Sunday, May 2, 2010

It smells like a cave, man!

The petrified 'kid-in-the-headlights' look is just Peter, who is apparently scared shitless of dark, slippery caves. But more on our mud slide of death when we actually get there.

Before we get there, I should probably backtrack to the week before when we were at Grams and Opa's for brunch. As per usual, Angie was gabbing away.


At that point, Opa offered to take the boys in his camper to a cave near where he grew up. We thanked him and I, along with Opa, thought that he was taking the boys spelunking and I was babysitting Angie while she rocked her friend's wedding party. Man, Opa and I are dumb.

The subliminal, yet grammatically correct ordering of the previous sentence should be enough shorefadowing for you. In case my two readers still don't get it, I'll just summarize yesterday's conversation.


'What? I thought we were going to a wedding.'

'Nope. You're going to the caves. I'm going to a wedding.'

Holy stupid me! I guess I need to start checking in with Angie's brain on a bi-minute basis, just to keep up with her latest thoughts. Or lack of them.

The drive started out okay. Two minutes later, the fighting started. Family cars should really come equipped with a soundproof divider that you can raise and lower with the flick of a switch, although I really don't know what sane parent would want the divider lowered. They should also have built-in voice recognition software that sends an electric shock to the backseat every time it registers the phrases 'are we there, yet?' or 'I need to pee'.

Until the car industry stops pandering to children's rights groups and conservative civil liberties factions, benevolent dads like me have to resort to simple games to keep the gooftards quietly preoccupied. We started with a few questions. Why?

One person thought of an animal and others took turns asking yes/no questions. This worked, it was fun, and it killed about half of the drive. At one point, though, David must have tired of the game. He had thought of an animal that, according to his answers, could not fly, could not swim, could not crawl, could not climb, could not walk, could not slither, did not eat meat, and did not eat plants. Opa and I were really struggling to even come up with more questions, but Peter finally nailed just the right one.

'Is the animal real or just in your head?'


David then cracked his clever ass up for eight minutes while Peter tried to pretend like he didn't care. He did.

For some strange reason, nobody wanted to play games with David anymore. We drove the rest of the way to the campgrounds not really in silence, but close. As Opa unhitched the camper, David showed off his self-made bling necklace and Peter showed me that he is absolute crap at tucking in his shirt.

After ditching the RV, we wasted no time in gearing up.

It really cracked me up that Angie had made me promise that they would wear helmets and rubber pants. I've been to Luray Caverns in Virginia and I don't remember my mom forcing me to don safety equipment, but maybe she just didn't give a shit if a stalactite fell on my head.

We drove about ten minutes from the camp site and pulled up to a field. An empty, deserted field. Opa got out, leaving me to wonder where the main entrance was. Opa routinely leaves me wondering, though, so I simply followed. And followed. And followed.

At one point, Opa banked a hard right and said 'I think it's this way.' Before I could ask him to elaborate on the word 'think', he had dived through some bushes and was sliding down the side of a cliff with my boys. I actually did stop and think, but since the boys were being dragged into the forest by a strange grandparent, I turned off my 'mmh, this is strange' switch and caught up with the odd bunch.

It wasn't really hard to catch up, since David was stopping the entire group after every second tree to point out a snail that he had seen. It was pretty cool the first thirty times, but this was one of those forests with a lot of trees. After twenty minutes, we politely yelled at him to shut the snail up.

When that didn't work, Opa tried his patented 'distracting' technique.

This basically boiled down to showing David different plants and flowers in the hopes that he would forget about the....

'Hey Opa, LOOK!'

Opa was pretty silent for the rest of the hike to the cave. I enjoyed the Depeche Mode song stuck in my head and kept wondering how this cave could still be in business. I mean come on - we had to park in an abandoned field 10 miles away and nature-hike it for over an hour. And all this without a single sign or any kind of marker that we were going in the right direction. Hey, wait a minute!

'Hey, Horst - when did you say was the last time you were here?'

'Mmmm...must have been about forty years ago. Why?'

'Um, I don't know - maybe it's not here anymore. Maybe they went out of business.'

'I think it's this way.'

I didn't quite understand the strange look he gave me before walking away until we finally found the 'cave'.

Suddenly, a wave of clarity and understanding hit me. This was not Luray Caverns, which has a lighted and guided tour in five languages and is fully equipped with a gift shop, a coffee house, and a restaurant. This was a freakin' cave! It was a tiny dark hole in the side of a mountain that Opa used to play in when he was a kid. There was no parking, no admissions office and suddenly, I was the one wishing I had brought a helmet.

Peter and I recently watched Pinocchio together and it scared the shit out of him, so you can imagine what happened at the mouth of this cave. If your imagination sucks, just check out the opening picture. Peter froze and tried his best.

'It's, uh, it's, uh, it's okay - I just wait here and you go in the cave.'

'Come on, Peter - we came all this way, let's go!'

'No, I, uh, no thanks. I stay to watch the bags, okay?'

'Our bags are fine - there is nobody around for miles.'

Okay, my last comment probably didn't help Mr. Jitters much, but at least his arm was not very resistant to minor twisting and/or well-intentioned name calling.

The first bad sign was that, two minutes into the cave, Opa's headband flashlight died. I almost asked him when was the last time he checked the batteries on our headlights, but I was too afraid that he might answer with 'Mmmm...must have been about forty years ago. Why?'

Needless to write, Peter freaked out again and tried convincing everyone that we should all go back outside and just look for snails. As silly as that idea sounds, it demonstrated smart thinking skills. Peter was desperately trying to get David on his side of rational fear and justifiable trepidation so he had tried playing to David's infatuations. The problem was, it was Dark, it was Dangerous, and it was Dirty. David was so in his freakin' element that the idea of going to look for snails at that point was, well...silly. Nice try, buddy. Hey, why isn't your headlight on?

'Not funny, Papa!!'

Okay, sure. I'll give him that one; it was not funny. For him. Nor was it funny when David picked up on Peter's slight anxiety problem and decided to help out.

'Peter! Do you hear the bats! I hear the bats. Look! They're everywhere!! Aaaaggghhh! Hahaha haha hahahahahaha haha hahahahahahahahahahaha!!'

I am not actually sure how long David was laughing because someone, and I won't name names, started screaming like a little girl and beating his head wildly. When he finally calmed down, he explained to David that he was scared because 'I think more than you'. I have to agree with Peter on this one.

The next obstacle on our lovely adventure was a little something that I like to call 'the muddy slide of death'. Opa was the leader and for some strange reason, he thought Peter would be the ideal candidate to go down first.

If you've ever seen one of those 'Crappiest Home Videos' where the stubborn horse aint having no part with the whole jumping over the bar thing, then you would appreciate Peter's next move. Basically, he froze, dug his feet into the mud and started pulling Opa back up the cave. I can so totally understand why Angie wanted me to come along.

After a few minutes of panic-driven kicking, screaming and snotting, we finally calmed our little bronco down enough to realize that he needed to at least witness one person surviving the slide of death before jumping onboard. Bring out the carrot, please.

The only functioning flashlight down there is David, who gleefully volunteered to follow the leader. I really don't know if it is because he is a natural-born thriller or if he just wanted to one-up Peter. Probably both, but it did mean that Peter no longer had any excuse for backing out. The funny thing is, when you're six, you don't need excuses. You need subtle threats, which is what I resorted to next. Bring out the stick, please.

'Peter, if you really want to stay here, that's okay. I'll go down with Opa and David and we should be back in a few hours. I'm sure you'll be fine here, but just remember - if your flashlight goes out, do not panic. That's when people really get hurt.'

'Okay, I go, but you hold me going down.'

I found out at the ear doctor's that Peter can be quite irrational and stubborn when he wants to be. I don't blame him though; I know all too well which side of our family this comes from. Knowing what I don't blame him for, I was quite surprised that he still slid down the muddy death trap with me. Right on, right on - you gotta dig on that!

When we landed at the gates of hell, Peter first breathed rather loudly. Then he punched David, who was asking Peter if he had seen the hyenas lurking in the corner. Then he hugged me. Big time, including a whisper in my ear - 'I love you'.

It was nice and made me think that I need to organize more trips where I bring my kids to the brinks of peril before rescuing them. Disneyland, baby - yeah!!

After several high-fives and back-slaps, we decided to move on. We didn't get far, though. Two minutes later, we reached a small lake. The path stopped and there was no visible way to continue on. That is, of course, until our fearless leader explained.

'See that spot over there? What you have to do is just hold your breath and swim about half a minute in that direction and then you come up in another cave - it's great!'

'Yeah, but what if that other cave has been flooded sometime in, say, I don't know, the last FORTY years?'

'Okay, fine - we should probably head back now.'

With that, Peter sported his first cave smile.

'Did you mean we go up now? So, out of the cave?'

Peter did not actually wait for an answer. He ran... no wait, he bolted out of the cave so fast that I lost track of him. He was like some crazed lab rat that had just escaped from cosmetic testing for Tammy Faye Bakker.

We eventually caught up with him by the entrance to the cave. David jumped up on the stone that Peter was basking on and initiated a victory cheer.

After surviving a journey to the muddy depths of hell and back, nothing hits the spot like starting a forest fire.

After Peter's birthday party, you would think that David would shy away from situations where his hair might catch on fire. Again David displayed that he has no appreciation for hair or life. It's okay, though, because us adults were supervising as he tried picking up hot embers.

After our smoke break, we climbed to a nice viewpoint, where Opa showed us another cave he used to play in and asked if we wanted to check it out.

Peter curled up into a little ball and started sucking his thumb, so I'm guessing his response was 'no'. My response was more of a question.

'You mean that mountain over there on the horizon? Jesus! How many days were you guys gone when you went out to play?'

David's reaction was, as usual, slightly different. The tiny stone fence might be enough of a deterrent to keep normal locals from flinging themselves to certain death in the steep valley below, but David is neither normal, nor is he local. Luckily, Opa's cat-like reflexes snatched our little thrill junkie before he tumulted down the valley to Opa's playground.

Part of Opa's hood included an ancient stairway to nirvana.

At least Opa was nervous enough to realize that David's under teen spirit does not yet have wings. Woah, slow down there, Red Bull.

After David almost flew over the cuckoo's nest, Opa and I rounded up the birds and flocked back to the camper for a nice home cooked meal.

Opa must have run fresh out of pigs to roast for the boys, but I'm sure that slices of toast smothered in spreadable chocolate were just as nutritious. Mmm, what's for dessert?

Opa didn't have any sugary treats that could top a chocolate-covered chocolate sandwich, so he simply commanded the glazed crew to jump around like drunken monkeys until they got tired. There is very little that Opa doesn't know, but the natural behavior of liquored up pavians tops his short list. They never sleep!

Opa finally realized his mistake and turned to me for salvation.

'Why aren't your boys going to sleep?'

First off, they are not mine; they belong to your daughter. Secondly, I think they probably need to use the bathroom before settling for the night. I wasn't sure, though; maybe hopping on one leg and grabbing your crotch is the new thing. To be sure, I asked them.

'Yeah, I need to pee-pee!'

'Yeah, I need to kaka!'

Opa jumped in on the second bowel comment and laid down the law.

'You can go pee-pee here, but the big needs go to the big house.'

The 'big house' was the park's communal bathroom, conveniently located three and a half minutes away from our camper. I know this because I had to piggy back both Peter and David to the 'big house' at least four times after dinner. It probably did not help that I made a game of it, where I was the horse and they were the cowboys with the undersized bladders.

The boys were convinced that monsters were lurking outside and planning to steal them in the middle of the night. I eased their minds by reminding them that it was raining, so the monsters had probably already moved inside somewhere. I added another touch of comfort by explaining that monsters normally don't steal kids; they eat them. Sleep tight!

I allowed them another five minutes to ransack the place. After ensuring that the camper was monster-free, I locked the door and tucked them into bed.

After lights out, Opa and I cracked open a few beers. After his two sips and my second bottle, David poked his head around our non-existent privacy curtain.

'I need a kaka - right now!'

I should probably point out that it had started pouring rain, so I shot Opa a look that said 'Please, please let my son crap in your trailer because it is raining buckets outside and I am drinking beer in my underwear.'

Oddly enough, Opa caved in. Crap away, boys!

David grunted for a few minutes before waking up everyone in the park by screaming that 'I need a wipe me, please!'. Hey, no problem, buddy. Let me just grab a little paper here and hey, why isn't this thing flushing?

It didn't take long for the camper to fill up with the poignant smells of David. Opa caught wind of our dilemma, but ignored my diagnosis that it wouldn't flush.

'It works, just move out of the way.'

I sent David back to bed and Opa spent the next five minutes cursing the port-a-potty for not working as it should. He finally decided that it must be a problem with the valve switch that was conveniently located on the outside of the camper. He grabbed a flashlight and cursed again as he opened the door. The boys woke up and only saw a muttering silhouette in the open doorway.

'Aaaaaaaaagggggggghhhhh!!! PAPA!! A monster! A monster!'

Before I could calm them down enough to try and explain, the camper started rocking. THUMP! THUMP! THUMP!

'Papa! The monster is mad, he gonna get us!'

I tried explaining that it was just Opa, apparently beating the hell out of the flush valve, but the door flung open again. Peter whimpered under his covers but David threw his fists up.

'Are you a monster?'


A very wet and slightly irritated Opa stormed past them and began punching the toilet from the inside. The toilet wasn't taking any crap, though. It held it's own, forcing Opa to make another trip outside. This routine continued for the next twenty minutes and trust me - words do not begin to describe the stench.

After the fourth trip, Opa sat down and grabbed his beer. He suddenly seemed determined to catch up with me as he tried to figure out what could be wrong. We didn't really say much, but this is probably good because I could only think of wise cracks. Hey, shit happens!

I was entertaining visions of all four of us sleeping in the station wagon when Opa jumped up and darted into the bathroom. Man, I hope to hell he doesn't have a big need.

Seconds later, the toilet flushed and a very triumphant Opa emerged. He explained that the doohickey thingamabob had to be pushed in before...whatever, you saved us! You're my hero! My nose will cook you breakfast in the morning!

Actually, breakfast looked a lot like dinner, so I allowed Opa to do the honors.

It's okay, though. After witnessing wet monsters storm in and out of their bedroom all night, I think the boys needed a little extra kick to get things going.

The last stop on our trip was right up David's alley - rock smashing.

Opa explained that we were looking for fossils, but I don't think that either of the boys heard that part. For them, the goal was converting boulders to pebbles.

After almost an hour, Opa had found fossils of shells, leaves, and part of an insect's wing. These were all subsequently smashed to pieces by David who apparently did grasp the phrase 'don't touch this pile'. You'll just have to trust me - it was cool. And it did not stink.

I think we freaked out a couple drivers as we waited to cross the road. Opa, Peter and David all had hammers in their hands and David was still taking practice swings with his. Oddly enough, none of the cars slowed down.

We finally made it to the car without denting anything and started driving back. On the way home, I asked the boys what they would wish for if they could have three things. Peter shouted out immediately.

'A laptop, a horse and a sofa!'

I was still scratching my head when David chimed in.

'A compass, a laser sword, and a soccer shirt.'

Needless to say, I didn't ask them any more questions. I thought about asking Opa, but I was a little scared of what he might wish for after two days with the Johnson's.

Instead, we stopped to grab a quick bite to eat, where David apparently saw the first bald person in his life and thought it would be wise to announce this to everyone in the restaurant, including Kojak.

'Ha, ha! Look, Papa! That man - he no have hair. Ha-ha, that funny looks!'

David probably would have continued insulting the poor man had I not covered his mouth with my hand and explained to everyone that we were visiting from Canada. Sorry, eh?

When we finally got home, I could tell that Tom had really missed me.

Okay, I thought it was a bit strange that he began screaming 'Peter, David' over and over again and kept pointing at the boys, but our family is notorious for strange displays of affection. Angie, for example, looked like she had really missed me, too.

'He's poopy and it is so your turn.'
Ladder Talk:
1) What was the best part of your day?
Peter: As I go in the caves and I lived it over.
David: When I played 'rah-raaggh' in the caves with Peter and he cry.

2) What was the worst part of your day?
Peter: As I had a little bit scared in the caves 'cause it was so dark and booby traps.
David: When I hear the bonk, bonk from the monster.

3) What would you like to do tomorrow?
Peter: To play on Artin's birthday.
David: To play with Peter and Artin.