Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Rough House

It’s one of those times I really wished I had a video camera.

Brett and I stopped by on our near-weekly visit to Candice and beautiful Brielle’s. The three of us (Brielle and Sam don’t really count yet) usually split the cost of a Papa John’s pizza for dinner.

Candice and I talk and play with our gorgeous girl, while Brett does his two favorite things 1.) stretches out on the couch and 2.) watches cable TV. It works out well for everyone.

When it’s just the four of us, it’s rather quiet, unless Brielle lets loose with one of those adorable laughs, somewhat reminiscent of a baby dinosaur's squawk. Her laughs are so infectious and exuberant; I don’t doubt one day she’ll inherit her grandmother’s memorable and much-missed belly laugh. At least, I sure hope so.

When we got to Candice’s, we discovered there would be a fifth to our little party. Candice was babysitting our second cousin, Aidan.

Aidan, my cousin’s son, is three years old with the largest, most beautiful eyes (and eyelashes) you’ve ever seen. He has the sweetest smile, and if I were his mother I’m not sure I’d be able to tell him “no” to anything. Most of all, he’s got a wonderful temperament and enough boy-energy to power three nuclear reactors.

After dinner, Brett was sprawled lazily on the couch; Candice and I were gabbing, and Brielle was amusing herself. From across the room, I watched as Aidan reared back, took a running start, and launched the full force of his entire body onto Brett’s chest.

“Oof,” Brett said, as all the air whooshed out of his lungs. His face turned beet red, as surprise and shock found him desperately trying to breathe.

Aidan was giggling and laughing as he rode Brett’s stomach like a bucking bronco. I could almost see the wheels turning in Brett’s head. He decided to play along, grabbing Aidan’s waist and refusing to let go.

“Help! Help!” Aidan shrieked while he struggled and chuckled loudly.

Candice and I were no help as we were laughing pretty hard ourselves at that point.

Eventually, Brett released Aidan who slid happily off the couch and ran across the room to play with his ball.

At that point, I broke one of my own rules. I said, “Well, you’d better get used to it!”

I meant, of course, that we are having a boy and there’s every likelihood he will be just as robust and full of life as Aidan.

But I was instantly mad at myself for saying it. The truth is that we don’t know what Sam will be like, and it’s unfair to superimpose a personality type on him.

It’s sort of like when I talk about pregnancy making me tired, and people say, “Well, you’d better get used to it!” Well, thanks a lot, you know?

I mean, “Well, you’d better get used to it!” is not edifying, encouraging, or uplifting – and therefore it just stresses someone out and does absolutely no good. Unless making me want to punch someone in the face can be considered good.

Watching Brett goof around with Aidan made me smile, though. There’s just something about Brett that attracts kids and animals. I think they sense his kind compassion and innate gentleness.

(They obviously don’t ride in traffic with him.)

When my niece Brigitte was just a toddler, she covered Brett with glittery unicorn stickers while he was fast asleep. When he awoke, awash in sparkles, she proclaimed him “pretty” and crawled up in his lap, after refusing adamantly to come near any of us already in the room.

That’s the quality I think will make Brett an exceptional father.

The experience with Aidan took me back to my own childhood. My dad and I never roughhoused. We never wrestled on the ground or anything like that - although he was not above tickling me until I begged for mercy.

Brett has never seemed like the kind of guy to roughhouse, so when we got back from Candice’s, I asked him if he had ever wrestled with his two older brothers.

“Yeah,” he said, not very enthusiastically.

“Did you like it?” I was suddenly very curious.


“Why not?”

“It’s no fun when you’re the one being thrown around. Besides, people can get hurt.”

Brett’s dad was never the type to roughhouse, but his older brother Bill is legendary for coming home after school, picking his mother up, and swinging her around the kitchen until she threatened him with what would happen if he didn’t put her down.

For some reason, the rough and rowdy gene didn’t pass to Brett. I sure don’t have it, either.

When my cousin Aaron brought his then three year old daughter, Molly, to visit us, I thought she was the most precious and fragile little angel I had ever seen. Aaron and his wife, Linda, were talking to us as Molly wandered around our living room.

At one point, Aaron yelled, “Hey, Molly!” and hurled a pillow at his little girl. The pillow struck her in the stomach and sent her reeling until she finally fell backwards onto the carpeted floor.

Brett and I stared in amazement. We looked nervously at each other. I snuck a look over at Linda and was awed to find her not looking troubled in the least.

I thought, “Oh no! Not one but TWO sadistic parents!”

I was about to reprimand Aaron when Molly squealed loudly, bounced back up, and raced over to her dad. She thrust the pillow in his lap and exclaimed, “Again!”

Brett and I watched as Aaron threw the pillow and knocked Molly down repeatedly, each time being rewarded with a sweet tinkle bell of laughter and a request for more. I felt incredibly silly at my first reaction, as the daddy-daughter connection was clearly strong, warm, and obviously fun-loving between them.

It took me back to my own childhood’s first experience with roughhousing.

I loved going to Sunday School at Memorial Baptist Church. I loved wearing pretty dresses, ribbons in my hair, and Mary Jane shoes. I also liked my little five year old friends. One of the girls, Cynthia, had a pale white face, long raven-colored hair, and violet-flecked eyes.

She looked every inch a little lady.

Which is why I was so taken aback when she slugged me.

One minute we were just talking and laughing as kindergarteners do, and the next thing I knew, she hauled back and punched me right in the shoulder.

“Ow!” I said, tearing up a bit. I couldn’t figure out why she would do something like that. I hadn’t said anything mean. We were friends, and as far as I knew, friends didn’t whack each other around. Nasty, neighborhood bullies did things like that.

The strangest thing was that Cynthia kept talking and laughing like nothing had happened. I was definitely in shock, but I managed to shake it off and tried to put it out of my head.

Until it happened again the next Sunday.

I had no idea what to do. I waited until we were driving home from church. I showed Mom my blossoming bruise and asked why Cynthia kept hitting me.

“Oh honey,” Mom said. “I’m sure Cynthia’s not trying to hurt you. She has a bunch of older brothers, and she’s probably just used to playing more roughly than you are.”

Mom was a veteran of a twelve-child home which included five brothers, so she knew what she was talking about.

“If you don’t want Cynthia to hit you anymore, just tell her that it hurts, and ask her to stop. Politely,” my dad said from the front seat.

I rolled my eyes. Dad always wanted me to use words to solve problems, when all I wanted to do was run crying to Mr. Ascher, my Sunday School teacher, yelling, “She HIT me!”

But I took Dad’s advice. The next time Cynthia raised her fist, I clasped my hand over my shoulder, and launched into Dad’s little speech. For a second, she looked hurt. Then, she shrugged and said, “Okay.”

Cynthia and I stayed friends well into junior high. She told me later she had gone home that day and told her parents what happened between the two of us.

Her dad had laughed, but her mom had given her dad the evil eye and said, “I told you something like this would happen.”

Whether she meant Cynthia would play too rough or whether her daughter would make friends with a Little Miss Priss like yours truly, we’ll never know.

Either way, I began to understand that every family communicates love and affection in its own way.

My dad and I played board games, read history novels, and watched Sci-Fi together. Other girls watched sports to be closer to their dads, and even others play-wrestled their dads to the floor.

Not every family roughhouses. To be honest, I don’t think we will.

But the important thing is that we DO communicate love – with words and deeds.

And heaven knows, if Sam decides he WILL follow in Aidan’s footsteps, Brett better start working out.


Heidi said...

My dad would chase me around and corner me growling like a troll.

You had Mr Ascher as your Sunday School teacher? I assume that it is the same Mr. Ascher that we both know.

Juliet said...

Time will tell! But just to be on the safe side, it would be funny to see Brett at the gym.