“What’s going on over there? Are you guys okay?” I asked over the din, trying to pick out my dad’s voice on the other end of the line.
“Zack! I GOT YOUR LEG! I GOT YOUR LEG!” our son Evan shouted in the background.
“It’s, uh, it’s going fine. You know. It’s going okay,” my dad replied.
“LET GO! LET GO!” Zack screamed. Then a great, clanging, extended crash happened in the background, like a dump truck had dropped a load of coffee tables and cowbells on our living room floor. My iPhone crackled as the earpiece tried its best to faithfully relay the goings-on.
“Everything’s okay, everything’s fine,” Dad said, though it was unclear which of us he was trying to convince.
“Thank you so much for doing this. Sorry about all the youthful exuberance,” I said. “Youthful exuberance” is a euphemism to describe the behavior of children who would get kicked out of a family of baboons for being too wild. As a parent, it’s your job to recognize the early stages of youthful exuberance, so that you can stamp it out before it’s too late.
At that moment, my parents were in the process of second-guessing their decision to volunteer for childcare duty. They’d offered to help me and my wife Kara bridge the chasm between the end of summer camp and the start of school, a gaping two-week period designed to make working parents question their life decisions, annually.
We’d all thought this would be a great opportunity for my parents to spend some quality time alone with our two boys, aged five and eight. We live four hours from my folks, so for them, getting to spend several full days with our kids is a rare treat, like fried Oreos. Wonderful, but also bad for you.
“This will be great,” we all agreed, without knocking on wood.
After the first day, when Kara and I returned from work and walked into the house, my mom and dad were sunken into the couch, drained of color, and barely responsive, apparently the victims of a vampire attack.
Our children, the little creatures of the day, had stolen my parents’ life force, and used it to make themselves stronger.
“Mommy! Daddy! My puppy likes Grandpa!” Zack yelled, as he repeatedly bounced his stuffed animal on my dad’s head.
Upstairs, Evan was running laps up and down the hall, screaming something about Pokemon, and probably doing one-armed push-ups.
“We need a nap,” my mom mumbled.
Normally, Evan and Zack are sweet, well-behaved kids, but I have a new theory that children cannot handle a change in routine without testing every possible boundary, just to see what will give and what will hold, which is why substitute teachers should get hazard pay. My parents held, but they very nearly overdosed on youthful exuberance.
The next day, when Kara and I came home, the kids were quietly reading books with my folks. The day after that, they ran up to tell us how much fun they’d had at the playground. The color had returned to my parents’ faces. By the end of the week, everyone was in a groove, and all that quality time actually did happen. It’s a special thing to see your kids and your parents together, bonding, especially when nobody is trying to grab anyone else’s legs.
“Maybe we can do it again next year,” Mom said as she packed up her suitcase on the last day. Or at least she was probably thinking it. I’m almost sure of it.
Next week, Kara’s parents are taking their turn. On the first day, maybe they should wear riot gear. Or turtlenecks.
You can steal Mike Todd’s life force at firstname.lastname@example.org.