“Daddy’s here for breakfast!” Dean exclaimed excitedly, climbing up into his usual chair the next morning.
“How’d you sleep?” John asked.
“Pretty good,” Dean nodded. “No monsters. We got it figured out real good, me and Mommy. She’s very smart about monsters.”
“That’s good,” John sighed. “When do you think it’ll be okay to put everything back in order?”
“Really?” Mary sighed placing a plate of French Toast and sausage in front of Dean, next to his orange juice.
“What?” John shrugged.
“Not ready,” Dean said shaking his head, mouth full of food, “The monster might come back if it thinks I got comfortable. I have to make sure it’s gone. Then the teddy bear army can go back to the closet at night time.”
“Dean,” Mary said seriously. “Remember what I said about talking with you mouth full?”
Dean nodded, leaning across the table for his juice. “Sorry, Momma.”
“We seem to have this talk every time you eat,” Mary said sitting down with her own plate. “You gotta start changing this behavior or you’re gonna be trouble.”
“Yes Momma,” Dean nodded. “I won’t do it again.”
“I hope not,” Mary smiled turning to her own breakfast.
“Where’s mine?” John asked.
“I’m not your sever girl,” Mary answered. “Go get it yourself.”
“You brought over his,” John argued.
“You really trust a three year old to walk across the kitchen with plate?” Mary replied.
John pushed back from the table mumbling.
“Are you mad at Daddy cuz of me?” Dean asked softly. “I don’t like it when you’re mad at each other. I can get my own breakfast from now on if you want.”
“No sweetie,” Mary replied. “It has nothing to do with you. Dad’s just being grumpy. He hasn’t had his coffee yet.”
“Promise?” Dean asked as John sat back down with his breakfast.
“Cross my heart.”
“What do you wanna do today, buddy,” John asked, eyes looked across the table with his wife.
“I don’t know,” Dean shrugged, shoveling food into his mouth. He started to continue, but stopped to chew glancing sideways at his mom, who smiled. “What do you want to do? We can play all day if you don’t gotta work. I have Legos and Army mans we play war. And make a Army mans base and then attack. That’s what me and Jamie do sometimes.”
“That sounds fun, Dean-o,” John nodded.
“Can we play superheros after?” Dean asked quietly. “You can be Superman, but you don’t have to wear a cape.”
“Superman wears a cape though,” Mary interjected.
“Daddy doesn’t like capes,” Dean replied. “He don’t hafta wear one.”
“We’ll do whatever you want to today,” John smiled at his son. “Just me and you.”
“That sounds like a fun day,” Dean exclaimed. “We need to get started, cuz I take a nap after lunch and we got a lot to do.”
“Alright, buddy,” John nodded. “Eat up your breakfast, and we’ll get going.”
“I have get dressed after breakfast,” Dean explained. “That’s the rules. Then play time.”
“That’s fine,” John nodded. “Do what you gotta do. We got all day.”
“Can you read me the mermaid story?” Dean asked excitedly. “I know it’s a nighttime story but I really like it. It’s my favorite.”
“Whatever you want,” John told him.
Dean look skeptically between his parents.
“Do I have to go to the doctor and get shots?” Dean asked.
“No.” Mary answered chuckling. “Why?”
“You’re being very nice to me,” Dean answer. “When you’re too nice I have to have a shot. I’m on to you.”
“Dean,” Mary said pressing her forehead to Dean’s. “No shots. Just fun with Dad today. You don’t have a doctor’s appointment until after your birthday.”
“Okay,” Dean nodded. “I’m gonna go get dressed and get my Army mans and Legos.”
Dean came bounding down the stairs after he got dressed, arms full of green plastic army men and a box of Legos. He placed them on the floor in front of the couch and bounced into the kitchen where his parents were talking in hushed angry voices. He really hated it when his parents fought, he couldn’t help but feel it was his fault. When his parents yelled it was usually about him, something bad that he did, he tried to be real good, but sometimes it didn’t matter.
“You’ve made your point, Mary,” John hissed.
“Are you really trying to get out of playing with your son?” Mary rolled his eyes and shook her head. “Did you miss how excited he was that you were going to home all day? Why are you being so stubborn about this?”
“I’m not,” John sighed. “I’ll play army or what the hell he wants to do, just like I said I would.”
“Don’t be mean to him,” Mary sighed. “He’s just a little boy who loves you and wants to spend time with you. Don’t be an asshole to him because you’re mad at me.”
“I got my army mans,” Dean said softly from the doorway between the kitchen and living room. “You don’t have to play if you don’t want. I can play army mans by myself.”
“I’ll be there in a second, Dean,” John sighed. “Just gotta put my plate in the sink.”
Dean slid on his stocking feet across the room and over to his mom.
“Did you give him the coffee?” Dean whispered. “I don’t want him to be mad at me.”
“He’ll be fine,” Mary promised. “You guys go have fun. He won’t be so grumpy after.”
Dean nodded and slid back across the floor.
“Can you walk like a normal person?” John asked.
“I’m ice skating,” Dean replied. “It’s fun. Momma said she’s gonna teach me next year how to do it for real. I’m too little to do it now.”
“That’s a great idea,” John smirked over at his wife. “Won’t let him carry a plate across the kitchen but you’ll strap knives to his feet.”
“Not knives, Daddy,” Dean corrected. “Ice skates.” He grabbed John’s hand in his and his father into the living room. “Come on, you build your army base for your mans. I’ll show you.”
“You gotta have sides on you army base,” Dean explained as John and Dean built lego forts. “Otherwise my army mans can sneak around and get your army mans. The point is to have the most army mans alive.”
“Okay,” John nodded, clearly not used to taking instruction.
“I’ve done this before, Daddy,” Dean said. “I know the best way to win. So, I’m not gonna let you win. But I don’t want you to lose too bad.”
John couldn’t help but chuckle. “Alright. I’ll do it your way.”
Dean nodded and continued to build the three sided fort.
“How come you don’t believe in monsters?” Dean asked, not looking up from his blocks. “You said they’re not real, but they are real. I seed the monster under my bed.”
“I don’t know, Dean,” John answered.
“Mom said that one time, Grandpa usta fight the monsters,” Dean told his father. “He would just fight them. Bigger monsters than the one under my bed. Maybe you don’t believe in monsters cuz your Daddy fixed cars. And that’s why you fixed cars and Mommy fights monsters.”
“Maybe,” John nodded. “Which one do you think you’ll want to do?”
“I want to be Batman when I’m big,” Dean said matter-of-factually. “Mom says if I keep practicing being Batman, I will be the best Batman ever.”
“Well, that’s something, I guess,” John nodded.
“I think I’m such a good Batman, cuz you a superhero,” Dean replied.
“What?” John chuckled.
“I didn’t tell nobody,” Dean said looking up. “Not even Mom. I figured it out.”
“Figured what out?” John asked, more curious than angry.
“That’s why you stay at work late,” Dean answered, lining up his army men behind his Lego barricade. “You have to fight crime. And the only time to fight crime is at night. I figured it out awhile ago. I gonna ask Mommy, but I wasn’t sure if she knew, and I didn’t want you to be found out.”
“Dean, that’s not,” John shook his head trying to figure out how Dean had come to that conclusion.
“It’s okay,” Dean smiled. “I won’t tell. I’m good at secrets. But when I get big, can I be your sidekick, like Robin?”
“Sure,” John replied. “You can be my Robin.”
“Then when I get really big, I can take over,” Dean nodded.
“That’s how it works?” John asked.
“I’m pretty sure,” Dean answered. “I don’t really know. But that makes sense to me.”
“Me too,” John nodded. “So how does this army game work? What do we do after we build the barricade?”
“You set up the mans,” Dean explained, demonstrating with his own green men; holding one in each hand. “Then you fight.” He made gunshot noise, until one was fatally injured, screaming and falling from his hand.
Shaking his head, John started to have fun in spite of himself, just sitting on the living room floor making gun noises. Dean, it seemed never stopped talking. It didn’t really matter what the subject was, he’d talk about monsters, or army men, or sword fighting, endlessly.
“Momma made me eat cantaloupe,” Dean said with a disgusted look on his face.
“You didn’t like it, I’m guessing?” John chuckled.
“I did not,” Dean shook his head. “It was really gross. Have you eated it?”
“Not in a long time,” John answered. “You have to eat fruit though, it’s good for you, makes you grow up big and strong.”
“I like strawberries,” Dean replied. “And apples sometime, in they have cinnamon and sugar on them. I have bananas sometimes at breakfast. Sometimes Momma gets sneaking and put fruit in the pancakes.”
“Mom’s are known for being sneaky.”
“Do you know how to sword fight?” Dean asked.
“I do not,” John answered.
“Oh,” Dean said sounding disappointed. The he whispered. “I can teach you. It’s good for fighting crime.”
“I would like that,” John said.
“This is really fun,” Dean said. “I happy you stayed home from work today.”
“Me too, Dean,” John replied.
“You wanna play a new game?” Dean asked. “You pick. We can play sword fights, but usually I do that after nap time, cuz I gots lots of energy. That’s what Momma says.”
“You want me to read you that book?” John asked.
“And color?” Dean asked. “We can read the story and then I have a mermaid coloring book that goes with it. I found it at the store one time.”
“Alright, you go get your stuff,” John instructed. He watched the boy run up the stairs; then sauntered into the kitchen.
“I’m going to give you some advice,” Mary said from the table where she was reading her book. “Wear that boy out. Just run him. Make him fall asleep in his sandwich at lunch or he won’t take a nap and he’ll be a pain in the ass all afternoon.”
“He wants to read a book,” John shrugged.
“Read it after lunch,” Mary suggested. “So he falls asleep. I do this everyday. You gotta trust me. If you mention playing in the snow, he’ll freak. He loves it.”
“I’m just going to do what he wants to do,” John shrugged.
“Then you can deal with cranky pants at 4:30 because he didn’t take a nap,” Mary replied. “Do what you want, but you’re not around enough to know how he works. He hates naps. You sit and color for an hour, give him a sandwich then send him upstairs for a nap, the next thing you know, the bathroom is flooded because he wasn’t tired. But what do I know, I only do it everyday.”
“Mary,” John sighed. “What do you want from me?”
“I want you to know all this stuff without me telling you,” Mary answered. “But you’re working all the time. So you don’t know.”
“Yeah, I know,” Mary nodded. “And it’s gonna be harder with two of ‘em, but doesn’t mean you can’t take a weekend day and hang out with your son.”
“You make it sound like I hate the kid,” John accused. “That I’m purposefully not coming home.”
“Are you?” Mary asked.
“No,” John said seriously. “I’m trying to make everything better. I’m trying to make it easier. Ricky knows about the new baby, we’re working it out so I can have some time off when it comes. I’m doing my best here.”
“I know,” Mary sighed. “I know, but it just seems like you’re doing it on purpose.”
“How about we talk this out tonight,” John suggested. “Just put it on ice until Dean goes to bed and we’ll talk it out.”
“Yeah,”’ Mary nodded. “I think we need that. Just take him outside. Cleaning up toilet water once this week was enough.”
“I’ll ask Dean what he wants to do.”
“If you mention playing in the snow,” Mary said. “He’ll pee himself with excitement. It’s his favorite thing in the world right now. Tell him you want to build a snow fort. We built a snowman yesterday, then it got too cold for mom, so we had to come back inside.”
“I can build a good snow fort.”
“While you boys are doing that,” Mary said standing up. “I’m think I’m gonna go finish the Christmas shopping.”
“What about lunch?” John asked, panicked.
“I’m sure you can handle making a three year old a PB and J,” Mary laughed. “Jelly on both sides of the bread, cut off the crusts, cut it diagonally or he won’t eat it. If you ask, he’ll help. He likes helping.”
Mary made her way around the table and pressed her head into John’s chest.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered into her hair. “I’ll do better.”
“I know you will,” Mary answered, leaning back so they could kiss.
“Gross,” a tiny voice said from behind them. “That’s how you get cooties.”
“How do you know about cooties?” Mary laughed.
“Elizabeth,” Dean said seriously. “Well, Jamie told me about them, but then Elizabeth tried to give them to me at her tea party. I do not like her. She is very mean and she makes me wear feathers and have tea parties. And it’s not even real tea! It’s just air. I do not like tea parties. And then Jamie said if I kept playing with her I gonna get cooties and then he would get them, like when we had the chicken pox at the same time. I don’t want that to happen, because then he won’t be my friend no more.”
“I don’t think that’s how cooties work, Dean,” John chuckled.
“Yes it is,” Dean said confidently. “I knowed things, Daddy.”
“Alright then,” John nodded. “What are we doing now?”
“You forgetted? It’s been only one minute,” Dean huffed holding up his story book. “You’re reading me a story.”
“I heard that you wanted a snow fort,” John offered.
Dean’s eyes grew in excitement, flicking between his parents, before he started to nod ecstatically.
“How about we do that?” John suggested. “And I’ll read to you after lunch before you take your nap?”
Dean kept nodding. He dropped his book and coloring book and dashed across the room to the closet where the coats were.
“Dean,” Mary sighed, letting go of John to pick up the books off the floor. “At least he didn’t have crayons.”
The first snowball was just a handful of snow hitting John in the leg, followed by high pitched giggles. John continued was he was doing, building up the sides of the fort that Dean wanted so badly. The second snowball was more ice than snow. It wasn’t thrown hard enough to hurt, but it was enough to make John turn and look at the three year old hiding behind the big tree in the front yard laughing hysterically.
“What’s so funny?” John asked.
Dean shook his head the best he could all bundled up in his snowsuit, hat and scarf, his mitten covered hands forming another snowball.
“I snowballed you,” Dean giggled.
John went over to where Dean was hiding behind the tree and scooped him up. “You think it’s funny to throw snowballs at you dad?”
“Yeah,” Dean giggled. “It’s really funny.”
“You wanna learn how to make a really good snowball?” John asked. “I can teach you have to make a better one, and maybe we can hit Mommy with them when she gets back.”
“That’s really mean, Daddy,” Dean said seriously. “You don’t hit Momma with things, she doesn’t like it.”
“Okay,” John nodded placing Dean back down on the ground. “You still want to learn how to make a proper snowball?”
Dean nodded excitedly. “Yay, you teach me snowballs.”
John crouched down in the snow as Dean planted himself sitting cross legged watching. John showed him how to pack the ball nice and tight so that it flew better and longer than the handfuls of snow Dean had been throwing.
“You teach me how to throw it?” Dean asked. “I want to throw good.”
“Yeah,” John smiled. “I’ll teach you to throw. You want to learn with a real ball?”
“Umm...” Dean said, his face scrunched in thought. “I think so.”
“Come with me to the shed,” John instructed. “Can’t leave you in the front yard with no one watching.”
The two of them made their way to the back yard; Dean waddling in his snowsuit in John’s shadow. Dean stood in the doorway while John dug around in the shed for baseball gloves he hadn’t used in a long time. He wasn’t sure if they had one small enough for Dean, not that one would really fit over his mittens anyway, but he was pretty sure they had a baseball in there somewhere.
John climbed back out of the shed and was hit with another snowball, this time in the chest, followed by more hysterical giggles.
“I do it good that time,” Dean asked. “I maked it like you said.”
“Yeah,” John nodded. “You did good.” John extended his hand for Dean to take and lead him back to the front yard. “You know how to throw a ball, Dean?”
Dean shook his head. “No one teached me that.”
“Probably be easier without mittens on,” John said.
“I can’t take them off my fingers will fall off!” Dean exclaimed. “Momma said.”
“We’ll work around it kiddo,” John nodded.
He kneeled in the snow and handed Dean the ball; showing him how to hold it.
“You want to pull it back behind your ear,” John explained. “Then you step forward with your left foot and throw it like you did with the snow ball.”
Dean nodded and tried what John told him: stepping very exaggeratedly and swinging his arm as hard as he could. The ball didn’t travel very far, but Dean was pretty excited about it.
“I do it right?” Dean asked looking up to his dad.
“Yeah,” John smiled. “You did it right.”
“Can I do it again?” Dean asked.
John nodded and Dean chased after the ball, throwing back toward John and chasing after it. John leaned back, watching Dean run back and forth in the snow chasing the baseball.
This must have been what Mary was talking about. This was what he was missing out on.
Outside in the snow, John built Dean a nice big snow fort that Dean could climb into and play in. Dean squealed in excitement running around it.
“This is the best day, Daddy,” Dean laughed as John chased him. “You should stay home from work more often.”
“Yeah,” John answered. “I think you’re right.”
“I’m kinda hungry,” Dean yawned.“When is Momma coming back?”
“I can make you lunch, buddy,” John replied.
John had been sitting leaned back against the tree, just watching Dean run back and forth across the yard. He’d teach Dean to play catch when it started to get warmer, but Dean seemed quite content just throwing and chasing.
Dean stood in front of his father with a very skeptical look on his face. “Have you ever made a lunch before?”
“I can make a sandwich, Dean,” John answered pushing himself up. “But if you’re worried about it, you can help.”
Dean spun on heels and ran back toward the house. John chuckled as he followed. Dean was struggling out his snowsuit when John got inside.
“Momma never lets me help,” Dean explained. “I always ask and she’s ‘No, Dean, I’ll do it.’ I want to help. I can get all the stuff out of the refrigerator.”
“You do that,” John nodded, watching as Dean tripped over his feet trying to get his boots off. “Do you want help getting out of that?”
“No,” Dean mumbled. “I can do it.”
John went into the kitchen and waited. It took a couple minutes but Dean made his way into the kitchen, pushing his step stool from the downstairs bathroom so he could reach the counters.
“You gotta tell me where the sandwich stuff is,” John said. “Because I don’t know.”
Dean nodded and took to the task. He slid the step stool around the kitchen collecting peanut butter out of the cupboard and jelly from the fridge. He pushed John out of the way so he get the loaf of bread from the breadbox behind him.
“I’m not allowed to play with knives,” Dean said pointing to the silverware drawer.
“Okay,” John nodded. “I think I can do it from here, why don’t you go sit at the table I’ll be right there.”
“Cut it in a triangle,” Dean said hopping down from his step stool. “And no crusties!” He pushed his stool back out of the room.
The two shared their sandwiches at the table, Dean babbling with his mouthful.
“I’m gonna teach you how to fight monsters after nap time,” Dean announced. “Since you teached me how to throw a ball.”
“Alright,” John nodded. “Just chew your food first.”
“Oh yeah,” Dean nodded as he swallowed. “I’m gonna let you use my sword to fight them monster. Not real monsters, just pretend monsters. Real monsters only come out at night.”
“Good to know.”
Dean yawned as he tried to finish his sandwich, but looked as if he was about the fall asleep right in his plate.
“You ready for that book now?” John smirked.
Dean nodded, eyelids clearly heavy. “Yes please.”
John picked Dean up off the chair and grabbed his book off the table where Mary had but it after Dean threw it on the floor to put on his snowsuit.
“I have my nap upstairs,” Dean explained as John situated them on the sofa. “Momma doesn’t let me sleep on the couch.”
“Well,” John explained. “Mom’s not home. So we’re napping on the couch.”
When Mary came home, the downstairs was filled with the soft snoring she recognized as John’s. She walked into the living room to find Dean snuggled against John’s chest, both her boys sound asleep. She pulled the blanket from the back of the recliner and placed it over them. Leaving them to sleep while she snuck in Christmas presents.