My two sons, ages 10 and 6, were both born in late October. Their Halloween-week birthday parties have always been a snap. We'd make two pots of chili, slap a Tennessee Titans helmet on a chocolate cake and open the house to friends with little trick-or-treaters.
This year, though, the boys hit a fork in the road. Our fifth-grade son wants to have a paintball party for his birthday, and our kindergartner wants to invite friends to the Holiday Bowl in Hixson.
Luckily, mommies have brains specially designed to organize multiple birthday parties. They understand, for example, secret, encrypted mommy devices like e-vites. They know people personally who make birthday cakes for a living, and, most importantly, they know that little Skyler's mother works for Crye-Leike Realty, lives on Mourning Dove Lane and shouldn't be telephoned during the season premiere of "The Middle."
Given the task of organizing a birthday party, I would probably call Domino's and nail a flier to a telephone pole.
The other night my wife was on the telephone, booking the bowling party. Meanwhile, my younger son and I were helping. By helping, I mean we were staying quiet and watching the "MythBusters" guys on TV shoot a rowboat with fake hailstones the size of cue balls.
"Honey, what is your favorite color," my wife called to my son from the kitchen, her hand over the receiver as she spoke with the bowling alley owner about balloons.
My 6-year-old son, meanwhile, looked at me as if someone had just asked him what we should do about Guantanamo Bay.
"Just pick a color," I said. "Green, yellow, anything. Hurry, son."
"Turquoise!" he blurted.
In a show of borderline affection, my 10-year-old son is talking about making his brother a birthday gift. He is on the robotics team at his school, and I heard him talking to his aunt about converting a vaporizer into a Slip'N Slide.
Meanwhile, the older boy is using his own hard-earned cash building a private arsenal of paintgun supplies. For the last few weeks, he has been begging us to shoot him with his rifle because he didn't want to show up to his own party a paintball virgin.
"Please, please, will somebody just shoot me," he begged, walking around the house in a sweatshirt and a Darth Vader-like paintball mask.
My response was: Don't look at me. I haven't touched a gun since I saw that "Andy Griffith" episode where Opie kills a momma bird with a slingshot.
My wife, on the other hand, is a former world-class trap shooter. She had no excuses. (I thought.)
So last Tuesday night, I walked out the back door to find my son standing in the middle of the street, dressed in black. He had his back turned to his mother, who was 25 yards away holding the paintball gun. The neighbors, if they had happened to look out a window, might have thought they were witnessing some sort of weird, Taliban execution.
With my son exhorting her, my wife started shooting. Again. And again. Ten shots, 20. Every time the paintball would zing by my son's head.
"No way!" I shouted, finally calling my wife out. In real life, I knew she could shoot his ears off with a drinking straw and two wads of Juicy Fruit. "No way, you are really missing him." (Later, in private, she admitted as much: "I just couldn't do it. I couldn't shoot him.")
Frustrated with his mother, my older son shouted, "Let HIM do it," and gestured to his little brother.
At that instant, baby brother began salivating like a Labrador retriever offered a basket full of tennis balls. Before anyone had time to reconsider, he hoisted the giant paintgun rifle and squeezed off a round that nailed his brother right between the shoulder blades.
Immediately, big brother started squirming on his tiptoes as if he had a bee down his shirt. He wasn't about to give his brother the satisfaction of a full-blown sob, but he did pull up his sweatshirt to expose a raised, red welt the size of a half dollar. He was whimpering and smiling at the same time.
He was happy with the wound. Little brother was happy about inflicting the wound. Mommy was happy not to have caused the wound. And I was happy that everyone was suddenly and unabashedly happy.
Isn't family life grand?
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.
Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...