Monday, August 9, 2010

Sane Children

This would not have happened to me. I mean having sane children. If I had had my own children, they would have been talkers, for certain, but talk therapy doesn’t cover all problems in psychology. We’re just lucky that we get to spend time with our friends’ children to show us what sane children can be like.

Sure, we’ve seen examples of the other kind, the tantrum pitchers, the “listen reasonably to everything you say with at least feigned interest, then land in jail for some form of teenage stupidity” kids, the Defiant Ones. But it’s clear that those aren’t the only children out there.

After all, I wasn’t immune to bad judgment as a teenager. For instance, I wasn’t supposed to ride on the back of my beau’s motorcycle when I was in high school. He had an older motorcycle, a Benelli, with a very hot exhaust pipe on the left side. Every time I made my dismount from the forbidden Road Monster, I burned a 2-inch section of the inside of my calf on that exhaust pipe. Talk about stupid. My mom could tell every time I’d disobeyed her, just from the number of burns on my leg. I was lucky the only thing that happened from that lapse of judgment was the burned leg and burning ears.

And I was one of the Defiant Ones, too. I estimated that my mother and I had just the one fight, but it last from my age 15 to age 23. The topic was, “Who is boss?” I think I won. I think. It wasn’t that I thought I was always right. No, that came later. It’s that I thought I probably wasn’t always wrong, given the odds. A stopped clock is right twice a day, as they say. But it’s a hard process, growing up and learning who you are, how you are different from the rest of your family and how you are alike. It’s hard on everyone. Even as a teenager, I knew that the successful parent was one who had done their job well enough that the offspring could manage on their own, someday. I recall explaining this patiently to my mother during one of the age 15-23 moments. Logic, it seems, doesn’t always win points in an argument. Sheesh. They teach you to speak reasonably like an adult, then go bonkers when you do it. What’s that about?

Not that all of my defiance was the reasonable adult kind or even the accidental burn from the motorcycle kind. Nothing of the sort. I did my share of crawling out the bedroom window to sneak off with my friends to an after-hours Annie Green Springs party out at one of the dry lakes near my small town in New Mexico. I seldom actually drank any of the offerings at these parties. I just wanted to be out and about, under the vast sky full of stars, watching my friends learn how to be cool to the music of my time. And mostly I wanted to be away from my mother’s terrible unhappiness for a little while. I always came home. But it was utterly stupid.

Now when I get a chance to be with sane children, I jump at it. So, when our friends, the pleasant attorney and his darling wife the accountant, asked if we could take their two younger boys, Will and Grant, for the day, we of course said yes. After the initial amazement in how tall Will is now, taller than I am, and how many big teeth Grant has now, we started out with a brief inventory of cats, followed by an instructional moment with the Mahjong Solitaire matching tiles and watching dragons disappear in flame and smoke. Then our day really got going.

Miniature golf was first on the menu. We didn’t get very far into the arcade when we discovered my all-time favorite arcade game Skee-Ball available. Grant and I Skee-Balled for quite a while and John and Will air-hockeyed. We bundled up our winning tickets and stuffed them away, bought some soft drinks and went out to the golf course.

I don’t mean to brag, but I am the best person to play miniature golf with, mainly because I can make your score look fantastic. I need a designated putter. Getting onto the green is my forte. I can just about always whack that ball down the middle just as the flap door on the castle is opening but once it’s on the green, I can turn a birdie into mini-golf roadkill. “C’mon, Aunt Marcia! Say 8 strokes and let’s go to the next hole!” What a sane suggestion!

Still, being awful at something doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. My favorite miniature golf moment is actually a scene from the TV Comedy Dharma & Greg where Dharma impersonates Gigantica standing over the Eiffel Tower booming down to the terrified Parisians, “People of France!” Dharma is tall but even short people like me can boom, “People of the Netherlands! Do not be afraid! Your windmill is mine!” Will had the best score, followed closely by Grant. I was dead last. But it was fun.

After some more arcade stuff where I got to rest in a racecar seat watching the boys annihilate rock monsters in a vaguely Mario-esque jungle scene, we finished up with more Skee-Ball, turned in all our tickets for whistles, candy and one purple rubber ball for me. Despite my husband’s protests, we stopped at the McDonalds for some “hamburgers” of dubious vintage, then headed for the country.

Will and Grant live in the city. Actually, they live in The City, known as San Francisco or SF but never Frisco. So country life is sometimes as foreign to them as the moon. I set the rules, being the designated naturalist, the representative of the female ilk and the Mom Substitute.

“First one to see a rattlesnake wins!” I didn’t expect we would actually see a rattlesnake. I’ve lived in California 20 years now and I have seen fewer than five. And I’ve been looking, not too closely of course, but looking. I wanted to go to Lake Solano. The last time my husband and I were there, we saw a rattlesnake. These are boys, after all, so crawly stuff like snakes should be the right thing. Snips, snails, puppy-dog tails and all that. And what do you know? We weren’t a few miles toward Lake Barryessa and what does John spy in the road, comfortably dead but still recognizable, but a big fat diamondback rattler. To verify our find, we turned around and drove past it two more times. Yup, a rattler, and really dead. Did Grant want to take a picture? No.

We stopped at the hydroelectric dam near the lake and Grant did take pictures there. John pointed out the buzzards which were promptly named for members of the family. We moved on to the Lake Solano park where we finally got rid of that old loaf of bread much to the delight of at least six Canada geese and one Ms. Mallard. I checked the ladies room to see if the bat I had found there last spring was still about; sadly, no, only a cockroach. Eeewww. We found a good length of string, figured out how to cut it on the edge of a nearby barbeque firebox, and tied a rock to it to see how far out into the water we could throw it and bring it back in. We watched swallows, listened to woodpeckers and scrub jays and followed a centipede. We told amazing stories in a game where each person followed with his own segment of the story using the format, “Someone [did something] somewhere.” Someone named Hillbilly Joe got away with stealing chickens, a few cars, escaping police and an irate soccer mom after successfully navigating a traffic jam on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, somewhere. We collapsed into giggles.

After a take-home pizza from Napoli’s, makers of The Best Pizza on Earth (just ask my husband) and a rousing game of Scrabble (no scores, please, to save time and egos), the refreshed attorney and his blushing accountant wife returned to pick up Will and Grant. Our adventure was over and the big and little Knights of Wands, having pursued vitality and imagination all day, gratefully returned to their bunks.

How nice to spend the day with sane children. May you have the opportunity to do the same.

Best wishes.

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