As an adult, the childhood moments we laugh about most with our parents are the moments where we were sure they would have killed us had they been able to hide the bodies. I think this is because at its core, the moment is built on hysteria–first anger, then laughter. There is one story in particular that make my brothers and I laugh until we can’t breathe.
In order to find this funny, you have to understand my father. Vacations with him were best likened to triathlons. Only the fittest and psychologically strong individuals survived. There were no sick breaks. Montezuma’s Revenge? As a physician he felt confident in giving you a near lethal dosage Pepto Bismal, which had the added benefit of constipating you for the rest of the vacation and thereby sparing him those inconvenient 5 minute bathroom breaks. Car sick? Roll down the window and pray the puke doesn’t fly back in your face. We didn’t count on sleep, either. No matter where the locale, we were always up at the crack of dawn to catch some obscure 14 hour bus tour. If there was a monument, a ruin, a landmark, or a frayed ball of twine of some significance, there is a picture of me, my mom, and my brothers standing in front of it looking exhausted.
True to form, our family vacation in Hawaii amount to us touring all the islands in 10 days. We stopped at every beach, peered down every volcano, and sampled every pu-pu platter from Kona to Kuai. One day dad decided to visit some beach that was particularly important for some reasons that allude me now. As usual, dad encouraged us to observe all the native plants and read all the markers lining the path to the beach. We were 9, 6, and 3; we couldn’t care less about some waca-caca plant dating back to the Mesozoic era and my mom, charged with taking care of the lot of us, didn’t care, either. We kept walking, but eventually the weight of Catholic guilt forced us to stop a few yards down the path and watch him read dutifully the history of the great waca-caca plant.
And read it he did. From beginning to end, he read every last sentence while shouldering the weight of an ice chest, a beach umbrella, 4 beach bags, a boogie board, a pail, and two shovels. He looked like John Candy in Summer Rental.
There we were, my mom, my brothers, and I, looking back at him in apathy. Shoulders slumped, dejected and beaten, we stood there as he read out loud all the critical information we were missing regarding the waca-caca plant from 10 yards away. Finally, finally, he made a move towards us–towards the beach. But something on the marker caught his eye, and he turned back briefly. It was a move that would live on in infamy, because while his head turned back his feet kept moving. If he had been staring ahead instead of at the marker, he would have noticed his Hawaiian flip-flop shod foot was perched on the edge of a craggly, sandy step. He would have known to step down and not out. But alas, he was thinking about waca-caca and had no idea he was about to eat shit.
He did the splits and bounced back up like a toy soldier in The Nutcracker. He fell backwards, but thought quickly and used the beach umbrella as a pole-vault. Unfortunately, he put all his weight into that vault and succeeded only in launching his sherpa-like body two feet forward. He twisted and turned, the centrifugal force of the beach bags and ice chest keeping him in place while above his head the pail and shovels flew towards freedom. It was choreographed chaos, and it was over in ten seconds.
We stared back at him, amazed at his agility; he never fell, and never dropped so much as a grain of sand. Inside my belly a chuckle started to form. My mom snorted. My brothers stole a glance at each other and said simply, “Whoa.”
My dad, on the other hand, was not amused. Just seconds ago he was pirouetting across lava rock and he had to save face. He contorted his red face into a mask of anger and growled between bared, clenched teeth, “HOT DAMN, WILL YOU GUYS HURRY UP?!”
My mom, now shaking under the strain of hiding her laughter couldn’t help but point out smugly, “But we’re ahead of you.”
No longer interested in the waca-caca plant, my dad stormed off towards the beach while my brothers and I imitated his near fall again and again down the path to the beach all the while wiping tears of laughter from our eyes. We couldn’t stop laughing, and 16 years we are still laughing. The only difference is that now my dad joins us; it’s one of his favorite stories.
A while back I was thinking of this story and tried to imagine what story Mikey and Nicholas would share years from now at the expense of the Mister and I. I can only imagine what piece of family history will make them laugh decades later. In keeping with this thought and my desire to document as much of their childhood as I can without scrapbooking, I’ve started taking pictures of those moments where I debate putting the boys on the curb next to our recycling. Invariably, by the time I get my camera I am already cooled off enough to see the humor in whatever it was that had me infuriated moments earlier.
It doesn’t always work, and I won’t even bother trying it for big transgressions when they are older, but it certainly worked on Thursday afternoon when I walked outside the office to find Nicholas playing “paleontologist” under Mikey’s direction. The planter beds were all but destroyed, empty of every last piece of green. Dirt strewn two feet in every direction and Mikey, clean as a whistle, imploring that Nico “dig deeper” for fossils. And dig he did.
I pulled him out of the flowerbed and yelled at the sight of our destroyed garden. Then I remembered: this might be it. This might be the story we laugh at 16 years from now. So I put him down and ran into the office for my camera. Nicholas resumed the dig, and I started living in the moment, only stopping when he started eating rocks.