Tuesday, April 14 2020

race tracks, french toast dinners, and things that make you happy



banners/2020 04 14

Dear Journal,

Good morning, everyone. I hope you're feeling well today. This week is a good reminder to us all that people who predict the weather are still just people, and sometimes they are wrong, and sometimes that works in our favor. I was mentally prepared for a dreary week, and while it's still pretty cool outside, there's plenty of sunlight to go around.

Yesterday morning while I was winding up for the work day, I could hear Rodney galloping around the living room in joy. The night before, Marissa had built an indoor race track in his play corner. She spent hours lovingly cutting cardboard and stitching together roads and tracks with painting tape.

"Let me take a guess," I said, strolling into the living room. "You massively underestimated how long this would take."

"Oh definitely," replied Marissa without missing a beat. "It's safe to say this is the only thing I'm accomplishing tonight." The track she built formed a circuit around the play corner, climbing a steep ramp across the fireplace mantle, careening into a sharp turn toward the fish tank corner, hitting another bank around the table, and finally passing underneath the train table.

So the next morning, it was no surprise that Rodney's excited thumping in the living room could be heard all the way upstairs from our bedroom. After wrapping up my morning round of meetings, I peeked my head downstairs. Rodney caught a glimpse of my head peaking out from the stairs.

"DADA DADA LOOK," he yelled, stretching out his arms. "RACE TRACK."

"I see that dude," I chuckled. I joined Marissa on the couch. "I could hear him losing his mind upstairs. I take it this was a hit?"

Marissa sleepily nodded. "Yeah, he loved it. But look at how nice it is outside! I can't believe I burned one of my fun parenting ideas on a sunny day," she laughed wearily.

"I'm sure there's more where that came from," I said before leaving to grab another cup of coffee, stepping over a wreckage of hot wheels cars on the way.

The work day continued. At 1, I headed downstairs to heat up a plate of leftovers, scarfing them down with Rodney at the table. "We're all taking a nap this afternoon," said Marissa joining us with a plate of food.

"I'm good with that," I replied. I'm tired today too. Dude, we're all taking a nap today." Rodney nodded in approval.

I returned to finish out the work day. At quitting time, I eagerly drew the curtains and slithered into bed. I woke up around 6:30, peeking my head in Rodney's room. "Are you up dude?" I whispered. Rodney was sat up in bed, covered in sweat. "Aww, did you have a bad dream dude?" I asked.

Rodney nodded, sleepily rubbing his eyes. "C'mon dude," I said getting him out of bed. "Let's go make some food."

Together we quietly stepped by Marissa, napping on the couch, and filed into the kitchen. "Let's make french toast, dude," I said, catching site of the stale French loaf leaning up against the corner wall. Rodney dragged the step ladder from the corner while I poured a bowl of milk and cracked eggs. He climbed to the top of the ladder, claiming a spot at the stove beside me. Butter hissed against the hot pan, and we were off.

As per usual, the activity of cooking only held his attention for so long. We dipped each piece of bread in milk and eggs together, but in due time he was fishing for things of interest off the counter with our giant pair of grill tongs. He knocked over the pepper grinder. He pulled the kitchen towel off the oven handle and nearly dropped it in hot butter. He helped himself to cinnamon sugar dredge, hungrily wiping the bowl with his wet finger.

I'm pretty used to working around Rodney in the kitchen. It's a charming part of the challenge, and while I was pushing my luck cooking a double batch of French toast with two pans at once, I held it together, snaking my arms around him to throw the finished golden brown pieces of toast into a bowl. As Marissa started to stir on the couch, we wrapped up dinner. While plating, I decided to heat up some leftover Easter ham and slice of a banana, and suddenly all at once, this ill-conceived, thrown-together post nap lazy brunch dinner became a thoughtful ensemble. "Look at that dude," I said to Rodney while arranging the banana slices, french toast, and warm ham on a plate. "I think this might actually go together. I thought we'd be apologizing for this dinner."

After finishing our brunch-dinner, the three of us headed outside for a quick after dinner chore. The lockdown has been forcing us to order more things online, and as a result we've accumulated an overwhelming amount of cardboard in our shed. But while nosing around Madison's waste management website, she found provisions for cardboard pickup. "Stacked and flattened, no wider than three feet by three feet, and six inches tall. Can be bound together with string," Marissa read aloud from her phone.

Marissa packed the boxes into squares, and I tied them together and took them to the curb. Meanwhile, Rodney volunteered himself for a job he invented - hiding sticks and pine needles in the stacks of cardboard. "These are for FRIENDS," he sang whimsically.

Together as a family, we made quick work of the menacing stack of cardboard gathering in our shed, and it made for a productive way to channel an evening brunch-dinner sugar rush.

Before putting Rodney to bed, we sat on the couch to Skype with the Wilke family. And even though their Internet was spotty calling from their home in rural New Hampshire, the entire family patiently waited around the phone to talk to us.

"What has been making you guys happy lately?" asked Marissa. The Wilke family exchanged smiles.

"For me, it's gotta be playing Playstation with my boys," said Luke. His voice was much deeper and more bellowing since the last time we talked. "Nice, dude," I replied. "Talk about the golden age of video games!"

Emma and Nicole echoed the same sentiment that food was keeping their heart full. "With everybody home, we get to spend so much time in the kitchen together," said Nicole.

"We made Spanish Rice with Shrimp," said Emma waggling her eyebrows.

Claire, the youngest, had been reading books. She proudly rattled off the stories she'd finished since the lockdown began.

"Spending time with the family is making me happy," said Chris. He explained that his hospital had figured out a new shift schedule that minimized everyone's exposure, and also gave him more time at home.

Thanks for stopping by this morning. What is making you happy these days?