Sunday, August 15, 2010

The curse of a new generation

I’ve often seen the quote “May you live in interesting times” passed off as an ancient Chinese curse, as if the worst thing you could wish upon someone was a greater historical event affecting his or her life. Based on recent personal experience, though, I think the curse would pack a lot more punch if it were updated to say something more like: “May you drive to Maine with a constipated infant.”

My wife Kara and I lived through this curse last weekend on our drive back home from a family vacation in Maine. You might have noticed that my proposed revision to the curse mentions driving to Maine, not from Maine, but if the curse reflected our situation exactly, then you could only use it to curse people who were already in Maine, which would severely limit its usefulness as a curse, unless you ate a bad lobster and wanted to get back at the lobsterman.

“I think I’m going slowly insane,” Kara said as our son Evan wailed across the entirety of New Hampshire. We’d stopped multiple times to see if anything we could do would put him in better spirits, but nothing worked. I don’t know for certain whether his constipation had anything to do with his foul mood, but it seemed fairly clear that Evan was feeling as if Mozart had performed a movement more recently than he had.

A reasonable person might wonder why a family with an infant wouldn’t just fly to Maine, rather than attempting an automotive traverse of the Eastern Seaboard. This person would clearly have never visited Rangeley, Maine, a remote mountain town whose charm owes in part to its inaccessibility. Flying to Rangeley would be a fine option, if JetBlue offered pontoon flights. The only airports for hours in any direction are tiny little rich-person, bring-your-own-airplane airports. Rangeley doesn’t even have a McDonald’s. It is the Land That Ronald McDonald Forgot, or Avoided on Account of the Mosquitoes.

The drive home from a vacation is never as much fun as the drive there, with excited anticipation replaced by a grim determination to get home and chase off the fruit flies that moved in while you were gone. Evan, who had been on his best behavior on the drive to Rangeley, seemed to sense the difference, and both Kara and I would gladly have chosen to live in interesting times over spending another half-day in that car.

As we pulled back onto the highway after one of our sanity stops, Kara handed me a bag of Sour Patch Kids and said, “Happy anniversary.”

I responded by pulling a large bag of Twizzlers, her favorite candy for some reason, out of my pocket.

“Happy anniversary,” I replied. I’d scratched the price tag off the front of the bag because I didn’t want her to know that I’d blown $1.29 on her gift, even though she’s worth every penny.

The sixth anniversary is traditionally the iron anniversary or the candy anniversary, depending on whether you ask a blacksmith or Willy Wonka. Kara and I discussed it ahead of time and decided not to buy each other big iron monstrosities that we’d feel compelled to display.

The iron anniversary is a tough one. If you’re not married to an actor at a Renaissance fair, what can you possibly buy your spouse that is both made of iron and a decent present? If you get your wife a cast iron skillet for your anniversary, you should probably also get yourself a good helmet.

Instead, we decided to keep this anniversary simple, with my parents volunteering for a babysitting shift so Kara and I could go out to a nice dinner, a precious rarity for us. As we rolled into our driveway early that evening, Evan’s screams finally turned to smiles, and our times got a little less interesting. Though it was tough to tell the difference with the Sour Patch Kids stuffed in my ears.

You can curse Mike Todd at

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