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The Many Moods of Hank the Tank

Hey, listen. Even though I know darn right well that we have pulled the bus up to the curb of that "special" corner in the scariest section of Terrible Two Town, a place where anything can happen at any time, and where danger lurks just beyond the nearest shadow of a tiny figure with a large foam sword in his hands, you would still think that I could depend on microwave pancakes in the morning as a safe bet, right?

I mean, what the heck could possibly go wrong with that?

So when I woke up this morning and was lying there in my bed, maybe 35 percent awake, and Henry appeared at my bedside and looked at me with his sweet, sad baby possum eyes and skipped the "Good Morning, Daddy" bullshit in favor of diving right into big business, I guess I should have somehow known that I was in for it.

But nooooooooo. I didn’t.

“I’m hungwee, dad,” he told me.

“Ummm….huh?” I managed to mumble. “Wha?”

He wasn’t smiling, and that should have been a warning, I guess, because even when he’s crying, half the time he’s still grinning.

“Take me downstairs, daddy,” he told me. “I’m hungwee for dinner!”

I looked at him through my slits, trying to focus through the sand and the early haze.

“You mean breakfast?” I said.

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He considered that for a moment.

“Yes. Bwekfist ... take me downstairs, daddy.”

Then just so I knew what was what, he added this little gem:

NOW!”

Well, I was in no mood to argue; I just didn’t even have the strength of mind or the wherewithal to deflect him over toward his sleeping mom. And plus, I was up now, according to my big grand plan, so that I could drag my 700-pound sack of blubber carcass to the gym, so I might as well just get up and make the kid breakfast, I figured.

I rolled out of bed, and Henry followed me in to the bathroom while I found my glasses and pulled on some shorts and my T-shirt.

At the toilet I went for a pee but I could feel him staring at me with his little hot prison spotlights.

Uhhhh … awkward.

“Daddee?”

“What?”

“Are you peeing?”

“Well, I’m trying to.”

“You’re trying to?”

That’s his thing, see. He’s always turning simple stuff you say into a question. He grabs your statement by the barrel and bends the thing so that he can shoot it right back at you. It’s kind of brilliantly maddening, to be honest.

Like, for instance:

Me: “Here, want some mustard for the hot dog?”

Henry: “Want some mustard for the hot dog?” And he does this trick where he sort of bends his little boy voice upwards at the very tail end of the sentence so that there is no mistaking that he is asking you, to your face, whether or not you just offered him mustard for his hot dog. It’s an inimitable move, something out of some deep psychological thriller set in the cold cells of the hardest Russian prison or something. He seems to be mocking you, poking your mind with his nubby fingers, and yet he also seems so genuinely sincere as well. Then, by the time you even figure out that you ought to just answer him with a simple "yes," he has already eaten the hotdog and spilled his chocolate milk all over your Income Tax return check and you have no idea what the hell just happened here.

There is no way that I will ever know how or why he knew about the frozen pancake option.

I peed in the end, but the inquisition wasn’t over.

“Did you pee-pee, daddy?”

“Yep,” I boasted. “I peed like a racehorse there, huh?”

He was watching me like a fairytale owl, or like a curious wise leprechaun. I saw a ridiculous twinkle in his eye. I’m serious. I’m not lying.

“You pee-pee’d a racehorse?”

I moved toward the stairs, speechless and 42 percent awake.

Halfway down the stairs I turned to see my lad still at the top, staring at me and pouting.

“C’mon, man! Let’s get some breakfast,” I told him, but no dice.

His bottom lip was a sad baby bird.

“Carry me, daddy.”

Oh for hell’s sake. I just want to get downstairs and climb into a piping vat of coffee here, boy. What’s it gonna take for that to happen? Hmmm? Carry you? Carry your perfectly good, young body down these damn steps?

Fine.

I chugged back up there and swooped him up and we got down to the kitchen and I plopped him on his bar stool at the island and I made the coffee as he talked to the goldfish for a minute.

“I won pancakes, daddy.”

“I know, boss. I’m gonna make ‘em for you now.”

I yanked the bag of frozen flapjacks out of the freezer the same as I have done probably at least three or four hundred times since my daughter was born almost five years ago.

But there is always room for change, huh? There is always the potential for mind-blowing insanity born from the mundane.

I went to throw Henry’s two frozen solid blueberry pancakes on a dish so I could nuke them (45 seconds for 2, FYI) when my boy, my little man, screeched like an old lady caught under bus.

W.T.F.

My eyes must have given away the fact that I was in shock because Henry offered up one of his rare unsolicited reasons for unleashing hell.

“I doan wan mine cooked! I wan dem cold!”

Say wha? I gave him a look that revealed me, after all this time, to be the man I truly am: a man who understands absolutely nothing and who, for the better part of 40 years, has been bumbling his way along difficult and treacherous paths and lanes.

“You want them cold?”

“Yesssss,” he declared.

“No. NO! No, silly! You don’t want cold pancakes!,” I told him in that Muppet-y voice us parents use when we’re trying to say to our kids that they are so silly/funny, but which is really a desperate attempt by us to navigate the tricky dark waters of young insanity, where one wrong paddle and we will find ourselves head-to-head with the Swamp Beast that lives inside each and every toddler on earth.

“YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! I WAN DEM COLD!!!!!!! WAGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

And just like that he blew up in my nose and mouth and eyes and began bawling fat baby tears, and I was simply appalled at the fact that I was so idiotic to have found myself on such a rickety bridge so early in the damn morning, and with nothing to protect myself with but the option, no the NEED, to just give in to his outlandish demands.

Still, I couldn’t help myself. I took two steps towards the microwave just to see what he would do.

“NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! I WAN FROZEN PANCAKES! FROZEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEN!!!!

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There is no way that I will ever know how or why he knew about the frozen pancake option. No one considers it; no one anywhere in the entire world that I have ever heard of. It isn’t on any menus and you never see anybody eating them straight out of the deep freeze, but then again . . . what the hell do I know.

I let the hard discs clank down on the plate and I slowly slid it across to my son, a little boy drowning in his own snot and teardrops.

He staggered to catch his breath and he whimpered as he does.

I was in awe of the power of this insane person’s food.

He pulled the plate close to his chest, whimpered again, his screams fading into the past now, and he looked at me with those possum eyes.

“Tank you,” he murmured to me, ever so meekly.

Then he started sucking on the edge of one of those things, cold as river stones/no butter/no syrup, as if he had been doing it for years, for decades even; as if he had been doing it forever, back in some life that he’d been living long before he landed flat on his ass alongside me here, in the middle of this one.

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