Ring his neck is what she should do!
Peter had said “Let’s have kids, they’ll be fun, we can take them to Disney World” and Cathy had been stupid enough to believe him. But in all honesty, she had wanted kids, too. She just had no clue it would be so difficult.
Frankie was more than a handful, yet she couldn’t help wondering if things would be different if Peter hadn’t been stuck on an aircraft carrier in the middle of who-knows-which ocean half-way around the world. He had only been gone a few months but it seemed like years.
Peter didn’t seem to be taking Cathy’s concerns very seriously. Her anguished letters to him were becoming an endless source of hilarity for him and his shipmates. Her last few letters had kept them in stitches for so long that their commander wanted to know what all the commotion was about. After reading the letter to him, Peter was henceforth under strict orders to inform the commander of the arrival of the next installment of the many adventures of ‘Peter’s little man’.
At least Cathy felt she was doing her part at keeping up war-time moral. She also knew now not to include any mushy stuff as she didn’t need that humiliation on top of having a ship load of people know she was an inadequate mother.
Cathy didn’t quite know how it had gotten so out of hand. Frankie was supposedly a perfectly normal three and a half year old boy yet she had the sneaking suspicion that he was very much smarter than she was. She was shocked at how quickly he learned the alphabet and how soon he left behind all his contemporaries by progressing from The Cat in the Hat to Time magazine. She was embarrassed beyond belief at the dentist when Frankie asked her about a word in an ancient US News and World Report.
“Bosnia? Oh, it’s a country, I think it’s near the Russian border,” she whispered.
She hoped no one sitting around them in the waiting room heard, but they did and they stared in complete shock.
Cathy had to watch what she said at all times. It always seemed to give Frankie ideas. Once, while talking on the phone with a friend, Cathy noticed an annoying buzzing sound on the line. She said she would have to get it checked. After she hung up, she went to the laundry room and Frankie took the phone apart while she wasn’t looking. He did some magic and put it back together then went to her and told her to call Jackie again.
“See, phone fix, Mama,” he said. Amazingly, it had been clear as a bell.
Cathy couldn’t even yell at him for doing these things as he wasn’t being bad. He was helping, after all. His last exploit scared her silly, however. He really could have gotten hurt!
He had waited until she was asleep and took the key that she hid in the highest place she could find and went into Peter’s workshop. He took out brushes and varnish and he proceeded to do the kitchen table, which Cathy had made the mistake of talking out loud about refinishing.
Frankie had to climb boxes and crates to get to the varnish. It made her shake with fear how easily he could have fallen and truly hurt himself. But what was most alarming was that he did all this so quietly that she slept through it. She usually awoke at the drop of a pin. When Peter’s buddies heard this they were ready to sign-up Frankie for Special-Ops training.
Cathy was at her wits end. She was going to worry herself to death if she didn’t do something. She hated to admit it, but she was going to have to call in the big guns.
“Hello, Mama, hope you don’t mind us stopping by,” she said to her mother.
Evelyn let out a squeal of joy and wrapped her arms around Frankie totally bypassing her daughter. Cathy was used to this. Frankie was the first and only grandchild so far and it was their job, they told Cathy, to spoil him rotten.
After lunch and enough hugs and kisses to smother anyone, Frankie was ready for his Grampop-time. Albert, Cathy’s dad, and Frankie usually went off to places unknown and did mysterious things of which they told no one. This gave Cathy the time she needed to tell her mother her concerns.
Evelyn listened attentively but when Cathy got to the varnishing of the table, Evelyn’s eyes glazed over.
She gasped and said, “Deja vu! I just remembered things your grandmother told me about Albert. She said he was an absolute terror, that he used to escape his playpen, break china that they stored in the garage, poured baby powder in the heat vents and...” she paused dramatically “paint the kitchen cupboards at the age of three! Oh, I paid her no mind. He wouldn’t have been so bad if she had been a real sort of mother and actually watched her kids instead of sleeping ‘til noon. From the time he was four he was pretty much on his own, getting his own cereal in the morning, and later getting his brother to school and taking care of his baby sister, doing diapers and everything.” Evelyn stopped suddenly and stared into space, her hand over her mouth.
“Well, Dad turned out all right, he didn’t kill himself,” Cathy said hopefully.
“It wasn’t for lack of trying. Oh, the stories he’s told me! It’s a miracle he made it to adulthood. Once, he and your Uncle Louie were sword fighting with real steak knives on the top bunk and they both ended up in the hospital, one with gashes on the arms, the other for stitches on the head. Albert pushed Louie off the bed because he stabbed him and he hit his head on the radiator. Why that woman didn’t get arrested for child neglect is beyond me,” Evelyn finished indignantly.
“Mama, this isn’t helping me.” Panic rising in her voice, Cathy looked ready to cry.
“Sweetheart, you are a much better mother for our Frankie and he’ll be all the better for it,” Evelyn told her soothingly. “We need your father’s help, is all.”
“So he can teach Frankie how to be a real danger to himself? You’re nuts!”
“Cathy, listen, I’m only going to say this once and then I’ll deny I ever said it. Albert is a genius. You know those people that think outside the box? Well, your Dad has never been in the box and if he had gotten the right kind of encouragement, he could have been so much more. But as it is, we now know what to do with Frankie.” She smiled and there was a gleam in her eye.
“We do?” Cathy asked, bewildered.
“Frankie does these things behind your back because he knows you’ll stop him so let’s get him and your Dad to take old vacuums, radios, motors and VCR’s apart so they can get their jollies out without causing trouble. Who knows? Those two might invent a car that runs on oak leaves!”
Cathy thought on this a moment and realized that her mother might be right. Frankie always seemed to act more like a typical little kid and not a handyman after spending some time with his grandfather. Had her father been helping Frankie, as her mother just said, get his jollies? But more importantly, would it keep him safe?
They went looking for them and found two pairs of feet sticking out from under the retirement project.
“What are you two doing in our private domain?” came an indignant voice from under the heap of metal that would one day be a restored ‘65 Mustang. “Can’t a man and his partner have a place to call our own?”
Frankie crawled out, a huge smile and a black smudge on his face and said, “Yeah, get out, we’re working.”
“Frankie, what are you wearing?” asked his mother as she stared incredulously at the mechanic’s jumpsuit zipped over his clothes, a golden ‘Frankie’ emblazoned on the left side.
“Well, Albert, once again you’ve beat me to the punch. We’ll leave you to it then,” Evelyn said.
Taking Cathy by the arm she laughed and stated confidently, “It’s already working and all you need do is bring him around more often which will keep Albert from driving me nuts. Who knows? Frankie might make his retirement far more enjoyable.”
“But I thought Daddy was enjoying his retirement,” Cathy said.
“I meant for me,” Evelyn said, rolling her eyes.
Cathy’s only concern now was the disappointment of Peter’s crew mates if there were no more stories to tell. But as fate would have it, her next letter contained a rather cryptic message that she had been saving until she was certain.
It read, “The phoenix has taken off.”
As she sealed it and dropped it in the mailbox she could almost hear Peter’s exuberant Whoop and his shouts of joy as he told anyone who would listen, “Cathy’s having a baby! Alert Special Ops!”