Begging For Bacon

As mothers all around the country prepare the traditional Thanksgiving turkey, side dishes, and desserts, we here in the Cook household are more concerned with the pursuit of an untraditional and different delicacy altogether.  All because of a teensy little white lie.

Our son, Noah, is a finicky eater.  We don’t really know why, but even as an itty bitty infant, we had to tickle the palms of his feet and blow on his face to accomplish a complete bottle feeding.  Nine years later, meal times still frustrate us.  Not him, but definitely us.  Joel, who has never met a meal he didn’t like, has threatened to have him DNA tested to be sure he really is a Cook.

Additionally, Noah fancies himself as an outdoorsman.  He has a bow and arrow with a practice target, a Red Ryder BB gun (yes, I have warned him he’ll put his eye out), a Wii big game hunter game, a pellet gun, and camouflage clothing galore.  He actually shot a bird at some distance off our back deck this summer.  And, although I hoped that he would be saddened by the bird plummeting from the tree to the grass, it only encouraged him.  Even Granddaddy telling him about shooting a bird in his youth with his BB gun and his father mournfully telling him, “Now we’ll never hear that bird sing again” did not deter Noah from dreaming of future hunting glory and bigger game conquests.

One night earlier this summer Joel heard Noah and a friend playing the Wii game and heard them whooping and hollering that they shot a wild boar.  When Joel fixed breakfast the next morning of eggs and bacon, Noah piddled around until Joel suddenly, and believing himself to be oh so clever, said that this wasn’t just any bacon, no, it was wild boar bacon.   Plain bacon?  Not interested.  Wild Boar Bacon?  Ravaged within minutes.

Only one small problem with that first stretching of the truth:  does such a dish even exist?  Now multiple breakfasts have gone by and the wild boar bacon fudging continues.  Noah eats it with gusto.  Joel hedges and says that he isn’t sure if the grocery store will have it in stock.  Noah asks expectantly and hopefully every morning, “Dad, is this the wild boar bacon?”  And, Joel, for whom truth is paramount–see the The Ninth Commandment — finds himself stuck in a trap, a steel claw trap around the ankle of his integrity from which he can not escape.

Until tonight.  One of Joel’s friends posted on Facebook that her husband has returned from a deer hunt.  The husband did not shoot any deer, but is returning triumphantly with a wild boar.  Joel posted right away to her hoping to secure bacon, and acknowledging the problem he has created, which I have typed below exactly as the posts appear on Facebook:

“Mary:  And so Leo is on his way home with ‘no big buck’ but he did get a wild boar! Ugh!!! What to do???  He thinks this should excite me as much as it did him….Not!

Joel:  I need wild boar bacon.  No joke.  Noah was playing a hunting game several months ago in which he shota wild boar.  In an effort to encourage him to eat I told him the bacon I was cooking was wild boar bacon.  Now he thinks he is one of the few people who have ever had wild boar.  I’ve got to get him some actual wild boar now.  What a tangled web we weave.”

Yes, darling.  What a tangled web.  Good luck with that. That trap looks a little rusty.

How Embarrassing

Sarah Grace has taken ballet since she was three, and we waited until she was three only because that was the youngest age the ballet school would accept students.  When she was two she began saying, “I want to be a bow-a-weena” after seeing her first ballet.  She is now seven.

As part of the ballet school, she participates in the annual production of The Nutcracker.  (Plug here:  It is a wonderfully produced show, and is quite professional in its presentation while utilizing mostly local talent.)  This year however, the show needed a few extra men to portray guests and parents in the party scene, and now Joel is signed up to wear a tuxedo and play along.

All of which has Sarah Grace genuinely upset.  “But, he’ll embarrass me!”  Upon hearing that Daddy would be in The Nutcracker, she burst into quiet tears, and begged him not to do it.  I have reassured her that Daddy won’t actually dance, and he will just be the equivalent of human scenery.  But, her fears were not assuaged.  “But, he doesn’t even know what a plie is!  And, he can’t act!”

Unfortunately, Joel tried tonight to prove to her that he could act.  She told him that he would have to act scared of the godfather.  So, Joel genuinely tried to make a scared face.  Instead, he unintentionally reaffirmed her doubts.  “Dad, that’s why I’m going to be embarrassed!” And, she lamented that he hasn’t been to even a single practice yet and there are only a certain number of practices left before the early December shows.  Never mind that he only needs to know when to walk on and walk off for a total of one scene, Sarah Grace is mortified that he will destroy her turn at ballet stardom.

Fortunately, she does not know about Joel’s brief, but memorable attempt at modern dancing.  Several years ago, married friends of ours relayed a story that involved a different friend of theirs also named Joel.  The wife, who was friends with the other Joel, told her husband that the other Joel–who is different in temperament and orientation than our Joel—had taken up modern dance and was quite excited about it.  The husband, thinking she meant our Joel, was puzzled and just couldn’t envision Joel adopting such a hobby.  Even though his wife reassured him that Joel was enthused about it, the husband finally said, “Joel COOK?” At that point, they each realized that she meant the other Joel while he thought she meant our Joel.

Our friends told us this story just before coming to visit us.  And, Joel’s mind began to whirl.  He dragged out his old waist to heel spandex work-out tights and tried them on. But, they aren’t just a solid color.  Nope.  They are black with green, turquoise, and purple geometric shapes with a occasional red stripe thrown in for visual effect.  Oh, and what an effect it is.  Joel has kindly modeled them in the picture below:

Joel is almost 6’4″, and his frame is best described as broad shouldered wtih large biceps, balanced on top of long, skinny legs.  The tights starkly accentuate the contrast between his upper half and the lower half.  When our friends rang the doorbell, Joel came out wearing only the tights….no t-shirt, no shoes….and leapt non-artistically across the foyer in his worst imitation of a jete with his arms flailing above his head.  Feigning surprise he said, “Oh, sorry!  You caught me practicing my modern dance!“  Our friends were shocked, of course.  They had never seen this side, nor this much of Joel.  And, clearly he couldn’t dance, modern or otherwise.

Yes, Sarah Grace.  Come to think of it, you are right to be worried.  Now I’m a little embarrassed too.

The Potty Truck

When I began college, my parents moved into their newly custom-built house.  My mother took particular pride in her new, and almost child-free, home.  (My sister was a sophomore in high-school when they built it.)   I came home one weekend late in my Freshman year to study for my French final.  On Saturday, I had the house to myself because my parents and sister left for a day in the mountains.  I hated French…and if I knew how to say that in French today, I would.  I felt confined and cooped up, and maybe I was just a little resentful of studying while they were out enjoying the world.

So, I decided to drive just down the hill to a nearby fast-food restaurant for take-out.  However, this meant that I would need to back Dad’s Cutlass Oldsmobile out of the garage.  I did not have my own car at that point in life, and the marigold colored Oldsmobile was my only option.  Cautiously, I began backing out.

Unfortunately, I was not cautious enough.  I caught the right front bumper on the garage door frame, and swiftly thereafter, the garage door wooden framing separated from the brick, and the garage door track crumpled together so that I couldn’t even lower the automatic door.  This was a horrible turn of events and I knew that Mom would have a hissy fit of major proportions upon hearing my confession.

I had not yet met the neighbors across the street.  But, the man of the house was home and outside.  After a brief introduction and an awkward description of what I had just done, he gave me a mallet with a large rubber head, and I trudged alone back to the garage to hammer away at the track so that at least the door would be down when they arrived home.

They arrived home after an eternity, and without much French being learned.  I inhaled deeply and went out to face the executioner.  Suffice it to say that Mom reacted as I had predicted.  “I can never have anything nice without you girls ruining it!  My new house!  Jo! Jo, look at what she has done to my new house!”  Dad stood silently as he surveyed the damage to both his car and the garage and only pursed his lips while wearing a look of quiet consternation.

But, as we all know, what goes around comes around.  Or, in our case, goes downhill.

We moved into our present house when the boys were two and a half and Sarah Grace was one.   Although we didn’t custom build it, we were the first owners and were very blessed and proud to have moved into the house we envisioned living in for many years to come.

We never were fortunate as parents to have late sleepers. 5 a.m. anyone? And, always up by 6 a.m. no matter what. Weekend, weekday, or holiday, our children were no respecters of our need for sleep. Up early meant outside early too. So, any given morning there were three little ones in the driveway on tri-cycles or just toddling around.

One Monday morning in July, about eleven weeks after moving in, I left for the office while Joel stayed home with the children. Mondays are Joel’s day off and this was just another routine summer Monday. Kisses! Love you! Have a great day!

At precisely 8:47 a.m., my office phone rang. I stood at my desk, drinking my first cup of coffee when the caller i.d. showed our home number. I answered and Joel, in a voice and tone I’d never heard before (the strained tone of I-am-just-trying-to-hold-it-together) said, “The kids are fine. A truck hit our house. It is bad. You have to come home.”

The route between our house and my office follows a curvy, hilly rural two-lane road named after a local creek. Much like a creek’s path, this road bobs and weaves with only a center line dividing the lanes, several blind spots, a cell phone dead spot or two, and often no shoulder for comfort. Joel called me en route.

Joel: Who is going to call 911?

Me:   Um, what do you mean 911? YOU are! You are home and I am driving! And, why do we need 911?

What an absurd question to ask who would call 911? Had he lost his senses? Perhaps, just perhaps, I wasn’t as sweet as I should have been when answering his question.  What on earth was going on?

Our house sits in the back of the neighborhood at the end of a cul-de-sac. Importantly, our street is a double cul-de-sac and the street slopes fairly significantly at the top from the other cul-de-sac all the way down to us at the rock bottom. I approached the critical point in the roadway where our house first became visible, and I suddenly understood the full import of the situation. A truck didn’t just hit our house, it went through our house! And, it wasn’t a truck.  It was a tanker!  And there it sat rammed in our garage.

This wasn’t just any tanker though. Oh, no. Not at all. This tanker emptied and collected the human waste from porta-potties on construction sites. A house was under construction at the top of our street and the bright blue porta-potty sat on the sidewalk up the street from us. We had seen this truck and its driver on several occasions.

But, on this fateful morning, when the driver hopped out of his tanker to connect a hose to the porta-potty, he failed to engage the brakes and scotch the wheels. And, gravity took it from there. Down, down, down the hill the truck blazed. The driver’s attempt to jump in the cab failed. The truck raced backwards down the street, then jack-knifed backwards and jumped the curb–still backwards, plowed down a sizeable tree in our front yard – still backwards, went through our landscaping –backwards, of course, and backwards through the front of our garage where a city molded plastic trash bin wedged between Joel’s Suburban and the tanker to put an end to the carnage. Good God Almighty! Shit really does flow downhill.

Inside the house, Joel felt and heard a large thud and perceived the house shaking. An earthquake maybe? His quandary was quickly interrupted by the truck driver pounding on the door. Are you okay in there? Huh? Joel opened the door to the bizarre scene and a panicked driver, and walked straight to the phone to call me.

Joel and the kids stood outside in the driveway as I exited my car. An angry swarm of yellow jackets flew around our yard and driveway. The bees were much more upset about their nest being destroyed than we were about our house because on this morning, the first morning ever, the boys slept late. Samuel was asleep in bed (directly over the point of impact) when the truck struck the house, and Joel was dancing in the den with Sarah Grace while Noah was just rousing. They were not in the driveway this morning.

The truck driver frantically repeated to me, “I thought I killed your kids!” He had seen them in the driveway on other trips to empty that toilet. The crash was so loud that neighbors who were home heard it and stepped onto their front porches to see what happened.

Within minutes, fire trucks and policemen arrived. Natural gas, water, and electricity were shut off to prevent further disasters. Firemen made us evacuate the house while they and others conducted structural assessments. Our contractor began shoring up the load bearing corner of the house that had just been obliterated. And, I prayed fervently “Lord, please do not let that tanker leak.”

While standing outside with three confused toddlers among buzzing bees, a shell-shocked husband, astonished neighbors, one hysterical truck driver, and multiple emergency personnel, Noah sweetly asked “Mommy, why did the potty truck hit our house?”

Yes, our new house.  Oh, Mom.  Now I know how you felt.

That Could Kill You

Growing up, our father, a doctor, made house calls on patients and worried at night about them including late night phone calls to their homes just to assure himself that they were recovering.  But, at home with us, barely anything ever qualified as being sick, let alone sick enough, to merit serious consideration.  Dad’s philosophy and famous sayings to us were (and still are):

1.) “Suck it up, you aren’t sick.”

2.) “Bleeding always stops.”

3.) “You’ll live.”

“You’ll live” was his go-to phrase, and applied beyond physical ailments.  Minor life disappointments also fell under the you’ll live umbrella.  (Dad also said, “you go where the driver goes”, “if frogs had wings”, and “we’ll see.”  All of which could be the subject of a separate post.)

As for our complaints of maladies, the general pattern was more along the lines of:  Fever?  Don’t even bring it up until you are sweating as if you are in the Sahara desert.  Coughing?  Go to a different room where he couldn’t hear you and just deal with it.  Headache?  It will pass.  Sore throat?  He occasionally used his tongue depressor and the flashlight to look in our throats, then palpate our neck glands, before declaring, “Suck it up, you aren‘t sick.”  These phrases also conveyed with them the unspoken credo of not missing school or other obligations due to inconsequential complaints.  Go forth, work hard, and be productive.

This is not to say that Dad didn’t express love and concern for us, because he did.  But, Dad rarely saw a looming disaster, and minor ailments were just that – so minor that they were trivial and not to be worried over.  He applied these principles to himself as well, and I can recall only two times in his now seventy years where he was ill:  once when his eye was seriously injured by a tennis ball and once when his white cell count mysteriously dropped to near fatal levels.  So, because of Dad’s outlook, if he ever declared you to be ill, then, by golly, you were in bad shape.

On the other hand, if Dad was a minimalist, then Mom was a fatalist.  Mom, a nurse, subscribed heavily to the certainty of imminent death.  Mom was years ahead of the reality t.v. show “A Thousand Ways to Die” in envisioning how the end will happen.  But, mostly, Mom extrapolated from the most minor of events straight to the worst possible outcome.  A cold was merely the first step to pneumonia.  An abrasion was the opening for a nasty staph infection.  A fever was the gateway to seizures.  A stomach ache was undiagnosed appendicitis.  And, so on.

My father, sister, and I who were just a tad dismissive and cynical of her doomsday outlook developed a habit of sardonically saying, both to her and laughingly behind her back, “That could kill you.”  Which, Mom laughed at but ignored.  She knew she was right, even if we mocked her.  As Mom saw it, the Grim Reaper’s feet were propped up on our coffee table, his hooded cloak hung in the coat closet, and his scythe rested in the umbrella stand by the front door in the foyer.  Mom was the sort of parent that if she was cold, then we had to put on a coat.  If we were driving on the interstate, at full speed, our doors had to be locked just in case a super-human reprobate tried to run up beside us, hi-jack our car, and kidnap us.  (We called this inconceivable hypothetical criminal Fifty-Five Mile Per Hour Man, and much like Big Foot we never saw him, but our mother‘s belief in him was unnaturally strong.)

One weekend we took our toddler sons and infant daughter, my sister, and Mom and Dad to the lake for a family picnic.  As the boys teetered out of the mini-van, one of the boys turned and stuck his hand in the doorway just as the automatic sliding passenger door began closing.  The door mechanism contained a safety feature to prevent smashing little ones’ hands.  But what did Mom say?  No, not a gentle warning.  Mom screamed, “STOP! YOU‘LL CUT YOUR ARM OFF!”

And, well…that could kill you.  Or, as Dad would see it, since you would still have one good arm, suck it up, you aren’t sick and you’ll live.  Who needs two arms anyway?  And, eventually all bleeding stops.

The Lord’s Prayer

“WE’RE GOING TO CHURCH, DAMN-IT!”*  My father, although generally mild-tempered and slow to be provoked, and not prone to cursing, occasionally said these words circa the early to mid-1980’s during our Sunday morning drives to church.  We only lived twenty minutes from church, so it was always surprising that in just ten to fifteen minutes of family togetherness in the Cutlass Oldsmobile on the Lord’s day that none of us were in the proper frame of mind for worshipping.  Or, come to think of it, perhaps we were precisely in the right frame of mind after all since we all needed to pray and repent for our sins, including those of just that morning.  Pretty much by the time we reached the stoplight at one particular intersection, we all sat in silence as my sister and I ceased bickering once Dad erupted.

Last night a neighbor told me that her four-year old son knew The Lord’s Prayer (which they call the “Our Father“) and could say it all by himself.   Her son was very proud and excited to say it in their service this weekend, and she was beaming with joy for him.  I shared in her joy.  But, I began to wonder if my three children knew it.

We changed churches and denominations mid-summer 2012.  In our prior denomination, we said The Lord’s Prayer occasionally.  In our new church, we say it and the Doxology every Sunday, which I enjoy.  Most Sundays Joel drives separately and earlier, so the kids and I are in the car together for a thirty minute drive.  So, on the drive to church this morning, I saw an opportunity to review the prayer with the children and to explain the meaning of the components of the prayer.

Cheerfully and optimistically, I asked, “Who knows The Lord’s Prayer and can say it by themselves?”  Noah said, “I can!”  Sarah Grace said, “I think I can!”  And, Samuel, sitting in the far back row of the SUV remained mute.  I thought back to one afternoon when the boys were about four years old that Noah volunteered, “Daddy, I love Jesus.”   To which Samuel replied dryly, “Well, I don’t like him.”  And, Joel rolled with laughter as he impressed upon Samuel that yes, indeed, he did love Jesus.  So, I was not surprised that Noah knew the prayer and Samuel didn’t.

We proceeded to say the prayer together, and then to take turns saying it.  Noah knew it perfectly.  Sarah Grace said “Our Father, hell-ed be your name….”  No, Hell is not a topic in this prayer.  We straightened out hallowed versus hell-ed.  But, primarily within minutes our discussion became a round-robin cacophony of bickering and accusations among the children, particularly as they ganged up on Samuel.  “That isn’t what it says!  Duh!”  “Leave me alone!”  “You don’t know it!”  “I do too!”  “Nuh-uh, so if you know it then say it!”  “I know what a trespass is and you are trespassing against me!”

Suddenly very angry and in my decaffeinated state, I raised my voice, “STOP IT!  JUST QUIT IT NOW!  WE WILL JUST SAY IT WHEN WE ARE IN CHURCH!” They sat in silence and stared out the windows for the rest of the drive.  I silently prayed:

Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.  And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  And, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil:  For Thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory, forever.

Oh, and we’re going to church, damn-it.  Amen.

*Footnote:  My father thinks that if he ever said that, then it was in a sarcastic, dark-humored way meant to impress upon us the need to behave.  But, he isn’t exactly denying that he said it.  🙂

Afternoon Delight: A True Horror Story

Since it is Halloween, I will tell a true-life horror story.

During college I lived on-campus, but I came home regularly to wash clothes, eat home-cooked meals, study, and just hang out with Mom and Dad. Although Mom and Dad built a custom home just before I started college, and this house wasn’t my childhood home, they did build a small bedroom for me and they gave me a key to come and go freely. That worked pretty well until one horrifying afternoon when my eyeballs were seared with an image that I can’t forget, even now.

I have written before about my mother’s “assets”. My father makes no secret of his love and admiration of his wife (46 years now and counting), and her physical proportions. And, growing up, Mom and Dad kissed and hugged each other routinely in our presence, often causing my sister and me to groan and roll our eyes. Really, when you are a teenager, who wants to consider their parents doing “it”? Especially when “it” is generally still a mystery other than perhaps a basic health class or two. Even the frankly clinical birds and bees discussion with the aid of the World Book Encyclopedia plastic multi-page overlay colored illustrations delivered one afternoon in the family room by my mother, without me even asking for such knowledge, did not clear up the mystery. And applying such information to our parents, well, blecchh.

One spring afternoon I came home to do laundry and hang out. Mom and I whiled away the afternoon. My laundry was finished and folded just about the time Oprah came on, about 4 p.m. Dad wouldn’t be home from his office until about 5:30 p.m., and I had other things to do on campus. So, I left. I drove away, and just down the street I remembered I had left something or another at the house. I turned around and pulled into the half-circle driveway, bounded up the front steps, and used my key to open the front door and step into the foyer. I had only been gone five minutes, and certainly not as many as ten minutes.

My mother, hearing the door open, stepped into the foyer. Except that Mom wasn‘t expecting me. She was expecting someone else. She emerged from the hallway and upon seeing me she was not happy, not happy at all, to greet me in the foyer. “SUZY, WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?” My mother was now wearing a floor length black negligee with an extremely plunging neckline. Extremely. This was not Oprah watching attire. I left her in house clothes and came back mere minutes later to find Elvira, Mistress of the Dark right there in suburbia. Stunned, I could only stammer, “Um, um….what are you doing? I mean, I was just here.” Mom vaguely stuttered something about she expected Dad home early and I had to leave immediately.  She was slightly frantic when she said “immediately”.

I left even quicker than immediately. I do not know whether their afternoon was delightful or not, but my afternoon was quite disturbing.


The children and I each have an iPad.  The iPads were birthday and Christmas gifts for the children.  Joel and I performed a cost-benefit analysis of the financial investment for three iPads for the children versus the emotional toll on us for moderating bickering among them if we expected them to share one iPad.  Trust me, we made the right decision.  Peace reigns.  At least when it comes to iPads.

But, the iPad phenomenon meant that I, as the technological guru in the house, set up the iPads and iTunes account, and I oversee all updates and app installations for the kids.  I thought, until tonight, that I had done a pretty good job so far.  I disabled their access to You Tube.  I limited their access to the internet.  I monitored the game apps and nothing bloody, gory, or horribly violent is allowed. I downloaded books and educational apps for them.  I password protected the update and app installation feature.  Metaphorically, I patted myself on the back.  Way to go, Suz!

But, someone should have warned me to protect them from me.  Specifically, from my texts.  I text regularly with many people, but most of all with Joel and my sister, Cyndi.  Tonight while in an after-work board meeting, I texted Joel a mild and succinct gripe which reflected my irritation with the hour and the length of the meeting.  I left home at 7:40 a.m. this morning and returned home for the first time at 9:30 p.m.  I expected Joel to text back a sympathetic virtual hug.

What I received instead was a text that sent the cold, clammy sweats down my spine accompanied by a racing heart and mind.

“Hi guys.  I mean from Samuel.  Hi.  It keeps showing me the messages you give each other.”

Holy texts!  Why is my nine-year old son texting me a reply to what I texted Joel?  And, if he saw that text, then what other texts has he read between us or between me and who else?  In the recesses of my mind, it dawned on me that my iPad and the kids’ iPads share one iTunes account and I have had to manually edit certain things off their iPads such as books or magazines to which I subscribe, or game apps of theirs from mine.  Did this mean that our texts were shared among all four iPads?

Yes.  Yes, it did.  I came home and immediately snatched up all the iPads and there were my texts with Joel and with my sister.  ALL OF THEM.  Some not appropriate for children.  If the texts were movies, they would not necessarily be G or even PG-13 rated, especially the sarcastic swagger and bravado traded during game play on Word with Friends with my sister.  Some texts were boring and mundane stuff like where are you, do you have the kids, and here is the grocery list.  But, some were flirtatious exchanges between spouses, some were funny insults traded between sisters, some were of an annoyed wife to a husband, and NONE of them were intended for our children.

I felt naked. Exposed.  The curtain was pulled back like the Wizardof Oz to Dorothy.  Samuel saw the hand in the puppet.  I figured out how to delete all the texts and turn off the message feature on the kids’ iPads.  Now, how do I erase their memories?


“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?

The Good Stuff

Noah had oral surgery this week. The surgery was performed under general anesthesia because the surgeon had to cut open the roof of his mouth and extract a set of unerupted extra teeth.   The surgeon explained to us that it was a little bit harder than expected and that Noah would be very sore for a couple of days.  He strongly emphasized that we should give Noah the hydrocodone syrup he prescribed.

Noah experienced intense pain almost immediately after groggily climbing into the car and our drive home was twenty minutes of agony, for him physically, and me emotionally.  Meanwhile, Joel went to Walgreen’s to fill the prescription. (We had both been at the surgery center and were now dividing and conquering.)  We dosed Noah within minutes of arriving home.

We settled Noah into the recliner with a pillow and blankets, his favorite show on the t.v., and an iced tea next to him on the coffee table.  His tears subsided and we crashed after having maintained cheerful façades of not being worried, despite being worried.  Both of us have seen and experienced first hand the “risks” of surgery, personally and professionally.  And, Noah is our worrier and he had been quite tense in the days leading up to the surgery.  We trusted our surgeon, but letting our son roll down the hall away from us on a stretcher to a room full of strangers was harder than we dared think about, much less say out loud.

About thirty minutes after taking the hydrocodone, Noah, who by now was loopier than a rollercoaster, sat straight up and slurred woozily, “Mom, this medicine is SO GOOD!”  He climbed out of the recliner and began wobbling around the family room while holding his mug of iced tea like an alcoholic clutching a flask.  He was so unsteady that we told him not to walk up or down the stairs.

But, the entertaining part to an otherwise stressful day, was that Noah made for a sweet and happy drunk who repeated himself to us over and over.  And over again.  “Mom, thank you for …….Dad, thank you for …….Boy, this medicine is GOOD.  Mom, thank you for……Dad, thank you for…..Boy, this medicine is GOOD.  Mom, thank you for…..Dad, thank you for….Boy, this medicine is GOOD!”

Yes, it is good.  Good medicine, good outcome, and our good humored little boy.