There’s a question in our house that makes everyone shudder when it’s asked out loud. I mean, I feel an actual chill go down my spine, and for a brief moment, I contemplate whether life is worth living anymore.
Or I at least want to hide somewhere. But he always finds me.
Nate, that is.
And he always repeats himself. Because I pretend not to hear him the first few times he asks.
“Hey, Mom. Would you like to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles?”
There it is. Ugh. It was tough to even type those words.
And the answer is: No. I really, really don’t. This is why I had a second kid. Play with him.
There are so many things I’d rather do than play Turtles. Read a book. Tweeze my eyebrows. Scrub the urine stains from the toilet. Disinfect that coffee table one more time.
Even Wally slinks away when the question is asked, withdrawing to his sanctuary by the window.
And Tighe. Poor Tighe. My heart breaks for him a little bit every time Nate asks him the same question. I mean, my heart breaks and then I escape to another room.
Sam is hesitant, too: “Uh…yes?”
Because most of the time you’re playing Turtles with Nate, you’re actually being reprimanded by Nate.
“No! Mom, you’re holding him wrong! Hold him like this.” He demonstrates with his pudgy little fingers how to properly pinch their torsos, around their belts, not clumsily crushing their faces as I was erroneously doing. Now I know how Eli Manning must have felt when Peyton tried to teach him to throw a football.
And the other day, I got yelled at for eating an apple too close to the Turtles.
“You might spray apple juice on them!” he reasoned, using both arms to rescue them from my savage comportment and returning them to the safety of his red box. This coming from the kid who sprays crumbs from his toast like a wood chipper every morning and drips rings from his chocolate milk. By the end of a meal, his placemat resembles the Olympic flag.
And the other day, after several minutes of happy, peaceful play at the train table, the brotherly game ended abruptly. “Sam was playing too loud with my Turtles!”
What does that even mean? I stood wondering as Nate retreated to his fortress of solitude on the brown couch and Sam went outside to chase robins. He’s like a Golden Retriever.
I’m exaggerating my apathy, of course. Unless I’m busy making dinner or cleaning a sticky mess, I usually play Turtles with Nate. I know this imaginative play is good for him. Good for his verbal skills. Good for his social-cognition skills. Good for problem-solving. Good for mother-son bonding.
“Mom, you be Mikey and Donnie because those are your favorites!”
But it is also so arduous. And boring. And illogical.
Why would the Turtles just introduce themselves to each other? And state their respective characteristics? They’re brothers! Shouldn’t they already know these things about one another.
“Hey, Mikey! I’m Raph. I’m rude but cool.”
Yeah, we know. Everybody knows that. It states that in the theme song.
Once introductions have been made, they talk about pizza. And how much they dislike Shredder.
If it’s close to mealtime and I’m hungry, I’ll indulge the pizza line of conversation for a few minutes. “With cheese? And mushrooms and sausage and onions? Should we do thin crust or regular? What about an order of breadsticks, too? That Greek pizza they have is really good. With the feta and lamb, remember?”
“No, Mom! Turtles don’t like that! They want cheese! With sprinkles and maple syrup!”
Occasionally, Nate will have them encounter a different bad guy. Like Darth Vader. Or the Joker. Well, that doesn’t make any sense. New York City and Gotham City aren’t even in the same dimension. Or whatever.
One recent afternoon, when Nate was at school, Sam felt it safe to unlock Nate’s little red suitcase where he’s been storing his Turtles lately. We sat at the table after lunch as he mimicked the same conversational skills that he’s watched Nate employ.
“Let’s go, Mikey!” he called to me.
“Ok, Donnie!” I played along, weary from a full morning of toddler talk. “Where are we going?”
“Trader Joe’s,” he declared. “To get lollipops.”
Now there’s a Ninja Turtle after my own heart.