There aren't a whole lot of things in this world that scare me out of what few remaining wits I have, but I've become intimately acquainted with each of them on more than one occasion. The first and worst is one of my kids getting hurt, but I'm usually too busy being pissed off at the party responsible to acknowledge just how shit-scared I am that I might lose one of them. The fear comes later, actually, usually after all the excitement is gone and reaction is setting in while I'm settling in for a bed-side vigil in the infirmary.
Next on the list is anything to do with getting snaked. My kids and I have all been too damn close to that a few times already, and none of us had better find ourselves up close and personal with another symbiote ever again. Even Junior's a little too close for comfort sometimes, and he's tucked up safely with Teal'c. And don't even get me started on the Tok'ra, especially Anise. Jacob's not half-bad, though, but I'm still a bit leery of Selmak.
Somewhere down the list—below an apocalyptic asteroid but above the cancellation of The Simpsons—is the word "experiment", as spoken by one or both of the Science Twins. Daniel's experiments usually involve putting himself into harm's way making friends with something big and scaly, while Sam's tend to involve things that explode, implode, or both. In both cases, Fear Number One is sure to follow close behind, so maybe I should bump it up the list a little.
So... here I am on a fine winter morning, shivering my pants off and trying to decide if it's worth it to stomp out to the shed and drag in some wood for the fireplace. On the one hand, a roaring fire is mighty nice, but on the other, a foot of snow is an obstacle even this native Minnesotan isn't afraid to admit is a bit daunting. Deciding to think it out over coffee, I make my way toward the kitchen, but draw up short just outside the doorway.
The word "experiment" drifts out into the hall, giggled out in a hushed manner that tells me my kids are definitely up to something. A pair of nine year-old geniuses plus a kitchen full of sharp objects seems like the perfect recipe for disaster, if you ask me... and even if you didn't ask me, well, I'd let you know anyway. Since getting themselves de-aged by some weird shaman-type dude on P7J-something-or-another, Sam and Daniel have taken the whole "twins" thing to a whole new level, and the last of my brown hairs have suffered for it.
First was the "physics experiment" involving a pair of skateboards, two ski poles, and a wheelchair ramp. Another time, it was the "anthropological observation" which required the use of my credit card, several hours at the mall—during which time I thought they were cleaning their rooms—and a bunch of idiot store clerks who didn't think to question two children on an unsupervised shopping spree. Most recently, we had an "interdisciplinary exchange", which meant Daniel used his diplomatic skills to talk his and Sam's way into a billiards tournament hosted by the local Knights of Columbus, and Sam used her mastery of mathematics to hustle a room full of grown men.
The rattle of aluminum pans interrupts my mental meanderings, and compels me forward into a quick survey of ground zero. An open box from Betty Crocker rests on one counter, a carton of eggs lies beside it, and a puddle of spilled vegetable oil on the floor promises it'll be months before anyone can safely walk across the linoleum. A pair of blond heads lean over Grandma O'Neill's ceramic mixing bowl, inspecting its contents with mirror-image frowns of consternation.
"What's going on, kids?" I venture, shoving my hands in my pockets and leaning against the doorframe with feigned nonchalance.
"Hi, Dad," my scientists chorus, looking up from their helpless victim.
"We're making you a birthday cake," Sam explains, gesturing toward the cake mix box.
"It was supposed to be a surprise," Daniel pouts, adjusting the glasses sliding down his nose.
First: the fact that the kids remembered it was my birthday does not bode well. Knowing them, they probably invited half the SGC to "drop in" unexpectedly. Second: from the state of the crumpled egg shells on the breakfast table beside the bowl, I'd say there are likely to be a few surprises in the birthday cake. Third: neither of my kids has managed to successfully boil water on the stove without incident, so the thought of them using the oven to bake something has me wondering if my home owner's insurance policy includes fire coverage.
"A surprise, huh?" I echo, heart racing a mile a minute despite my outward calm. I repeat: this will not end well.
"We wanted to have it finished already," Sam continues, "but we had trouble with the eggs." I take another glance at the carton near the sink and realize it's entirely devoid of intact shells, despite me having purchased it only yesterday.
"Now we're trying to get the batter stirred up," Daniel adds, lifting his arm to reveal the electric hand mixer Sara and I received as a wedding gift. I'm reasonably certain it's never been used, and the kids have found only one of the beaters so far. I wonder if they know there's supposed to be two?
"What's wrong with using a wooden spoon?"
Guilty looks are exchanged before two pairs of innocent blue eyes return my way. "It broke."
My eyebrows make a break for my hairline. That spoon was solid enough to row a boat! "Broke?"
Daniel looks embarrassed. "The batter was too thick."
"We've thinned it, now," Sam adds, "but we still have to mix it all up better."
She plugs in the hand mixer, and her brother gives the appliance an experimental whirl. A pair of black-and-white streaks scoot out from beneath the table and disappear down the hall, and I quickly realize that Einstein and Petrie have made a fast break for safer territory. I'm beginning to think the cats really are as smart as their namesakes.
"Uh, need any help?" I venture, not liking the way Sam's face lights up as she eyes the hand mixer. After what she did to my toaster...
"Nah, we've got it," Daniel promises.
This would be a good time to beat a hasty retreat, but the morbid part of me wants to stay and watch the show. Of course, I could always put my parental foot down and put a stop to this, but if I know my kids—and I do know my kids—they'll find a way to do precisely what they want anyway. Unless I want to test the response time of the local fire department (again), I probably ought to stick around and supervise.
Daniel plunks the mixer—still only one beater—down in the batter and squeezes the trigger. Immediately, brown stuff flies up out of the bowl and splatters the table, both kids' shirts, and probably everything else in the kitchen.
"Low speed!" I bark, and he immediately slows the beater to a less-frantic pace. "You two are so cleaning the kitchen when you're finished," I warn them, and turn away so that they can't see me struggling to keep from laughing.
"Yes, Dad," my speckled angelic chorus replies, as though it hadn't crossed their minds to do otherwise.
Firewood it is. Digging my boots out of the hall closet, I shrug on a jacket and stomp out to the woodpile next to the garden shed, gather up an armful, and carry it back to the wood box next to the garage. Four more trips gets me enough to last us for the next day or two—unless we lose power, that is—so I make my way inside, kick off my boots, and brace for the inevitable carnage.
Well, this is odd. The oven's preheat timer is nearing zero, there are two round pans and a cupcake tin filled with eggshell-sprinkled chocolate cake batter, and no sign of either kid. A quick bellow gets me two pairs of potato chip-stuffed cheeks popping up from behind the dividing wall to the dining room.
I put on my "stern dad" voice. "Do not, under any circumstances, leave a heated oven unattended, capisce?"
"We were just—"
"Aht! Butts back in here." On cue, the oven dings. "See? You might not have heard that from in there."
The kids exchange a look which clearly is a mutual mental disparagement of their old man's hearing, but they say nothing aloud as they slink back into the fray. I supervise the loading of the trio of tins into the oven, order them to set the timer, then head back out for the den to start a warm fire and nurse a cold beer.
And I thought they were enough trouble as adults.
Fifteen minutes later, the fire's been made, the beer consumed, and I'm returning to the kitchen for a second bottle when the oven timer goes off. Now, I'm no expert, but I know it takes longer than that to bake a cake. "Kids? Why'd you set the timer so short?"
Turns out, Sam wanted to perform "core sample" tests at regular intervals, while Daniel wanted to take the mean of the minimum and maximum baking times on the box. Sam's idea won out over the realization that plunging toothpicks into the cake meant lots of opportunity to sample the batter. The cake continued to bake sans timer while their discussion segued into the merits of twelve-hour and twenty-four-hour clocks, skipped along to the origins of the daylight savings system, and proceeded into something involving microwaves and electrons and how they were used to make atomic clocks.
Meanwhile, I checked the box, eyeballed my watch, and switched off the oven after another fifteen minutes were up. The cake probably wasn't finished all the way, but I had my suspicions about its edibility anyway.
Sure enough, when the pans were removed—thankfully, the kids had enough sense to use oven mitts—the cake was flat, spongy, and pretty unappealing. The edges looked cooked, but the fact that they hadn't pulled away from the sides any suggested the kids had neglected to grease the pans beforehand. Also, despite the short time in the oven, I suspected most of the reason for the remarkable pancake impressions had to do with the kids using water to thin out the too-thick batter, which resulted in enough batter to fill two round pans AND a dozen cupcake cups. Then there's the fact that I'm pretty sure they failed to follow the "high altitude" instructions...
Let's not forget the eggshell sprinkles on top, either. Yum.
Instructing my little scientists to leave the cakes to cool while they clean up the kitchen, I head back into the den and pull out my cell phone. A quick call to Janet reveals that yes, she was invited over to my place for a surprise birthday party, and yes, she will be glad to pick up a cake at the Wal-Mart bakery before she comes over.
I love my kids, but they'll be the death of me yet.