Dennis the menace

I met a little boy yesterday. His name is Dennis, but he looks like a five-year-old version of the character Malcolm from the television series “Malcolm in the Middle.” Brown-haired and green-eyed, he earnestly wishes his father weren’t angry with him so often, and that his parents would get along better.

He’s only momentarily serious though.

Mostly, Dennis is a hyperactive child who just can’t keep still. He fiddles with his belt buckle, sniffs interestedly at his sneakers, and rocks back and forth in his chair so that the wooden legs stomp against the floor. He reaches out for my croissant, loudly asks for a sip of my dark chocolate frappuccino (I apologetically deny his request, explaining that I have a cold), and skips through the coffee shop on his way out the door. Out on the sidewalk, and later in the car, he engages in perfectly-timed hip-hop-like moves that he proudly calls his “robot dance,” and brings me to laughter with an impeccably-delivered imitation of his no-nonsense kindergarten teacher (“Time to clean up! NOW!”).

He professes that he’s a quiet kid while at school, but I have reservations about believing him. As his backseat companion during the drive, I am witness to his active nature. Dennis likes twisting his body in wild contortions and shaking spasmodically. Exaggerated facial expressions are his specialty. Time and again, he rolls his eyes, gestures fiercely, and clasps his own neck with both hands as if in the throes of death.

“Not that way, silly!” Dennis admonishes when I hold the baby’s pacifier upside-down. Leaning over, he exhorts the baby (a girl) to “Wake up, buddy boy!” and performs his infamous “robot dance” to make her smile.

Throughout the drive, he repeatedly informs me that we’re going to the park so that he can “teach me how to be hyper.” “I’m not hyper enough?” I ask. “No,” he retorts, and dramatically throws out his arms. “I’m hyper all the time!”

“I can tell,” I say dryly.

Once we reach the park, he unbuckles his seat belt in a rush, leaps out of the car, and unhesitatingly grabs my hand. “Let’s go be silly and hyper!” he suggests. We race hand-in-hand across the grass and along the concrete walkway leading up to the playground, even as I laughingly protest that my flimsy flip-flops weren’t made for such exertion.

We swing across the monkey bars and race down the slides. We climb up the slides too, something that always gives me inordinate pleasure simply because it was disallowed back when I was in elementary school. It probably still is, for all I know. Dennis stands at the top of the curving slide, puts his fingers to his mouth, and lets out an ear-piercing wolf whistle before sliding down. Suitably impressed, I make him repeat the whistle, but fail miserably at imitating it.

We head over to the swings. Dennis insists on pushing me, screaming, “Yaaaaaaaaah!” into my ear every time I swing back towards him. I poke his scrawny five-year-old arm and commend him on his muscles. Eventually, he scampers off towards the grass, intent on showing me the squirrels. Crouched low to the ground, he carefully places one foot in front of the other, fingers at his lips. But the squirrels are a no-show.

His next mission, seemingly, is to pick every single dandelion in the park. He hands me the short-stemmed ones, keeping the long ones for himself because “he has bigger wishes.” I lazily blow at each dandelion he brings me, watching the seeds float away, while Dennis turns his back to me and performs his dandelion rituals in a more secretive manner. I watch him surreptitiously. Depending on the nature of each wish, he either scrunches up his face earnestly or giggles uncontrollably before huffing and puffing at his dandelions.

On the drive back, I am subjected to Dennis’ nonstop, twenty-minute-long recitation of what he supposedly has for breakfast every morning (he starts out innocently enough with pizza, hot-dogs, and cheese, before segueing into eyeballs, stinky socks, stop lights “way out in Las Vegas,” car seats, telephones, stinky shoes, speakers, people’s brains, and on and on and on), refusing to admit what he really eats. “Well I usually eat waffles,” I interject loftily. “So!” he snaps, stung into telling the truth, “I eat coco-puffs cereal. And I drink all my milk, too! So I’m better than you!” “Gotcha!” I laugh, but Dennis is undeterred, continuing on with his recitation of ludicrous breakfast choices. The entire process is accompanied, of course, by dramatic eye-rolling, wild gestures, and further demonstrations of the “robot dance.”

I never learned how to whistle as well as Dennis does. But I did teach him how to snap his fingers. Lord knows, I just may regret it.

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