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Don't Go Out in Public With Them

"How many kids did that lady have who ended up drowning them all in the bath tub?"

"Five," I said, sighing and rolling my eyes, shooting lasers out of my eyes at John for asking such a horrible question with such a horrible motive. It was horrible, I knew, because when he'd asked I'd secretly thought it was pretty hilarious, actually. But just as soon as the hilarity washed over me, the guilt and misery did, too, or at least a sense of obligation to guilt and misery, hence the eye-rolling and laser shooting. I couldn't pretend to endorse that type of humor, even as the kids, now 6 and 4 1/2 -- well beyond ages where writhing under the booth with dirty napkins on their heads would be acceptable -- mewed like cats or some kind of mutant baby creatures and clawed with greasy, alfredo-covered fingers at my work pants because the 40 minutes of conversation and participatory menu coloring apparently hadn't been an acceptable level of parental attention for them, these precious offspring of mine.

I'd had enough. "We're leaving," I said through the sawdust remaining in my mouth where teeth used to be. Then in the awful clenched-mouth, growl-snarl language I've perfected for them, "Get. Up. Here. NOW! COME ON." I'm not sure why in my anger I still think this form of aggression-speak will be effective or somehow won't create more problems. "Soooo-rrrryyyy!" Quinn whined. At this point I wanted to stomp my feet and pound my fists on the table. I grabbed the styrofoam containers of half-eaten cheese pizza and successfully cracked the little non-hermitically sealing tab with my passionate clutch. I did that dramatic thing where I just walk away as if I'll leave them orphaned if they don't immediately snap to military attention and march dutifully and solemnly behind me to the car. Bryce crawled out from under the booth, grease-stained cloth napkin sliding slothfully to the floor, that faux Italian villa floor on which he'd just been "sleeping" due to the sheer fatigue of eating two slices of gourmet cheese pizza. In the parking lot he was still whining about wanting dessert, and I was still using this victorious moment to relish the fact that I was the adult here, I was the one with the power. Right.

At the gas station while John was filling up the car I continued to lecture the kids about their behavior. It's unacceptable, it's embarrassing, there's no need to act that way, I'm so disappointed that they make these choices. "Poopy Stupid Poopy!" Quinn screamed, like a two-year-old, while flinging his milk straw across the car. I wanted to open the door and sell the kids to the gas station owners, but I just said, "you're going to your room when we get home." A few minutes later Quinn made a quiet, funny joke and I grinned at him. He caught my eye: "I want to hug you, mom." This is the Quinn I've come to know and love - the physical, sensitive, wanna-be comedian, that kid who doesn't understand why people don't crack up laughing at his slapstick comedy just because, for instance, his grandmother didn't want to be hit comically by that hard cover book - it was funny, what's the problem?

While John gave the kids a bath, I had to finish something work-related, and when I went up to tell them good night, Quinn was studiously reviewing his latest "magazine," a high-quality party supply catalog (he has a collection in his room - don't you dare throw any of them away, there might be a rubber duckie in a pirate costume he hasn't yet admired). He climbed into bed, drowsy and soft and blinking long sleep-blinks at me. I kissed his cheeks and forehead and realized that an hour before I'd wanted to eat my young and had felt only marginally guilty about that. "We should really just stay home for dinner from now on, shouldn't we?" I asked him, stroking his silky, still baby-fine hair. He yawned again, his soft, pudgy hand on mine. "Yeah," he said.