(Originally published in Snapshots At St. Arbuck’s Vol 3)
Honesty compels me to confess that rowdy children in a small, enclosed space like St. Arbuck’s is not one of my favorite things.
Actually, now that I think about it, unruly kids are off-putting regardless of the environment.
And don’t get me started on the topic of inattentive, permissive parental units!
So, there I sat in my favorite coffee bar, doing battle with the bloated monstrosity also known as my current novel when the erstwhile calm was shattered by the arrival of a single dad and three—count ‘em—three young daughters.
Not that hair color has any particular bearing on the propensity of a child toward disruptive behavior, just stating an observational fact.
How did I know he was a single dad? I think it was his eyes, the way they cast about the room as if seeking rescue, or, perhaps, at the very least understanding and compassion.
The three little darlings—approximate ages 5, 7 and 9—stormed immediately toward the pastry counter shoving and elbowing each other while at the same time shrieking in that frequency of voice that, seemingly, only young girls are capable of emitting.
“I get to order first!”
(Shriek!) “Noooo! You ordered first last time!”
“Me first! MeeeeeeeeFiiiiiiirrrrrrrsssssstttttt!!!” (Shriek! Shriek! Shriek!)
You get the picture.
The littlest one, and obvious, at least to my ringing ears, vocal champ, planted herself squarely in front of the register and refused to be budged by either of her sisters although they had at least a foot in height and twenty pounds body weight on her.
“Daaaaaaaaaddddd!” wailed the eldest. “Mary won’t move out of the way! Daaaaaaaaaddddd!”
The beleaguered father staggered forward as if in a daze, his mouth working wordlessly, arms flapping helplessly at his sides, head pinioning atop his shoulders as he scanned the menu board.
“Mary,” he said softly. “Why don’t you let Siobhan order first this morning?”
“Nooooooooooooo!” Mary shrieked. “Nooooooo! Noooooo! Noooooooooooooooooo!”
This bombast was accompanied by much gesticulation and stomping of her tiny feet.
It became quickly and indisputably clear that wee Mary was the boss in this family.
The middle child chimed in. “Why does she always get what she wants? I never get anything!” Arms crossed; chin tucked against her thin chest; the corners of her cute little mouth turned down in an epic pout.
“Now Bonnie,” reasoned dad, who by now had recovered somewhat from his previous stupor. “You know that Mary doesn’t always get her way.”
“Whatever!” this from Siobhan, with a roll of her piercing blue eyes tossed in for emphasis.
As for what happened next, I couldn’t rightly say for at that moment I had a pressing matter that required my attention, to whit heeding the insistent call of a middle-aged bladder.
I had no sooner turned on the light in the men’s room than I heard a significant ruckus filtering through the wall of the adjoining women’s room.
It seemed that the tiny trio of sisters had all simultaneously sensed the selfsame need as I.
With dad temporarily out of earshot (although I’m convinced anyone within a hundred feet could’ve heard every word clearly) Bonnie and Siobhan seized the opportunity to let Mary have it!
Rather than provide blow-by-blow color commentary, suffice it to say that the tag team diatribe involved derogatory descriptions of their younger sibling shocking to hear spoken from such young and innocent lips.
All of which eventually provoked Mary to explore aural frequencies that I am quite sure were previously unknown to humankind.
Sheer morbid fascination caused me to linger over the sink, washing and rewashing my hands as I listened in rapt attention to the unfolding drama unfolding one wall away.
Suddenly I heard a pounding coming from the hallway: Dad had arrived on the scene, yanked finally and violently from his torpor.
“What. Is. Going. On. In. There?” Followed by more pounding and, “Open this door! Right! Now!”
Now I was stuck. I mean there was no way I was going to walk out and right into the middle of a, well, domestic dispute of some proportions.
So I did what any self-respecting person would’ve done in my spot. I pressed my ear to the wall and listened.
Sadly, the concurrent decibel-intensive and cacophonous mash-up of sound that followed the father’s entrance made it impossible to distinguish much beyond the occasional,
“I did not!”
“SHE DID TOO!!!”
And so on, and so on.
Eventually the dad said—in his outside voice, I might add—“That’s it! We’re outta here!” to the apparent chagrin and collective displeasure of the sisterhood of the traveling shrieks.
“Out to the car! All of you! I can’t take you anywhere!” mumble, mumble; wail, wail; shriek, shriek.
And off they went.
When I felt it safe to emerge from my place of refuge, I did so just in time to spy the dad herding them all into the family minivan, wee Mary’s mouth seemingly locked open in perpetual, wailing complaint.
I didn’t envy him the ride home.
Glancing at the barista as I retook my seat she nodded her head slowly toward the parking lot while saying, “Birth control!”
“As in, he should’ve practiced it, or that scene was effective birth control for you?”
“Yeah,” she said with a grin. “That’s it.”
©2014 R.G. Ryan