It was bound to happen sooner or later; the fulfillment of my mother's prophesy, uttered words which I, in my reckless youth, dismissed as the stress induced ravings of a woman going through early menopause:  "When you grow up I hope you have kids JUST LIKE YOU!" 

The boys were in the back seats of the van, begging for snacks.  They have become the Pavlov's dogs of road trips after several cross-country drives during the summer of 2002.  Every time we stopped for a potty break we'd load up on some sort of treat:  ice cream, candy, sodas, burgers n' fries.  Now, nearly three years later, we still cannot drive more than a few miles before the salivating begins and the endless whining and whimpering for "snacks" works like the torture music enemy captors might pipe into a POW camp to break the psyche of even the steeliest willed soldier.

This time I succumbed to their begging, reminding them that just this once and only because they've been such good boys today, are we going to stop. 

Actually, I had to pee something fierce. 

We pulled into the nearest gas and food mart parking lot.  As I worked to unstrap my panting puppies, I shifted my weight from one foot to the other muttering, "Straight to the potty, you hear?  Straight to the potty!"   We entered the store without incident and the boys respectfully waited as I went about my business.  I listened as they compared notes on whether the Eskimo Pies are better than the Triple Chocolate Drumsticks or should they just choose Icees.

As we rushed the ice cream cooler, Christopher, with his cherubic cheeks and pixie hair suddenly tugged on my pant leg and hid behind my leg,  "Mom," he kind of half whispered and half yelled, "Is that a real man?" 

I thought he was talking about one of those life-sized cardboard things, but as I searched the space around us he tugged again, pointing, "No, over there, by the cooler.  Is he a grown man or a boy with a man's face?" 

The man he was pointing at - I have to admit, I've never seen anyone like him!  He was about 4' tall and from the back looked like a young, albeit gray-haired, boy.  But as he turned toward us, I saw the face of a 30 something year old man! 

"Oh," I answered quickly, "yes, he's a man."  Now, let's get our ice cream and forget it! I thought as I turned Chris's shoulders back toward the ice cream freezer. 

But Chris was not satisfied with my answer.  He turned back toward the man, "But mom, why is he so small?  Is he going to grow anymore?"  Chris was not even trying to whisper anymore. 

"No Chris, God makes us all a little different and he's a grown man."  Enough!  But no, Chris has been fascinated by little people since he saw the movie Elf this winter and he just wouldn't let it go. 

"Mom, could he be an Elf?"  He was amazed and awed by the thought that he might be within petting distance of a real live acquaintance of Santa.

 "No, Chris, he's a man," who BY THIS TIME KNOWS WE'RE TALKING ABOUT HIM.  "Chris, did you decide on the drumstick or the pie?"

Chris had lost all interest in the ice cream.

"Hey, sweetie," I hissed through clenched teeth, "it's not polite to point at people.  Look in the ice cream case!" 

Suddenly, revelation washed over his face, "Oh," he nodded with understanding, "are you afraid he might be an angry elf?" 

I replied with the only words that I could squeak out, "Guys, straight to the potty!  Straight to the potty!"