Monday, December 29, 2008

I'm no sucker.

Yesterday, I took the Babies! outside in the snow for the first time this year.

They haven't gone outside in the snow at all this year because they didn't have snow pants or boots. The lack of boots and snowpants is a surprising oversight from Sweetie, who purchases most of their non-superhero related clothing. Surprising, that is, unless it was Sweetie's plan to not get them snowpants and boots because without snowpants and boots I could not plan on taking them outside to play in the yard, and if I could not plan on taking the boys outside to play in the yard, then I could not actually take them outside to play in the yard, either, which would mean that there was no chance that the boys would get frostbite, or catch cold, or that I'd lose them in a snowdrift, or whatever it is that Sweetie thinks will happen if I take them outside to play in the snow. Sweetie professes great faith in my parenting abilities, but when push comes to shove sometimes the evidence shows that she's hedging her bets.

I hadn't cared, much, that they didn't have snowpants and boots, because I'm not the type that wants to go outdoors in the winter in the first place. I only grudgingly go outside in the winter, and then only for necessities like going to work or coming home from work or going to McDonald's for an eggnog shake. I think about winter sports the same way I think about swimming at the ocean or other activities that are supposed to be "fun" but which are not, actually, that fun, and what I think about them is this: What's the point?

That's what I thought when we went to Florida this summer and went to the beach where my brother Matt had assured us we shouldn't worry about sting rays even though all the signs said just the opposite. We went to a gorgeous beach with water the temperature of bath water and waves just big enough to be kind of fun, and we went in the water, and we swam a little and I went under water and I splashed through the waves, and then I thought "Now what? How long do I have to float around in the water before I can just get back to doing more fun things like shopping for t-shirts?" And that's what I think of winter sports, too. Throughout my life, more often than not, when I've strapped on skis or gotten the sleds or put on ice skates, about three minutes into the activity, I'm thinking "okay, is that enough? Can I go home now and read a book?"

I mean, once you've gone down a hill a few times, what's left of sledding? How much fun is it the fifth time? The fifteenth? And ice skating? Really? When we were kids we used to go to a mall that had an ice rink in the center and we'd sometimes rent skates and skate around. And around. And around. And around. Just skating in circles, over and over, and ten minutes into it, I'd be thinking I wish Mom had let me, instead, hang around the Waldenbooks so I could browse through "More Dirty Jokes IV" and try to figure out what the punch lines meant.

There's all sort of activities like that, activities that have no point to them other than that they exist. Swimming is a big offender, and it's one reason why I won't get a swimming pool: because swimming is boring. Unless you're swimming laps, what's the big deal? So you jump into the pool and... what? Do a headstand or a somersault? Splash someone? You end up just standing in the water and goofing off, and if I'm going to be just standing around doing nothing much, why do I want to be chest-deep in water instead of, say, lying on my couch watching How I Met Your Mother re-runs?

Winter sports and activities are even worse, because they're pointless-- ice skating in circles -- but they're also cold. And tiring and painful. Look at things you can do outside in the winter: Sledding involves climbing a hill repeatedly. Building a snowman? That's just work, and hard work at that. I didn't go to law school so that I could push a hundred pounds of wet snow around my yard. A snowball fight? I had a snowball fight with my nephew a few years back. I was tired of it two snowballs into it -- especially because when you're up against a four-year-old you can't even really try, so you have to keep getting hit in the face with snowballs but you can't fight back (and if you do fight back, like I did when I was a kid and my cousin Joe was throwing snowballs at me, the odds are there will be a piece of ice in that snowball and it'll hit him in the face and cut his cheek and he'll go inside crying and bleeding and I'll be in trouble so while I get to go back inside I also have to go up to my room and be grounded off TV and reading.)

So I don't like outdoor activities, but I had decided to take the boys outside this weekend. I was only taking them out in the snow to play for two reasons: one, I like to do things with them that are out of the ordinary when I can, and two, we had snowpants and boots that we'd gone to an awful lot of trouble to get on Friday night, because my brother Matt was coming up and Matt was insistent that we were going to have a "traditional" day of sledding and hot chocolate on Alternate Christmas, so Sweetie and I went out Friday night to get snowpants and boots and also to look for a trampoline because Sweetie thought she might want to get one of those exercise trampolines for use around the house.

I didn't object to her getting the trampoline. She didn't get one because we couldn't find one, and we couldn't find one in part at least because shopping with Mr F and Mr Bunches is a hit-or-miss proposition at best. I get them and go into the store with the best intentions of getting the things I came there to get and following my list, but after a few minutes of chasing after Mr Bunches while carrying Mr F (who I have to carry because if I don't he'll go in the opposite direction) and after a few more minutes of trying to get them to stop grabbing at the clothes that we are passing by, leaving a trail of sweaters and blouses and sweatpants strewn behind us, and after a few minutes more of trying to bribe them to stop crying by giving them potato chips and graham crackers produced from my jacket pocket, the inevitable happens. Not leaving the store. I rarely leave the store even at that point. No, "the inevitable" is that I get distracted by something that I see for sale, something like a large Christmas ornament -- a really large Christmas ornament, nearly the size of my head, in a display of similar large Christmas ornaments, all of them nearly the size of my head, and I look at a display like that and remember saying to Sweetie just that morning:

"Maybe next year we should do a tree with all oversized ornaments,"

and then here the ornaments are, so I could put that plan into effect right away, only it's still before Christmas, so I shouldn't get them just yet because they'll be on sale in a few days, when I'll find them at Wal-Mart for half-price but won't be able to get them because I'll have only enough money to buy the snow shovel I went there to buy, and also the three boxes of cereal it turns out I went there to buy but didn't know that I was going there to buy until Sweetie told me we were also going there to buy three boxes of cereal, and some cereal bowls, which I bought, too, along with the snow shovel we've been promising to buy for two years now but have never actually gone and bought until yesterday, when we bought it because I actually remembered that we had to buy a snow shovel, so we went to Wal-Mart right after church and I got a snow shovel and Sweetie got her three boxes of cereal plus three new bowls plus some face lotion or hand lotion or something. It was from the cosmetics department and it cost more than the snow shovel is all I know.

The reason we haven't actually bought a snow shovel for two years, despite our old shovel being amazingly short -- I have to bend nearly double to use it -- and amazingly bent and old is because who buys a snow shovel? The only time I think about needing a snow shovel is when I have to actually go shovel snow. I wake up in the morning, and see that the driveway is covered in snow, and so I have to go shovel it out, and I get ready and go outside with my iPod set to some song that'll help me get in a good mood for shoveling, a song like "Lucky Seven Sampson" from Schoolhouse Rock, and I see the old crummy shovel and I think "I should get a new shovel," but there's two problems with that thought. First, if I go buy a shovel right now, when it's snowing, I'll get ripped off.

I firmly believe that. Having been raised by my parents, I am always on the alert for people who are ripping me off by taking advantage of me, and I am thoroughly convinced that "ripping people off by taking advantage of them" is what the American economy is based on. That's how they get you is a mantra in my family -- whatever it is you think you're getting in a good deal is how they get you and you're getting ripped off. And the easiest way to get ripped off is to buy something when you need it. In my mind, the world is made up of merchants sitting around their stores with barrels full of snow shovels all selling for $1.00 or so, until the snow starts falling. The minute the first snowflake tumbles down, the merchants run and scratch out the "$1.00" and write over it, in magic marker, "$One hundred dollars! Sucker!" Because they know, see, that we'll all be driving to get a snow shovel right then and there, so they can make a quick buck.

So going to get a shovel right when it's snowing is a sucker move, but there's also a more practical problem, in that I can't go get the shovel until I shovel the driveway so I can get the car out and back in, and once I do that, I don't need the shovel anymore. Because who knows if it's even going to snow again this year, and if it doesn't snow again this year, then I've just wasted money on a snow shovel, haven't I? I don't have money to just throw around.

And you may think that's crazy, that of course it's going to snow again in January or February or March in Wisconsin, and you'd maybe be right but last summer I mowed the lawn in June and ran out of gas with just a foot or so left, and I should have gone and gotten more gas in the mower but then my grass didn't even grow enough the rest of the year to need mowing -- probably because it was battered down from all the hickory nuts falling on it -- so who's crazy now? Not me -- I saved a buck on lawnmower gas.

But after shoveling Sunday morning, I decided that we were going to go get a shovel, after all, because even "Lucky Seven Sampson" couldn't keep my back from hurting after shoveling, so I broke down and bought a shovel even though I didn't need it right then and there, and I probablywon't need it all this year, making it a waste of money, and I hate wasting money, which is why I had to have the boys go out in the yard yesterday: having invested nearly $100 in snowpants and boots, only to have our "traditional" sledding day cancelled because of the very nontraditional rain we got on Saturday, I now had two sets of snowpants and two sets of boots without a purpose, and I was not going to waste my money on them.

That's another thing my parents taught me: Don't waste money. If you buy something and then don't use it enough to justify spending money on it, it's a waste of money. So before I purchase anything -- anything: groceries, a tie, a television set -- I have to calculate how often I might use it, how necessary it is, whether I will in the end have wasted money on the purchase or if I really got a lot of value for my money. That all gets factored into every decision, or almost every decision. I don't really factor the question of whether I am wasting money into my decision to buy lottery tickets, because those are an investment. The idea that something is a waste of money if we didn't use it enough really put a lot of pressure on me as a kid; I'd go downstairs in the basement to find something to play with, and have to try to mentally calculate which toys I hadn't played with enough. Was it time to build something with the Lincoln logs again? Had I created enough Lego castles to justify that purchase? Playing "Star Wars Figures" was taxing, making sure that each character got enough playing time, even if he didn't quite fit into the storyline -- so sometimes Luke Skywalker would have to take some time out from blowing up the Death Star (my dresser) again, this time from the inside, to have a chat with Greedo, who happened to be in the Death Star, just passing by, and could briefly fight with Luke even though he and Luke really had no quarrel, because I didn't want Greedo to be a "waste of money."

Making my investment in boots and snow pants pay off required some work, because Mr F and Mr Bunches did not necessarily want to go anywhere yesterday morning. I think after the Christmas season, they're sort of burned out on "going places." More nights than not they were trundled into the car and then pushed around a bookstore, 0r walked down a mall, or grocery shopping, and when they weren't being bundled up to head off to the toy store where they were forced to just look at the toys instead of throwing them at each other, then they were forced to actually wear pants because company was coming over, company which would want to pick them up and hug them and make them look at presents when all they want to do is sit on Dad's new foot massager so it gives them a butt massage, like Mr Bunches did for about fifteen minutes during lunch on Saturday, ignoring all of the grown-ups sitting around talking while he massaged his butt, even using the "heat" setting to get a warm butt massage.

But I was insistent that the Babies! were going to use their snow gear, so I distracted them by putting on a "Bunnytown" and then wrestled them into the boot liners, then their snowpants, then their boots, then their mittens, then their hats, then their jackets, taking nearly 30 minutes to get it all done, at which point all I had to do was grab my jacket, and my camera, and get them outside. I did that quickly, but not quickly enough, because Mr Bunches sat down and then couldn't stand back up again, while Mr F tried to climb on their new jungle gym with his boots on and got his foot stuck in the ladder slat and started crying, which upset Mr Bunches because he didn't know why Mr F was crying, so he cried, too, just in case, and I threw on my coat and told Sweetie to open up the door, and grabbed them both and carried them upstairs, staggering outside to put them on our back porch in their winter gear, still crying.

They stopped crying immediately, overcome by the shock of the cold or the brightness or maybe just the fact that at nearly-forty I can still pick up both of them and carry them outside that quickly, even when they are weighed down by an extra ten pounds of snowgear.

"Head to the backyard," I told them, and they tentatively began trying to walk through the snow that, I realized, was nearly above their knees, so they had the difficulty of walking in boots that weighed a lot, through crunchy snow that held the boot down, but they tried to troop on, crunching and falling to the side and standing up and sitting down, while I did what any concerned and loving parent would do: I got ahead of them and videotaped them trying to walk through the snow.

Eventually, though, I did help them get out to the backyard, moving them much the way I'd had to move my action figures when I was a kid: Go get Mr F, and help him walk a few steps, then position him where I want him (facing the house, ready to go) and go back to get Mr Bunches, helping him walk over to Mr F, who by then had sat down and couldn't get up, so I'd leave Mr Bunches propped up a few feet away and help Mr F stand up and walk him towards Mr Bunches, then have to go re-stand Mr Bunches again, facing him the direction of his brother so that they could play in the snow...

... and then Mr F let out a howl that curdled my blood and I turned around expecting the worst and saw that Mr F was sitting in the snow and his left mitten had come off, and he had powdery snow on his hand. I rushed over there and got his hand up and picked up his mitten and brushed his hand off but he pulled it away and in doing so thrust it right back into the snow, and howled again because the snow was cold-- I assume that's why he was howling. I don't know. Maybe he just didn't like the way the snow felt. Or he'd had enough and was going to get Child Protective Services here for once and for all, so that they could take me away and he could spend his days watching "Bunnytown" and not standing outside in the cold.

I tried to put his mitten on quick, but the mitten had dropped back in the snow and now had snow in it, so I picked him up and took my hat off and wiped his hand off, telling him over and over that it was okay, he was fine.

I wonder what little kids think when parents tell them obvious lies like that? It's okay, you're fine, I told him, but he was crying and his hand was red and cold, so in his mind, I'm sure, he was thinking It's not okay and I'm not fine and my hand is red and cold and you're a liar and where are those Child Protective Services people? So I began to take him back inside where Sweetie could warm him up, but I had a dilemma, because Mr Bunches was still where I had propped him up, and Sweetie would not approve of me leaving him in the backyard alone, even if he couldn't move. So I scooped him up, too, and carried them both to the back porch, where Sweetie, alerted by the echoing howls splitting the peaceful Sunday morning, was waiting.

I told her what had happened and she took Mr F in. I held onto Mr Bunches and told him we'd stay outside playing. He had no expression on his face, which I took to be a good sign, and I put him into the makeshift sled I'd created.

We had been going to buy a sled at Wal-Mart, along with all the cereal and really expensive lotion, but they didn't have any good ones. By "good ones," I mean "sleds that cost about $5.00 and are just little pieces of plastic." All the sleds they had at Wal-Mart had names like "Boogie Racers" and had handles and dramatic "X"marks and other "extreme" features that helped them have the "extreme" price of $17.99 or more, and Wal-Mart had exactly zero traditional sleds, sleds the way sleds are supposed to be: Made of cheap plastic, with a too-short pull cord on them and handles that will rip off and crack the sled the moment you try to steer using them. Those are the only kind of sleds that should be made, or should be bought, unless you opt to buy a saucer sled instead, a decision you only make if you don't really like having intact vertebrae and don't want to sled for too long, because the only things that can ever happen to someone who goes down a hill on a saucer sled are (a) they will go over a jump backwards and not know they went over that jump until they're in the air and will land hard enough to require spinal fusions in the near future, and/or (b) they will spin around enough to get sick and then wipe out, rolling their face in the snow.

Since we didn't have even a saucer sled, I was forced to make one to pull Mr F and Mr Bunches -- now down to just Mr Bunches -- around the yard, so I'd improvised by taking a laundry basket and one of Sweetie's wide belts, and I put Mr Bunches into that now to give him a ride around the yard.

We got about two feet. I pulled him, slowly, and he got nervous and tried to stand up.

"No," I told him. "Stay sitting and I'll pull you. Otherwise, you'll tip over." I helped him sit back down and he sat quietly and I started pulling him again and he promptly tipped over, landing face-first in the snow and instantly howling louder than Mr F had. I picked him up right away and brushed his face off with my hat, too, so that he didn't have snow on it anymore, and gave up on the snow outing. I took him inside and after fifteen minutes of undressing them, got the boys situated at the table with a plateful of macaroni and cheese and "Cookie Crisp" cereal, a lunch that made them feel good enough to stop crying and distract themselves by throwing their milk glasses while I cleaned up the outdoor gear and put my camera away.

In all, forty minutes of preparation and de-preparation led to only four minutes of snow adventures, which means that I'm going to have to try to get them outside again next weekend, and each weekend after that, until I've gotten my money's worth out of those boots and snow pants, because I am not paying nearly $100 for snow gear and then not using it as much as possible.

Because that's how they get you.

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