“Shoo, already!  Go home!”  And, then Joel said dryly, “I told you not to feed them.”  We teasingly said these comments to my sister, Cyndi and her partner, Sharon when they “randomly” ran into us for the third time at rest stops and fast food restaurants while driving home from Port Canaveral after our family cruise.

Before we left on the family vacation, Cyndi heartily made fun of my planning and organizational skills, which she guest blogged about here.  But, after spending a magical day (sun-up to waaay past sun-down) at two Disney parks with me and the kids, and then a five day cruise with the entire family, it would appear that she and Sharon were just simply lost without me, and they surreptitiously followed us from Florida, into Georgia, then South Carolina, and into North Carolina seeking reassurance and direction before the final and painful parting on I-40 as we turned toward Upper East Tennessee and they turned toward Knoxville.  Cyndi may have thanked me and said she could hug and kiss me for all the fun things we did.  I may have said she could kiss my….well, you get the point.

Our vacation adventures began when the kids and I left on Friday to drive to Orlando.  On Saturday, while the kids and I toured Sea World, Cyndi and Sharon drove from Knoxville to Orlando.  On Sunday, while we played at Disney, Joel preached in the morning service, then his brother drove him to Knoxville for a one-way late night flight to Orlando, where I picked Joel up after 11 p.m. from the airport.  On Monday morning, we all boarded the cruise ship.

On Saturday evening, as Cyndi, the kids and I drove to dinner in Downtown Disney, I heard one of the boys casually comment from the back seat, “oh, crap.”  I reflexively said, “Don’t say crap.”  And, then Sarah Grace, in her sweet but surgically incisive manner of speaking said “But Mom, you said that a lot yesterday when you were driving.”  I what?  I honestly didn’t recall that.  But, Cyndi, my front seat passenger and younger sister who is always at the ready to skewer me, encouraged her.  “Really, Sarah Grace?  What did your Mom say?”  Sarah Grace has a deadly knack for imitating people…her teachers, my mother, and apparently, me.  “Oh, she said ‘Crap, rain!’ and ‘Oh crap, traffic!’ and ‘Crap, you idiot driver!’ ”

Now, in my defense, the kids were angels during our twelve hour drive, and my vocabulary was angelic, at least until that last two hours in the car.  Before we left, I told the kids that there was only one of me and three of them on this adventure, and I needed them to put on their halos for the long trip ahead.  But, the last two hours were fraught with sporadic heavy storms coinciding with the entire Southern states’ mass pilgrimage into Orlando for Fall Break.  Traffic was intense and included several delays, while sudden bursts of rain from under-illuminated greenish-black clouds created slick roads littered with unpredictable drivers.  My anxiety level escalated, and it would seem that my vocabulary deteriorated, although I am glad my only offense was saying “crap”.  It could have been worse.

Cyndi seized the moment to inappropriately expand the kids’ lexicon.  She launched into an explanation of the phrase “crap-tastic”, a term the kids and I had never heard.  Cyndi offered examples and explained the requisite level of sarcasm and inflection needed.  Say you buy a cheap toy at the fair and it breaks on the way home, then you would say, “Well, that was crap-tastic”.  Noah immediately soaked in the use of this fun phrase and perfected the delivery.  Thanks a lot, Cyndi.  Aunt Cyn-deeee is beloved by her nephews and nieces for her fun-loving and mildly inappropriate teachings of which they know I will disapprove.

Our first night on the ship, our after dinner entertainment was an audience participation game-show in the ship’s two story theatre that seats about one thousand people.  Joel, Cyndi, and Sharon went to reserve seats while I took the kids to Camp Carnival.  I arrived slightly late to the show and found them sitting on the second row from the stage with the game already in progress.  I inconspicuously walked down the dark center aisle and slid into my seat among them.  The cruise director stood center stage under the hot spotlights and called out “Susan Cook, Cabin U107, come on up here!”  Huh?  Me?  Wrong name but right cabin number.  (Susan is a lovely name, but it is not my name.  Pet peeve.)  About then, Joel and Cyndi enthusiastically and conspiratorially nudged me out of my seat while saying (*wink wink*), “It’s you! It’s you! Go up there!  (I did not know they put my name in the hat during my brief absence.)

I uncertainly began up the stage’s center steps.  I knew this was a game of some sort, but I had not seen any of it yet.  The emcee said, “No, run back there!” and pointed to the back of the center aisle where the grand stairway to the balcony joined the theatre’s first floor.  Okay, I ran to where he pointed. The spotlight followed me.  “Now, run down here!”  Huh?  Oh, he means run down the center aisle slapping audience members’ hands, like in the Price is Right.  So, I ran.  Down the center aisle whooping and hollering.  And, ran up the steps and onto the stage.

I should mention that at this point, I had absolutely no idea what the contest was, but my competitive spirit kicked in and I was determined to win.  Two rolls of toilet paper sat on a table.  The cruise director called up another female contestant and two male contestants.  The gameshow was a mock up of Minute To Win It, and my challenge was to wrap my female partner in more toilet paper than our male opponents in the allotted time.  Oh, yes.  My mind began racing on how to do it.

If you have ever cruised, then you know it is impossible to walk in a straight line.  Ever.  The ship’s swaying and rolling causes unpredictable mild weaving as you walk, even when stone cold sober.  The drunks are highly entertaining on a ship, especially in high seas….was that me?  or the ship?…as you lurch about.  But, as I stood there on the swaying stage under the glaring lights, I calculated just how foolish I would look unsteadily running around my partner with the roll held on my two index fingers as a spool while I unwound cheap, thin, scratchy toilet paper around a total stranger from Georgia.  Never mind.  Silly or not, I was ALL IN.  I had a minute to win it!

Go! The buzzer sounded.  I bobbed and weaved in dizzying circles around my new friend as I wrapped her mummy style.  Ding ding ding!  We won!!  My roll of paper was about one-third slimmer than the men’s roll.

And, what pray tell, was the spectacular prize for this accomplishment?  Other than the fame and glory, of course, and other than the video of this contest that would loop all week on the ship’s closed circuit t.v.? It was a genuine- fake-gold- plastic-ship-on-a-stick.  It was mine.  All mine.  And you know what else?  It was positively crap-tastic!

Exchanging Words

There is a reason Words With Friends is called “With Friends” and not “With Spouses”. Why? Well, I will spell it out for you.

Words With Friends is a Scrabble-like app for smart devices.  The goal is to earn the most points by spelling words while maximizing letter placement upon strategically located double letter, triple letter, double word, and triple word spaces on the game board.  I have games underway with my sister, my sister’s partner, and my father at all times.  But, I can no longer play with Joel.  (Well, I say that, and then I slowly find my resolve weakening and another game in progress with Joel.  I must stay strong.)

Joel recently bragged to our neighbors that he “regularly thumped” me when we play Words With Friends. First, let’s just scale back the use of “thumping”.  The occasional win is not a thumping by any means.  And, “regularly” implies a degree of frequency that I most certainly do not concede.

I grew up in a game-playing family on my father’s side.  Grandparents, aunts and uncles, my father, and my sister.  Card games and board games of all variety.  And, along with good-natured competitiveness came mild trash-talking and one-upmanship across the table from all participants.  Really, could there be anything better than lobbing a zinger at Dad and getting away with it?  Oh, and that lopsided fake grin that Dad wore through clenched teeth when losing, but trying to act unruffled was always a bonus.

My paternal grandparents, Granddaddy and Grandma Sweet, played a two person card game, Spit, against each other, and they had a game in progress most all of the time. They sat facing each other at opposite ends of the pale celery green sofa in the living room with their discard pile in the middle of the center cushion, while a short haired cat lounged across the back of the sofa with its tail flipping lazily.  “Ah!”, one would say.  “Oh, you got me!”, the other would say.  “Hold on, let me get the beans off the stove.”   But, they shared between them a sweetness and security to the years of countless hands that they had played with each other as their exclusive opponent.  And, Grandma Sweet would routinely sit me in her lap while she worked the word scrambler or the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. So, I inherited the competitive genes, passed from them, to my father, then to me.

Now, my mother is a different story. She is as smart or smarter than the rest of us, but she wants everyone to be happy and have a good time.  Can’t we all just get along? Well, no actually. Dad, my sister, and I want to win. Having fun is incidental to winning.  We are three sharks–Dad is the Great White – and Mom is the minnow. None of us want Mom as a handicap on our team, bless her heart.  She can’t lie and she won’t strategize.  And quippy insults to an opponent?  No.  “Oh, that’s not nice.”  (Yes, she knows I just said all of that.  She is so sweet that she laughed and gave permission.)

Joel and I have not been married fifty years like my grandparents, and we haven’t mellowed out just yet when playing against each other.  Joel is a formidable opponent. Studying Greek and some Latin as part of his seminary training equipped him with a broad base of knowledge in word formation. Joel, the Man of God, loves people, even the most difficult ones to love.  But, he also loves to win.  He’ll sneak up, trounce you soundly, and grin while killing you softly behind that innocent pastoral demeanor.  Rook.  Dominoes.  Words with Friends.  He refuses to give up and determinedly works to squeeze out every letter for every last point. He is just as competitively natured as I am, but he disguises it better behind that broad-shouldered 6’4” teddy-bear exterior.

So, Joel and I start a new game.  And, then I hear the scwhing tone on my iPad which signifies he played a new word. Sometimes he is in another room of the house when we play or sometimes we are lying in bed next to each other, each hiding our iPhone or iPad screen so that our letter trays aren’t revealed. (Yes, exciting stuff, the working parents of three. We are in bed. Too tired to do anything but play Words with Friends.)

But, it is his rumbling chuckle and mischievous “oh, you’re not going to like this” that he says when he makes a devastatingly high point word that ignites a slow burn in me.  You’re right. I don’t. And, so for the sake of marital harmony, I declared I wouldn’t play him anymore. I lose occasionally to my sister or her partner, or my father, but I don’t have to kiss them goodnight and sleep next to them.

Schwing.  Darn it! Joel just made a word and I hear him chortling in the other room. Now let’s see….how many points is D-I-V-O-R-C-E?