I don’t know if you’ve ever been smack dab in the path of a tornado, as I once was, many years ago, but it’s true what they say:  There’s an unsettling, yellow-tinged calm all around, just before the maximum-force winds blast through.  That was the atmosphere in my front hall just before I opened the front door to my smiling, efficient son-in-law and his two junior-level partners in crime.  First over the threshold was the older of the Juniors, a fast-talking miniature of his father, and close on his heels was the small, determined rendering of her mother some three decades back.  Ages four and two, they were, in the usual pattern, both talking at the same time.

Son-in-law deposits a few items of paraphernalia, rattles off a projected return time, then blows back out again in the work of a moment.  But…wait.  No printed Instruction Guide?  Are equipment or tools of some sort required?  Should I be embarrassed to even think such thoughts?

No matter.  Closing the door behind him and drawing a deep, cleansing breath, I turn to receive a very deliberate, eyeball-to-eyeball stare from Small Sister, three feet below sea level.  What’s in that look?  I see humor, I’m certain and grateful, and there’s curiosity, I get that, but clearly, and first in line, there’s assessment.  She’s not much for the long,  complex phrasing at this early stage, but here’s the statement written all over her face:  I’m pretty sure I can take you.

We’ll see about that, I think as we nod to each other, like two pro wrestlers preparing to make the first move on the mat.  I sidestep her for the moment and deliver in her brother’s direction the quintessential question that begins and ends all adult/toddler scenarios:

Do you need to go potty?

No, no, no, he intones firmly, I want a snack and apple juice.

Surely I’m on solid ground here, I was a waitress once, I know how to fill orders, so I hop to it pretty snappily and am rustling cups and napkins when suddenly he streaks past in a blur, pointed back toward the bathroom and shrieking at the top of his lungs, HELP me, Evie!  HELP me!

I reach the finish line just a nose behind him and ascertain that a particularly stubborn snap on the pants is the source of this momentary terror. I wrest it open just in time for the business that must result.  But disregard the relief of this near-miss, because it is followed immediately by a high-pitched scream from the direction of the hallway.   Just around the wall from the bathroom, I locate Small Sister face-down on the hardwood floor, where her chubby, unwieldy feet presumably landed her in an ill-fated attempt to join the field in the Potty Derby.  I hoist her up to find her nose already bruising and oozing big red droplets.

Oh, perfect.  Parents haven’t been gone 15 minutes, and already we’ve drawn blood.