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A priest, a minister and a rabbi were talking about when life begins. The priest said: “Life begins at conception.” The minister said: “Life begins when the fetus is viable.” The rabbi said: “Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies.”

While this joke has innumerable versions, this is the one Great-Uncle Herbie told when we got married. He and Great-Aunt Fanny also gave us their three life rules:

  1. Don’t eat in restaurants with plants (they’re put there to hide something).
  2. Don’t give each other presents with handles.
  3. And most importantly, don’t let the kids outnumber you.

We broke #3 so quickly that #1 wasn’t a problem, mostly because local restaurants wouldn’t let us in after that incident with the plate of spaghetti, the diaper, and the table of committee ladies from the Chamber of Commerce. Although the Hub was still trying to follow #2, he did slip up on a couple of presents like the dog (leash handle), the handheld vacuum (small handle), and the gym membership (racket handle).

Since I suffer from an incurable medical handicap (motherhood), I actually requested the first two presents. First of all, because…puppies! Like infants, puppies’ greatest survival adaptation is cuteness. This is the only possible explanation for the continued existence of a species in which millions of years of evolutionary development resulted in our dog Tasha, a canine with only two documented instincts: rolling in disgusting stuff before consuming and regurgitating the remainder, and bloodlust toward anything in a UPS uniform.

In the case of the hand-vac, I was seduced by ads showing a vacuum-wielding mom smiling with the serenity of a woman with a large, refillable Valium prescription as every messy scrap—including the dog and a few spare kids—was sucked into her voracious vaclet. At last, I reasoned, high technology would be on my side, my own Star Wars defense shield** against the encroachments of the Evil Dust Empire.

**[NOTE #1: This is how you know this is a blast-from-the-past piece. When I first wrote it, we were still on an acronym-strewn path that was supposed to take us away from MAD (mutually-assured-destruction) to Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) which would supposedly let us make nanner-nanner-boo-boo noises at the Evil Soviet Empire. That lasted until Bill Clinton changed the name to BMDO (god-knows what it stood for, but it was too irresistibly like BIMBO for anyone to take it seriously because…Bill Clinton.) Got all that? We didn’t either.][image credit: cheezburger.com]

Who knows? Perhaps even now all those unemployed defense contractors are looking for new projects**:

**[NOTE#2: Okay, I know we just had a note. But this really is another way you can tell how old this piece is. Obviously, all the defense industry had to do was hang in there until Trump, and Happy Days Are Here Again (for defense contractors at least.  [image credit: resetera.com]

CEO, General Megacontractors, board meeting, “Now that the Pentagon has canceled plans to build a prototype of our X4896-Super-Major-Patriotic Voice-Activated Laser-Guided Cockpit Microwave Coffee Warmer, we need to decide whether to:

  1. Redirect our massive technical expertise and vast industrial complex toward improving and enriching the lives of people everywhere.
  2. Produce a really hot urban assault convertible, Le Marital Aid X4896, featuring a computer-guided sound system that plays patriotic music and Kenny Rogers hits at decibels which register on seismographs in neighboring states while its search-mode automatically hones in on every sports event broadcast in this hemisphere, plus an in-dash espresso maker.
  3. Put that atomic-powered stealth vacuum into production for Barb.

(Readers, you are probably asking yourselves, “Dogs, hand-vacs, racquetball? What’s the connection?” Well, I’m a professional writer. Watch and learn. )

As a congenitally sports-impaired person, I’ll bet my hand vac that neither Aunt Fannie, Uncle Herbie, nor the dog ever heard me express a desire for a gym membership. But an amazing event occurred one day. All my children went to school. Home alone!

Me: “We could change the playroom decor from Early Fisher-Price Nuclear Ground Zero to Yuppster Media Nirvana.”

Hub: “We could get gym passes and play racquetball until we’re covered in sweat and then shower in public locker rooms.” He handed me the racket. “Happy birthday. Sorry about the handle.”

My kids were very suspicious. “What do you really do at the gym?” Now, I am a well-documented sports illiterate. I thought they put the sports report on the network news to give me a chance to go to the bathroom without missing the important stuff like the weather and the latest celebrity to recall being abused four decades ago. But I decided to read the sports pages and write down some actual sports stuff so I could give the kids a report using sporty terminology.

Since we never bothered to learn the actual rules to racquetball, here’s my version of Parentball.

Rookie Barb, who paid her dues for ten years in the mother-league minors before being tapped for the pros, faced off against The Hub, a 21-point favored seasoned veteran who had the distinct advantage of at least holding a tennis racket before and really, how different could this be? But Barb has seen A League of Their Own, so she knows the script calls for her to say, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great… And the guys walking around wiping their sweaty chests with their shirts what makes it pretty great too.”

Barb has paid her own dues to get here. Mostly in the locker room just now. “Anyone who can survive having the only stretch marks in a locker room filled with 18-year-olds in size-2 bathing suits is going to be one tough mother to beat.”

Barb leads off the inning with her curveball, which bounces off three walls and the back of her opponent’s head. He responds with his running attack, a rally which brings the SRO crowd—someone passing with a towel cart—to its feet.

In a return which judges are still debating, Barb smashes the ball into the corner with her forehead. Two strokes off the lead with the bases loaded, Barb pitches a touchdown pass for her first field goal. Her husband regains possession of the ball with a block assist and ends a brilliant rally with a grounder through Barb’s legs.

But in the bottom of the fourth quarter, Barb rebounds, abandoning her previous zone defense (of her personal squishy zones) for a Barb-to-Hub coverage. The moment that turns things emotionally is her hole-in-one shot straight into her husband’s husbandhood.

A rematch is planned for as soon as he can stand up again. Meanwhile, Barb couldn’t be reached for postgame comments because she had to give up her promising sports career to go home and vacuum the dog.

[Image credit: gifbin.com]

The secret of my abundant health is that whenever the impulse to exercise comes over me, I lie down until it passes away.”—attributed to Robert Maynard Hutchins, the President of the University of Chicago, 1938.