“Goodnight,” Neanderdad said. He then expected his children to go to sleep but that was foolishness on his part. He should have known from long experience that it would not be goodnight. This particular ‘goodnight’ was only the beginning. This first utterance was simply the signal to the five-year-old boy and the six-and-a-half year-old girl that the game was afoot. Upon hearing father say the phrase, both children promptly fled the bedroom with squeals of laughter. Neanderdad glumly watched them go and sighed, powerless to stop them. They were out of reach. There was no goodnight.
Neanderdad dearly wanted it to be goodnight. He was exhausted from a long day on the hunt. He still had several hours of work to catch up on before he went to sleep. His inflamed throat also suggested he might be coming down with something. Why, he though angrily to himself, couldn’t it be goodnight?
Neanderdad stomped through his suddenly labyrinthine dwelling in search of his offspring. The dog joined him, enthusiastic about the sudden action. It walked among his legs as if to trip him. Neanderdad tried to push the beast out of the way. Surely the dog knew where his offspring had went. Why did the cursed beast attach himself to the hunter and not the prey? The dog was not a retriever, regardless of what the breeder had advertised.
After an exhaustive search, Neanderdad eventually found his children hiding in the cabinets in the playroom. When they jumped out to surprise him, the dog was so thrilled at the reunion that the beast tried to jump up on Neanderdad too, earning a stern word and a shove down. The children laughed at their own cleverness, then protested when he ordered them back to their bedrooms.
“Goodnight,” Neanderdad said again, less gently, as he walked them sternly toward their intended destination. However, this was not Goodnight either. Instead the boy suddenly and resolutely reversed course.
“Mommy,” he said, as if this single word provided him with all the permission he needed.
When Neanderdad tried to stop him, the boy dodged him and sprinted down the hall toward the office where Neanderdad’s mate was working. Neanderdad strongly forbade the boy from continuing. He demanded that the boy return. Then, because the boy had already receded past Neanderdad’s ability to enforce his mandate, Neanderdad begged the boy to stop. The boy did not stop.
“Mommy,” is all he said, over his shoulder. Then he jogged into the warm embrace of his smiling mother. Neanderdad’s wife looked up at Neanderdad in askance and his angry visage explained everything. She gave the boy a kiss and sent him back to his father.
“Goodnight,” she then said to the boy. But that was not goodnight either for the girl, who had followed behind the boy, Neanderdad and the dog, rushed into her mother’s arms too. Obviously she wanted to make sure that the boy didn’t receive any attention she did not also get.
“Mommy,” the girl then said as she turned back to Neanderdad with a triumphant smile. As she luxuriated in the arms of her mother Neanderdad tried hard not the let his true feelings erupt on his face. Instead, he waited with fake patience for the conclusion of the hug.
“Goodnight,” Neanderdad’s wife said to the girl and sent her back to Neanderdad. Then Neanderdad herded his insubordinate offspring back to their rooms. But, of course, this was not goodnight either.
Upon his arrival in his room, the boy leapt up on the bed and began trampolining up and down. The rickety bedframe rattled and groaned under the stress. Neanderdad rushed forward to grab the boy but the dog, who had followed them into the room and remained at a high level of excitement, galumphed into Neanderdad’s path and almost tripped him. Neanderdad growled at the dog and pushed him out of the way. Before he could stop the boy, the girl tried to jump up and do the same thing, which forced Neanderdad to yell at her sharply. This stopped the jumping and left both children scarily quiet and generated on their faces such a look of sullenness that Neanderdad was instantly ashamed that he resorted to anger. To keep the children calm while recovering some of his self-image, Neanderdad resorted to bribery. He offered to tell them a story if they would get into bed and be quiet. Miraculously, it worked.
In the darkened room, Neanderdad proceeded to spin a tale for his offspring. They quieted down as his narrative unwound. Neanderdad’s troublesome rebels became snuggly little children again as Neanderdad wove T-Rex’s, Monkeys, Giants and Construction Vehicles into a sprawling yarn about the virtues of listening to parents. When the T-Rex and the Dump Truck drove off into the sunset as new best friends, the children had calmed completely. Neanderdad tucked the boy into his bed and returned the girl to her room.
“Goodnight,” Neanderdad then said and kissed his children goodnight. Then he backed down the hallway like he might set off a bomb if he made a wrong move. Luckily, neither the boy nor the girl made a fuss. However, it still wasn’t goodnight for Neanderdad. It wasn’t until half-way through his dinner that Neanderdad heard the distant bleating.
“Daddy,” came the soft call. It was the girl. She couldn’t find her bunny.
“Daddy,” then came the boy’s reply. He had heard his sister and didn’t want to be left out.
Then the girl called again because she was thirsty. Then the boy called because he was too hot. Then the cursed dog began barking at a delivery van that dared to venture down their street. Then children, of course, wanted to know what that was all about. And so it went for another 20 minutes. Each time Neanderdad came into his offsprings’ rooms he used varied responses—gentle, stern, impassive, amused, irritated—to nudge his offspring toward sleep. Each time, he used the same fruitless word.
“Goodnight,” he would say to them, trying to give the word finality.
He said that word perhaps a dozen more times until, eventually, both children went to sleep. It was late now and he wolfed a cold dinner that his wife had left for him. Finally, Neanderdad retreated to the den to begin the mountain of work that he needed to finish before the next morning. His wife came in and gave him a kiss, letting him that she was going to bed.
“Goodnight,” she said, then left. The dog, who had been snoring in the corner, got up and trudged after her without so much as a glance in Neanderdad’s direction. But for Neanderdad it was still not goodnight.