After a solid hour of playing both kids are ready for a snack. Sookie breaks out the juice boxes and I grab the bag of goldfish crackers I brought. Since there’s nowhere to wash their hands we settle for using the baby wipes in Jake’s diaper bag.
Sookie has snacks of her own so the kids get a choice of what they want.
“Fishes,” Jake says. I’m not surprised. He would eat them with every meal if I let him.
“I have almond butter and jelly sandwiches,” she offers. “I refuse to let her miss out on a PB&J, so I substitute. They’re cut into fours if you want to give him a piece.” Joey already has one in her mouth.
“You want to try it?” I ask Jake. He’s a good eater so I don’t see him saying no. When he nods Sookie gives him one of the quarters. “Are goldfish safe for Joey?” I never pay attention to what has trace amounts of peanuts in it, but I’ll have to start.
“Yep,” she nods. “Jo, you want some goldfish?”
“Yes, please,” she answers.
I put a small handful of crackers on the napkin in front of her. Since they’re cheesy I expect they’ll be gone quickly.
“How’s the sandwich, Jake?” I ask.
He’s taken a few nibbles and he nods his approval, but as soon as I give him goldfish he goes after them.
“Would you like some goldfish, Sookie?” I offer.
“No thanks, I’m not a fan,” she says, scrunching her nose.
“Shhhh… don’t say that in front of the picky one,” I tease.
“Oh, she knows,” Sookie smiles.
“How can you not like goldfish?” I pop a couple in my mouth. I sit down on the grass and Jake immediately climbs onto my lap.
“They taste burnt to me. Same with Cheez-its.” Sookie sits across from me while Joey stays on her knees in front of her food.
She shrugs and says, “Jo is the cheese enthusiast. I like it, but I don’t like cheese flavored things.”
“I thought about bringing string cheese,” I admit.
“Jeez, Eric, she already adores you are you going for sainthood?”
I chuckle and say, “I wanted to bring something both kids would like. As you can see my little human garbage disposal will eat anything.”
“That’s very kind of you. I’m sure she’ll be thankful for your sweetness when she comes up for air.” I look over at Joey and her face is covered in jelly.
“It’s a good thing I have extra wipes,” I chuckle. I’m sure Jake’s face looks similar to Joey’s.
“Yeah, I gave up on trying to keep her clean a long time ago. Be careful, your dude is about to get it in his hair,” she laughs.
“Jake, sandwich goes in your mouth, not on your head,” I remind him. “He needs a haircut but Aude won’t let me take him for one.”
“That’s too bad. He would look precious with a fresh cut. That way we could see those pretty eyes,” Sookie coos as she moves his hand away from his head for me.
“Yeah, it’d be nice not to worry about Aude putting a headband on him so he can see,” I agree.
“Not to be an instigator, but what would she do if you just got it cut?”
“She’d find little ways to make my life more difficult for the foreseeable future.”
“Well, that blows. Looks like your little prince will look like a princess for a while,” Sookie giggles.
“Eh, if it’s the worst thing that ever happens to him, I’ll consider myself lucky,” I shrug.
“What are our plans after the park? Are we going separate ways, or hanging out still?”
“Well this one will need hosing off,” I say and tickle Jake’s ribs.
“Daaaad!” he squeals.
“Pinky over there will probably need it too,” she sighs.
“Depends on how sticky you like to keep her,” I laugh.
“I can usually get her cleaned up with baby wipes, but it looks like she pushed her hair out of her face.” When I look at Joey I notice her bangs are nearly sticking up from jelly. “A full on bath is in order.”
“Nah, that’s what hoses are for, right Jake?” My boy nods.
“I don’t like hoses,” Joey says. I didn’t even realize she was listening to us.
“You don’t? Then I guess we can cancel the sprinkler play date,” I smirk.
“No! I like sprinklers. I just don’t like hoses!”
“You loud,” Jake says to Joey.
“So?” she shrugs, and looks an awful lot like Sookie when she does it.
“Jake, be nice,” I tell him.
He stuffs more goldfish in his mouth. Joey pushes her hair back again adding almond butter to the jelly mess, and Sookie just groans.
“Well, she’s sufficiently sticky,” Sookie sighs.
“If you don’t have a problem with her going home in some of Jake’s clothes, you could come to our place and they can run through the sprinkler together,” I suggest and I think it makes me a new best friend for life.
“Jo, do you want to go play at Eric’s when we’re done here?” Sookie asks her and Joey’s head starts bobbing up and down in an affirmative response. Her mouth is still full of sandwich. “I’ll say she agrees,” Sookie smiles over at me.
“Good. Then when they least expect it, we’ll break out the baby shampoo and rinse them off in the kiddie pool,” I say deviously. “I’ll catch ’em and you wash ’em.”
“I love your brand of parenting,” she giggles. “Shampoo Mohawks all around.”
“I’ve seen Bill Cosby’s Himself a few too many times. If he can give his kids chocolate cake and grapefruit juice for breakfast, I can bathe my kid by sprinkler once in a while,” I reason.
“Very true. And it doesn’t give him a sugar high, like the cake would.”
I nod and add, “Plus he doesn’t like chocolate cake. But I don’t see anything wrong with doing things in an unconventional way sometimes. That’s the stuff that makes good memories and makes being a kid fun. I don’t want Jake growing up bored with me.”
“I think it makes you a good parent, and I’m sure Jo over here would tell you I need fun lessons. I can be a little overprotective sometimes, not to mention being too tired to think of all the fun things,” Sookie says a little sadly.
“Stick with us, Toots. You’ll be having fun in no time,” I wink at her. I get it, though. It’s hard having a toddler full-time. Add maintaining a house and a full-time job to that and I can appreciate her frustration or disappointment. “For what it’s worth, I still think you’re a great mom. Jo’s lucky to have you.”
“Thank you,” she smiles, “I make sure to spend as much time doing things with her as possible. Some days I’m so tired I want to tell Mrs. Fortenberry to just give her a bath and put her to bed, but if she’s with me I always wake her up and put her to bed. I don’t ever want her to think I won’t be there, if that makes sense?”
“Makes perfect sense,” I nod. “Aude and I complain about each other sometimes, but we’re lucky to have each other, too. It sucks that S-a-m can’t put aside his personal stuff with you to be a bigger part of Jo’s life.”
“Yeah, sometimes I think it would be easier without him, but I know she deserves to have what time with him she can get. No one ever plans on being a single parent, so I like to think I’m doing okay. I guess I won’t really know until she hits her awkward teen years,” she laughs. “You’re right, though, you and Aude are really lucky to get along enough to raise him, and it seems like you guys are doing it right.”
“We try. We’re better at some days more than others,” I chuckle. “She might hate me a little when Jake gives her that patchouli candle.”
“That is a bit of a jerk move on your part,” Sookie says, shaking her head. “That stuff is terrible. When you bought it I was glad I wasn’t on the receiving end of that gift.”
“It’s been in the garage since I bought it so it doesn’t stink up the house.”
“Smart man. If you were a really sweet guy, you would’ve let Jake pick out the scent. Not the sales clerk you were trying to pick up.”
“Jake was with his mom and he has loose lips,” I chuckle.
“They all do at that age,” she smiles. The kids are done eating so Sookie starts cleaning up some of the mess. “More swings, or are you guys ready for sprinklers?” she asks them.
“Spinkles,” Jake says with another toothy grin. Joey agrees wholeheartedly.
“Spinkles it is,” Sookie smiles down at Jake and Joey holds out her sticky hands for a wipe down.
Jake does the same and once we have the kids cleaned up; we let them run around for a minute while we clean up their snack.
“So you’ll just follow us back to the house?” I ask Sookie.
“Yep,” she confirms.
I nod and call Jake over. “Come on, Jake! Let’s go home.”
The kids come running toward us and Sookie takes Joey’s hand as we start walking to the cars. I’m content to let Jake run in circles all the way back.
“They’re going to be exhausted later,” Sookie observes.
“That’s the plan,” I smirk. “Then maybe you’ll get to do something fun with your me time.”
“If I’m hanging out with you during me time, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” she teases. “It’s called me time, not Eric time.”
“Hmph,” I snort.
When we get to the cars she opens the back door so Joey can get in and she comes over to me to whisper, “You’ve been a good boy, Eric, maybe I can keep my promise to clean you up later.”
“Maybe. Maybe you’ll need a little cleanup too,” I wink.
“I can already promise I will.” Sookie stands on her toes and gives me a quick kiss. “We should go before I take you behind the bushes over there.”
“Yes we should,” I agree and give her a little slap on the ass when she turns away from me.
The kids are running and screaming in the backyard while I chase them with the hose. Joey makes a beeline for Sookie with Jake right behind her.
“Should we soak Sookie?” I ask the kids. She’s waaaay too dry.
“No!” Sookie cries and turns to run away.
“Yes!” the kids yell in unison.
“You better run fast, Toots!” I squirt her legs as I chase her.
“Eric!” she laughs. “No, I don’t want to get wet!”
I sigh and say, “Fine. Guys, Sookie wants to be a dry stick I the mud. We’ll let her stay dry.”
“No, get Mommy!” Joey yells while she’s still chasing Sookie around the yard.
“Get her,” Jake adds.
A kid gets ahold of each of her legs and while Sookie’s laughing I decide to just go for it and open fire at the three of them. The kids scream and Sookie freezes.
She wipes the water from her face and looks up at me. A devious smile spreads across her face and she starts stalking toward me. Since I’m the keeper of the hose, I’m still relatively dry.
“You’re going to pay for that, Eric,” she tells me softly.
“You’re going to have to catch me first,” I smirk, and take off running.
The backyard isn’t huge, and I go a little slower than I could. Sookie catches up to me and she wraps her arms around me from behind, soaking my back.
“Turn around, I need to get your front wet too,” she giggles as she hugs me.
I drop the hose and turn around. Without even thinking about it, I pick her up and kiss her.
“Fun is good,” I whisper against her lips. “And even all wet, you look beautiful.”
“Thank you, baby,” she says. Her fingers run through my hair and she pulls back to look into my eyes. “Fun is very good,” she agrees. Her legs squeeze tighter around my waist, but quickly loosen when we hear Joey make an ‘ewww’ sound.
Jake, being my kid, simply picks up the hose and sprays us.
“Hey!” I look at his shaking body. He’s laughing hysterically and Joey quickly becomes his cheerleader.
“Again!” she yells. She has that smile that Sookie loves on her face, and when I look at Sookie she has the same smile on her pretty face.
“I’m already wet,” she shrugs.
Jake blasts us again, but when I put Sookie down my son drops the hose and takes off screaming through the backyard. We chase the kids around a little while longer and then wash them off so we can give them dinner. It’s getting late and bedtime is rapidly approaching for Jake. He’ll sleep like a rock tonight, and I probably will too.
I had the forethought to put towels by the door so we wouldn’t traipse water through the house. Before we take the kids in, we peel off their wet clothes and wrap them up. Joey needs to go potty and Jake needs a diaper, so I take him to his room to get him in jammies.
I find a pair of black sweatpants and a Mickey Mouse T-shirt for Joey to wear. I realize the only problem is that I don’t have underwear for her, but maybe Sookie’s got spare pairs in her bag since Jo’s still new to using the potty.
I have Jake dressed by the time they come out of the bathroom, and I hand Sookie the clean clothes for Joey.
“I can loan you a Pull-Up if you need one,” I offer. I have some on standby for when Jake’s ready for them.
“Nope, I have that taken care of. Thanks this. Um… I don’t want to sit anywhere in my wet clothes…” Sookie says as she waves in front of her body. “Can I borrow a shirt and maybe some boxers?”
“Of course.” I lead her to my room and grab her a fresh shirt and an old pair of my basketball shorts to wear. “I’ll throw the wet stuff in the dryer so you can take it home.”
“Thank you,” she smiles and disappears into the bathroom with Joey so they can put on dry clothes.
Jake climbs up on my bed while I quickly swap out my wet clothes for dry ones. Once we’re set, I take him to the kitchen with me and open the fridge to see what we can have for dinner. With Joey being a picky eater, I’m worried about my choices being limited. If it was just Jake and me, I’d make the beef with broccoli in the freezer, but then I remember I have mini pretzel dogs in there.
“Want pretzel dogs and mac ‘n cheese?” I ask Jake.
He nods and rests his head on my shoulder. Yep, he’s wiped out already.
I get what I need out of the freezer and then start the oven. Sookie and Joey find us in the kitchen and I rundown my dinner plan to make sure it’s okay with the ladies.
“Sounds perfect, right, Jo?”
“Yep,” she agrees. She walks over and scoots a chair away from the table and sits up on her knees.
“Yeah, she’s ready,” Sookie laughs. “Want me to take him?”
“Yeah, it’ll make cooking easier. Hopefully he won’t pass out before I get him fed,” I tell her. I ask Jake, “Want Sookie snuggles? She’s good at it.”
Jake nods and I see his thumb getting closer and closer to his mouth. Shit.
“Come here, buddy,” she says as she takes him from me. “Eric, I forgot to mention this boy is a moose,” she giggles.
“Yeah he is. He looks pretty small, but he’s got my bone structure,” I chuckle.
I get pretzel dogs spread out on a cookie sheet and a pot of water warming on the stove. Normally I make veggies too, but I’ll let Jake have fruit instead if he’s still conscious.
“Jo, do you want to color while you wait?” I offer.
“Can I watch you?” she asks.
“She likes to sit on the counter when I cook,” Sookie explains. “And she’s crushing on you.”
“Sure you can. You can help me stir the noodles,” I offer.
Joey jumps off of the chair and runs to my side holding up her hands. “Up!” she says excitedly.
“Baby, full sentences. We don’t demand people,” Sookie reminds her gently.
“Can you pick me up please?” Joey corrects.
“Of course,” I smile. I take her hands and say, “You know you could just walk up my leg.”
Joey looks a little surprised, but then she figures it out and she giggles as she climbs up my leg. Jake is a pro at this, and it seems Jo is having fun with it too. I set her on the counter, not too close to the stove, and grab two boxes of mac ‘n cheese from the cupboard.
“Do you like apples?” I ask Joey.
“Yep,” she nods, giving me a little smile.
“Should we have some with dinner?”
“Red or green?” I have both in the fridge.
“Ummm… red,” she decides. I can’t hear what she’s saying, but Sookie is walking Jake around, softly talking to him. I think she’s trying to keep him up to eat.
“Try his Legos,” I suggest.
“Thanks. He’s nodding off over here. I don’t think his head on my chest is helping.”
“It would keep me awake,” I snicker.
“Mmhmm, later, mister,” she winks and she takes Jake over to his bucket of Legos.
Joey makes a great sous chef for me and she chatters on while we make dinner. Sookie manages to keep Jake awake so he can eat dinner. Hopefully he won’t get overtired because if that happens, he’ll be a bear to put to bed. I grab a collection of kids plates from the cupboard and let Joey pick the one she wants. Sadly, there isn’t a pink one.
“I’ll take Superman,” she says.
“Good choice,” I smile at her and set it on the counter with the dinosaur plate for Jake.
When the time comes, I let her stir the noodles in the boiling water.
“Not too fast. The water is very hot,” I warn her.
“Okay,” she says and slows down her stirring.
“Do you help Mommy make dinner?” I ask her.
“Yeah, when Mrs. F doesn’t make dinner for me, I do.”
“What do you like to make?”
“Pizza! Mommy lets me put everything on them and I can watch it cook through the window.”
“No cheese on the pizza, right?” I tease.
She looks at me like I have two heads and says, “All cheese.”
“Cheese with olives.”
“Cheese with bacon.”
Yep, she’s Sookie’s kid.
“Cheese with pineapple,” I counter.
“Cheese with cheeeeese!” she laughs.
I laugh too and take the pretzel dogs out of the oven when the timer goes off. The pasta is ready too, so I strain it and then put it back in the pan. I drop the butter in it and let Joey stir while I slice up an apple in lieu of veggies. I add the cheese powder to the pot and pour some milk in there as well. Joey keeps stirring until I decide to take over since she’s not really reaching the bottom of the pot.
“How about you go get your mom and Jake so we can eat?” I suggest.
“Okay,” she agrees and holds her hands up so I can help her down.
I set her on her feet and say, “Thank you for being such a good helper.”
“You’re welcome,” she blushes and then takes off yelling for mommy.
I get the noodles stirred a little better and then make a plate for Jake. I’ll let Sookie dish up for Joey since I don’t know what a good portion size is for her. Jake climbs up onto his chair and I bring him his plate.
“Want milk, buddy?”
He nods as he grabs his fork and spears a piece of his pretzel dog. Sookie and Joey come into the kitchen and I get two cups down for them.
“Does she get milk with dinner?” I ask.
“Yep, either that or water. She’s the first kid I’ve met that requests water.”
“Milk please,” Jo pipes up.
“Milk it is, Chef,” I smile at her.
Sookie dishes up food for Joey and I get the cups of milk over to the table. Once the kids are settled I grab plates for Sookie and me and I gesture for her to go first.
“Thanks, she says as she starts filling her plate. “This has been a really good day so far.”
“Yes it has,” I agree. I look over at the kids and they’re both shoveling food into their mouths.
When she finishes dishing up her food she gives me a quick kiss and goes to sit next to Joey. I dish up and take a seat next to Jake at the table. He’s almost done eating already. Both kids end up with more mac ‘n cheese, but when they’re done eating, I get them set up in the living room with The Wizard of Oz.
“How long before they’re knocked out?” I ask Sookie.
“Jo will be out within ten minutes,” she says quietly.
“Sounds about right. You know you’re welcome to stay over if you want to,” I tell her. I’m not expecting them to, but I want to get the offer out there.
“We’ll see. It depends on how hard she sleeps. After today I suspect it’ll be pretty hard.”
I look over to see Jake coming out of his room with his pillow, blanket and bear. Yeah, he’s done for the day. I smile when I see him and Joey share the pillow and blanket.
“Look,” I nod toward the kids.
“They’re too cute,” she whispers and she’s holding back tears. “I can’t handle that,” she giggles.
“I hope Jo doesn’t mind a snuggle buddy. I bet you thought you still had a few years before you had to worry about her snuggling with boys,” I chuckle quietly.
“Oh, hush,” she smiles and smacks my chest playfully. “She is a big snuggler anyway. I’m actually surprised she isn’t trying to climb into my lap.”
“They seem comfortable,” I shrug. “Go watch the movie if you want. I’m going to clean up the kitchen really fast.”
“Do you want help?”
“Nah, I got it.” I kiss the top of her head.
She smiles up at me before she goes to sit on the loveseat since the kids are taking up the couch. I get the leftovers put away and then I get the dishes washed quickly. With the kitchen clean, I take the open seat next to Sookie. She leans against me and the kids are already watching the movie with their eyes closed. I yawn myself and kiss Sookie’s head.
“Want to go lay down?” she offers, looking up at me.
“Yeah, we can. Does that mean you’re thinking about staying?” I ask her.
“Yeah, she isn’t going to budge so we might as well stay.”
“Okay,” I nod. “Then let’s go.”
Sookie and I get up and we go over to kiss the kids goodnight. We leave the movie on for them and the hallway light on so if Joey wakes up during the night she won’t get too freaked out.
“Bedroom door open or shut?” I ask Sookie when we get to my room.
“Cracked. I want her to be able to find me if she wakes up.”
I leave the door open a few inches and then climb up onto the bed. It’s been a long day. I stretch out on my back and close my eyes. Sookie crawls in next to me and wraps herself around me, slowly drawing patterns on my side with her fingertips.
“Sleep time?” I ask her.
“Mmhmm, unless you have another plan that doesn’t involve me moving,” she mumbles.
“No, this is good.” I tilt her chin up and kiss her. “Goodnight, Toots.”
“Goodnight,” she whispers and gives me another small kiss before she nuzzles her head into my chest.
My hand rubs up and down her back and in no time, we’re both out cold.