Livin’ on a Prayer

Happy Victoria Day from not-exactly-springlike Calgary where we are entering our fourth day of [cue voiceover]…..five people [trapped] in one little white house, picked to have their lives documented, to find out what happens when people stop being polite….and start getting real.

But first things first. What is Victoria Day, you non-Canadians ask. Beats me, and I’ve already expended my Google-energy searching for the opening lines of MTV’s Real World. But all you really need to know about Victoria Day is that it causes schools to be closed for four days. Straight. The long weekend also marks the start of the camping season for those who enjoy spending more than one night a year out of doors (i.e. in the confines of a fancy trailer) and is known for its erratic, un-camping-friendly weather.

(Taken verbatim from Nikipedia, a lesser-known source of entirely-anecdotal information.)

For the Johnsons it marks the start of garden box season. Or, should I say, thinking about garden box season. We won’t actually plant the seeds we bought months ago for several weeks yet, if at all. The professor might say something like ‘we need to start working on our garden box this weekend.’ And I will pretend I didn’t hear him. ‘Let’s plant carrots this year,’ one boy-enthusiast might request. And I might say something like ‘no, we’ve tried carrots and failed miserably. Mr. Lund has spent years perfecting the art of carrot growing, so let’s just support him.’ Also, he  looks like he could be a relative of my mine, so I feel like I’m supporting family.

Beyond the thinking of the garden box (which takes roughly three minutes), the remainder of the weekend is spent in various configurations of fighting, piano playing, reading, game playing, fighting, eating and short stints of being outside (until the fighting gets so loud it can be heard two blocks away and we sense the neighbors getting out their phones to call someone about the noise disturbance emanating from the white house.)

Late Friday, before the professor returned from a series of (likely) fake meetings called to keep him away from the house as long as possible, the Gort sat down at the table and made a schedule for our weekend. I had to smile because this is something I’ve done with them from time to time (with about as much success as creating a budget or exercise plan).

He sat for a while, writing things down on paper, asking questions occasionally, like ‘what day is it today? These laser tag coupons expire soon. Can we do laser tag on Saturday?’ And by the time the professor got home, we had a three-page, Gort-authored blueprint for the weekend. With some very specific timings. ‘Shouldn’t you ask your brothers what they might want to do,’ I asked-suggested. ‘I think there’s something here for everyone,’ he dismissed me.



7:30-9 Chores and clean-up

9:05-10:45 [Computer] time, two episodes [of Netflix], Breakfast

11:30-1:00 Laser Quest

1:05-2:15 Walk, bike ride, outing, picnic (editor’s note: apparently food trumped exercise on this occasion)

2:30-4:00 Game night

4:00-5:00 Play outside

5:00-5:45 Dinner

6:00-6:45 Go to the park

7:00-7:30 Go to MAC’s (if well behaved) (editor’s note: the ‘if well behaved’ might be my favorite. And a froster at 7pm? Nice try….nothappening)

7:45-8:15 Reading time

8:15-8:30 Get ready for bed


Saturday came and, in keeping with the schedule, the boys got up and started cleaning. The Gort could be heard telling the Hen what to do and Percy, true to his third-boy-child status, quietly snuck off to our room for a rest, while the older boys worked. Many of our recent conversations have revolved around how to motivate our youngest. ‘He is middle management material,’ the professor had concluded the night before, ‘pretty good with numbers and good at getting other people to do things for him.’


Exhibit A: Getting his brother to feed him?!


Eventually we booted the youngest back to the real world where he did the tiniest of chores before sitting down in the middle of the kitchen for lengthy meltdown about whoknowswhat.

I’d made plans to go to the farmer’s market with a friend (well before ‘the schedule’ had been penned, for  a latte and more of Mr. Lund’s carrots) and bid the boys goodbye. ‘What time will you be back,’ the Gort suddenly asked instead of offering his usual, barely-noticing-my-departure ‘byeloveyou!’

‘Uh….I don’t know….why?’

‘Because we’re supposed to go to Laser Quest at 11…..Or maybe it’s 11:30,’ he tried to recall the details of his masterplan.

Sure enough, right around 11:30, we drove to Laser Quest in the pouring rain. We were somewhere on Macleod Trail when a Bon Jovi song came on the radio, the Johnson roadtrip anthem: Livin’ on a Prayer. May long weekend is also the time when we start thinking about the prospect of spending six days in the car with our boy-children (i.e. The Biennial Trip to the Heartland).

I turned up the volume and spun around in my seat,  ‘this is our roadtrip theme song,’ I informed the boys, my mind flooded with a nostalgic collage of all the times we’d been driving somewhere and Jon Bon Jovi had urged me to ‘hold on…to what we got.’

Unfortunately the moment was slightly ruined when it turned out to be the similar-sounding ‘You Give Love a Bad Name.’

(Seriously…take out the ‘whoa-whoa of the former’s opening riff and you have the opening riff of the latter.)

Undeterred, I continued the profound embarrassment of my children by holding up an imaginary microphone and belting out the chorus.

The Laser Quest parking lot was full – apparently all of Calgary had not gone camping – and when we entered the vaguely smelling-of-sweat storefront, it was teeming with noise and children. In an effort to temper expectations, I told the Gort ‘it looks kind of busy, we might not be able to get in right away.’

But as ‘luck’ would have it, they had a game starting in three minutes with room for five players. But first, we had to choose our codename, the fifteen year old employee informed us.

‘Juan Pablo,’ the Gort finally decided. And I could tell from the way the kid at the computer repeated it, that he, like all those cheerful terrible-spelling Starbucks workers, had no idea of the alphabetical configuration of Juan Pablo.

Minutes later, Blondpoplo, Gummybear, and Pipsy, along with Nixon and OldDad entered a pitch-black chamber with 34 other people (this is not for the claustrophobic or afraid-of-the-dark) and listened to the rules of laser tag. Having never played, I was unprepared for all of it: How hot it is in that dark maze (especially when you’re wearing multiple layers due to the inclement weather), how heavy the laser pack is and how seemingly interminable a 20 minute game is when you’re sweating and running around in the dark with a ten-pound laser pack.

Two minutes in, I remembered about a certain 5 year old warrior named Pipsy, the youngest, smallest person there, who (like me) had never played laser tag; the one I’d abandoned as soon as the guy-in-charge (who spent the 20 minutes napping in a dark corner) yelled ‘go!’ I could only hope the professor had been a more responsible parent.

In my defense, I did stop and strain my ears for the sounds of a child crying in a dark corner, likely resulting in my being tagged numerous times.


(To be continued….if I can summon the strength.)













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