Friday, March 30, 2012

The Saltine Challenge

Every few months, five other couples and our assorted children get together for dinner. We rotate houses, change the menu (though it is always potluck so that the hostess never has to supply too much), and once everything is set up buffet style, let the little monsters free to roam while the adults get to gossiping. As always the men and women separate for a while, but always come back together for the main course. The kids have all known each other since infancy, so there is little bloodshed and few tears. It’s a great night out because while the whole family attends, I can safely ignore both my husband and my children.

This year, the main topic was alcohol. One of the kids, a precocious third-grader who has an entire system set up for taking beer orders from guests, is learning about drugs in schools. Not from other kids, mind you, but from the health teacher. One of the lessons she was taught was that if mom has a drug or alcohol problem, then dad should join a basketball league. Pause to let that inanity sink in for a moment. As three out of the five men at the table are currently in a basketball league, yet none of the women have a problem with sobriety (to my knowledge), we were agog at the answer given - which was that dad needed a coping mechanism. Personally, I think “dad” shouldn’t be leaving his kids home alone with an alcoholic, but I’m not a public school health teacher. I should note that this lively discussion was briefly interrupted by said precocious third-grade asking us all if we wanted another round. Clearly, she wasn't worried any of us had a drinking problem.

While one gentleman regaled us with drunken stories from his youth that needed only the soundtrack from Deliverance to make them complete, other men at the table chimed in with their drinking stories. This is when I learned about such things as the “beer drinking glove.” A beer drinking glove is the glove you need for the one hand in which you are holding your beer. Since you are a man and one hand must at all times must be near or touching your genitals to make sure they don’t fall off, only one glove is necessary. Fascinating!

I also learned about the Saltine Challenge. Can one person eat six saltines in under 60 seconds? The key to it is that they cannot take a sip of any beverage. Of course, this had to be attempted. Watching grown-ass men shove saltines in their gaping maws was akin to watching cats try to cough up a hairball. It was ugly, it was funny, and they made the worst noises. One of them physically could not remain still, but squirmed and tapped and wriggled while he tried not to spew salt crumbs across the table. Sadly, not a single one of them could do it. Upon further investigation, the only person known to have won this challenge is Peyton Manning back in his halcyon college days. The Milk Challenge was mentioned (one gallon in one hour) but sadly, this led more to a discussion about the switch from full to one-percent based on their wives pushing them to drink healthier than anyone actually attempting to vomit lactose for hours on end.

Today, I learned about the cinnamon challenge. The goal is to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon. The size of the spoon is not specified. The problem is that cinnamon dries the throat out upon impact, causing the short-term possibility of choking to death and the long-term possibility of pneumonia (especially in asthma sufferers). It also must burn like a sonofabitch. There is a reason most recipes only call for a teaspoon of cinnamon. It's potent. A little goes a very long way. So shoving a honking spoonful in your mouth all at once is going to cause some problems.

Personally, I'm impressed with the parsimony showcased in these challenges. Everyone can afford a carton of milk, or a sleeve of crackers, or even a jar of cinnamon. If not, they can all be easily stolen from college cafeterias or liberated from an unsuspecting cupboard. The stupid human tricks of my college days all required copious amounts of alcohol and while the cheap stuff such as plastic vodka, Boone's Farm, or Mad Dog was readily available, it still required cash money. Even Happy Hour in a small college town required at least $10 (the equivalent to four shots of tequila or eight drafts of Rolling Rock, no tip). Quarters and beer pong required equipment, which my husband and his cronies actually built from scratch. They also built a bar, but that's just because they were practically professional alcoholics. At my school, we stuck to the basics, Drinking Uno or Drinking Jenga, or even just the bare bones challenge of who can drink what the fastest. It was a lot simpler back then.

I do think I need to bring up the Cinnamon Challenge at the next multi-family gathering. There is always a doctor in attendance, so it's not like anyone will actually die. Plus, we might set a fine example for the children. If they see their fathers expelling clouds of cinnamon dust through eyes streaming with tears while their mothers fall to the floor with laughter, all of these ridiculous food-based challenges may suddenly seem uncool and we may just wind up with kids who study in college instead of drink.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Three in the Bed

I have a problem. Often, I go to bed alone. This is very sad for me, as I much prefer the living heater that is my husband to join me so my feet don't get cold. What winds up being confusing for me is that I never know who will be sleeping next to me when I next open my eyes. It could be my husband, which would be the expected choice, but it could also be either one of my two children, which is much more perturbing.

A typical night in my bed requires multiple wakings to either get people into it or get people out of it. On a recent evening, I went to be at a reasonable time only to be woken at 1:30 am by the sound of power tools coming from the first floor. Usually, I wake to the sound of distant snoring as my husband likes to stay up later than I do and his "I'll be right up" inevitably results in him falling asleep on the couch. On the night in question, it was the metallic, obnoxious sound of a drill. After my initial "WFT?" moment passed and I correctly identified what was going on (for the record, he chose that particular hour to hang new rods and curtains in the kitchen), I simply rolled over. My theory was simple - if he was so pissed off that he needed to use power tools in the middle of the night, I certainly wasn't going to interrupt him to tell him otherwise. However, the noise resulted in not one, but both children proceeding to join me in bed. They were kind enough to do this in intervals, but the end result was that as I dozed in and out, listening to the battle hymn of Black & Decker, I needed context clues to figure out with whom I was sleeping. Did my bed smell like zombie breath and did I have ice cold toes stabbing me in the stomach? Must be my son and his beloved blanket, Binky. Were there weird sounds and was I missing half my blankets? Must be my daughter grinding her teeth and stealing my sheets. Eventually, everyone did make it back to their respective beds, but it was a rough morning
for all.

I would love to say that this is an isolated incident, but I would be lying. My children have learned that Daddy stays up later and use this to their advantage. Their late night trips to the bathroom are more scouting missions than bladder control problems. My daughter, upon seeing an empty space in the bed, will claim that she had a nightmare and needs my comfort. Since she is usually giggling at the time, this is an obvious lie, and usually results in her being sent back to her own bed. Occasionally, when I'm especially chilled, she is allowed to climb in since she has inherited her father's heat index and can warm the whole bed (even the parts her little feet can't reach) in record time. She always gets bored quickly (as there is no tinny music box for her to listen to) and wanders back to her own room, leaving me nice and toasty. Her brother, however, finds no inclination to lie at all and simply wanders the house at midnight or later until he decides if he wants to sleep or watch TV. If he is actually tired, then he climbs in and settles right down. If, however, he's in the mood for some entertainment, he will wander down to his father and settle in for an hour of whatever crap my husband is watching. As a result, he's seen his fair share of Spike, ESPN, and the History Channel. The only good part of this arrangement is that if my husband falls sleep, my son will inevitably poke him back into consciousness. Father and son then migrate up the stairs and into their own beds. On the nights that both adults are present and accounted for, my son has been known to settle in at the bottom of the bed like a dog. I have woken to find him nestled in behind my bent knees, on my feet, or just even just curled up in a little ball, cold and uncovered, yet sound asleep.

I know I need to break him of this habit. I know that these late night wanderings often result in poor behavior the next day. Unfortunately, in the middle of the night, I don't have enough will power to fight with him. I'm tired. I'm cold. I just want to go back to sleep. About the last thing in the world I want to do is argue with a crying four-year old. So every night, we go through the cycle again. And every night, I swear to myself that the next night will be different.

It isn't.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Storytellers - The Secret Life of Mother

Two women step into the men’s ward of a prestigious Catholic hospital wearing long trench coats in the heat of summer. Suddenly, they hit the tape player on their boom box, drop their coats and start to belly dance. Each one had a word written across her undulating belly – one wears purple, the other gold. Nurses and doctors crowd around to check out the commotion. A man in the ICU practically rips out his tubing to try to get a glimpse. (Later, this man on death’s door is granted a private showing per the nurses’ request.) When the song winds down, they wish the man they have serenaded with swaying hips a speedy recovery, don their coats, and head for the door. Upon exiting, they are confronted with a large statue of Jesus Christ. The purple dancer, a devout Jew, recoils in horror and worries that God will strike them dead for the sacrilege they have just committed. The one in gold, a so-called Cafeteria Catholic (because she picks and chooses which articles of faith to follow), doesn’t even glance at the pleading Christ. “Jesus? I don’t think he minds, they had dancing back in his day.”

And so ends my mother’s first paid gig as a belly dancer.

I recently heard this story for the first time. I knew she had been a belly dancer. What child could block out her mother insisting on practicing the castanets during play dates? Or being at a friend’s backyard barbeque and overhearing a fellow 10 year-old wonder loudly why someone hired a stripper and having to correct them with a sad, “That’s not a stripper, that’s my mom.” Every Halloween my sister would beg to wear the costume and every year my mother refused. It’s hard to block the sound of Middle Eastern music wafting through the house. Trust me, I knew she did it. But I didn’t actually know why.

As it turns out, the answer wasn’t why, it was more of a why not? My mom took classes, discovered a hidden talent, was encouraged to take her skills outside the classroom, found a partner and did it. While my father does not believe in the Happy Wife/Happy Life motto (as anyone who has listened to him goad her into an argument for fun can attest), he has an innate ability to ignore anything that does not affect him directly and her, ahem, unusual hobby of dancing for strangers for money was just one of the many things on that list. What I found most intriguing was that this actually lasted many years. Years! What in my memory was just a one-shot deal was apparently a happy little side business.

Other things that seemed to be a one-time only happenstance (in my memory) but that also lasted for almost two full years was my mom’s stalker. Oh yes, my mother had a stalker. Why anyone was so interested in a fussy little Italian woman who hasn’t seen her real hair color since her 20s, believed that turning burnt umber was the ultimate achievement in summertime and wore a bathrobe over her pajamas all wintertime was an object of desire, I will never know. But one night, she saw a face in the bedroom window and screamed. It took two full years, lots of peeping by our erstwhile Tom, and a full police investigation to catch the local hoodlum who had an unhealthy obsession with her. Turns out, the guy would walk his dog past the house every day so that our dog wouldn’t bark when he came by at night. He even went so far as to move a cinderblock under the window so he could stand on it for a better view. Short and pervy, what a way to go through life.

These are the stories of my mother’s life. She is not embarrassed by them. The time a UFO followed them on an isolated stretch of road after a night out celebrating my dad’s birthday? She tells it with pride. The many times people have assumed that I am adopted or expressed shocked surprise when discovering my likeness to my maternal grandmother – my mother delights in those stories. It doesn’t bother her that they previously thought I was the product of a liaison with the mailman, she just thinks it makes for a better punch line. So, while my life’s goal is to be as opposite of my mother as humanly possible in word, action, and deed, I do have to admit that we do share one thing in common – we can tell a hellava good story.