My dad tends to take things to ridiculous levels. It always has to be big, spectacular. Epic, he likes to say. Mom told me that he proposed on a skyscraper. Like, on the window of the skyscraper, dressed as Spiderman, with a note and a ring as she stood gazing out the window.
On my sixth birthday, I asked for a treehouse. Dad went to work, in Dad fashion, at least until the city shut him down because the structure went three stories with running water and electricity. My lemonade stand had a website. I had to pay taxes that year. When I wanted to be a knight instead of a princess, he forged a metal suit of armor in the basement. It’s in the attic, we set it out in the yard every Halloween.
All this stuff might sound sweet. And I suppose it is, but it’s also exhausting. My father can’t sit still. He can’t stop wowing us, and now that I’m in high school, well, I’m beginning to worry my parents’ marriage. Last year Dad set up a Christmas display that made the newspaper. Over three hundred thousand bulbs, all controlled by his phone. It was insane. Dad was constantly playing with the controls, even at the table. Mom’s biggest pet peeve is being on the phone during dinner. I swear, I looked over a few times and saw her white-knuckling her fork. I knew things were bad.
Mom is stressed. She needs some R&R. So last weekend we had girl’s day. Dad was away at a convention, probably learning how to build a spaceship or something. Mom and I thought it would be fun to make gingerbread houses. We wore plaid pajamas. We sang Christmas carols. Mom never once asked me about boys like I was ten. It was nice.
Then Dad came home early. So much for nice.
He saw the spread, how the table was awash in flower and cinnamon. He saw the icing and sprinkles. His eyes sparked with ideas. “Oh, what do we have here?”
Mom looked at me. And we knew, we just knew.
Our fears were confirmed when we saw the search history. BIGGEST GINGERBREAD HOUSE WORLD RECORD.
“Maybe he’s just curious,” I said to Mom. But it was pointless. Sure enough, Dad returned from Sam’s Club, hauling sacks of flour and industrial sized buckets. He was whistling, a sure sign he was going lunatic.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
He kissed the top of my head, then smiled at Mom. “Honey, I’m going to need the kitchen for a couple of weeks.”
Mom couldn’t take it. She told him we were leaving. I don’t think he heard us. We drove to Grandma’s house. Well, I drove while Mom took inventory of her life. “He’s a good father. He means well…”
I was a little worried this was it, my parents were splitting. But all I could say was, “Who buys seven thousand eggs?”
Grandma started in with the told-you-so’s. We watched the news. Dad on a forklift, a frenetic gleam in his eyes as he tore into our backyard. He had ginger panels up and the grass was covered with a dusting of all-purpose flower. Icing arrived by the truckload. The neighbors watched as reporters stood in front of our house, making dumb jokes about how many calories went into a 3,000-square foot gingerbread house.
…”it’s an awfully ambitious, not so nutritious, undertaking, I’m not sure he’s going to be finished by Christmas…back to you, Dan…”
Dad on a ladder, swinging a hammer with a serious sugar high going. He had flecks of dough in his hair, swipes of icing on his cheeks, his tongue was poking out. Grandma said his sugarplums were all wrong.
Mom stayed glued to the local news. But even with all his feverish baking and building, Dad hadn’t gotten to the roof. The weather had turned warm, the bees were out. It was a mess.
I turned to Mom, she was already on her feet, thinking the same thing. “We have to go home.”
Mom drove. I manned the playlist. We barreled through two White Stripes albums and made it back in record time. We had to park a street over because of traffic and news trucks. We cut through the woods behind our house. Dad was sculpting the chimney as we came out. He looked back, saw us and climbed down.
“I think I got carried away.”
Mom kissed him on the lips, which was gross, because they’re old. That and Dad was sticky and covered in ginger and whelps from the bee stings. I broke them up and we got busy. The crowd cheered us on. We went over the top. We sang carols and we baked and caked the panels and built the biggest gingerbread house by 100 square feet. Go big or go home.
Or in my dad’s case, go big at home…