Ellen tells me she’s going to be thirteen in two days, like that’s something I don’t know. Who the hell do you think’s been shoveling food into your mouth this whole time?
A lot cuter when they’re tiny, too, just like little lion cubs getting bottle fed, then fast forward a few years and they’re ripping antelopes apart – that’s exactly how teenagers are. Exactly.
You don’t break off a little portion of what you made for yourself and your spouse anymore, and put it on a cute little Winnie the Pooh plate with a colorful spoon and a sippy cup. You cook like there’s a freaking basketball team coming over every single night, and you have to put a campus bouncer on the kitchen door so they don’t loot and pillage your work in progress, and if you’re smart you’ll wear your iPod – they’ll try to get into your head with their whining and squawking. Don’t be a sucker.
“Yes,” I tell her. “I know you’re going to be thirteen. That’s why we’re heading over to the tattoo parlor for your traditional father/daughter tattoo.”
She gapes at me and go ahead, little sister. Go ahead and gape, I’m your dad, and if I want you to get a tattoo you’re going to march into that tattoo parlor and get a tattoo. I’ve seen Dr. Phil and it’s just tough love, baby.
“You heard your dad,” says the wife, moving through the room doing random Wife Stuff.
And see? That’s how you have to do it, Two Parents, One Voice. Back each other up for crying out loud.
Now Ellen’s acting like she doesn’t believe us. “Hey that’s fine, sweetheart, just get in the car and you can sit there not believing it all the way to Stained Skin. I’m thinking since you’re going to be 13, we should get the number thirteen tattooed on your arm. Then everyone will know how old you are.”
“Is that what you think, Dad? You don’t figure that’ll be a problem next year, when I’m fourteen?”
“Live in the now, Ellen. Jeez, you’re thinking like a square, and it’s embarrassing.”
“You’ll have to be careful though,” says the wife. “That’s what bikers get tattooed on their arms to show that they reject society. It’s because M is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet and stands for ‘marijuana.’ So there might be some confusion at the Monster Truck Rally next week.”
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that, sweetheart. That’s the other part of the surprise. Tattoos and Monster Truck Rally tickets. The way I understand it is, the tickets entitle us to sit anywhere we want to on our seats, but realistically we’re only going to need the edges. Wait a tick…”
And I take a second to give the wife the fish eye – she’s awfully versed in biker tattoos, isn’t she? Could that be why she disappears for weeks at a time and then we finally find her in a shopping cart on the front porch with a “Suppertime” sign on her?
The wife ignores it, plays it straight. “Ah, the timeless bond between a father and his little girl,” she says somewhat wistfully.
“I’m not getting a tattoo,” Ellen says.
“Well, it’s too late. I already promised Cosmo, and anyway it’s a family tradition. And I mean, I guess I could get one but I don’t care for needles and certainly not for tattoos. I find them lowbrow and crass.”
“Bethany doesn’t have a tattoo.”
Bethany’s the tall girl, a walking Precedent that this soon-to-be-thirteen attorney kid is always citing in my court.
“Oh yes she does. She has a huge tattoo all over her entire body. You know, she looked completely different before she turned thirteen – she’s Chinese. Didn’t you know that?”
“No, dad, I didn’t know that.”
“She’s a walking tattoo – that’s how come she’s so pretty. She was a freakish monster before we got that life-sized pretty girl tattooed all over her. You ever see Face/Off?”
“Wouldn’t it stretch as she keeps growing and make her look all crazy?”
“No, absolutely not. Growing’s not allowed once you’re thirteen. Grow another centimeter after you turn thirteen and we take you to the doctor and have it shaved right back off.”
“Thirteen is tall enough,” agrees the wife, swinging through the room again.
“There’s something really screwed up about the two of you.”
Here we go. I switch to my baby voice and tell her, “Oh, boop, boop, boop, does the poor little girl have crazy parents? Yes she does, doesn’t she? She has the crazy parents.”
“Save it for the counsellor,” says the wife.
“I don’t have a counsellor,” Ellen says.
“Oh, you will. Trust me, you will. You’ll probably end up getting regressed to this very moment by a hypnotherapist sometime in the future. Say hello to your future consciousness – she’s right over there!”
“Hello, Future Crazy Ellen!” Both the wife and I come together to wave at a corner. That’s the Future Hypnosis Corner, right? Damn right. “Hello! We’re sorry about the crazy! Call us!”
“Oh my God.”
“A chilling glimpse of things to come, yes?”
“Crazy plus crazy very, very rarely equals sane,” the wife points out. “Might as well get on board.”
“Also, when you turn thirteen your name changes. It’s a Scientology thing. Your new name is going to be Bethany.”
“What I’m going to do is start blocking you guys out.”
“That’s what Bethany said, but what’s her name again? It didn’t used to be Bethany, you know.”
“There was a real Bethany once,” my wife starts to tell her, but that’s taking the joke too far. I shake her off and she shrugs – fine, whatever.
I mean, I don’t want to confuse the poor kid.