July 12, 2005

My Gift on Tristan's Birthday

Before she left for a week at camp, my dear wife did two things. 1. She promised Tristan that Daddy (that being me) would take him to Chuck E. Cheese's for his birthday, and 2. She made an appointment for the carpet cleaners to come on Tuesday morning.

Well, I knew that there was no way I could have the house ready for the cleaners. My week is filled up with picking up after my two sons and the handful of teenagers who hang out here, getting Ethan to summer school, taking Tristan to swim lessons, taking everyone to the community pool in the afternoons, getting ready for General Assembly, writing a sermon, celebrating Tristan's birthday, preparing for Ethan's cub scout camping trip that has been rescheduled to Friday night, tying up loose ends from my week at camp last week, fixing meals, doing the dishes, reading bedtime stories, and remembering, once in a while, to breathe.

So I called the carpet cleaners and cancelled.

Getting out of a trip to Chuck E. Cheese's, however, was not so easy. I would have preferred to stay home and try to restore some order to my house, but I have no power over an adorable boy celebrating his fourth birthday. So last night, we went.

I spent most of the evening sitting at the table in our booth as the kids ran around, playing the games and riding the "rides" which consumed twenty tokens in a mere 3.7 seconds. I bought twenty more tokens and sent the kids off again. (I did run around some with them myself, but mostly they wanted to roam free.) I kept one eye on them, and one eye on the family in the booth next to us: Mom didn't want to get up from the table, so her kids kept hopping over the back of the seat into our booth, climbing over the shoes my kids had left on the seat so they could go crawl in the tubes and slide down the slides. When that family left, they left a table piled three feet high with paper plates, half-eaten pizza slices, two liters of spilled soda and water running onto the floor, a whole mess of crumbs, and 87 crumpled, used napkins. It made me realize that if there is anything worse than having to go visit Chuck E. Cheese, it would be having to work at Chuck E. Cheese. I bussed my own table as my kids finished their second round of twenty tokens.

Finally, I went up to the counter and bought one --- just one --- last token. This was so Tristan could ride the car with the plastic Chuck E. Cheese figure, and get the little black and white picture of himself that the ride spits out when it's done. I wanted the photo for my wife, as proof of our Chuck E. Cheese adventure; and besides, she loves that kind of thing. However, the ride ended, and I looked down to the slot where the picture was supposed to come out, and alas, no picture.

Picture-less, we headed home. I drove fast, because I had left the house in the care of three teenage boys, fourteen and fifteen years old, who have a tendency to add to any mess already made. I had visions of soda cans lying on the floor, spilling onto the carpet. At least I didn't have it cleaned this morning. What would be the point? I also wondered how much furniture would still be intact.

As I pulled up to the house, the teenagers were sitting out front, but upon seeing me, they jumped up and ran inside: an obvious sign that they were up to something. I parked the car in the garage, got out, nervously put my hand on the doorknob, opened the door, stepped inside, and saw....

Three smiling boys, and a spotless house. Toys and clothes had been picked up and put away. The clean dishes in the dishwasher had been put away, and the dirty dishes from the sink placed on its racks. ("We would have turned it on," one said, "but we didn't know how.") The floors had been swept and vacuumed. And one candle had been lit to make the house smell nice.

Upon seeing the house, I wanted to cry, except that doing so would have been sooo uncool. But I told those teenagers how pleased I was, and how they had done a good thing.

As I began to get Tristan and Ethan ready for bed, I heard a lot of noise coming from the kitchen. Those teenagers were now baking a cake for Tristan's birthday. By the time they were done, it wasn't half bad, considering; but Tristan was already asleep, so they ate it without him. Then they went home, and I cleaned up the dishes from the cake-making. I tried to be mad at them for leaving the cake dishes, but discovered that I couldn't.


jo(e) said...

People nowadays are so quick to say bad things about teenagers so I really really love it when people tell stories about how wonderful teenagers can be.

[rhymes with kerouac] said...

How could you not cry? Jeepers - I wanted to cry just reading it!

mark said...

Can i come hang out with you guys?

News Muse said...

I have three teenagers. What you've just described qualifies as a miracle! Just kidding, they actually are great when they are not aggravating, and I get mad when people assume the worst, especially when they see teenage boys.