After the failings of July weather, August burst out with brilliant blue mornings and clear, cool nights. I was racking up banner days with my kids; cloudless skies on the lake, a little canoeing, swimming with their cousins. Kicking back on the beach chair with a book, I could hear their squeals of delight as they played rag tag, throwing the wet piece of towel at each other and ducking under the raft.
I call these helium heart days. You go to bed with a lightness of being, fullness of day and a sense of completion. You’ve hit the mark as a Mom on these days, checked off most things on the “Most Wonderful Mom” list like “played with kids,” “meaningful conversation” or “maintained good cheer.” You know these days don’t come all the time, maybe not every week, and so you try to still them, to soak them in.
Coming back up to our cottage I spread out the towels on the railing to dry and turned on the stove to roast a chicken. I was determined to check the box for “healthy meal” on this day too. I loved this; loved the pace of summer, of not having anywhere to be that night, of knowing we would all open our books on the couch that evening or tuck into a movie under blankets.
And so to demonstrate my contentment, I did what most people do when they are happy. I let out a Three Stooges Curly “whoop-whoop-whoop,” as I was stuffing the chicken’s cavity with rosemary, onions and garlic. Truth be told, it was kind of a combination of Curly and Julia Child, inspired as I was by the French Chef to be pulling the bird’s goose-fleshy legs wide open.
“What was that?” asked my daughter Claire.
“The Three Stooges,” I said, casually binding the chicken’s legs together with string like a demure virgin.
“I’ve heard of them. I think we have the movie.”
“Well, let’s find it,” I said. “Every kid needs to know about the Three Stooges. Whoop- whoop-whoop,” and I quickly rubbed my hands on my head the way Curly used to do. My kids laughed.
They tried to imitate the Curly thing, but without a good example, the real deal, they had no traction. There was no Three Stooges DVD in the drawer.
“Let’s You Tube it,” I said. Honestly, what did we do before You Tube? Life must have been one giant game of charades. How did we function without the ability to view everyone’s pratfalls, oogle bad plastic surgery transformations or watch the woman walking down Fifth Avenue with her skirt hem tucked in her panties.
And so as I finished the dinner prep, boiled the beets and cut the tomatoes, the sounds of Moe, Larry and Curly emanated from my office computer. The girls were transfixed.
Heading upstairs with my glass of white wine to take a shower, I realized that amongst the slaps, whines, screams, kicks and whoop-whoop-whooping soundtrack, one sound was missing --- my kids’ laughter. My girls were watching, fascinated, but that slapstick kind of humor that was such a hallmark of the vaudevillian years was eluding them.
I had always sort of identified with the Three Stooges as a kid, being one of three girls. I was the oldest, Moe, the one starting the trouble and usually meting out the punishment. Watching a few of the clips, I’d forgotten what a complete bully Moe was, a serious tyrant, a dictator even, as seen through the eyes of my kids. But the expressions and the physical humor made me chuckle.
When it was almost time for dinner I walked in again to see them still both still mesmerized by the screen. That meany pants Moe was pulling Larry by the hair. And who was Schemp? Had Curly died? I couldn’t remember. Maybe he’d taken so much physical abuse that he had just keeled over one day.
“It’s really violent,” said Claire.
“And it’s black and white,” remarked Nora.
“Yeah, these shows were made even before I was born.”
“Wow,” said Claire. “That’s a long time ago.” I nodded seriously.
“Are they rated PG?” asked Claire. She was still stuck on the slapping, dragging, hair pulling and screaming part of the Three Stooges. Our kid’s did humor differently now. They had their own entire genre of “appropriate shows” that were educational. They learned other languages, how to get along, kindness and inclusion. There were Teletubbies and Dora the Explorer. Sesame Street taught them to count and read at an early age. Hannah Montana had her own identity and boyfriend problems to work out. There was absolutely, positively no slapping, hitting or boulders being dropped on anyone’s head.
“Use your words, Moe, not your hands,” I could imagine my Nora thinking as he popped Curly with an iron, screaming so hard his eyes bulged out of their sockets and veins stood out on his neck.
“That’s an outside voice Larry,” I imagined Claire thinking. But still they watched, with a combination of fascination and horror. Man, there went Moe again, swinging a two-by-four at poor Larry’s head. Well, that’s a brain injury waiting to happen, I thought as Curly’s eyes rolled back and Larry saw stars. I thought about all the things that used to pass for OK when we were kids, people on TV hitting each other in the kisser with golf clubs, no seat belts in the car, no bike helmets. Spanking was acceptable for the bad transgressions and the best ever was riding on the back of the station wagon, tailgate down, to get ice cream, legs dangling out over the road. All of this carefree recklessness I associated with my childhood. And I had loved it.
Sure, our kids were safer now and protected. We were smarter about so many things from diet and nutrition to political correctness and inclusion. As a generation of parents we had learned from our own parents’ mistakes and had gained from the knowledge of science, psychology and medicine that comes with the advancement of time.
But sometimes there is simply no substitute for the silliness of the “whoop-whoop- whoop.” There is simply no better, simpler, pure dumb-ass pleasure than the Three Stooges.
“Time for bed,” I called hours later. And when no one moved, I resorted to the technique my father had used in the good old days.
“See this finger?” I held out my pointer and Claire and Nora grinned, nodding. I had their attention now.
“See this thumb? “ they started laughing and running and in unison we all shouted….“See this fist…. You’d better run!”