by Mike Todd
“I said don’t come in here!” I yelled at my three-year-old son Zack, who stopped cold in the doorway, scrunching his face, his lower lip sticking out so far that he could have caught a touchdown pass in it.
“Oh, no, hey buddy, you didn’t do anything wrong. I just don’t want this to happen to you,” I said, pointing at his older brother Evan, who sat next to me on his bed with his head in a trash can.
“HAARF!” Evan exploded from inside the can, as if to emphasize the point. It was too late for Evan and probably for me, but Zack could still be spared.
Zack watched from the doorway, wondering what Evan found so interesting in the trash can.
“HAARF!” Evan erupted again, and Zack’s pout turned into a squeal of laughter.
“Yuck!” Zack said. He finally recognized the scene as something disgusting, which is his favorite kind of something, as long as it’s not happening to him.
For Evan, this episode was entirely predictable, partly because a stomach bug had been sweeping through his elementary school and partly because we were flying down to Florida in three days. This past winter, which didn’t seem to care that it had ended several weeks before, did not want to let go, and it was doing everything it could to keep us from escaping.
“What are we going to do? Evan will probably be better in a couple days, but any one of us could be next,” I said to my wife Kara as she joined Zack in the doorway. She couldn’t have been blamed for mentally duct-taping a tarp across the opening. I was probably already infected. If this had been a zombie movie, there’s a very good chance I’d be chomping on somebody’s leg in the next scene.
“We’re flying on United. I’ll check to see how much it would cost if we have to change our flights,” she said.
Fortunately, as Kara discovered, United has an uber-friendly ticket-change policy. If we became too sick to fly, we could easily change the departure date for a mere $200, multiplied by the four of us. Vomiting is unpleasant enough when it’s free, but I have to imagine that it’s even worse when it costs $800.
Perhaps this was our karmic payback for considering trying to pass Zack off as an under two-year-old traveler to avoid paying for his ticket. It’s not like three-year-olds have driver’s licenses; you’re on the honor system, which can really work out in your favor if you don’t have any honor.
To make that idea work, though, we’d have to put in some serious prep time.
“Zack, how old are you?” we’d ask.
“I’m three,” he’d answer, holding up three fingers.
“No, no, no. That’s all wrong. You’re ‘goo-goo-ga-ga’ years old, okay? That’s what you’ll answer if anyone at the airport asks you,” we’d say.
“I don’t unnerstand. I’m three,” he’d say, holding up his fingers again.
“Never mind. Just don’t talk until we’re on the plane. And here, wear this bonnet,” we’d reply.
In the end, of course, we decided that besides the practical difficulties of pulling off the deceit, it’s far better to teach our kids lessons in honesty that they will neither understand nor remember.
By that evening, Evan was already beginning to feel better, and nobody else had yet needed to go spelunking in our trash cans. It appeared that despite this past winter’s never-ending best efforts, we might actually escape to Florida after all.
Oh, and in case you’re reading this and thinking of breaking into our house while we’re gone, we had Evan lick all the doorknobs and valuables before we left. Just kidding. The kids broke all our valuables ages ago.
You can quarantine Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed. Note: Last month Mike Todd won a Keystone Press Award second place for “Best Column” among all of the hundreds of newspapers in the state under 10,000 circulation. Jim Harris, also of the Local, won first place.