"Is there anything to eat?"
This is not a straightforward question.
Generally - and this is by no means an exhaustive list of criteria and exclusions - it means, Is there anything to eat straight from a box or bag or that has been fully prepped, plated and placed within arm's length of wherever I plan to eat?
We are driving home from water polo practice. It's a short drive, but it's a very long time to be in the car with a teenager.
There is almost never a good answer. He is too hungry to think of anything but food yet inflexible in his definition of it.
But today is a good day for teenage water polo players.
"I made muffins," I say.
"What kind?" he asks cautiously.
"All kinds," I say. "Chocolate chip, blueberry, date-nut."
"How big are they?" His hopes are building, but the adults in his life have disappointed him so many times.
Regular size, I say. Not the mini ones.
So far so good. But it's still early in his interrogation.
"How many?" he asks. A chilling thought has just occurred to him. What if his sister is already home? And not just his sister, but her entire posse of seventh grade eating machines? Those girls tear through a kitchen like locusts through a field of whatever it is that locusts eat.
His panic rises like muffin batter in a 400-degree oven. "Is she home?" he says.
"It's a double batch," I say. "Chill-ax."
Oh, god," he says. "She's home isn't she?"
We are only a few blocks away, but I am starting to feel the pressure.
"Look, I don't know," I say. "I swear." I should never have mentioned the muffins. Why did I have to mention the muffins?
"Was she there when you left?" He is looking directly at me now. We are one minute from our front door. Oh god. Please let the light be green.
"I am through answering questions," I say. "She may have been."
What was I thinking? Why didn't I separate the muffins into strictly demarcated stacks? His and Locusts?
"Just tell me," he says. "Was she eating muffins?"
"Stop," I say. "There is no possible way she can eat all of the muffins." Even as I hear myself say it, it sounds ridiculous. She will take a bite out of half of them just trying to figure out which ones have chocolate chips.
I step on the accelerator a little bit. "It's going to be okay," I say. But I don't believe it anymore. I can smell a disaster in the making. It smells like blueberry muffins.
Finally, we are in the driveway. "Run," I say.
And he does.
Originally published 5/16/11