Love has something to do with the definition of "family"--but the real sticking point, the place where things get bolted together, is the knowledge that everybody else has the goods on you, and you have the goods on them. Mutual Assured Destruction, I think they call it. I've got your back and you've got mine, because otherwise I am going to let the world know about that disgusting thing you do with your toenails in bed, or about that time they had to close the baby pool after you crapped in it, or....You get the idea. These, friends, are the ties that bind. I realized this on vacation.We were on our way back from visiting the relatives in Wisconsin, with a side trip to Ohio, and the trip odometer was inching up to 2,000 miles. We were tired, cramped from sitting in the car too long, a little punch drunk, and a little crabby. We'd stopped at a little diner to eat, and I can't remember how it started; I tuned in when I heard Rebecca saying to Suzanne, "If you ever do THAT to me, I'll tell about the Eric Incident." I saw Suzanne giving her older sister a glare that would have bored holes in granite, and in an attempt to divert Sibling Fight #47 of this trip, I said, "Yeah, Suze, but think of what you could tell on HER."
"Yeah," Suzanne said grimly. "Like you-know-who in math class that somebody has a crush on."
"Why stick to boys?" I said. "how about that time she was three and gave the Miss America wave all the way down the plane aisle on the way to the lavatory?"
Rebecca said, "Parents don't get to play."
"I don't know why not," said her dad.
"Fine." said Rebecca. "Then how about that time you rode your bike to work and forgot your pants?"
"Don't forget," said her dad, "I have those baby pictures of you naked in the backyard pool. What will your prom date think of those?"
"'OH MOMMY,'" Suzanne mimicked, "'IT'S SOO BEEYOOOTIFULLL!''--a reference to the time Rebecca's enthusiastic admiration for the set of "The Nutcracker" caused widespread titters throughout the orchestra level and up to the loge of the Warner Theater. And the mayor's wife was in the row just in front of us. The recollection of this caused me to laugh, which was a mistake.
"Okay, Mom," Rebecca said. "Might I mention the time you tried to get into the wrong hotel room? Or--wait! How about the public toilet incident in Paris?"
"You weren't even alive then."
"So? Or how about watching you trying to get out of the inner tube at Great Wolf Lodge? Or the John Hancock Incident?"
She had me there. I was an adult, in my 30s, old enough to have been around for awhile, but I was buying my first piece of real estate for more money than I could bear to think about, and I was nervous. My kindly real estate agent was walking me through the whole thing and I was doing exactly what he told me to do, exactly, so when he put the formal offer paperwork in front of me and said, "Just put your John Hancock there on that line," that's....exactly.....what I wrote: John Hancock. Man, I thought, these real estate customs are weird. The look on my agent's face when he saw what I'd done said as clearly as words could ever say, Oh my God, I have been wasting my time with a complete Looney Tunes.
I will never live that down, because my kids will never let me. But that's okay: I have pictures stored away, and a few poopy diaper stories, and some information about the exact location of that chicken pox rash. We are a very close family that way. Very close.