Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Family that Is Confused Together Stays Confused

All happy families are alike, but unhappy families are miserable in their unique ways.  Tolstoy taught us that, although  I've never really agreed with him.  It seems to me that happy families invent their happiness in their own ways by determining how they'll either accept adversity or turn it to their advantage.  I think that unhappy families are more predictable, as they slide into ugly archetypes and hapless living patterns based on inability to cope.  Still, who am I to dispute Tolstoy?  A man who could find the time to write War and Peace  definitely had time to think about family dynamics.

I wonder what he'd have said about crazy families?  (Disclaimer:  I am not discussing mental illness here.  I am talking about everyday bonehead thinking.)  Are all rational families alike in their steadiness?  Are all nutty families constantly loony tunes, or are some only nuts at times, depending on their stress levels?  I believe some families are permanent fruit cakes, and never a day passes that they don't have at least one member whose antics are freakish.  My family's craziness is not like a fruit cake.  It's more like fudge--smooth, but with the occasional crunchy nut.  My husband has christened these occasional crunches as "Powers Moments."

I can't get a family consensus as to what a Powers Moment is, but we know when we're having one.  My husband says it's a moment when everybody needs to "shut up and start over."  My #2 son is more descriptive:  A Powers Moment is an unwholesome moment when we have our heads in an unusual part of our anatomy.  A definition I devised is not totally accurate but might suffice to  get us all on the same page:  A Powers Moment is a brief period of collective indecision wherein a small annoyance blossoms into a major disagreement or obstacle, under which circumstance we all become stupid.  I am not happy with that description, but I can give examples.

A Powers Moment often begins with something we all agree on, such as that we are hungry.  That being established, we pile into the car.  The driver, usually my husband, takes a left, which is my cue to ask, "Do you know where you're going?" 

His answer is invariably vague, something along the line of "Oh, I don't know, I thought maybe"

Chorus from the back seat:  "Chinese."  "Mexican."

The passenger side, usually occupied by yours truly, stays quiet, because I like Mexican and Chinese equally well.  I perceive, however, that the driver isn't happy about either option, and I don't want to cast a deciding vote in favor of a plan the driver is sure to oppose.  The next few minutes go roughly this way:

"Mexican gives me heartburn."
"Yeah, that's why we need to get Chinese."
"OK, but not the little Chinese place."
"I'm not driving an extra five miles just to get Chinese I don't like that much in the first place."

In the meantime, we have passed the little Chinese place, two Mexican places, the big Chinese place, and we are headed for the county line.  I am still silent because I know that the last chance to stop will be in the parking lot of a wonderful restaurant specializing in steaks.

"Wow, good thinking, Dad!"

I'm thinking I hope some one grabbed a credit card on the way out.

Food is not the only subject that triggers a Powers Moment.  Travel also seems to cause us to put our brains on hold.  Last June, my husband and I, accompanied by our then-19-year-old, decided to see the USA in our Chevrolet.  Specifically, we elected to drive from Central Alabama to Great Lakes, Illinois to attend our older son's U.S. Navy Pass-in-Review (boot camp graduation).  The three of us agreed to travel light so we could bring a few boxes and suitcases full of civvies to our son who could have normal belongings on hand in his "A" school.

My 19-year-old is a good boy, but he's hard on tires.  In the month preceding our trip, he had had at least two flats, and his doughnut was in such bad shape that he had removed it from the trunk altogether.  This same teenager popped the trunk on the morning of our departure and began loading our boxes and bags.  I admit he did a pretty good job--the parcels were wedged into the trunk in a space-saving jigsaw pattern with the big items  belonging to our Sailor going in first, followed by suitcases belonging to us travellers, and finished off with our smaller satchels and light bags of things we might want to grab in case of a pit stop.

It was time to go, and Mr. Powers was the driver, of course, with our #2 son assuming the position of Navigator.  I opted for the space and privacy of the back seat, a pillow and my iPod.

Gentleman, start your engine.  The dogs are accounted for, the front door locked, the thermostat up.

"Did you put the spare back into the trunk, son?"
"What?  Oh.  No way.  That thing is totally worn out."
"We're not driving to Chicago without a spare, son.  Did you plan to walk to the next exit if we get stranded on I-65?"
"Let's just go.  There's too much stuff in the trunk to unpack it."

Tell me this isn't happening.  I am snuggled into the back seat with pillow, iPod, snacks, water, and a spare tire.  I used it for a foot rest all the way to Chicago.

It was this same road trip that spawned the Powers Moment Supreme, our defining moment as Happy Family that Occasionally Goes Slap Plum Crazy.

It wasn't our fault.  It was after midnight, and my husband, fortified by a Starbuck's off I-65 somewhere in Indiana plus some White Castles in Gary and a Chevy Cobalt that was getting pretty good mileage, decided to press on and get across Chicago all in one trip.  (The original plan, to spend the night in Louisville, got ditched somewhere outside Bowling Green.)

We are not used to toll roads or toll booths that are eight-across and poorly lit.  Just west of the Illinois state line, we approached what looked like the starting gate for a horse race.  The Navigator spoke up, "Dad, I think you just pick one."

My husband nosed the Chevy into one of the narrow spaces between toll booths.  There was the gate in the DOWN position; there was the price of entry to the toll road for each vehicle; there was the toll booth with no human inside, and there was the slot for the money.  Except where was the slot for the money?

"It's $1.50.  I have $1.50.  Hon, where does the money go?"

I glanced out the window at the booth.  I didn't see a slot for money, either.  "I have no idea."  I did see two bright headlights behind us, however.

"Dad.  It's right there.  Just put the money in, and the gate will go up."
"Where?  I don't see where the money goes.  Do I just leave it on the curb?"
"(mumble, mumble) DAD!  Right there!  Just put the money where it says exact change!"
"I don't see that.  Do you see that?  Well, here.  You put the money in.  There's some one behind us."

I thought the solution would involve Seth leaning across his dad and putting his head and arms out the window to deposit the change.  Instead, Seth took the money, opened the passenger side door, walked in front of the car and put the money into the not-so-clearly-marked coin slot.  The gate rose.  Seth sprinted back around the front of the car to his side and got in before the gate closed again.

It was probably my imagination, but I could swear I heard gales of laughter from the car behind us. Never have I been so conscious of having an Alabama tag.

Powers Moments such as these occur, I would say, two to three times a week at our house.  Sometimes we get quite vexed with one another; other times we take it in stride and make the best of our temporary lapses in judgment.  I do not think we are alone in this.  So for any families who have driven in circles for two hours looking for a place to eat, who have unpacked a meticulously packed car due to some oversight, or who have rearranged the same room five times to accommodate for electrical outlets, you are not in the fruit cake category.   You're just having your version of a Powers Moment.  Welcome to the family.