The reason we make the journey to the heartland – aside from our obvious mental deficiencies and continuous failure to remember how ‘challenging’ it is – is to see our family members. Most importantly, so the boys can see their cousins and grandparents. As the Gort told one of his uncles, ‘one of the hardest things about living so far away is that we only get to see our cousins annually.’ (Actually, seeing as we opted to stay home last year, it’s more like biennially, but I digress.)
It had been two years since all 24 members of the professor’s family had gathered together, and two years since the boys had seen all of their cousins on my side. Thus, with a smidge more than two weeks at our disposal, we proceeded to make up for lost time by having what can best be described as a summer-on-crack; cramming as many fun activities as possible into a relatively short period of time.
Splash Parks. Mini Golf. Baseball Game. Roadtrips. Cousin Sleepovers. Board Games. Frisbee Games. Movies. Museums. Picnics. Birthday Celebrations. Pinatas. Playgrounds. Frozen Yogurt Outings. Shopping. Water Balloon Fights. Water Gun Fights. Sword Fights. Puzzles. Lego. Camping. Fireworks.
It was insane and wonderful and I marvelled on more than one occasion about how well cared for we were. The boys doted on their youngest cousin, fought with and made clumsy attempts at befriending their same-age cousins, and (the Hen and Percy) perched themselves in their older cousins’ laps every chance they got. At one point I checked in with the Gort, curious about what he’d enjoyed the most, and he responded in a slightly stressed-out, Kramer-esque tone, ‘I don’t know, it’s all fun! I can’t pick one thing.’
Used to a slightly slower pace and a bit more downtime, the boys tended to fall asleep whenever they got in the car.
The hallmark of most of these gatherings of multiple people? The Solo cup. Personalized using another hallmark, the black Sharpie marker. A sea of cups could be found at nearly every family gathering we attended. (How else to serve drinks for almost thirty people?)
When large groups of genetically similar people gather together, strange things tend to occur, which is how I found myself participating in the plank-olympics of 2013. We were at the last Johnson hurrah when the professor entered the kitchen with his arms held aloft. His George Costanza imitation of showmanship whenever he experiences success.
[Of the inconsequential variety.]
‘I’m the plank champion,’ he more or less crowed. And I gave him my signature quizzical look since I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Turned out he was talking about plank, the exercise.
It seems some of the male family members hanging around outside the house had run out of meaningful things to say to one another and decided to see who could maintain a plank position for the longest time…..on top of two sawhorses.
‘Forty-six seconds,’ the professor gloated. And I gave him another quizzical stare. Forty-six seconds? It seemed like notmuch of a record. ‘I can do better than that,’ I insisted. And my sister-in-law and I went outside to prove our plankability.
It turned out the boys had done the plank incorrectly, with the tops of their feet on the sawhorse, instead of their toes; a sure-fire way to destroy the lower back, hence their unimpressive scores. But, if my sister-in-law and I were going to be true contenders, we had to perform the plank exactly the same way. Or so we concluded after searing our muscles by doing ‘correct’ planks for two minutes or more.
I held on for about a minute and 19 seconds before my back howled. My [substantially younger] sister-in-law claimed victory at two minutes. At three o’clock that morning my legs informed me that a sore back would be the least of my problems. Hence I walked with great difficulty for days afterwards.
Moral of the story: don’t do planks on sawhorses. (Unless there’s good money involved.)
Of course, no summer-on-crack would be complete without a mishap or two, and I’m not just talking about the Sharpie stains left by Johnson boys in other people’s homes, ahem. There was also the time the boys emerged from a very long [unsupervised] bath smelling especially good. When I walked inside the abandoned bathroom, I noticed the bathwater was a surprising shade of purple. ‘Why is the water purple,’ I asked suspiciously. ‘Did they use my [Clairol Shimmer Lights] shampoo,’ my mom piped up from the kitchen, ‘I knew I recognized that smell!’
And there was the time the Gort was playing with a little microscope he’d gotten, or at least that’s what I thought he was doing, when I became aware of a strong, rather antiseptic odor filling the house. I’m still not entirely sure of the details, but it involved almost-emptying a vial of rather potent tea tree oil.
‘Fish and visitors smell in
three days two weeks,’ Benjamin Franklin once said.