Today, I looked at my son, who, if I do say myself, is dashingly handsome for a six year old but who usually looks like he just jumped out of a garbage dumpster. Unlike my daughter, he takes his fashion inspiration from me, usually wearing at least two items of clothing with one prominent white smudge. Given his age, this is forgivable I guess. But taken together with his preternatural gift for complaining and his “coiffure” that looks as neat as the fur on your typical Sesame Street Monster, one cannot be in the same room with him without thinking about Oscar the Grouch.
As I beheld my little grump, his sulking expression barely discernible under his shaggy bangs, I realized. It was that time. For a haircut.
Guess what happens when Oscar the Grouch goes to to get a haircut? First, there is a lot of noise. Above the mostly unintelligible screaming you might perceive: 1) the pleas for “No clippers! No buzzing!” 2) some questions as to why girls get to watch cartoons on Mommy’s iPhone while their brothers get haircuts, 3) the enduring inquiry, “what is so super about “Supercuts” anyway?”
When my daughter, from the waiting area, chimed in with her own wailing cry, “But Mommy! You said I could have a lollipop!” I saw there was no candy in sight, not even from an old candy dispenser vending 12 year old hot tamales for a quarter. Some middle aged man in a motorcycle jacket looked up from his 2007 In Touch to give me the evil eye and then I just lost my mind for a minute. And I just said, blurted from no where, “Okay. Okay. We’re going to go to Chuck E Cheese after.”
Of course this promise did nothing to calm the madness. But it did lock me into a plan.
My general acknowledgement of my recently acquired suburban lifestyle, came with the understanding that I could never be too far away from a Chuck E. Cheese. My faith in the iPhone coupled with my masochistic reliance on the GPS in my car, prevented me from recognizing that this all was a bad idea, certain to take us nowhere good. I should have been heading home to serve cereal and ice cream in front of the T.V., not heading blindly into the abyss by way of my own personal stretch of hell that other people like to call “Route 4.”
It is one of those highways that can’t decide how many lanes it should have. Sometimes two. Sometimes three. Traffic on route 4 moves intermittently at varying speeds. Negotiating this gauntlet is made even more challenging by the one dickhead weaving between lanes in his partially rusted out 1999 impala while texting. And there are bus stops on the side of the route, usually when there are three lanes, but sometimes not.
As a result, route 4 drives me to crazy extremes, that is, it forces me into the left lane where I feel compelled to exceed the speed limit–a behavior that goes against the very fiber of my being both as a scrupulously law-abiding citizen and as someone who, in driving age, is actually 120 years old. White knuckled, with my nose 3 inches from the horn, tootling along in the fast lane, I alternate my gaze from the GPS instructions to the road in front of me, irritated that people are still passing me and rasing a contemptuous eyebrow or middle finger. All the while, I hear my Oscar in the back seat, wailing, “It’s not fair. We’re never going to get there. I never get anything I want. Why did I have to get a haircut? And you never buy me bey blades. Or skylanders.”
My daughter is asleep. Which means that she will be cranky when she wakes up and weepy through dinner and grouchy on the way back home. But she will have regained her second wind just in time to not be in any mood to go to bed.
Dutifully, I follow the GPS instructions. Through the whining from the back seat. Through the angry glares from people passing me. And, finally, I hear those joyous words, “You have arrived at your destination.” I look around, and see a dry cleaner. With a tin awning. And four parking slots. To my left is a communtity of “residences,” low lying red brick houses that ressemble army barracks, but save for a clothes line or two, do not show any signs of occupation. I try to find a place to pull off to consult my cell phone, and I see that it is almost completely out of charge.
I use this last charge to search the internet for the restaurant phone number, dial it while my son screams, “Where are we? We are not there? This isn’t fair! I hate getting a haircut!” and navagate my way through dozens of voice prompts. At the end of the prompts (cell phone still clinging to its battery life) I learn that if I really want to call the actual restaurant for directions I need to call a different number which will be articulated once and only once starting now,
“2-0-1-7-MOM! WHY AREN’T YOU TAKING US TO CHUCK–8-CHEESE-6?”
Click. dial tone.
My son is in full screaming mode. His hair is sticking up alfalfa style. My daughter is still sound asleep.
“I am trying to call the restaurant.” I say, biting my lips and slowly morphing into Christopher Walkin. “But I cannot–
(unintelligible screaming from the back seat)
“Call the restaurant.
“Unless you remain…QUIET! FOR ONE MINUTE!!!! SHUT UP! BE QUIET! SHUT UP! SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!!!!!!!”
At this point my son stopped whining long enough to make the world’s most heart wrenching frowny face. He said, calmly, and without any apparent distress. “That is no way to talk to a 6 year old.”
Fully defeated, I slouched in my seat. I took some comfort in noting that, at least, I had managed to wake my daughter.
She looked around asked, “Where is Chuck E. Cheese?”
“I do not know.” I said.
“Mommy was listening to the navagation again,” my son explained.
“Okay every one. Please. Do not talk. Do not whine. Do not utter a sound for the next 2 minutes. I am going to call this number, listen for 1 minute to a recording to get the real phone number to the restaurant, call the restaurant, get directions, and then we will go. Okay?”
“You can say okay.”
“Okay.” they said together. For a minute I was hopeful.
I waded through the voice prompts again. Got what I thought was the real number. And called it. I couldn’t believe my phone still had a charge. Ring. Ring. Ring.
I looked back to silence him.
“Oh, no. I am not going to whine. I just have to say one thing. Just one question.”
“When we get to the restaurant, are you going to shout Hooray?”
“Yes. I will shout hooray. Yes.”
Eventually, a voice picked up. “No one is available to answer your call.”
My phone was virtually dead at this point. As were our plans. The thought of getting back on Route 4 was unappealing to say the least. But our only option.
“Guys. I don’t know what to tell you. We are not going to Chuck E. Cheese. Sorry . I couldn’t figure out how to get there. I told the GPS to give us directions to Chuck E. Cheese and it gave us directions to a dry cleaner. I am sorry I yelled at you. I shouldn’t have yelled. I am not mad at you.”
“You are mad at the navagation system,” my son explained.
“Right. I am mad at the navagation system.”
Seizing his moment wisely, my son asked, “Can we get a toy, then? Because we didn’t get to go to Chuck E. Cheese?”
For a moment, I considered saying “no.” (My habit usually is to say no 10 to 15 times before caving, so as to undermine my authority while reinforcing their whining as efficiently as possible. ) This time, though, with my throat still a little sore from my outburst, I said.“Yes.” but added, “First, I am getting a cup of coffee.”
Those kids who know how a grown up is supposed to talk to a 6 year old, also know when the grown up is signaling defeat. By seeking out caffeine at 6:30 pm I was waiving the white flag and they knew it. There was no limit to the concessions they could achieve under these circumstances.
Though we were inexplicably distant from a Chuck E Cheese, we were nevertheless quite near a Starbucks. I got my fourth (or maybe my 5th?) coffee of the day, and the kids split a microwaved egg and cheese sandwich before digging into the rest of their dinner which consisted entirely of dessert. (Including those fruit chew gummy things that they never are allowed to have on account of their being bad for their teeth, and lord knows how I love being able to say each time they get a tooth filled that, yes they brush twice a day, and floss, and use fluoride rinse, and no they don’t eat gummies, or hard candy, oh well except maybe when the GPS steers me wrong and I completely lose my mind and I have to take parenting tips from my six year old.)
Then we went to the neighboring art supply store, which was the closest substitute for a toy store, all other establishments in this strip mall being vendors of coffee, carpet, or plus-sized discount fashions, to buy a toy.
Masterfully, they parlayed their request for one toy into a request for two, which I conceded quickly before implementing a size cap, “Okay. two small things. But that’s it.”
They must have sensed the resolve returning to my voice, and moved quickly. My son selected a pack of colored pencils and a roll of black masking tape. My daughter picked the plastic crayon with the mix and match color tips and a package of stick on face jewelry. I noted how these selections presaged his life as a cat burglar and hers as an exotic dancer, but I paid it no mind. I am their negligent mother, after all. I flew off the handle because a computerized voice failed to lead me to the pizza restauraunt of a six foot tall, bipedal rodent. Who am I to tamper with their destiny?
I console myself thinking, none of this is any worse or more expensive than Chuck E Cheese and we get into the car. The trip home is uneventful, in that we don’t get into an accident but we do get stuck in traffic because someone else did.
Walking back to our apartment, my kids are genuinely happy with their “toys.” My son is planning out the construction site he is going to set up with his black tape and my daughter, following the time honored NJ tradition of applying make up on the road, has emerged from her booster seat with a fully bedazzled face.
So I have to admit it. Without the aid of any GPS device, I have arrived at my destination.
It’s not a bad place. Especially when I have my coffee.