There’s a scene in the film Yes Day (2021, directed by Miguel Arteta) where the movie mom played by Jennifer Garner is on stage at a music festival. She has talked her way up there the way moms will do because she has to find her daughter Katie (Jenna Ortega). Katie has snuck (it’s snuck, okay, literally no one says sneaked) away to the festival without permission, an opportunity created when Allison (Garner’s character) is arrested at a carnival after getting in a fight over a stuffed gorilla she is desperate to win to give to Katie, with the hope of winning her back after a big dramatic blowup. At this point, Katie has realized she actually isn’t old enough to go to the concert by herself, that the boys her mother had warned her about, you know maybe they could be trouble after all. Nothing happens but there’s a subtext. She ends up having a bad trip (without the drugs). Can’t find her phone. Freaking out. All she wants is to be safe with her mom, whom she doesn’t even realize is up on the stage saying she wants to find someone but doesn’t want to embarrass them, so if they hear her voice . . . Katie doesn’t hear her voice, though, not until Allison grabs a ukulele and plays a touching rendition of the Four Tops classic “Baby, I Need Your Loving.” I say “touching” because I’m a wreck and it had me on the verge of tears. Katie finally hears her and runs out into the aisle yelling Mom Mom Mom, and Jennifer Garner sees her and climbs off the stage and hands off the ukulele to a security guard like he’s a running back who didn’t know a running play was called. They run into each other’s arms. It’s saccharine. It’s beautiful. I’m crying. My wife, I looked over and her eyes were red. She was crying. The way she does in these touching scenes in family movies. Our oldest boy I don’t think was crying, although he might have been, but Oscar, our five-year-old, got ahead of his feelings. We were all sitting on the couch together, in our little rental house. Oscar turned around on the couch and said, “No. Not gonna watch this part. Too sad” and stuck his butt up in the air and put his blanket over his head. Fucking brilliant.
After the movie we talked about maybe what if we did a Yes Day as a family? With some ground rules. Like you can’t ask to go anywhere more than twenty miles away and you can’t ask for anything that exceeds the budget for the day and you can’t ask us to assassinate your enemies or do anything illegal or unreasonably dangerous. But for that one day if you ask for something, and it’s within the rules, we would have to say yes. We don’t like to say no all the time and we try really hard not to be authoritarian parents, which is fucking hard, and in the last year we’ve admittedly said yes to some things we would have passed on before. Should we buy them this expensive Lego set for Christmas? Should we just buy Croods 2: A New Age since it's not on Netflix or Hulu? Fuck it, why not, it’s a hellworld let’s do it. It's just a refrain that will immediately cause the other one of us to acquiesce. Virg thought we should order an inexpensive laptop for George to use for school and I was like, I don't know if he really needs that, and she said "It's a hellworld" and I said "Yeah you're right. Sure. I guess." So a Yes Day, my wife and I have never even talked about it before, it just feels cool, like something that we need. The problem is the movie kind of freaked the kids out. Like they think if we have a Yes Day crazy shit is going to happen, all kinds of out-of-control hijinks that will lead to their mom and me getting arrested. Naturally they don’t like cops or trust cops, they know enough about the world to know they shouldn’t trust the fucking cops, so I can only imagine what they think their mom and me getting arrested would actually look like. (The other day I was out in the street with the kids. They were riding scooters. A cop car came down the street. Oscar said we have to hide but George said no, just don't let him see your face.)
Everything is so fucking stressful. We’re all wrecks.
On Valentine’s Day this year George had a seizure. It lasted about six minutes. Virg and I had just got them to bed and picked a movie to watch. War with Jet Li and Jason Statham. From what I saw of it the film is a waste of the two best actors. I’ll never know, I’ll die before I ever try to watch that movie again. Not long after the kids fell asleep and we sat down with some wine to watch this shitty terrible movie we heard a weird noise coming from the kids’ room. Sort of thought it was the dog, he’s a talker, makes a lot of weird noises, but it didn’t feel like that. We paused the movie and both went in, my wife flipped on the light and we saw him. I don’t need to describe it. She ran to him and I ran for my phone and called 911. I started off very calm. I just said our address. I said “My son is having a seizure and you need to send an ambulance.” The 911 lady asked me to repeat the address. My wife reached up and pulled our son from the top bunk and set him on the floor. That super adrenaline mom strength. The 911 lady was asking questions, standard stuff, I was pacing from the room to the front door, looking for the fucking ambulance. I was losing my mind. I went from calm to freaking out, I was yelling on the phone saying “THEY NEED TO GET HERE NOW!” I knew he was having a seizure. I’ve seen people have seizures. Logically I knew he was going to be okay but I also thought he was dying and I cannot ever live without him. I kept flipping between conversations, yelling “We love you, George. We’re going to take care of you. THEY NEED TO GET HERE NOW! You’re gonna be okay buddy. Help is on the way, we love you, we love you so much THEY NEED TO GET HERE NOW!” They finally got here. I was on the phone for six minutes. By that time the seizure had ended but he was out of it. He didn’t become responsive at all until they had finally got him in the ambulance. We were all in the kids’ room, my wife, our boys, four EMTs and a fireman. Charlie on a leash. I asked if one of us could ride in the ambulance. They weren’t sure because of covid. I said one of us has to ride with you because we only have one car that works right now. We’ll walk down to the hospital if we have to though. It was snowing. It was when everything was so cold, the start of the subzero cold spell you saw on the news. The funny thing is Oscar slept through it all. An EMT was about to sort of half-sit on the bottom bunk bed until he realized there was a kid there. I used to be able to sleep like that. I lost the ability when George was born and now I’ll sure as shit never get it back.
I don’t know, he’s fine. He’s healthy. He’s normal. Tests were good. The neurologist in Kansas City said he’s healthy, it might never happen again. We might never know what caused it although we think it was stress and we still think it was our fault even though the neurologist said you have to know this isn’t your fault. I don’t know, I sort of think it’s everyone’s fault, and everything’s fault. After this year of covid who hasn’t had a stress seizure, really. It's all we think about it. We know he might not ever have another one but every night when he goes to sleep we wonder. We don't say it but we wonder.
He shouldn’t have to deal with this. This shouldn’t have happened to him. It could have been worse. Many kids have to deal with far worse. I’m not going to say we’re back to normal but he’s fine. My wife and I we’re trying to be more mindful about things, like we’re under so much stress and we know he picks up on it so fuck, but what do we even do? I quit drinking, not because I had a problem but because I know I drank a lot more throughout covid, like on paper I had become a binge drinker, and it was going to take a toll on my health and the way I can’t ever lose my kids I know they can’t lose me. And I never want to be in a state where it’s not safe for me to drive. We’re about to move to the country. I have to be safe to drive at all times. And I’m going to get a fucking snowplow to attach to my truck.
After Yes Day was over and the kids were ready for bed I told a story as usual. The past few days I’ve been telling stories about Frank the Mutant Deer, which the kids are turning into comic books, and they’ve been after me to add new characters so there can be a superhero crew. They’ve been asking for a mutant snake so I figured I’d add a mutant snake.
“Out in the middle of a field,” I said. “No mom or dad. No brothers or sisters.”
I was just trying to give the snake an origin story but I know how it sounds. George started crying. I got up to comfort him. Told him it was okay. He said he just needed a minute to be with his feelings. He said he felt better. He said your story is just really sad. I said I know but it’s not going to be sad in the end. He said “Just please don’t make me the person in your story who doesn’t have a family.” Kids say things that will break your heart.
I told them the origin story of Melissa the Mutant Snake. How she was an orphan who was scared to be with the other animals in the forest, so she went into the field where none of the other animals went because it was so polluted with toxic goo. How she woke up feeling weird, how she realized she had gotten smarter, and grown a pair of human legs, and was twelve times her normal size. And could fly. And how the army chased her through the sky and she took refuge in a cave and so Frank the Mutant Deer, who can fly, who has super speed and super smell and who can shoot lasers from his eyes and whose antlers are harder than the hardest metal, goes down to Arkansas to find her. He hollers from outside the cave “Hello-oh-oh-oh-oh. Are you a giant snake-ake-ake-ake?” And a voice says “No, not me, I’m just a normal person lady and not a giant snake with human legs.” Frank says “Okay but it’s kind of weird that you said that that way-ay-ay-ay-ay,” and she disagrees, she says it’s weird that he thinks it’s weird and it’s weird that he keeps repeating the last syllable of the last word he says. And he’s like “Well now it’s even weirder, are you sure you’re not a snake?” And she says “I’m s-s-s-s-s-s-sure” and Frank says “Aha! So you ARE a giant snake.” George thought that was hilarious. He was totally invested in the story now. Frank tells Melissa he’s not there to hurt her. He just wants her to join his superhero crew. She wants to know why she should and he says “Well, we have a frozen yogurt machine in our office” and she says “I’m in.” George thought that was hilarious as well. So on the way to California, where Frank has a secret office above the video game store where he works, he calls and orders a frozen yogurt machine so it will be in the office when they get there. Eventually the superhero crew will include a puppy and a monkey and a wolf. Wolves are so cool. Eventually the Mutant Deer universe will cross over with the Bionic Turkey universe. It’s gonna be epic.
What I’m thinking about now is is it better to just be with your feelings for a few minutes or to stick your butt in the air, hide underneath a blanket, and tunnel your head into the couch cushions. Catharsis vs. self-control I guess. I've tried both and I know it's not healthy to always hide under a blanket with your butt in the air but isn't it okay sometimes to just not want to be with your feelings? I don’t know the answer. I don’t know shit. Neither do you. Oscar at this point is all in on a yes day. He’s going to ask for Lego set after Lego set and we’re going to have to remind him that there’s a fucking budget dude. George is still uncertain but he’ll come around.
🛏️ Alan Good is an editor at Malarkey Books and Death of Print.