On a Wing and a Rare
Reservoir Mum’s out late tonight for a conference dinner and I’ve just finished singing a bedtime song – the 80s disco classic ‘Stomp’ by The Brothers Johnson – to the boys and demonstrated some dance moves between their beds – ‘The Worm’ and the more simple but rhythmically engaging ‘Running Man’ – and going by the foodie aroma coming from downstairs I think I’ve timed our nightly ritual to perfection. My 650 gram rib eye steak is just about ready and I’m so hungry that I’m extra careful not to drool on Archie and Lewis as I kiss them goodnight.
I’m very pleased with myself and consider reneging on my scheduled chore for the evening – mopping – so that I can fill my guts with cow and watch something nostalgic and affirming like Wayne’s World 2 or The Return of the Living Dead.
Just as I’m about to pull the door closed Archie whispers for me and says, ‘Dad, when will I die?’ and my fi rst thought, Oh fuck, is quickly followed by my second thought, Fuck, because I’m about as prepared for this discussion as a rabbi is prepared to buy eight-dollar shots at a strip club.
I kneel down next to Archie’s bed and scratch his head affectionately. I tell him that he doesn’t have to worry about dying for a very long time, but I feel conflicted – I’m heartbroken that my four-year-old already has an understanding of death at the same time that my biological drive for food has me believing that I can actually hear my meal sizzling in the oven. I have to make this quick.
‘So, I will die?’ Archie asks.
And before I know it I’ve answered: ‘Everything dies,
Arch, but most people live for a long, long time – until they’re very, very old.’
‘But I don’t wanna die,’ Archie counters quickly, complete with watery eyes and a wobbly lip. He seems so tiny in his giant bed.
I reason that I have about fifteen seconds to come up with some clever answer or diversion to avoid a pillow full of tears and weeks and weeks of death-obsession and before I know it I’m singing ‘Stomp’ again and breaking out The Running Man with more energy and head-shaking enthusiasm than I ever thought I was capable of.
The Running Man becomes The Barely Jogging Man when I see the faraway look of concern in Archie’s eyes and by the time I accept that my distraction technique is failing I’m doing The Walking Man, which is quickly replaced by The Standing On The Spot Bobbing Weakly At The Knees Man when I realise that my steak has almost definitely moved from the preferred medium-rare range to very well done. Although Lewis is sitting up in his bed to my left and letting out the odd husky chuckle, Archie is so unimpressed he may as well be fl at-lining.
I decide to give up on the ‘fullness of time’ angle and run with the idea of heaven. I’m uncomfortable with this approach because I feel like I’m lying to him, but then I have been telling him for the past month that a jolly fat guy is going to break into our house in the middle of the night and leave a bunch of presents under the Christmas tree. If I can influence his behaviour with something as ridiculous as that surely I can soothe him temporarily by saying, ‘Some people, Archie, believe that when you die your body stays here but you go to heaven to be with God.’
‘It’s a place where everyone is happy all the time and you get whatever you want.’
‘Where is it?’
‘It’s up in the sky somewhere.’
‘How do I get there?’
‘You, um, float up there.’
‘Will our chickens get up there?’
‘Yes, if you want them there.’
‘Because . . . it’s heaven . . . You get to have whatever you want up there, Archie – lollies and toys and pets and giant well-seasoned steaks cooked to perfection . . .’
‘How will our chickens get up there?’
‘They’ll fl oat too, I think . . . I mean, I suppose they could fl y.’
‘Because everything is better up there, Arch, and the chickens really want to fl y on earth but they can’t –’
‘You cut their wings.’
‘Yes, I did cut their wings . . . but when they get to heaven they can get their wings back and . . . Do you know, if a little boy doesn’t have any legs on earth, but really wants legs, he gets to have legs when he goes to heaven.’
‘Could he have wings?’
‘Yes, I suppose he could.’
‘Archie, are you getting this, when you go to –’
‘Will my teddies go there?’
‘They’ll already be there, Archie, you know . . . with
‘This old guy with a big beard who made everything.’
‘Is he Santa?’
‘No, Santa’s the guy who brings presents once a year. God is the guy who waits in heaven and gives you everything you want . . . So, yeah, I guess they’re basically the same.’
Archie fiddles with the ears of his teddy for a short while before saying, ‘Will the dogs be there?’ and I’m just about to curse God for making me an atheist when Lewis, out of the blue, cries, ‘I don’t want to go to heaven,’ which inspires Archie to say, ‘Me either.’
In a panic I say, ‘Well, you don’t have to go to heaven,’ to which Archie replies, ‘So I won’t die?’ and I feel like I’m Bill Murray waking up to that same fricken alarm every morning in Groundhog Day and – thank you, subconscious – that gives me an idea.
‘Boys,’ I say, tucking them both in and arranging their teddies, ‘do you know what’s going to happen tomorrow? You’re going to get up and have breakfast, and change into your clothes and watch a little bit of television and eat some food and play with some toys and maybe paint a little and go outside and jump on the trampoline and have some more food and fi ght with each other and walk the dogs and do something naughty and sit in the naughty corner and eat some dinner and read a few books and have a bath and go to sleep . . . And then do you know what’s going to happen?’ ‘What?’ Archie says.
‘You’re going to wake up and have some breakfast and change into your clothes and watch a little bit of tele vision . . .’
When Archie starts to giggle at my repetitiveness I realise that I am on the right track, and even though my steak is probably way beyond repair, I repeat myself in this fashion for at least twenty minutes until Archie stops laughing and Lewis falls asleep and finally, as I notice the whiff of charcoal in the air, Archie’s eyelids dip and flip and finally close.
I walk a tightrope to the door, enter the hall, walk down the stairs and sprint for the oven to fi nd that my steak is so well cooked that it will leave bruises on my gums to chew it, but I’m determined so I sit at the kitchen bench and after covering the meat in Dijonnaise mustard I dig in, leaning in with my whole weight to cut through it and taking several minutes to chomp through each mouthful as I refl ect on the gravity of the conversation with Archie. I feel a sense of triumph, for some unknown reason, at the same time that I feel gutted – four Christmases in and my son is already death-aware.
Just as I’m cursing myself for not restocking the toothpicks and getting really annoyed at my own repetitive ‘eating noises’, I’m startled by Archie, who appears at the bottom of the stairs holding his teddy.
‘Daddy,’ he says, ‘why doesn’t the little boy have any legs?’
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‘If David Sedaris had got married and had kids, he would have been Reservoir Dad. Fall-on-the-floor funny, sharp, witty and just a little bit sexy.’ ~ Kerri Sackville, Best Australian Blog 2013 judge
A sharply funny, fresh and irreverent chronicler of real life in today’s parenting trenches, Reservoir Dad is a stay-at-home dad whose award-winning blog has already won hearts and minds all over Australia and beyond for telling it like it is and making us laugh out loud – and sometimes cry, but in a good way.