Nate Earns a Dollar: Part 3

Finally! The day came when Nate’s coveted Raphael action figure arrived! He ran around to the front of the house and picked up the package from the front steps. I made him count his money and hand it over to me before he could open the box. After a few moments of initial disappointment – he had envisioned something life-sized, I think – he requested pizza for lunch because Raph was probably hungry after such a long journey.


Sam stared at him with a combination of incredulity and disgust as he pressed pizza against this new toy’s mouth. I have to admit it was a bit odd: Nate and Raph were like newlyweds, sipping champagne and nibbling strawberries, only the romance was very one-sided.


But the honeymoon continued and for a few days, Nate carried “head-dropping Raph” everywhere we went, sharing him with everyone, like a proud, naïve father with his newborn. No one cares! Still, he glowed with admiration and affection – and that’s not an exaggeration.


Until one fateful, stormy morning.


We were running late, as usual, though I can’t even recall where we were headed. Sam’s mood was reflective of the weather outside. He reacted with epic tears and screams to all my suggestions and offerings. He didn’t want a bagel. He didn’t want to wear the clothes I had picked out. He didn’t want to watch whatever show Nate had picked out. It was the angriest I had seen him since….well, honestly since the day before at the playground when he stared down a ten-year old who had the audacity to try and slide down the slide that Sam was climbing up. “What a crabby baby,” the boy said as he scooted over to a nearby, more amiable slide. 


Anyway, back to Sam…I think he was just constipated, but the point is he was doing his best to make everyone else pay the price for his GI discomfort.


Fresh off a cup of coffee, I was undeterred. “La, la, la, I could take on the world right now, Sam! Your little tantrum is nothing to me!”


So he set his sights on Nate. Poor, unsuspecting, euphoric, doe-eyed Nate. Too busy gazing into the eyes of a toy ninja turtle to have his guard up against the wrath of Sam. 


And with one swat of his chubby, sweaty little arm, Nate’s joy was gone. With ninja-like quickness, Sam had, intentionally or unintentionally – a future courtroom debate, I guess – knocked Raph from Nate’s grasp. The toy hit the ceramic tile floor in the kitchen, and one of his sais slid under the refrigerator! It was gone from view! Just like the movie!


A sudden, uneasy silence blanketed the kitchen while we all processed what had happened. Wally, wise beyond the capacity of his canine brain, slinked quietly out of the room. Nate stared at the floor where the sai had just slipped away. I froze, my eyes darting back and forth between Nate and Sam, fearful of the next move – Nate’s revenge or a reprise of Sam’s fury. But even Sam was motionless! His eyes were wide: “Did I go too far?”


I braced myself for Nate’s tears.


They came.


I took a deep breath, scooped up Sam and shuttled him to safety in the other room. Fortunately, it seemed that Nate was still in shock. All he could grasp is that the sai was gone – revenge hadn’t even crossed his mind. Apparently, all he could think was: “Whaaaaaaaaaa!”


My next thought was to reclaim the sai and stop the tsunami of tears. But, ew, I’m not reaching under there! If there’s one place in everyone’s home that’s scary and foreboding and not a place you ever want to have to go, it’s under the fridge!


“Nate! Get it together, man! We have to problem-solve! Raph needs us!”


Instinctively, he snapped to, and enacted the skill set he has been practicing since paralyzing, apocalyptic tantrums became a thing for him: First, stop crying. Not easy to do when you’re three – it took several attempts. Just when I thought we were in the clear, he’d see Raph’s one empty hand, be reminded of our catastrophic plight, and start wailing all over again.


Sam, feeling as much guilt as a toddler possibly can, started to tiptoe back into the kitchen, only to jump backward, startled and terrified each time the tears would start again. He resolved to peering around the corner from the dining room, fingers curled around the edge of the doorway, one eye watching Nate with trepidation.


Finally, after some deep breathing and mother-son, morale-strengthening eye contact, the crying stopped, and we could focus on the problem solving. I’ll skip all the details because it wasn’t glamorous, but we used two lacrosse sticks, a John Deere flashlight, and a hockey stick to recover the two-inch plastic sai from the abyss that is underneath the fridge. We also found some forgotten about artwork that used to decorate the refrigerator door, a pair of dead flies – suicide pact perhaps? – and some weird, gross lint/grime hybrid that is much what I’d imagine the Ebola virus to look like.


After the ordeal ended, we all hugged and rejoiced on the kitchen floor. And for some reason, Nate, nearly blind with tears of joy, thanked Sam. Yes, thanked him. Not exactly the vengeful response I was expecting.


I sat between them, covered in snot and sub-refrigerator filth, grateful for an end to the tears, but also slightly baffled. It took me a while to grasp the moral here, but now I’m sure it’s one I’ll never forget: Be grateful for your cranky, constipated toddler. He’s scary, but he’ll show you what lies beneath the fridge.


It’s a metaphor. Or something.