Tyson’s moving with the coordination of a horse trying to hoof-feed a dozen coins into public phone and taking so long to get out of the car that it gives me time to follow my bewilderment back to that ‘sliding-doors’ moment, only five minutes ago, when he said, ‘Can I come with you Dad?’ and I said, ‘Sure mate,’ instead of insisting he’d have more fun staying at home with Reservoir Mum and his brothers.
For the first time in my entire life I am forced to compare myself to the bumbling anti-Dad, Ray Romano.
Even though I have been trudging on stoically through the domestic frontline for almost nine years now, and would class myself as a Stay At Home Left Tenant, or even a Home Duties Commander, I still make spontaneous decisions, frequently, that belie the in-depth knowledge I‘ve gathered about the four soldiers – Privates Archie, Lewis, Tyson and Maki – under my care.
I understand their strengths and weaknesses and have developed dozens of war-plan templates based on their temperaments. I know how they perform under the pressure of actual battles, both as individuals and as a group. To take Tyson, on what should be a quick and simple mission, without one of his older brothers to distract and entertain him, when other options are clearly available, is to put the mission in jeopardy. In fact, depending on what happens in the next few minutes, I could be facing indictments of sabotage.
The mission ahead of me is a straightforward one: Archie has suffered a bite from a mosquito or some other insect, maybe even a spider, that requires a dose of Phenergan (the best antihistamine ever) to soothe the swell and sting of it. I must source a bottle from the local Chemist.
‘If you don’t get out of that car before I count to three,’ I say to Tyson, using a tactic that is always successful. ‘I am going to dismember myself.’ After counting to two three times, and two-and-a-half twice, we are crossing the carpark to the Chemist.
The way Tyson pulls himself from my grip as we enter the store, reminds me of the pin being pulled from a hand grenade and I know I only have a short amount of time to avoid the serious damage of a full blast. If things don’t go as I hope I may even be forced to throw myself upon him, to protect the innocents around us from his hailing shrapnel.
There are several people directly in front of us waiting at the checkout to pay the Pharmacist’s assistant for their products but the actual Pharmacist is behind a desk to the right, at the opposite end of the store. With only instinct and panic to guide me I hurry there, calling, ‘Let’s go Tys,’ while knowing, with a hopeless certainty, that he’ll gravitate to the most populated area, where he can do the most damage.
The Pharmacist approaches as I reach the desk and I have my suspicions confirmed when I look back through the aisles of supplements and medications and hair products to see that he is still at the checkout, dancing in front of everyone to his own choreography. His arms are above his head and he’s circling at the elbows and wrists, Bollywood style, while pressing his bottom lip out with his tongue and jutting his bum back and forth with such popping ferocity, that I’m forced to accept that he’s either multi-jointed at the hips or riddled with worms.
‘What is he doing?’ I say. I can hear the Pointer Sisters singing their hit song, ‘He’s So Shy’ which is both ironic and annoying, because I know my braincase well and it will be playing that song on repeat for the next week now.
The Pharmacist tilts her head and looks past me, smiling – even giggling a little – clearly taken by the cute upfrontery of Private Tyson and she seems a pleasant person right up until I place both hands on the counter, eye-ball her and say, ‘I need to get some Phenergan.’
The way her vision draws back from Tyson to focus on me causes me to step back from the counter and for some reason, when I notice the quiver in her lower eyelids, I put my hands in my pockets and pretend to whistle. I feel caught out, like she’s pinned something on me and that’s probably why I chafe my hands ripping them back out of my pockets when Tyson sneaks up behind me and yells, ‘Daddy!’ before running back up the aisle and peeking back at me, his grin without end.
The Pharmacist hands over the boxed Phenergan as I deliver a hoarse, ‘Come back here now,’ to Tyson and magically, he does but then goes straight for a row of female fertility supplements and starts flicking them off the shelf one by one.
‘No Tyson!’ I say, before handing over the Phenergan, on impulse, and pointing to the Pharmacist’s assistant, saying, ‘Here, can you help Daddy by taking this up there, so we can pay for it?’
He takes off and the end of the mission is in sight but as I thank the Pharmacist she says, ‘Just be careful not to go over the recommended dose for sedation,’ and I say, ‘Okay,’ still a tad freaked and bewildered by her straight-backed, eyebrow-raised delivery until I turn back to Tyson and see what others might be seeing.
He’s a perfectly healthy but hyperactive four year old – seemingly out of control – monopolising the attention of the entire store and, hey look! he’s carrying a bottle of Phenergan his Dad bought just for him.
There is nowhere for me to crawl and hide as he pushes to the front of the queue and puts the Phenergan on the counter, jumping up and down on the spot, awaiting his due praise.
I have an array of war-plan templates but the only two that seem applicable to this situation are titles, Retreat! Abort Mission and the one I decide to implement, Feign Ignorance At All Cost. I have to get this transaction done and get out of here with as little damage to my dignity as possible.
When the middle-aged woman he displaced from the front of the queue says, ‘Oh that’s okay, you can go first,’ I think it’s a generous and kind thing to do at the same time that I want to punch her right in the muffin top because everyone is now focussed on me and my purchase.
‘Do you want a bag for this?’ the Pharmacist’s assistant says, holding up the Phenergan so that everyone can see it.
‘No,’ I say, hurriedly. ‘I’ll be right.’
And there it is again. Same expression, different face. Her vision draws in to regard me with a hint of contained suspicion and when her lower eyelids fire with the same spasm I can only interpret as a sign of disrespect. I am just about to scream, ‘It’s not for him. It’s for my other son. He’s been bitten!’ but before I get the chance Tyson yells, ‘Dad, I want these!’ so loudly that I know, without doubt, that he has inflicted everyone in the store with a permanent case of tinnitus.
I look down to see that he’s carrying a packet of jellybeans, some sugar-free liquorice, a Wiggles endorsed packet of tissues and a discounted CD; The Best Of The Doors, and I say ‘No, put them back’ with authority which he challenges directly by repeating, ‘No, put them back’ before dropping the items and running away, screaming ‘Catch me Dad! Hey, Dad! Catch me!’
I avoid looking into anyone’s faces as I make my way to exit the store but the Phenergan is getting so much attention it actually seems to be heating up in my hands.
‘Let’s go Tys,’ I say. ‘No.’
I’m holding the door open to indicate the seriousness of my command until he pokes his head around the end of the first aisle, laughs, and disappears and so I try to bluff him with the old, ‘Okay, I’m going now. See you later,’ take a step outside, and let the door close.
Each second that passes without him showing at the door causes my lips to purse to the sharp pucker of a cat’s arse, but it’s only when they actually start to ache that I fold and peer inside.
I can’t believe it. He’s back in front of everyone, dancing again, and so I shoulder the door and catch him by one of his free-styling wrists, like a snake-catcher, so pleased with this small victory that I actually say, ‘yeah!’ even as it occurs to me that I could now be accused of both child-snatching and child-doping and that this all happened because of one naïve strategic move only fifteen minutes ago.
The door bangs me in the hips a few times as I hold my position, stunned, before I feign a smile, roll my eyes to convince anyone who’s watching that I’m in complete control of my faculties and finally exit the Chemist to face he car park, just in case Tyson’s doing something else a little naughty, like fire-bombing a car.
‘Dad,’ Tyson says as I’m strapping him back car seat. ‘I’m going to tell Mum I was dancing.’
‘I will also tell Mummy you were dancing,’ I say, seriously looking forward to a parental debrief.
On the way back home I’m basking in the glow of the after-freak and since people already suspect me of child-doping I’m wondering if I should just go ahead and make a special Phenergan-laced drink to carry around in a bottle, to feed him whenever we’re heading into a mission where his skills may prove counter-productive, and I have to admit that the image of him running down an aisle laughing and screaming, before falling to unconsciousness, mid-flight, like a bear with a tranquilizer dart in its arse, is a semi-satisfying one…. but no.
Even as I watch Tyson undo his belt so that he can look at himself dancing in the rear vision mirror I know I will never medicate my children unless an actual illness requires it and so I pull over, to re-secure him, and make my second spontaneous decision of the day.
Tonight, after administering the appropriate amount of Phenergan to relieve Archie of his stinging bite, I will drink this mysterious elixir myself and sleep with the heaviness of a battle-hardened soldier, who has survived yet another day on the frontline, with the templates of old war-plans remembered, and reaffirmed.