The kids have been playing this game on the iPad called Dumb Ways to Die.
It’s kind of a cute game, if a game about dying in dumb ways is cute. It’s about not setting your hair on fire or selling your kidneys on the internet. Which, you know, yeah. There are these blobby looking characters and you have to put their hair fires out or stop them eating a bottle of glue. My favorite part, though, is the part where all you have to do is NOT touch the red button.
Just don’t touch the red button for like five seconds.
Don’t touch the button.
You should see Kai do this, the not touching.
It’s like telling a compass not to point north.
I have this R2D2 car phone charger that has—wait for it—a red button on it.
“What’s this red button for?” Ryan asked me once.
“Ha! Don’t press it,” I said.
“Why not?” Ryan asked.
“Because you shouldn’t go around pressing red buttons,” I replied.
And then Kai spoke. “I really want to press it,” he said.
“Don’t do it,” I said.
There was a pause from the back seat, the internal struggle palpable from two feet away.
“It doesn’t do anything,” Kai said.
“Lucky for you,” I replied.
One of Kai’s many struggles is with impulse control. This is part of his tendency to wander, to make dumb decisions about when to leave the house, to be randomly destructive.
Take, for example, the fact that Kai pulled the toilet paper holder out of the wall last week. Most of us could probably just, you know, use the toilet paper and not feel the need to, you know. Pull the toilet paper holder itself out of the wall.
When I asked him why he did it, he said, “Because I wanted to see it spin.”
I have no idea what this means, beyond me having to call a guy to fix my wall and reinstall my toilet paper holder, which will cost fifty bucks.
Scott was much less sanguine that I about it, as it’s his fifty bucks I’m going to hand over.
A few days later, we found ourselves at some friends’ to celebrate the New Year. Kai was watching videos in the basement with the other kids. Until he wasn’t. He’d wandered around the house, looking for trouble until he finally found it.
“I don’t know what the protocol is here,” the host’s brother said, having found me lurking in the kitchen near the wine, “but it seems like Kai pulled a painting off the wall.”
I found Kai in the master bedroom, and sure enough, he’d pulled a painting off the wall. Said painting had fallen and was wedged behind the headboard of the bed. There was a giant hole in the plaster.
“What happened?” I asked.
“Never mind,” I said, interrupting him and trying to un-wedge the painting. I could barely lift it. I scooted the bed over and tried to wrestle the painting free, finally giving up when I thought I might do more damage.
Our hostess was really nice about it. She had painted the piece, and had no trouble hoisting it out from behind the bed, assuring me that it was undamaged and no big deal.
But it is a big deal. For one thing, if Kai did this to one of Scott’s pieces of art, I would have to put him in Witness Protection. For another thing, what the actual fuck? Who goes to someone else’s house and pulls a painting off the wall?
We waited until we got home, but we yelled at him in such a way that Kai’s first few moments of 2016 were soaked in tears, and the first weekend was devoid of all screens.
The next morning, I found Kai lying in his darkened room. I thought he was asleep until I saw him blink. He was staring into space.
I felt awful for having yelled at him the night before, and I crawled into bed with him. He leaned against me.
“You okay?” I asked.
He didn’t answer.
I rubbed his back.
“Kai,” I said, “I sure wish I knew what it was like to be you.”
He didn’t answer this, either.
“Sometimes, I think that for you the whole world is a red button.”
He sighed then. “Yes,” he said miserably.
The following Saturday, we checked into a hotel so the kids could do some swimming, per their request. This was something we got into the habit of doing last year when Scott was trying to rack up hotel points, and since we can pretty much stay for free anytime because of the aforementioned points, we packed our swimsuits and hit the road.
The only problem was that there had been quite the New Year’s Eve bash at the hotel, and they’d trashed the pool. Some of the lights were out, and you couldn’t see the bottom because the water was murky, more like a pond. The manager said it was just dust clouding the water, and we really want to believe that.
Other, better parents might have made the kids leave, but we stayed, mostly because the kids jumped in the water before we could stop them and at that point you just hope that there’s enough chlorine to kill whatever the revelers left behind.
Ryan swam up out of the murk to show me a tissue she’d found, and I nearly threw up.
Anyway, Kai took off his goggles at one point and Ryan tossed them into the deep end knowing he wouldn’t dive under there without them. After much ballyhoo, I made her give Kai his goggles back, but no sooner had she done so then Kai himself tossed them into the middle of the pool. They sank to the bottom and completely disappeared from view.
Ryan dived to try to find them, but we never did, which goes to show you we shouldn’t have let the kids swim in that pool.
“Kai,” I said at one point, “why did you even toss your goggles into the deepest part of the pool after you already lost them once?”
Kai, his head barely out of the water, was sweeping the bottom of the pool with his toes for his goggles.
He stopped and looked at me a little sheepishly. “It was a red button,” he said.
I laughed then, because the kind of communication we’d just had was worth the cost of a new pair of goggles. And probably the antibiotics I’ll have to buy the kids in a couple of days.
We really shouldn't have let them swim in that pool.