Renee had made chili for dinner before heading out for the evening. I was on my way home, but a couple of hours later than normal when she called from her cell phone to tell me she had already left with Ayda, and left the chili on the stove for the rest of us.
I was relieved and pleased to hear her say that Katie and Hannah, our oldest girls, were home and had no plans for the evening – an increasingly rare occurrence. I was relieved because I knew they would be helpful with the other kids. I was pleased because it seems I can never get enough time with those two any more.
Dinner became one of those simple, Dad-doesn’t-care meals. Katie scooped up bowls of chili for everyone and that was it. The side dishes were cheese and sour-cream, and I grabbed a bag of tortilla chips.
Ethan complained and pouted about the menu, so I pushed and prodded and threatened the 4-year-old for 30 minutes to get him to swallow half a bowl. When he tried to talk me into letting him eat on the deck with the other kids, who had already inhaled their single-course meal and moved on, I shut him down, knowing he would be out the door no more than a step before his promise to eat it all would be forgotten.
I was overjoyed to find Katie and Hannah in a lingering mood. School is out. Their projects for youth-group camp scholarships were finished. They had no plans with friends, and their occasionally-irritating siblings had scattered.
For an hour or so, we just sat there and talked about nothing in particular and everything on our minds, as I coaxed Ethan along one spoonful at a time. We laughed and teased and shared insignificant stories of minor victories and slight disappointments while the sky, seen through the patio doors behind Katie’s back, turned from bright yellow to burnt orange to gray.
When Ethan was finally near the bottom of the bowl, he had the nerve to ask if he could have ice cream. Being the great father that I am, I assured him there was no way he was getting dessert . . . unless he finished his dinner, and only if there was enough for me, too. He picked up the pace and I got up to check the freezer.
It’s hard to keep ice cream in a house with 12 people. Not a trace of that treat could be found in our home that night.
Lucky for us, though, Renee has an appreciation for Oreos, with double stuff, and has developed skills in hiding them from short eyes. The package on top of the fridge was about two-thirds vacant, but that was plenty full for those of us in the room.
“Ethan, there is no ice cream. Do you want some Oreos?”
“Yes!” (Insert here: little boy with giant brown eyes and a mouth full of smiling teeth.)
I held out the package for him to take a couple. He grabbed them and ran to the open patio door.
“Hey guys,” he yelled into the near-darkness of our back yard before we could interrupt him.
“No, Ethan!”, Katie and I both yelled, attempting to quiet him before he alerted the herd, but alas . . .
“We got Oreooooos!”
“No, Ethan! It’s a secret!”
Still facing the backyard, Ethan continued, “It’s a seeeecreeeet!”
Somehow, I was still able to get more than my fair share of Oreos before being trampled by the herd in a cloud of black cookie dust.
Being the Dad has its benefits, I guess. Most of the benefits are unrelated to what we eat, though. Most of the benefits are contained in that two-letter word: We. That’s the real secret.