Helen and Kai go to their first opera

Helen and I have been going through The Love Dare recently, as an exercise for her blog — she wants to encourage Chinese husbands and wives to go through it in order to help their marriages.

A few nights ago, Helen went to the opera Manon with me, at the University of Houston. I love the opera, while she doesn’t know much about it and would never have gone on her own. So this was very definitely a case of her being nice to me, especially since it meant leaving the house at 6:00 and not getting back until almost midnight.

As it happened, we were on Day 12 of the Love Dare, and the dare was, “Do something out of the ordinary today for your spouse — something that proves (to you and to them) that your love is based on your choice and nothing else. Wash her car. Clean the kitchen. Buy his favorite dessert. Fold the laundry. Demonstrate love to them for the sheer joy of being their partner in marriage.” So obviously she won the Love Dare contest for the day, hands down, since I had had a ton of work and hit the end of the day without having had a chance to think about the Love Dare at all, with just enough time for us to scramble into the car and head for the opera.

Kai went with us as well, and we met Merry and her friend Cecelia at a restaurant near the University of Houston campus. It was our first time to meet Cecelia, who seems like a very nice young lady. Now, it is a father’s duty to embarrass his daughter whenever possible. So I called up the article I wrote almost ten years ago, when ten-year-old Merry went to her very first opera with me, and I let Cecelia read it.

Since Kai and Helen had never been to an opera, I thought I had better explain some things to them. In particular, I told them, “When you go to an opera, you’re expected to already know the story. So, here’s what happens in this opera: the main girl does some really stupid things and in the end she dies.”

Kai said something like, “Really, that’s the plot?”

“That’s pretty much the plot of ALL grand opera,” I told him. “There’s a girl, she does something bad or stupid, she dies.”

He grinned from ear to ear. “I LIKE it,” he told me. Merry looked at Cecelia and explained, “He’s still just eleven…”

“Twelve!” Kai corrected her firmly.

“Oh, really, you’re twelve?” She apologized affectionately, “I’m sorry, I thought you were still eleven.” She turned back to Cecelia. “He’s still just twelve, and he still thinks girls are gross.”

They opened the doors, and we went in and found our seats, and I took Kai down and showed him the orchestra pit. Then the opera started, and it was very well done indeed — astonishingly well for a group of college students.

But operas last a long time, and I still had not done anything unusual or special for the Love Dare. As we sat in our seats during the five-minute scenery change between the fifth and sixth scenes, I decided that if I couldn’t do anything unusually special, I could at least do something unusually silly. And there was one thing I had never done for Helen in five whole years of marriage.

“I don’t think I’ve ever wriggled my ears for you,” I said to Helen.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

So I wriggled my ears.

Some people can actually make just their ears waggle. I can’t do that, but I can slide my whole scalp backward and forward on my skull, which makes my ears move back and forth. I don’t know that it’s what you would call impressive, but if you’ve never seen it before it’s at least surprising. Helen was definitely surprised.

“WHAT??” she squeaked. The next moment, she took a deep breath, widened her eyes as far as they would open, and then actually crossed them in concentration — clearly trying to make her ears move. I started laughing as she demanded, “How did you do that?”

“Do what?” asked Kai, who was sitting next to her and hadn’t seen me the first time. I wriggled my ears again. “COOL!” exclaimed Kai, and immediately leaned forward, assumed an attitude of intense concentration, and began grimacing as if he were having severe digestive difficulties. His ears didn’t budge. By now I was helpless with laughter.

“What are you guys doing?” asked Merry, on the other side of Kai. She had been talking to Cecelia. I leaned forward and showed her, though it took me several tries, since I can’t wriggle my ears and laugh at the same time. “Whoa, that’s WEIRD!” exclaimed Merry, and at the same time Cecelia said, “Oh, I know how to do that!” She tried to demonstrate, but couldn’t stop laughing at first. Finally she managed it, to Merry’s awe.

Cecelia began explaining to Merry that you just have to move your scalp muscle. “But how do you move your scalp muscle?” asked Merry, putting her fingertips on top of head and apparently trying to push her scalp back and forth. “How do you even know which muscle IS your scalp muscle?” chimed in Helen.

As Merry and Helen continued to try to move their ears, Kai asked me, “Dad, what other tricks can you do?”

I chuckled. “Before I had a moustache, I could stick out my tongue and touch the end of my nose,” I told him. “I can’t do it now, though, because my moustache pushes my tongue out too far from my face.” I showed him.

By now Helen was paying attention to us. “What are you DOING?”

“I was just showing Kai how I used to be able to stick out my tongue and touch the tip of my nose,” I told her. “Can’t do it now because of my moustache, but I used to be able to. In fact,” I added, “when I was in junior high, I could stick out my tongue and touch my ear.”

“No way!” she said. Kai, who knew the trick because I had played it on him before, started to say, “No, Mom, wait, I know how!” So, quickly, before he could get her attention and give it away, I stuck my tongue straight out — and reached up with my index finger and touched my ear with it.

“Oh, you!” Helen snorted, half annoyed at being tricked and half laughing. Kai and I were giggling delightedly. I looked over and Merry was still, with Cecelia’s diligent tutoring, trying to wriggle her ears. It struck me that all the other people sitting around us were very sedately waiting for the next scene to start, while my entire family were wriggling their ears and making faces and sticking out their tongues. I leaned across Helen and Kai to get Cecelia’s attention.

“Cecelia,” I said with a straight face, “we are a VERY sophisticated family — as you can see from how we behave when we go to the opera.”

So, I don’t know whether I made Helen feel like I loved her by doing something unusually special. But I at least managed to make her laugh by doing something unusually silly.


Angelina makes the rules clear

I picked up my daughter Anya and my five- and two-year-old granddaughters Angelina and Elizabeth a couple of days ago; they were coming to our house to ride out the Massive Flooding Of Hurricane Patricia (one of the most anticlimactic non-apocalyptic weather events ever to fail to hit Sugar Land, as it turned out, but that’s neither here nor there). I put Eppie into her car seat as Anya put Angelina into hers, and then Anya and I got in and closed the doors. And the moment we were all inside, Angelina (who calls me “Ken” because when she was very small dyedushka was too hard to pronounce) informed me, very firmly and with great emphasis:

“Кен, в машине нельзя пукать! (Ken, v mashinye nilzya pukat!)”

Which is to say, “Granddaddy, in the car you’re not allowed to fart.”

I wish you could have seen Anya’s expression — but then, any parent of small children is familiar with that expression, as each of us has worn it himself on many an occasion. You just never know what a small child will say, or when they will say it, or whom they will say it to.

I managed to keep a straight face, and agreed with equal emphasis and solemnity, “Совсем нельзя! [Sofsyem nilzya, Absolutely not!]” And as she apparently considered the point made and the conversation over, we drove away with no further words on the subject.