If my life were a reality TV show, honestly, it probably would have been canceled early on. Although that fifth season when I dumped all my shit into a cardboard box and ran away from home — all of 45 feet to a nearby bus stop — was a bit of a cliffhanger.
This season, though, is looking very much like an action movie.
My heart starts racing usually around 9:30 p.m. because that’s when they come.
They rev their engines, headlights blaring bright between the spaces in the blinds.
I can hear them. I can see them. They’re right there IN MY CARPORT, just waiting.
Then my phone blows up.
“People are outside the house!” No. 3 yells, breathless. “I’m parking a street over and taking the alley. Can you unlock a door for me?”
If it all sounds very “Mission: Impossible,” it kinda is — except I am not Ethan Hunt.
I’m his mom.
“What should I do? Do you need me to run interference? Should I go scout the street? You’re sure you’re not being followed?! You didn’t pick up a tail? Oh, I know! I could let the dogs out! Hey, you’re wearing clean underwear, right?”
It all sounds very high drama and quite frankly, it is. For me.
As a mother of three, I live a fairly chill life with only the occasional domestic emergency — oh no! The washer’s leaking! Can I sop up all the water in time with one towel or TWO?!?! — and yet here I am, smack in the middle of a high-stakes game, which is actually kind of fun. I just wish it happened at, oh, 4 p.m., rather than getting me all fired up past my bedtime.
The dealio: Years ago, some smartypants at No. 3’s high school craving spice in a very sedate suburban upbringing concocted this competition in which teams of two are assigned targets and it’s squirt or be squirted. They call it the Great Water Gun Challenge or something like that. Had No. 3 stayed at his previous, overachieving college-prep high school, it no doubt would have had an infinitely more clever name. This splashy shenanigan is also known as “assassin” — yikes — so, yeah, I’m cool with the rather uninspired Great Water Gun Challenge.
No. 3’s been prepping hard for this — way more so than for the upcoming SATs — with alliances and elaborate plans and I’m sucked right up into it, taking pictures of random cars left on the street by our house (no one was lying in wait — his partner left his Honda so they could try and tag their target together before school) and taking his car for Saturday morning runs to the gym and Albertson’s to throw any spies off No. 3’s trail.
Just the other morning, I walked out of the house before him like a bodyguard to make sure the coast was clear. I yelled for him to come out, only to have the neighbor remote start her car at that exact moment, making me shriek in surprise and sending No. 3 scrambling for cover.
A red Fortnight squirt gun is his constant companion when he’s outside of the house. Inside, you’ll find it abandoned on the kitchen counter in the same place where he used to leave his dirty socks. Upgrade? Not especially.
At stake is — get this — a $1,000 prize. About 350 kids are signed up for this crazy event.
I briefly contemplated re-enrolling in high school just to participate. There are lots of complicated rules I only half listened to, but the main one is if you get squirted twice on two different occasions, you’re out.
“I harbor no illusions,” No. 3 said, explaining it to me. “I’m not going to win, I just don’t want to get out the first week.”
Although, he did actually get tagged on the very first day as he was walking out the door at 8 a.m., burrito in each hand and water gun inside the house. Sigh.
He’s come a long way. The other day he flung open the door and announced, “I had the most amazing day. We got our target!”
I was super excited because usually our post-school convos go like this:
Me: Welcome home! How was school today?
Me: What was the best thing that happened?
Well, on this day, he regaled me with a twisty-turvy tale about how he and his partner struck out on their attempt to catch their target before she left for school. So, they headed to campus and figured they’d try another day.
Then on the way home, a traffic jam left them stuck in the right turn lane and they thought they spied their mark walking along the street. They weren’t certain because they didn’t actually know her, so they start yelling at her through the open car window — get this — asking her name.
“Yeah, that doesn’t seem weird or suspicious at all,” I interrupted.
Then, to make things even weirder, they asked to see her school ID like they were a low-budget “21 Jump Street” reboot. Naturally she took off running.
“So I knew it was her,” No. 3 said. Huh. Maybe he should have stayed at the uppity college prep school.
At this point, he just handed me his phone so I could watch the action unfold myself from his buddy’s viewpoint.
The jiggly camera footage showed a very slow 17-year-old running for cover at an office building.
“I’m so sorry! I’m so sorry!” No. 3’s partner politely yelled. The kid’s so wicked fast, he caught up to her in no time and boom — target soaked.
“Isn’t that awesome?!” No. 3 said, laughing. “Best day ever. Oh, and I aced my A-Push test.”
Thank goodness because I’m pretty sure you can’t major in water gun competitions in college. Well, except at Arizona State University.