Today is Monday, December 29, which means that when my kids wake up - make that if, as "morning" around here has been dramatically redefined since winter break began - they will be embarking on their 9th consecutive day of being under the same roof. And I'll be starting my 9th day of Lamaze breathing and looking under the cushions for Valium.
I shouldn't even have to include this part: I love my kids. Seriously. They know that I would willingly rip my arm off and beat charging rhinos with it to save their lives.
But my kids don't do "time off" very well. Weekends alone have me scanning the classifieds for ads saying, "Wanted: Demolition team with attitude. Sassy mouths a must. No references required; just bring a photo of your mother taken Sunday night after six." So far, nothing has turned up, but I keep looking nonetheless. Like hope, near-homicidal desperation springs eternal.
The issue seems to be one of space. Granted, I don't live in the Taj Mahal. I don't even live in the Taj Ma-linen closet. But my house is plenty big enough for four kids to go to their separate corners from time to time. They each have their own bedrooms, we have two family rooms and a living room, and at one time the number of TVs under our roof was higher than the number of actual viewers, including the dog. Sheesh, in my day, if you threw in unlimited Dee's cheeseburgers you had a fairly accurate picture of the Celestial Kingdom, as far as we were concerned.
(Anyone remember those burgers? They were 25 cents and heaven on a bun. And from my high school we could be to Dee's and back before Miz Hess, the Nazi war criminal turned Junior Honors English teacher, noticed we were 'tardy'.)
However, my children don't believe they're having fun - or have the best chance of biting off someone's ear - unless they are crammed into the same six square feet of floor space. They get bonus points if I was there first. This is the same whether it's nights, weekends, or in the present case, school vacations, which is that time on the calendar where moms like me pencil in "Find a district administrator. Smack him. Lunch with Dawnie."
Interestingly, each 'vacation' takes on a different theme, something the kids fixate on and do over and over again. This time, it's the card game "Phase 10".
Familiar with the game? There are 10 rounds, or 'phases', each requiring a different combination of cards, like "a run of 4, a set of 3" or "seven cards of one color" in order to have a chance of winning. (We gave up on the rule where you had to stay in your phase until you "went down" or died from old age. Sadists.) One full game usually takes 90 minutes or so. The way my kids play it, the game takes 90 minutes of their lives, and 9 years of mine.
(It should be noted here that my oldest son, who is 21, does not participate in the melee. He is replaced, however, by our neighbor Shelby, who brings the number of lunatics at the kitchen table back up to four.)
The problem is, they've completely re-written the phases. Oh, sure, they're still looking for "a run of eight", but listening to them play makes it clear this is a very different game from the one written on those Phase cards:
Announce to everyone else at the table that they are SO going down this time. You are going to STOMP them. You feel it; this is YOUR hour. Then receive your cards. Revise your announcement to "I want to kill myself."
Player to your right lays down her required cards, leaving her with three cards in her hand and a smug look on her smarmy little face.
You bark out "SKIP HER!" to the rest of the players. Feel the resentment begin to radiate off the player to your right.
The skipped player, now with plenty of time on her hands, breathes out threatenings against you. You and the other players form an alliance against the very scary PTYR. PTYR grows fangs.
In a desperate bid for self-preservation, at which all little brothers become expert, little brother skips someone else. He points out to the PTYR that he has secured this victory just for her. Field promotions follow. A new alliance is formed. The game is on.
A new round. Draw an 8. Know that the opposing alliance could really use an 8. Ostentatiously stuff the 8 into your hand, sigh heavily, and complain, "Geez, like I needed one more 8!" Giggle with Shelby, your only ally at the table.
Watch your world crumble as Shelby, your fellow tribe member, lays down her cards and then skips you. Now the other alliance is giggling. Announce you hate this game and you hate all of THEM and you hate these chips, seriously, since when do we buy TOSTITO'S WITH LIME??!! Mother suggests perhaps it's time to take a little breather from the game. You assure mother everything is just fine, you're having fun, the red mist is fading from your eyes, and these are the best darn chips you've ever in a million years eaten. Mother does not believe you.
Little brother lays down a fistful of cards. PTYR isn't ready for this. She turns on little brother, hissing out warnings that if he wins this one she will kill him, she means it, life is short enough, don't you DARE GO OUT.
Little brother goes out. PTYR is caught with three Wilds, two 11s, and a 10, bringing her score up to something akin to a phone number. Little brother, recognizing that he is a dead man walking, goes on the offensive with a lightning-quick wedgie. PTYR screeches that little brother is a JERK, and decrees that he is being permanently dealt OUT of the game. Little brother's mouth takes over; words of groundable offense fly; mother dispatches him to his room; little brother points out that he was already heading to his room as part of the 'stomping off in a huff' portion of his performance. PTYR pastes on an expression of stunned innocence at how ugly the game suddenly became. Shelby announces it's time to go home.
You beg Shelby to stay, plead for little brother's release from prison, apologize to the PTYR for even hinting that she was in any way responsible for the simmering hatred and rage that has permeated the game thus far, ask for more chips, and without a hint of irony, suggest you all start another game. Everyone cheers. A new game begins.
Mother scoops up all the cards and runs them through the shredder, sets fire to the kitchen table, and orders the players to maintain a 20-yard perimeter around one another for the next week...
...and starts praying for those rhinos to show up.