Taghumor

Perchance to Dream

I’m having some difficulty sleeping. Oh, blame it on the heat, or my propensity for drinking coffee until very late at night, but I have another theory. I’m a night owl by nature; I get bursts of inspiration and tend to do my best thinking sometime after midnight, so on a typical night, the rest of my family is already in dreamland when I finally stumble up to bed (this solitary time may account for the timing of my inspiration, but there you go). Only the dogs snooze by my side or underfoot waiting for me to call it a day.

We have one behemoth of an air conditioner that we use to cool the downstairs during the worst of the heat, and one small, ancient, horrifically noisy little beast, sufficient for cooling a single room. In keeping with the wisdom of the airline industry, we put this in the parents’ bedroom. We don’t want moms overheating now, do we? So, on a hot night, this thing goes through its cycles:

rattle rattle rat tattattattattattat rattlerattle griiind griiind griiiiiind rattlerattle ka-chunk! ROAR ROAR ROAR GRIND GRIND ROAR KA-CHUNK! rattle rattle…..

Add to this, that my beloved snores. Twenty five years ago, it was a small, cute sort of noise that was in a way reassuring. Over the years, it has morphed into a great, monstrous symphony of snorks, gurgles, and noises that sound like a balloon deflating, and something reptilian trapped in a drain. Nor are they in the least bit rhythmic, in which case it might be possible to adapt. No, each sound is new, unexpected and guaranteed to jolt one from any light sleep one might have achieved through the previous assault. I use earplugs when  I’m not expected to wake to an alarm but as I am the one who drives the kids wherever they need to be in the morning, that’s not often.

Years it took to get the kids to stop sleeping in our bed whenever they feel like it (pretty much always) but it took only a single 90o night to move them back in. With them, of course, come favorite pillows, stuffed animals, hardcover books, tomorrow’s outfit and today’s stinky cast offs — arrayed as though shot from a concert canon. Both kids fling bony limbs every which way, earning my son with the adolescent-boy joints the nickname “ankle-osaurus”. So we dragged in a twin mattress and told them to make the best of it. The other night, my daughter discovered that the dog bed was infinitely more comfortable than sharing space with her brother.

Now we can’t reach the bed without a half-twisting vault from the doorway only ever attempted by Nadia Comaneci in the 1975 Olympic trials. It is not possible to reach the closet by any means at all. And there we have it: beastly AC, symphony of snores; books, clothes, bedding, and mattress on the floor, one kid on said mattress, another kid on the dog bed. This, I suspect, may be at the root of my insomnia.

The other night I climbed the stairs, performed the vault from the doorway… and landed squarely on a dog. A 70-pound dog whose startled yelp woke the dog occupying my pillow. As I retreated back off the bed, I stepped on the cat. I gave up, went back downstairs, put some Bactine on my cat scratches, and dropped onto the couch.

And can I just say, that is one comfortable couch.

 

Mashed Potatoes and Twigs

There is a phrase that I find so hysterically funny that merely uttering it in my presence will cause me to go into convulsions of helpless laughter; the breath leaves my lungs, my face spasms, something seismic rolls through me and I can’t stop. It can go on and on — waves of laughter — for upward of fifteen minutes. Look at me funny at any point during an episode and it can start all over.

For years, this was my private talisman against depression, for which I have been treated on and off all my adult life. I have heard of classes where participants gather round and force themselves to laugh in order to harvest the benefits attributed to laughter. While the image itself is pretty funny, the concept doesn’t work for me. I need a prop. Mine is “mashed potatoes and twigs”. Yes, there’s a story behind it. No, it’s not important nor would knowing it make it work for you. It’s mine. You’ll have to get your own.

Ours is a competitive family. Any pretext will do, with any commodity as the spur – the computer, the TV, the couch, attention, praise, whatever – but the ultimate competition is to defeat mom at something. My kids have tried unsuccessfully for years to beat me at “Poor Pussy”* This is a game in which each participant in turn tries to make “It” laugh or at least crack a smile by…meowing. Creatively. You get three meows after each of which, “It” — in order to demonstrate her unbroken composure — must solemnly pat the “kitty” on the head and say with a straight face, “poor pussy”. So exceptionally stoic am I, that my mouth has never once so much as twitched and it drives the kids absolutely spare.

Also in vain, they have tried to find my ticklish spots. The truth is, I’m ticklish all over but I take a peculiar, petty pride in thwarting them so through sheer competitive will, I remain blasé.You could say I was asking for it. It was inevitable that my Achilles heel would one day be exposed. When it happened, the kids looked on in delighted awe as Ima went completely to pieces, and they filed away this precious piece of knowledge.

The relationship between parents and kids is an inherently unequal one. Parents are bigger, of course, but we also hold the ultimate authority over bedtime, allowance, chores, play dates, media habits, transportation… pretty much everything. Kids wield a kind of soft power, chiefly in the form of tantrums and selective hearing, but it does little to alleviate their general sense of powerlessness. Let a kid get his hands on a weapon of this magnitude though, and it’s a game-changer. Over the next few months, the kids deployed it without mercy, again and again. I had kids sneaking up behind me, popping out of doorways, looming over me in the mornings, creeping over my shoulder in the car, shouting that magic phrase. Such power!

Toward the end (you saw this coming, right?), the tremors grew milder, the laughs less loud until one day… nothing. Thud. The pool had been fished out. If I was despondent, my kids were horrified. They reacted as though they had been responsible for the death of a small helpless animal. I reassured them that these things have a shelf life, they don’t live forever (and refrained from pointing out that they may have hastened its death). For a time, they’d take the occasional little stab at resuscitating it, as though the problem may simply have been one of delivery. But no luck. We sort of buried it in the backyard and moved on.

This was all at least a couple of years ago and while I’ll never be characterized as an optimist, I’m at least hopeful about life; as I wrote this and got to remembering my little phrase and the day it came into my life, I got tears in my eyes. From laughing.

*props to Mary Voors for introducing me to this game nearly 30 years ago.

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