I’m was in Florida
visiting my parents accompanying the golden child on his annual spring pilgrimage to see his grandparents. I was there eight days before my dad finally hugged me and said hello.
As per usual protocol when visiting grandparents vegetables are eschewed, bedtime routines are blown off, and hands are forever coated in a sticky, gunky, sugary type substance that resembles a combination of frosting and maple syrup and most likely is comprised of frosting and maple syrup.
There is also no shortage of rewards and incentives on a typical Grandparent visit.
If you put on your sunscreen you get 38 Paw Patrol books.
If you can show us how to log into Netflix on Mommy’s phone without waking her, you get a 17 pound chocolate bunny.
If you can fit all 826 jelly beans into your mouth-hole without spilling any we’ll take you to Build-a-Bear.
Thus, the weeks post-vacation we enter are called the “Recalibration Phase” where Bart and I explain the completion of basic human functions like brushing teeth and pooping in a diaper instead of a newspaper in the corner does not warrant a reward.
One night on vacation (where the aforementioned things did net a reward) said child received an especially exciting gift. While my mom and I pawed through pawed through merchandise at the Sak’s Fifth Ave outlet (if you like long lines, apathetic dressing room attendants, and cashiers who appear to be too strung out Canadian Sudafed (a.k.a. THE GOOD STUFF) to scan a coupon then this place is for YOU!) my dad whisked the child away to the blessed and strategically placed Toys R’ Us outlet. During my search to find someone to let me into a dressing room, my dad sent videos of the holy child running through aisles packed with toys featuring his most beloved friends from Paw Patrol, Thomas the Train, and Daniel Tiger. There were giant stuffed dinosaurs, plastic construction trucks, and oversized Star Wars
dolls action figures. My dad chased after his grandchild like he was the paparazzi chasing a drunk, wardrobe-malfunctioning Jessica Simpson through the streets of Cabo. My mom and I looked at each other and noted how much trouble my dad was going to be in.
“Should we pull the car around to the loading dock?” I asked. “Or do you think they have someone to help get a pallet to the car?”
When we met up again, Quinn was hugging a Thomas Track Master expansion pack containing 47 pieces of shit we’re going to lose three days after we return home.
“MOMMY LOOK WHAT GEKKY* GOT ME! MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY LOOK LET’S GO HOME AND PLAY RIGHT NOW WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”
Seriously I never saw him this excited about anything. It was the same reaction I had about 14 minutes prior when I found a pair of Joe’s skinny cargo jeans for $39.99. SCORE! MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY LOOK WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! LET’S GO HOME AND CHANGE OUR PANTS RIGHT NOW!!!
Now, if you know anything about this Thomas racket, you know how there’s 3 different types of tracks and the trains that go with them. Of course the tracks and trains are not compatible with one another. Of course not. They’re close enough to completely frustrate a child because his train won’t stay on the track although it looks like it should and confuse a grandparent because why the hell would there be THREE DIFFERENT TYPES OF IDENTICAL LOOKING TRACK? But because I’m a Thomas the Train savant, (and I work in marketing and have written my fair share of misleading box copy,) and I have witnessed an abyss-opening tantrum because some asshole copywriter made me think I had purchased something whole and complete only to later find a crucial component was woefully absent, I knew enough to check the fine print to see if this particular product came with at least one train.
“Of course it does!” my dad shouted. “Why wouldn’t it?”
Oh Dad. Have you totally forgotten this whole parenting thing?
“Look, Mommy!” Quinn said. “There’s Gordon and James and Percy and Edward and THOMAS!”
Indeed there they were. Photographed right under the words: ALSO AVAILABLE.
“There is no train in this box.” I hated having to tell them this. It was like when I had to tell my dad scarfing 12 inch Meatball Marinaras seven times a day was not considered the Subway Diet. “He can’t play with this. We don’t have compatible trains.”
“He needs a train,” my dad stage whispered so the kid cradling his new Thomas track wouldn’t overhear us talking about this grave oversight. “He has to play with this.”
“Umm,” I said, looking around. Store clerks were shutting doors. Pretzel makers were pulling in sandwich boards.
“GET HIM A TRAIN RIGHT NOW!” my parents yelled in unison.
The mall closed at 9:00 PM. It was 8:56 PM. Of course Toys R’ Us was at the opposite end of the mall.
“GO!” the grandparents shouted, shoving credit cards and wads of bills in my hands. “GET US A TRAIN!”
Clutching my Saks shopping bag I took off, running past Banana Republic and Calvin Klein and ooooh, Le Crueset. I didn’t know they had one of those here. I would love a good deal on a French oven. But how would I stuff that thing in my suitcase– Oh right! On a mission!
I got to Toys R’ Us with at least 32 seconds to spare. I found the Track Master compatible trains of which they had Percy, Emily, Sampson and James. Hmm…he does like Emily and who doesn’t love that pompous asshole James. No freakin’ idea who this Sampson character is. Can’t really go wrong with Percy, right? He’s Thomas’s best friend. He’s sweet and earnest. And this particular model talks (which I will later regret as I’m still hearing Percy’s “I must deliver the mail ON TIME” affirmations in my dreams.) so it’s the obvious choice, right?
I returned the car where Quinn was misbuckled in his car seat and still clutching the box of track but none the wiser.
“LET’S GO HOME, MOMMY AND PLAY TRAINS!”
It took my mom and I an hour to put that damn expansion track together. 49 minutes of me swigging wine right out of the bottle while throwing plastic pieces around the living room and 11 minutes for my mom to sit calmly and quietly with the instructions and complete the project. Quinn was wildly in love with the track and watching Percy chug up the hill commenting about what a God damn busy engine he was and down the corkscrew hill worrying about getting the mail delivered on time. When it was time to put on his pajamas and do stories Quinn insisted Percy came too. Grandpa laid next to Quinn, shooting the shit, talking about trains and how useful Percy was because he DELIVERED THE MAIl ON TIME. With no track in bed, Quinn improvised and used his Grandpa. Percy chugged over grandpa’s belly, to his shoulders, up the back of his neck to the top of his thinning hair. Percy is a dedicated little engine with a strong desire to please. He is also a battery operated masochist who promptly grabbed each precious strand of my dad’s hair in his spinning wheels and ripped them from the follicles like the wretched, should-be-banned-in-all-states Epilady torture device of the 80’s. (Someday I’ll tell you about my one and only run-in with that bitch and how no hair dares to sprout on my left ankle bone.)
“HELP!” my dad shouted. “MAKE IT STOP!”
Although I was sitting right there and plainly saw Percy gathering and eating hair, and heard my dad call for help for the first time ever in my life it didn’t make sense to me. What was going on? What was my dad asking me to do? Could that be a toy train devouring my father from the noggin down?
Here’s the deal. I’m no good in crisis. Once when we thought Bart had shut Quinn’s finger in the car door, I ran behind our yard waste bin, clasped my hands over my ears, bobbed back and forth and screamed, NO NO NO! until Quinn came outside to ask if I knew where the Pirate’s Booty was. And other times when bad things happen I laugh. I know it’s wrong. My brain tells me it’s not an appropriate response. I want to help. Yet, I laugh. In this case, my response was the latter. I laughed. All the while my dad was yelling to turn the damn thing off!
Oh right. The train!
“I don’t know how to turn it off!” I laughed. This Percy had a different off switch than the Track Masters I was used to and I couldn’t locate it because I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. Also my find motor skills were compromised due to laughing so hard.
“STOP MOVING HIM!”
“I’m trying to find the off switch!”
“IT’S A KID TOY! HOW HARD CAN IT BE?!”
“Bust my buffers! I’m a really busy engine!”
“SHUT UP, PERCY!” We both yelled.
I finally found the switch but the damage was done. Each of Percy’s wheels were wrapped around my dad’s sparse locks like a tight perm on a roller. Every time I moved the train, I pulled my dad’s hair.
“MOM!” I yelled. “We need help!”
And because I get my caring, compassionate nature from my mother, she basically told us to eff off, she was busy playing Words with Friends and she hates April Fool’s Day.
“It’s not a joke!” I laugh-yelled, thinking what an awesome joke it would have been. Her refusal to help make things even funnier. I mean, I could see her sitting at the dining room table like 16 feet away, punching letters into her iPad.
“GOD DAMMIT, PERCY!”
“Seriously, Mom, we need you!” Oh this was too much. I was doubled over, busting a gut and dislocating my shoulder because every time my arm moved, my dad winced in more pain. Finally the two year-old sought and received help. The little Lassie-in-training ran straight to Grandma Juju and demanded she put down her iPad and come help his Gekky.
“Oh fine,” she complied. “But this better be good.”
“Hold Percy right here,” I said, putting her hand firmly next to my dad’s almost scalped scalp. “Be right back!”
Quinn threw his arms around his grandpa and started whimpering.
I returned seconds later with my phone and began snapping photos for this year’s Shutterfly retrospective. Naturally. This is why you should never ask me to be your emergency contact. Or your partner on Naked and Afraid for that matter. While you’re pulling maggots out of your butt crack, I’ll be Instagraming that shit.
“ARE YOU KIDDING ME? YOUR CAMERA? REALLY?”
I did this for you, people.
Once satisfied with my photo documentary, I resumed the task of untangling my dad’s precious strands from Percy’s determined wheels. It was an effort in futility which my mom recognized immediately. Quinn was sobbing and clinging to my father’s neck and of course that made me feel terrible. I’m not a total monster. I laughed harder.
“Mommy’s not really crying,” I tried to explain. “I’m laughing so hard tears are coming out.”
“BECAUSE YOUR MOMMY IS HEARTLESS!”
“Oh! Mommy just peed a little!” I told Quinn. “See? Funny, funny!”
My mom returned with scissors. She would make a wonderful Naked and Afraid partner if it didn’t involve being naked. Or afraid.
“Move,” she directed and got to work.
Percy was freed seconds later. My dad was relived. Quinn stopped crying. Facebook got an earful.
For a minute I thought Percy’s fate was sealed. He was the train who hurt Gekky. He would be cast off, banished to the Rubbermaid bin of misfit toys along with slip proof baby kneepads and Touchy Feely Elmolester. But the next day the great debacle was all but a distant memory. My dad combed his hair in such a way the shoring was barely evident and Percy was back to DELIVERING THE MAIL ON TIME. We were just sitting down to coffee and homemade biscuits when Quinn approached his grandfather, Percy in hand. My dad’s face paled a bit when he saw the little engine that could pluck a bitch coming towards him.
“Gekky?” Quinn asked. “Can you get the hair out of Percy’s wheels please? It’s gross.”
I mean rude, right? Leaving your hair all tangled up in a train’s wheels?
*Quinn’s nickname for my dad. No one knows why.