"No, Liah, you can't eat Lucas's cookies. Liam, stop putting your veggies on your sister's plate. You need to eat your veggies; it doesn't count even if you're triplets." Juggling two half-eaten bowls and my coffee cup, I stole a glance at the time flashing on the stove. We were running late.
Getting three kids ready was a mission; the little monsters enjoyed creating as much chaos as possible.
"Daaaad, can I have a cookie?" Liah turned her big baby blue eyes toward me, almost melting my resolve.
"Liah, you know the rules, no veggies equals no cookie." I emptied the leftovers into the garbage and placed the dishes in the sink, turning away from my sweet daughter's face.
"But the veggies taste icky," Liah whined louder.
"Lucas finished his cookies and didn't say they were icky."
"No buts, eat your cookies. You too Liam! I saw you putting your carrots on your sister's plate."
"Dad, I ate all my broccoli. Does that mean I can get half a cookie?" Liam argued, scooting around the table towards the plate of chocolate chip cookies.
A quiet chuckle escaped me as I tried to keep a straight face at Liam's reasoning.
As I picked up the milk from the counter, I caught a suspicious movement from the corner of my eye.
"Lucas?" I called out, turning towards my quietest child. "What are you hiding?
"Nothing!" Lucas said, jumping to his feet.
The moment his little feet touched the ground, I heard a soft plop. I walked over to the counter and sighed deeply as I saw what was happening. Baby carrots rolled across the floor as Lucas's vegetables spilled out of his pants.
"Lucas, stop hiding food in your clothes. You did that last week and forgot them. When I was doing laundry, I found what's left of Saturday's squash in your pockets. It was a disgusting gooey mess."
All three kids giggled at the thought.
I rolled my eyes as carrots started flying across the table. "Stop that!"
"Lucas, you cheat! You got a cookie, and you didn't eat your veggies," Leah screamed, throwing a carrot at her brother.
Lucas stuck out his tongue, picked up a nearby broccoli, and threw it toward his sister, hitting Liam in the face.
"Daaaaaaad! Lucas hit me!" Liam screamed, joining his siblings' food fight.
I took a deep breath and started counting, "One, two, three…. If I make it to five and you guys are still fighting, I won't bring you to Kyra's, and no TV for the entire weekend."
Silence quickly fell over the kitchen as each child stared daggers at the other. "Now pick up all the veggies off the table and the floor and put your dishes and cups in the sink."
I leaned against the counter with my now cold cup of coffee and stared at my kids; they thought they were being smart as they quietly shoved each other. "No fighting."
"Dad, since Lucas got a cookie and he didn't eat his veggies, I should get one too," Liah said, folding her tiny arms. "It's only fair, and so should Liam."
Observing my little five-year-old's frown, a sense of pride welled up within me. Despite my daily challenges since learning about my pregnancy, I loved my children. Their tiny, food-stained faces always made everything better.
"How about I give you and Liam a cookie and restrict Lucas's tablet time since he lied? Does that sound fair?"
"Okay!" Liah said, a grin similar to her father's spreading across her face as she quickly grabbed a cookie.
"Daaad!" Lucas frowned.
"Hurry and eat your cookies. We need to hurry up; we should have been at Kyra's 30 minutes ago."
In a rush to leave the kitchen, the kids hastily stuffed their cookies into their mouths. However, Liah, seizing the moment, darted past me, grabbed another cookie, and gobbled it up before scampering off to her room. I chuckled at her mischievousness and collected my work files from the living room table, carefully stepping over the scattered legos and blocks on the floor.
Having swiftly changed into fresh clothes, I halted in my tracks at the sound of muffled giggles emanating from the children's room. Approaching the slightly ajar door cautiously, I peeked inside, only to find three blonde, curly heads huddled together. As soon as I opened the door, they jumped in surprise, confirming my suspicions that they were indeed up to no good.
"Liah, Lucas, Liam!" I glanced behind my adorable, grinning kids to see a half-open container of glue lying on the floor. "What are you doing?"
"Nothing!" All three answered in harmony.
"Are you sure?" I replied, walking further into the room. Colored paper clippings littered the floor, along with rainbow sparkles.
"I promise it's nothing bad," Liam grinned.
"It's a surprise," Lucas chimed in.
"We promise we aren't being bad," Liah continued.
"Why don't I believe you guys?" I cocked my head to the side, catching a glimpse of a hand-drawn picture in the mirror behind my children, and grinned. "Well, if you say it's nothing, I'll believe you. You need to hurry and get ready; we need to leave."
Liah shoved the paper in a nearby drawer and went behind the curtain to her side of the room. I could hear her opening drawers as she picked out her outfit.
"Liam, don't forget to put on underwear," I said as I gathered some stuff for their playdate.
"Okay!" Liam yelled, pulling open his shorts to check if he had on underwear.
I could hear his little feet moving across the room, meaning he had somehow forgotten to wear underwear. Again.
"I'm ready!" Liah exclaimed. I looked up from packing an additional set of clothes in their bag to see Liah dressed in rainbow polka dot socks, a pink tutu, and a princess tiara.
"There's my beautiful princess," I placed a kiss on top of her head and fixed her ponytail. "All right, let's go."
"Dad, if Liah is a princess, we're princes; why don't we have crowns?" Lucas asked innocently.
"I'll get you some crowns, okay?! Now get your little butts in the car."
Hastily locking my apartment, I made my way to my old, worn-out sedan, double-checking to ensure the children were safely buckled in. After inspecting my mirrors, I turned on the ignition and frowned as the car made a spluttering noise before starting.