I awoke to the sounds of gagging, followed by the telltale body convulsions then, wait for it, wait for it…the full, hot onslaught of warm vomit trickling down my neck. It wasn’t me who puked, I had done that earlier in the evening, this time it was TIT who doused me in a wakeup shower of warm vomit. Like all families, we believe in the share and share alike philosophy. The TIT who picked up a stomach bug on Friday, shared it with me on Saturday, but decided he wasn’t quite finished and decided to share again early Sunday morning when I brought him into bed with me.
I had been awake most of the night with chills and stabbing stomach pains, praying that by dawn’s light, I would be healed or dead. I was neither, but I was a mother and I have no choice but to champion this little stomach plague and fight on. It was sunny and the expected and much needed warmth of spring was fighting to triumph over the brutal ends of winter. I couldn’t deny my kids a beautiful day in Central Park. I too need to fight the battle of the day in front of me.
“Coffee. I need coffee,” I said to Matt as I handed him the TIT. “He’s still sick,” I warned. I didn’t even bother to shower, that would come later, my first mission was to try and shake this feeling and while I knew coffee was probably not the first or best thing my ailing stomach needed, I knew without it my mind wouldn’t have the strength to go forward. I head down to the bodega below, chunks of puke on the back of my shirt and my hair smelling anything but fresh. What did I care? Most likely the unwitting counter attendant at the bodega will assume I was out partying all night and the smell of puke was my badge of honor in a successful evening out. Little would did they know, the smell of rancid milk and bile was merely my morning badge of motherhood.
By 10:30am, 5 hours after my day started, we were outside in Central Park. I was praying that both my stomach and TIT’s would stay strong. The Commander wanted to go rock climbing, an activity which sounded both dangerous and unappealing. “I’ll take him up there,” Matt says as we approached the enormous rock formation that rose upwards towards the pale blue sky like the glistening skyscrapers behind it. I stood below with my father-in-law and TIT as the Commander and my husband hiked up to the top. If my stomach wasn’t already being torn apart by this foreign mutant virus, than it would be reeling from watching my four year old standing 30 feet up on top of a slippery rock screaming “Cowabunga” as he slid down the face of the giant rock formation. “Are you fucking crazy?” I ask my husband who assures me that his is perfectly safe as he points out the other asinine morons who are doing the same thing. “Just because someone jumped off a bridge, would you do it?’ I was about to ask him that question, but I was afraid his answer would be, ‘yes’.
So how do you get an adrenaline junkie four year old away from the very thing that he lives for? Bribery!
“You want an ice cream?” I scream, as he stands poised on top of the rock ready to slide down again. “No, not now. Maybe later,” he hollers down to me. I try one better. “You want to go to FAO Schwarz and get some Angry Bird things?” I shout up to him. My husband is no help at this point. He is just as eager as my four year old to catapult his body down the face of the rock. The Commander thinks about my latest offer and weighs the proposition in his mind. “Okay, when I am done playing on this.” At this point, TIT is unsettled in his stroller. He is in, he is out, he is crying, he wants to be carried, he wants to be put down, he wants to be picked up all within a span of 45 seconds. I decide he looks thirsty and I give him the water bottle. I want him to stay hydrated, that’s important since he definitely has to be dehydrated from throwing up. He seems grateful at first and takes a big gulp and then proceeds to dump the water right on his lap. He looks shocked when the cold water hits, but I don’t understand why he would be shocked since he does this all the time, nor do I understand why I continually give him these water bottles when I know exactly what’s going to happen. So I blot him dry while the Commander comes charging down the rock with my husband behind him.
Central Park is one of those places that keeps you trapped, making it nearly impossible in this dizzying world of trees and paths that loop around hills and valleys, to find your way out to the correct side. “That way?” I point. I think over the hill, over yonder is the east side. I try to use Trump Tower as my beacon and head towards it, but just as we are pushing the double stroller up the enormous hill, TIT spots an enormous Big Bird. Not a BIG bird, like a mutant pigeon on steroids or fat on Dylan’s Candy Bar treats, but the real deal straight off the set of Sesame Street. He points and the Commander who hasn’t watched Sesame Street since in diapers, charges towards the bird. “Hey Big Bird, hey, hey! You wanna come with me to FAO Schwarz,” the Commander is trying to attach this creature to the rest of our day’s activities. As we approach the bird, he is not just any Big Bird; he’s carrying a box with other Sesame Street character puppets that he makes come to life as the Commander approaches. Dancing in the box, the creepy red creature “Elmo” which is like kiddie crack to anyone in Huggies pops his head up and TIT is grinning from ear to ear. I am happy to see TIT so happy since really hasn’t smiled since he started barfing on Friday. Not only does Big Bird have a stash of puppet friends in the box, he also has a big ole sign, smack on his stomach: $5 per picture. Really? Really? $5. You need to be that specific? It would kill you to smile for .06 seconds for a mere $2 or however many one dollar bills I can gather? But you put this heavy price on it and I feel insulted and kinda raped.
Big Bird motions towards his sign as the Commander and TIT try to engage him in play. He’s pointing and silently motioning to us to shove cash in his box while shuffling his feet in dance steps for the laughing Commander. And I am kinda pissed off at this Sesame Street stripper scam Big Bird is running here. I am not paying up. Now maybe if Big Bird would negotiate his fee down, I’d play, but I feel strongly on principle here that this kind of prostitution should be cracked down on the same way Giuliani took out the Times Square kind. So I wave off Big Bird and get the Commander and TIT moving fast towards the east when we stumble upon another kid crack magnet.
A man is standing guarding the entrance to the tunnel blowing the biggest bubbles I have ever seen. We are talking 10-foot long snake bubbles that sail effortlessly 50 feet across the park. Every kid is pinned to this man, their eyes wide with excitement and wonder as they watch him use an enormous wand dipping it into a bucket of frothy suds. He has attracted a growing crowd of adults and kids alike who are mesmerized by the sight. “Amazing pictures! That’s gorgeous! Look at that one,” the man, says inciting his spectators to take photos and chase the bubbles. The Commander is off dancing in a shower of bubbles with glee. “You have any ones?” I ask Matt, as now TIT wants in on the bubble action. He pulls out some crinkled dollar bills from his jacket pocket and we toss it into the jar. Unlike Big Bird, there was no minimum or upcharge for the kiddie champagne room and I wasn’t looking for extras. I am all for a reasonable charge for park entertainment that gives me a few minutes of quiet and keeps TIT and the Commander smiling. A few dollars well spent, I think as I collect my kids and start heading east again.
By this point, the Commander is deciding what he wants to buy at FAO Schwarz. “Is it like Target?” he asks me. “Better,” I promise assuaging his concern that this is like when mommy called Dollar Tree the “Green Target” which has scarred my son for life. Before we are able to make it out of the park, the Commander spots a hot dog cart. TIT is leading the charge pointing and wailing, “Eh, eh, eh” as we make our approach. “I want a hot dog,” the Commander screams. “And I want an apple juice.” And while the Commander is eating his hot dog, top down horizontally, we are still trying to decipher what “Eh” means. “We CANNOT give him a hot dog,” I say to my husband. “He will seriously shit all over the park.” The TIT is now frantically trying to tell us something but I am not sure what. “Eh, eh, eh.” So we point, “Do you want water?” He shakes his head no. “Do you want a pretzel?” He shakes his head no. I read down the list on the side of the cart to which TIT responds to everything with no. So $15 later, we give him a soft pretzel, a juice and some chips and he wails.
We were unable to read this list fast enough to distract the Commander from the ice cream man standing feet from the pretzel man. “I want an ice cream. You promised. You said I could have one.” He tosses the remnants of the hot dog on the ground and beelines to the ice cream cart. Of course he remembers the bribe. He can’t remember how to wipe his own ass or what he did at school on Wednesday, but the promise of an ice cream is not forgotten. So Matt buys the Commander the lemon-lime dots but not before TIT has figured out what “Eh” means. Now TIT is pointing and frantically gesturing to the ice pops that I think is a good because it seems like it would be okay for a bad tummy. I unwrap the popsicle and he is happy for a minute, satisfied as his face turns a mixture of red and blue from the dyes in the rocket pop.
We have a good distance to walk to get to FAO Schwarz and I try to steer away from the plethora of vendors pedaling $18 bubble guns and pinwheels. My goal was to get out of the park without opening my wallet again. We succeed and make it to FAO Schwarz, which proves to be everything and more than Target to the Commander. Satisfied with his new angry bird gift from his grandpa, the Commander is playing with his new toy when we contemplate getting food.
We trudge north again, skirting the side of the park and trying to avoid any other street vendors. I know saying NO and meaning it, is a part of parenting which I need to get the nerve up to be better at. But really I am just looking to survive and a $5 junky toy to shut my kid up is way better than a stern NO and hours of hysterics. And like manna from heaven, the ice pop has worked its magic and TIT is sound asleep in the stroller. “We can eat,” I say. I certainly wasn’t hungry given my current gastrointestinal situation, but I could always use a cocktail. So we find a little outdoor French café to sit and pull the stroller up to the table where TIT peacefully naps and the Commander plays with his latest Angry Bird acquisition.
I forewarn the waiter. “We need this to be fast. We have a ticking time bomb.” I motion to TIT in the stroller. “If he wakes up, things are going to go down hill and fast.” I think the waiter understands, but either he is not a parent or he is French and hates Americans because we wait a painfully long time for drinks and food. Just long enough that TIT wakes just as they put the food on the table. And he wakes up angry, very angry. He’s screaming and yelling trying to grab the Commander’s new toy which is like starting WWWIII. Just when I thought we could enjoy a leisurely Sunday brunch with cocktails, I am clocked in the face with a sippy cup and reminded there is no such thing as brunch with toddlers.
And because we are masochists, we don’t call it a day after brunch. “Who wants to go to the Central Park Zoo?” I ask. Matt rolls his eyes into the back of his head and looks longingly at oncoming traffic. The Commander is all for it and TIT having no idea what a zoo is, seems happy that his stroller is moving again. We walk back towards Central Park and the Commander, going on adrenaline, lack of sleep and a good dose of sugar, is leading the charge excited to throw a ball to the seals and see the penguins. But when we get to the zoo, it’s mobbed and my husband’s patience had run out back at the prostituting Big Bird. “I can’t do it. I am not doing it. The line for tickets is an hour long,” he moans. “Back me up here,” he says which really means he wants me to be the one to tell our primed and excited 4 year old that his dreams of playing with a seal today will be unceremoniously crushed. I oblige knowing that this will inevitable require his participation as well. Obviously I don’t tell him the truth, that daddy may stab the polar bear to death if we have to be tortured by another crowded, expensive and annoying endeavor. “Max, we can’t go to the zoo,” I say as we are standing at the front gates for it. The lies don’t work the way they used to, as he approaches 5 he isn’t as gullible as he once was so when Matt tells him that the zoo is closed for repairs, the Commander will have none of that bullshit. “It’s open. See Daddy! See! It’s open. See the seals? All the people are in there.” He rushes the gate like an East German when the Berlin wall fell, entering through the exit as we give chase.
“Do you want an ice cream?” Matt asks. It’s a pathetic and poor attempt to distract the Commander. He just had ice cream and this was going to take a lot more than an ice cream cone to tear him away. Matt tries the offer of a strawberry float but by now the Commander was screaming and flailing and kicking on the ground. We are the people who everyone is staring at, the people providing more entertainment than the trained clapping seal. Matt scoops the Commander up and tries a shoulder ride to draw his attention away. It’s a colossal failure and he just gets kicked in the face with a pair of light-up Pumas. I giggle as we drag the Commander kicking and screaming away from the zoo.
And like a mirage, we see a man making balloon animals. We move towards him and we move fast. We know that this just may silence the beast. He’s wearing a giant balloon animal hat and twisting and turning balloons into zoo creatures for the little girl in front of us. We “oh and ah” and pretend this shit is cooler than a penguin wearing a top hat. “Wow, holy cow Max, he can make you anything you want our of a BALLOON!!” At this point, if this guy wants to charge me $40 for a Tony the Tiger hat, I will gladly pay. My feet were killing from walking and I was centimeters away from blowing chunks all over the park. The Commander stops crying for a minute as he watches balloon man finish his creation. The tears dry up and he says, “I want a sword. I want a green sword.”
Fine. Fine! You want a sword, great! He can make you a canon for all I care, just for the love of Christ stop fucking crying. “Can you make two?” I ask the man and motion towards TIT. Three minutes and $3 later, the clouds had passed and I had the two happiest kids in the world as they wacked each other with balloon swords. Both boys were both happy, at the same time. No one was crying, they were playing together and the world seemed almost perfect on this beautiful spring day in Central Park. To the other park goers we must have looked like a postcard, Matt holding the Commander on his shoulders and TIT and strutting not far behind....beaming ear to ear in synchronicity! And then, as we were mere inches from being out of the park, both swords deflate and burst unwinding into nothing more than shredded green plastic.
And the tears begin again. This time, from both, and they lasted all the way to home.