The Things You Eat For Your Kids

by Matthew J.X. Malady

People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, writer and producer Andre Cole tells us more about the things dads do.

Andre! So what happened here?

My teen daughter had a last-minute sleepover at our home with a couple of her close friends. If you are a parent to a teen girl, you know this means making sure dinner is available (usually ordering pizzas), then calling the other parents to assure them that their child is safe and that there is going to be an adult present in the house all night. The rest of the evening consists of noise erupting from your child’s bedroom: music, giggles, Oh EM Gees, text that, Snapchat this, he’s so cute, he’s such a dork, I really hate history class, etc. Until, of course, it gets late and you have to tell them to quiet down.

I usually don’t have to do the last part. I say my daughter’s name, she peaks her head out, sees my stern face, sighs, then goes back to tell her friends the hammer has been dropped.

I’m the serious parent. My wife is the fun, confident, “Hey girls, let’s MAKE pizza!” kind of lady. According to my daughter, her friends think I’m “cool, but intimidating and scary.” I’ll take that. Usually I get hellos, short waves and salutations, not much else.

In the morning, my wife makes them pancakes — from scratch. I tell them to clean up their mess. They hide out in the room for hours until parents start calling to end the fun. This time, things lingered later into the afternoon. I was in my dungeon (aka home office) rewriting a draft when I heard a burst of laughter from two stories up. Then there was the sound of feet rumbling down, down, and then . . . quietly tip-toeing. And there they were. My daughter looked uncertain, and her two friends had nervous smiles.

“Dad, you want to play this game?” my daughter said, presenting a small spinning wheel and a bowl of jelly beans.

“What is this?”

“You spin the wheel and eat whichever jelly bean it says,” one of her friends said.

“Let me guess, they’re all sour.”

“They all taste different,” the other friend said.

My daughter’s eyes pleaded: “Please be a good sport. Don’t be serious parent. Be cool, Dad.”

“Ok.” I spun the plastic wheel. It landed on “Lemon or Popcorn?”

“Wait, it didn’t go all the way around,” my daughter said. “Try again.”

The fix was in.

I spun. It landed on . . .

“Licorice or Skunk Spray?”

They giggled as my daughter fished a black jelly bean from the bowl.

“I don’t like Licorice.”

Suddenly my daughter had her phone pointed at my face recording me as I popped the jelly bean in my mouth. I considered swallowing it whole. But a cool dad wouldn’t do that. So I chewed. Immediately it was as if a skunk had sprayed directly into my esophagus. The stench overcame my taste buds. I don’t know the science behind it, but the taste was like biting a skunk spray gland and it erupting into your mouth.

“What is it?” my daughter asked.

“Skunk spray,” I said. The video evidence confirms my face tensed, and serious dad returned as soon as the flavor hit. They laughed. I smiled and shook my head. “That was disgusting.”

“Ewww, I smell it!” one of her friends said.

“I’m putting this on Snapchat!” my daughter yelled as they run back upstairs.

The serious dad and good sport will do whatever to make his daughter’s day (and Snapchat feed).

Your tweet implies that these sorts of scenarios are fairly common. What are some other “dumb things” that you’ve done for your kids over the years?

I’ve done it all. I hate playing board games. So, of course, my daughters love to play board games. Every other night it’s, “Can we play [horrible, horrible] board game tonight?” Then: Of course we can, sweetie. I’ve danced square dance at the school Square Dance Hoedown. Yes, me, the brooding hip-hop guy with long locs, danced to fiddles and do-si-doed with my little daughter as my partner, all for the smiles. The other parents got a kick out of snapping pictures of me. I’ve stood out in the pouring rain to watch one of my daughters play softball all because the umpire thought it built character for the girls. Meanwhile, I’m soaked and my character was built decades ago. A while back, my daughter wanted to attend a Girl Scout outing at a special campsite. At the time, it was “the most important scout event ever.” The event was making S’mores, singing songs, and riding in a canoe with dad. Total time of the event was an hour and a half. Total time I spent driving to and from the campsite: five hours.

This past week, I got two especially relevant texts from my teen daughter. One was asking if I was coming to her softball game since I was home at the time. (It was freezing out there.) The other asked if we could take her to see Lana Del Rey in Atlantic City during her birthday weekend. Just the other day, I was at my little daughter’s kindergarten chick-hatching party, where we got to see the birds hatch and get put in the warming station. It truly never ends.

Lesson learned (if any)?

If you want to build a memorable life for your kids, do things they want to do. You may have experienced tons, but the world is brand new to them, and being part of their fun makes lasting memories.

Just one more thing.

When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to see Superman 3 in the theater. My father did not. He took me anyway, hoping Richard Pryor would make it interesting for him. As you know, the movie was terrible. It was so terrible that my father hasn’t seen a film in a theater in the 32 years since. Hopefully I’ll get him to go with me to see a movie soon. I owe him. What I remember most was sitting in the seat, and then him handing me a bucket of popcorn and saying, “Ok, let’s see what Superman got for us!” The movie is long forgotten, but the memory will last forever.

Image by Kristine Paulus