20: A Class Act

20: A Class Act

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: All in the Family

A Class Act

Insanity is hereditary—you get it from your kids.

~Sam Levenson

There are certain hard truths you must face as you get older. You will never be a movie star, for example. You are not as nice or as smart as you would like to think. That pear-shaped lump following you around is actually your tush. Here is the hard truth I have had to face recently: My family will never be a class act. I had always expected that my family would be elegant, charming, and witty. Somehow, I had this idea that my child would be wise and knowing and mature, and that we’d have lovely, quiet evenings playing cribbage or discussing foreign films. It has occurred to me that I have landed in a different country altogether.

This fact was brought home to me during a trip that my husband, son, and I took a while ago to Washington, D.C. with my sister and her family. I envisioned inspiring visits to museums and government buildings, enlightening discussions during which the face of my precious son, Levi, then five years old, would light up with the excitement of discovery. Yeah, yeah, I know—what was I thinking?

At our first stop, the Capitol, we run into an old friend. Her son is well-scrubbed, polite, and funny. He eats a chocolate ice-cream cone without getting a drop on him. His shirt stays tucked in. He does not yell loudly. In contrast, my son and his six-year-old cousin Dave are rolling all over each other like bear cubs, yelling, “Penis! Wiener!” They grab each other’s faces and squeeze in a move they call “oozying.” “OOZY! OOZY! OOZY!” reverberates all over the Capitol’s rotunda. All attempts to restrain them just bring on louder echoes of words unknown to our Founding Fathers.

We quickly move on to a chi-chi bakery in DuPont Circle, where my son devours a chocolate-chip cookie. He then announces, “My stomach feels all confoozled.” I know what that means and immediately shove his head into a nearby garbage can, where he proceeds to vomit noisily. In between heaves, he happily announces the color and texture. A genteel couple next to us who have been leisurely enjoying lattes hurriedly pick up their coats and leave. I am so used to this routine that I don’t even stop eating. I have one hand on my son’s head, and the other is still shoveling pastry into my mouth. In between bites—okay, even during bites—I do make sympathetic “there, there” noises.

Cribbage? Backgammon? I’d be happy just to spend a day in which I’m not dealing with body fluids. I’d be happy to have a conversation that actually made sensible progress from one thought to another. Instead, our conversations have that disjointed quality usually associated with bad cell-phone connections. “Levi, you are reading so beautifully. Can you take that fork out of your ear?”

Back at the hotel room, both boys are given apples to eat in a vain attempt to keep them away from the minibar. They grasp their apples in ice tongs that the hotel has thoughtfully provided and then try to eat the apples from the tongs while marching across the beds. Levi’s apple ends up under a bed. Dave’s apple somehow falls into the toilet. The apple in the toilet isn’t discovered, of course, until someone desperately needs a fruitless bowl. Returning home on the train, my sister and I agree, “This trip was a disaster.”

“This trip was the best trip EVER,” Levi and Dave announce.

“It was?” I ask, astounded. We had made it to one museum and spent the rest of the time looking for bathrooms and places to eat. My sister and I look at each other. At the same time, we both conjure up the looks on the faces of that classy couple in the bakery as they bid a hasty retreat from Levi’s explosion, and of my husband as he hopped on one foot while attempts were made to defruit the facilities.

“Yeah, I guess it was,” I admit. I know these images will enter the family lore and become embellished and exaggerated and retold. They will never fail to make me laugh.

It hits me that my family will never be what I expected because what I expected is not what I want. I don’t play cribbage because I don’t want to play cribbage. When I let myself admit it, I realize I’d much rather spend the day having a good “oozy.” I pictured control and elegance, but I’ve found that what gives life its juice is the grace-lessness of the unexpected: the wrestling bear cubs, the bobbing for apples, the non sequiturs, the insanity. You see, down here among the classless is where life really rocks and rolls.

~Beth Levine

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