Last week, I started Sarcastic Dad, my “Calvin and Hobbes’ dad” style answers to questions a parent, uncle, aunt, or close family friend could get asked. I have three kids (4, 6 and 12), and a wife with a great sense of humor. These are the “only somewhat exaggerated” adventures with those questions.
Read the last episode: Beware the Were-Cows, My Son
And now, Sarcastic Dad: Blame the Gnomes
My 6 year-old growled in frustration as he pulled back from searching under the couch. He glared at the wall behind it and then at the rest of the furniture in the dark living room. “Where are you?”
I’d been watching from the adjoining small kitchen and thought of suggesting he turn all the lights up, but resisted. He was wearing his I don’t need your help, I know what I’m doing face.
Taking my washing gloves off, I abandoned the last of the dirty dinner pots in the sink and leaned forward on the counter. “What are you looking for, buddy?”
“I can’t find my dude, Dad. I want him for bath.”
“Hmm,” I replied, picking up the drying towel and claiming my first victim out of the rack. “Which dude are we talking about?”
He stared at the elaborate setup of action figures, vehicles, and precious cardboard buildings that he’d assembled at the edge of the couch. “My new one with the blue star on his chest. I just had him two seconds ago!”
“Are you sure? Sometimes we forget that we’ve moved something. Maybe you went to the bathroom?”
“I’m a billion percent sure,” he says, standing up and turning around and around like a dog investigating his tail.
“Have you thought about putting the lights on?” I proposed, immediately getting the look of disapproval I expected.
“I can see fine.”
Putting a clean frying pan away, I pulled another wet dish from the rack. “Did you ask your little brother? He had it earlier.”
“He’s upstairs. I just had it. Right here!” He gestured at the setup and narrowed his eyes, scanning every inch of it. “It was right here.”
“Hmm, maybe it’s time that I told you about the gnomes. They might have it, and if they do, they’ll be returning it shortly.” I returned another clean dish to its home.
My 6 year-old gave me that all too familiar look, the look of someone who was hungry for an explanation but skeptical of the person offering it. With a decisive frown, he stared at me. “Gnomes?”
“Yeah,” I said, putting the drying towel back on my shoulder and walking over. “They’re about the size of… well, you.”
“Like the ones in the neighbor’s garden? She has a lot.”
“She does,” I replied, crouching down and looking into his brown and blue eyes. “Have you ever looked for something everywhere, and then searched somewhere you’ve already looked several times before, but this time, it’s there?”
His expression softened. “Yeah… All the time.”
“Well, that’s because of the gnomes.” I squint down at his setup, which by the little kid in me’s standards, is pretty darn good. The cardboard buildings I’d helped assemble had been decorated with marker windows and doors, as well as stickers of all kinds.
“But gnomes aren’t real, Dad.”
I nodded. “We can’t see gnomes. You see, whenever they come into our universe, they have to stop time.”
“They’re time travelers?” he asks, his face further wrinkled in disapproving confusion.
“No. They are responsible for keeping this old clunky universe working. Whenever it breaks down, all the ideas, people, and things stop working.”One by one, I go through the three-person couch’s cushions. “Hmm, not here…”
“I already looked there. Everywhere!” He snarled at the couch.
Laughing, I searched the cushions of the two-person sofa. “You see, the gnomes are responsible for restoring the universe from a backup and fixing everything.”
“What? You mean like backups on your computer? Isn’t that the stuff that you swear about all the time?”
I’m certain my mouth made an O shape as I realized that maybe I’ve been a bit less than attentive about little ears when expressing my ‘love’ of computers somedays. “Ah, let’s not talk about that. The gnomes need to make backups because we’re in an old universe, but those backups are made every five minutes.”
My son looked at the time on the cable TV box. “What happens if the universe breaks at 5:02? Is the backup from five o’clock?”
“And there we have the source of all of these problems.”
His eyes go wide and a hint of pride shows up on his lips.
“The gnomes have to keep lots of notes, notes about everything we’ve moved or done since the last backup,” I said, my hands moving in a large, sweeping gesture. “And when the new backup happens, they throw out the old notes and start again. But!” I look under the couch and am about to pull away, when I look again and let out a little laugh.
“Dad! Keep going!”
“Right.” I turn around and lean against the couch. “After they restore, they only have one minute to fix the entire universe. They go through those notes and sometimes, sometimes, they make mistakes.”
“Oh wow, the whole universe in a minute?”
“Yeah, I know. And when the universe starts moving again, the supervisors watch. When they see someone, like you, searching and searching for something, they check to see what happened. If they discover they made a mistake, they have to ask for the universe to be paused so that they can fix it. That can take time, and so while they’re waiting for permission, we’re searching and searching and searching. We feel like the thing just stopped existing, because it actually did!”
Just then my wife came down the stairs. She was about to put her earbuds in and go for a run when she noticed us. “What’s up guys?”
“I lost my new dude with the star,” said our son. “And I searched for him everywhere!”
“Maybe your brother has it,” she offered, getting an immediate glare.
“He’s in our room.” He pointed upwards.
“Oh?” She glanced back and then zipping up her sweater. “Well, maybe the gnomes took it.”
His eyes went wide. “You know about the gnomes?”
“Of course, I know about the gnomes,” she said, smiling from ear to ear. “I’m a mom! Moms know about these things.” She then waved. “See you boys in a bit.”
As the front door closed, my 6 year-old looked at me. I could see the wheels turning in his eyes.
“Sometimes when the approval comes to pause the universe, you’re right in front of the place you last looked. The gnomes can’t risk putting the thing right in front of you because even with the universe paused, we could notice them. So, they put it somewhere else.”
I pointed at the red toy bin on the side of the couch. “See, I am willing to bet that the gnomes have returned your action figure in that bin.”
“I already searched there.”
“I know that, but search there now,” I said, gesturing at him. “Go on.”
With a skeptical scowl, he slowly made his way over. Daring to lower his gaze, his face erupted in excitement. “He’s here!”
“I told you!”
He held the action figure in the air. “Wow! I thought you were making all this stuff up, but he’s here! And I already searched here, like, a billion times!”
“Alright, go get ready for your bath.”
With a nod, he shot up the stairs.
Taking a deep breath and letting out a chuckle, I then turned to the couch and put my hands underneath it.
Moving it a foot forward, I peeked around back. “You can come out now.”
A pair of little eyes looked up at me, his shoulders bouncing up and down in silent laughter, his hands clasped over his mouth.
“You are a troublemaker,” I said to my black socks and pants wearing 4 year-old as he crawled out. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“That was funny,” he whispered, his little fingers twiddling.
“Get upstairs for bath before your brother notices.”