“Here it comes again!” “Outta my way!” Shrieking, jumping, laughing… My little sister and I clambered up to the top of the couch. From there, we plotted out separate routes across the living room. Pixie claimed the easy road; down to the arm of the couch, across the side table to the back of the big armchair and then jump onto the dining room table. I was more daring. If I timed it right, I could jump down to the middle of the living room floor, run to the stairs and perch on the table sitting on the stairway landing. Risky, but the monster might go after Pix and give me time to escape.
“Aarrgghhh!” The monster had a long reach; if we slipped, he’d get us! Pix took her chance and I jumped. Strong arms grabbed me, “Buzz, buzz!” And the tickling commenced. I rolled in Daddy’s arms, laughing and kicking. Pix jumped on his back, trying to help me, but Daddies aren’t ticklish, especially when they are Buzz Buzz Monsters.
Her little legs pummeled his sides. “Horsie! Horsie! Gi-pa!” And the game changed. With a rear and a whinny, the Gi-pa took off across the living room, Pixie shrieking with joy, her hands fisted in his thick black hair. I sat up, trying to catch my breath and waited for my turn.
Every family, I hope, has games. Silly fun games. I’m pretty sure Jim Carrey (in “Liar, Liar”, I think was the movie’s name) does not have the exclusive rights to “The Claw!” Hey, my daddy was “The Claw” before the actor was born! Daddy was the big sneaky shark before anyone ever heard of “Jaws!” He would swim underwater to us and one hand would rise up. He would corner us in the shallow end of the pool, hands crooked, reaching for us, and ominously announce, “It’s The Claw! The Claw!” in a twisted accent. If caught, more tickling… I learned how to swim just to escape into the deep end.
That was a rule. “The Claw” couldn’t get you if you were on dry land or in the deep end of the pool. Same with the Buzz Buzz Monster – it couldn’t climb on the furniture to get us, but if we touched the floor, we were fair game. We didn’t play these games with Mom. I don’t remember a single tickle session with my mom. She did come outside and push me nice and high on my swing, though.
Maybe they were Daddy games because he was home. We were “latch-key” kids long before the phrase was coined. We’d walk home from school or the bus stop, enter the unlocked house, and do whatever. Our older brother and older sister were supposed to be our baby-sitters, but, honestly? Between the time we left school until my Dad got home from work, we were out in the neighborhood playing.
Dad had the typical 8 to 5 job; Mom, as a Registered Nurse, tried to work only the 7am to 3pm shift so she could be home with us in the afternoon, but she sometimes worked doubles or she’d be sleeping because she had to work 3pm to 11pm or 11pm to 7am. If she was home, sleeping or not, we’d grab our bikes and take off. We didn’t want to bother her – that woke up a whole different kind of monster.
But once she left for work and Daddy was in charge, ah, the games commenced. Did she know we climbed all over the furniture? Did she find out Daddy let us sit in his big chair with him to watch “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” late at night? Did she ever come outside and catch fireflies with us? She did love to swim and I remember playing “The Claw” with her in the pool. Mom made a good “Claw.” She had long slender fingers and could cackle like a witch.
I have my dad’s hands – small with short chubby fingers. But my fingers have Mom’s agility. I played a variation of “The Claw” with my kids when they were little. “The Spider” would creep across the table toward their highchair, creeping, “legs” extending up and out, wriggling forward…ooo, the suspense, the wide-eyed happy fear as “The Spider” advanced. And then…Pounce! Tickle, tickle! If my baby swatted at it, “The Spider” would dash away. If my child landed a hit, my hand would flop over, palm up, the “legs” curled in defeat. Ah, but maybe the monster was just playing dead. Maybe, if you poke it with your baby spoon (never your soft meaty little finger, oh no!), it will move and jump at you again! Cats love “The Spider” game, too!
My husband makes an awesome “Claw.” He has big strong hands with long slender fingers. Back when we were first “going steady” in high school, I taught him how to swim properly. Oh, he knew the basics from swimming in the river or streams, but he had few opportunities to swim in a real pool. I took him to our housing development’s pool or up to Saratoga Springs Park – for a dollar, you could spend all day at the two big pools there, swimming and diving. I taught that boy the crawl, the backstroke, the side stroke, taught him proper form for a simple racing dive, beat him in lap races the length of the pool…then he went to SUNY Maritime College. My aspiring sailor came home, challenged me to a race, and was halfway across the pool before I’d hit the water! College had taught him better than I and I stood in the shallow end, watching a man shoot through the water with clean strokes from powerful arms and efficient kicks from those nicely muscled legs. Then, he disappeared in the deep end…moments later, something grabbed my legs. “The Claw” broke the surface and, well, that game didn’t end in a tickle session! Maritime instructors taught him how to hold his breath for a long time, too. I hope I’m the one who taught him how to kiss like that! 😀
I also introduced my love to “Scrabble,” gin rummy and poker. Just a few games later, he was winning every time. Hard to win against a guy with genius IQ once he learns something! I took him horseback riding. I had years of training and experience; he settled in the saddle, picked up the reins, tucked his feet in the stirrups – heels down, toes out – and, yeah, a natural, no more lessons required. He had the “seat” and the “soft” hands, and horses responded beautifully for him.
Men and games. Kids and games. Family games are necessary, made up games are the best. Imperfect and dysfunctional as my birth family was, we had some fun times. I worry that I’m the only one who remembers, that I’m the Keeper of the Good Memories. They’re gone now, those two beautiful, talented walking wrecks of people, but, sometimes, I miss them. My brother battles intense pain and struggles with a mind fogged by powerful pain-killer drugs. My older sister is lost to us, buried in mental illness. My little sister, Pixie to my Trixie (Daddy’s nicknames for us), is raising her family, working, living through the grief of having her oldest son die at the age of twenty. So I frantically type, attempting to organize the memories and get the family stories out of my own failing brain.
Don’t be my mom; go catch some fireflies with your kids or point out the stars in the sky. Better yet, let your children climb on the furniture while you, the Buzz Buzz Monster, crawl on the floor below. Make the good memories now and they’ll help you fight off the Dark.