Author's Note: Inspired by a joke I read today called "How to Eat Like a Child". This one is written in celebration of the Little Britches Archive hitting 100,000 visits since December 24, 2001, a little over 2 1/2 years.
Ezra rubbed his temples in a vain attempt to soothe the headache that seemed to have been building for the past two days - forty-eight hours of fun with his 'nephews.' It had been a learning experience for the Southerner, but he wasn't about to admit to Buck or Chris that it had been almost more than he could handle.
Gunrunners, Drug Lords, Mafia? The worst criminals the undercover agent could handle, but two boisterous children had almost been his undoing.
With a sigh, he rubbed his temples again. Larabee and Wilmington would be home in less than an hour and he could return to the seclusion of his condo. No whining. No arguing. No squeals. No giggles. No tears. No nightmares to comfort. No trips to the noise and grease factory known to two boys as Mickey Dee's.
At the so-called restaurant, Ezra had made the first discovery of the weekend - the proper method for Milkshake consumption. Apparently, the first maneuver is to bite off the end of the paper covering the straw. Blow through the straw to shoot the paper at your companion across the table. Wad up said paper, and using your thumb and forefinger, flick it back at the person who blew it at you. This seems to be more effective when said paper from the aforementioned straw is dampened with condensation from the cold drink.
When you tire of the paper wad war, place the straw in the milkshake and suck.
Thinking that the boys would settle down and actually eat at this point was the Southerner's first mistake.
Agreeing to baby-sit his nephews, no matter how adorable, was his first mistake.
The shake-sucking began in earnest, but just as the chocolate reached Vin's mouth, he placed a finger over top of straw - the pressure keeping the shake in straw. He lifted the straw out of shake, put bottom end in his mouth, released his finger, and swallowed.
JD joined in, copying his friend until his straw was so squashed that he couldn't suck through it. He excused himself to fetch another straw from the dispenser for each of them, and the cycle of the paper wad wars began again.
Ezra had eagerly excused the boys to play in play land while he took a few minutes to gather his thoughts and consume a barely palatable cup of coffee. It had not occurred to him that adding two more children to the melee in play land would simply increase the volume and his growing headache.
Standish winced as the pups yapped happily as the boys wrestled on the floor, the distraction jostling him from the memory. Two days of noise and non-stop motion. How did they have so much energy?
How did Wilmington and Larabee cope?
Ah. They were two against two. Ezra was outnumbered. That was the problem.
He sighed as the remnants of the bowl of popcorn scattered when the boys bumped the table. Pups jumped into the fray and consumed the spilled treat.
In the past two days he had learned a lot about food. Watching young Mister Dunne, he had noted that peas were to be mashed into a thin sheet on the plate. According to JD's method, to consume the peas, one must press his fork into the green paste, hold the fork vertically, with prongs pointing skyward, and lick off the peas. When he asked the reason for mashing the peas, JD had explained that it was easier than picking them up when they rolled off his fork.
Mister Tanner had enlightened him on the proper use of mashed potatoes. It was almost fascinating to watch the boy flatten the top of the potatoes and then dig several little depressions and fill them with gravy. The seven year old used his fork to carve rivers between the pools and then used broccoli as little trees around the lakes.
JD had a different method for potatoes. He poured ketchup in his "lakes" and stirred them turning the mashed substance pink. Then he used the same eating method as his peas - licking it from the fork.
Ezra had quickly learned that neither boy liked bread crusts. When Standish had instructed them to eat it, he thought they had actually followed his instructions until he saw two pups happily licking their lips.
Spaghetti was an adventure all it's own. Apparently, one should wind too many strands around his fork and make sure at least two or three strands are dangling down. Then one should stuff the oversized wad into his mouth and suck noisily to inhale said dangling strands. After consuming the spaghetti on the plate, one should ask for a second helping, eat only half and when carrying the plate to the kitchen, hold it with a tilt so that the remaining spaghetti slides onto the floor.
Good thing the pups like spaghetti.
As Ezra looked at the clock, JD let out another ear-splitting squeal of delight as Vin chased him through the room. Yes, they were running in the house, and yes, it was against the rules but Standish no longer had the energy, nor the inclination to correct them.
Not after the ice cream fiasco.
Both boys asked for a double scoop. JD managed to knock his top scoop off while walking out the door of the shop. After shedding many tears, and Vin sharing a few bites of his top scoop with the younger boy, JD proceeded to lick his remaining scoop so slowly that the ice cream trickled down the outside of the cone and all over his hand.
Vin's method was to stop licking when the ice cream was even with the top of his cone, and then bite a hole in the bottom of the cone and suck the rest of the ice cream out.
Standish had carefully helped the boys wash their hands and faces before they could damage the lush interior of his Jaguar, but he failed to notice that while young Mister Dunne had finished eating his ice cream, the five-year-old had decided to save the cone for later, placing it in his hip pocket. Without the boys' booster seats in the car, the crushed cone was ground into the back seat.
He should have admitted defeat, but no, he had to prepare another meal when stomachs growled. The spinach had been a lost cause. Vin seemed to be a master of diversion. His spinach was divided into little piles, rearranged into new piles. He stirred it around again and made still more piles. After eight magnificent maneuvers, he sat back and announced that he was full.
JD tried to be sneaky, but his deception was quickly discovered when the spinach dropped for the pups under the table squished under his shoes as he climbed down from the table.
Apparently Ringo and Elvis didn't care for spinach either.
Trying to get the house into a semblance of order before the boys' foster dads returned had used Ezra's remaining reserves. The boys had helped, but the help of a seven-year-old and a five-year-old often created more mess than it resolved. He had slumped into this chair twenty minutes ago and his body refused to leave.
Vin's soft voice drew the weary man's attention. He had missed it when the two boys stopped wrestling and running. Vin was now at one elbow with a plate of cookies, and JD at the other with a storybook.
"Do you gots a headache, Unca Ezra?" asked JD.
Deny or fess up? The boys were too perceptive for him to deny that he was feeling less than well. Ezra nodded.
He looked at the concerned faces of his two nephews. Pushing aside the frustrations of the past two days, he opened his arms and the boys scrambled up into his lap in the recliner. After a few moments of squirming and shifting of small elbows and feet, the three settled. Two pups lay down next to the chair waiting patiently for their boys.
"Does your head hurts too much to read?" asked JD as he opened the book. "Me and Vin can read it to you."
Vin passed a cookie across Ezra to JD and began to read with his halting cadence as he sounded out the harder words.
Ezra watched JD pick the chips out of his chocolate chip cookie and set them on his tummy. He consumed the cookie and then two of the chips before it was his turn to read a page. Standish had to smile when Vin did the same thing during his break. As they switched turns reading, each boy consumed two of the remaining chips per page.
His gut clenched when it crossed his mind that this idiosyncrasy was something the boys had developed when they lived on the streets - a way to savor and stretch as far as possible the few treats they found. Unconsciously, he squeezed the boys a little tighter.
Vin looked up at him, searching his face for clues. The seven-year-old rested his head on Ezra's chest and wrapped his arm around his Uncle's arm pulling it tighter around his tummy.
Ezra smiled as JD's small hand patted the arm around his stomach, affirming the closeness with his Uncle.
As he heard Chris' truck pull into the driveway, he found himself wishing that they hadn't come home yet. Yes, it had been a crazy forty-eight hours, but it had been forty-eight hours with two boys who loved him and trusted him. Two boys who needed him. Headache or not, car and clothes requiring cleaning or not, he had enjoyed the last two days immensely.
The condo would be quiet, but it wouldn't be as peaceful as he felt right now with a lapful of two boys
And cookie crumbs.