed until marker-free — and told not to do that again. He agreed. It was a minor funny, colorful bump on the road of parenthood.
I should have been more specific. (And I shouldn’t have laughed.)
Fast forward about a month. I’m working in our home office, and the boys are letting me do so. They’re being really, really good, actually ... so good that I stayed in there a little longer than I should have, trying to get things done. They were happy, they were laughing, it was good. Right?
Then Sam appeared in the door.
”Don’t come out here, Mom,” he instructed. “Just stay there, OK? Don’t come out.”
He vanished. I considered this a moment. Then I stood up, grabbed my camera and snuck around the corner.
He hadn’t decorated himself this time. He’d decorated his brother.
Jim, looking proud of himself, perched on an end table and grinned at me. There was marker on his legs. His arms. Across his beaming face and winding around his chest. His name was written prominently right below his 8-year-old heart surgery scar. He apparently thought this whole thing was hysterical.
I looked at him a moment. I looked at his sheepish/proud brother. And then I had to walk away again.
And I laughed until I cried.
They were washable markers again. A bath later, Jim was back to his undecorated self. (Although I didn’t realize until later that he or his brother had also taken chunks out of his already short hair with a dull pair of childsafe scissors. I probably wouldn’t have been so blasé about that.) Sam was read the riot act about how, no matter how funny it is, he’s not allowed to draw on himself or his brother again. He agreed.
Another week later. We found marker drawings on the floor. “It was a game!” I was told. Then we noticed it on the wall. And this time, it wasn’t coming off so easily. A tearful 5-year-old claimed that he didn’t draw on himself or Jimmy this time. True, as far as it goes, by the letter of the law if not the spirit.
I can’t help but feel responsible. I’m the one who laughed so hard at their “decorations,” after all. And I never said, “Don’t draw on the floor.” It didn’t seem necessary ... which seems ridiculous in hindsight.
Sam, much chastened, claims he’s really learned his lesson now, but we’re doing without the markers for a while. By the time they return, hopefully he’ll be a little more responsible with them. I think that’s probably the case.
And next time, I’m being a lot more specific.
Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @JillKeppeler.