Oh to be thirteen…

I can’t  believe that I was once one of them:  a middle school boy.

Two weeks ago I chaperoned our church middle school mission trip.  The three adults sat with our youth on the front row of the church the Sunday that we departed.  Late in the service, we all stood up front so the minister could “commission” our group which includes a charge to spread Christ’s love throughout the world.

We were all wearing shorts that day, ready to depart at noon.

Mid point in the service, our youth director looked down as the 12-year-old beside her took full use of the ink pen on our weekly visitor register.  His ball point was steady on his buddy’s right leg.  And what might one guess this young man would draw?  A penis.  Yes, he used the pen from the Friendship pad to draw private parts on his friend’s leg.

I didn’t see it myself which is a good thing.  Because I fear I would have rolled under the pew with laughter.  Although grossly inappropriate, it is perhaps one of the moments I will most remember from my years in church, right after my baptism and being ordained as an elder.

What are these dudes thinking?  Or are they?

If there is a deck of cards in view, they pick it up and begin flipping the cards all over the room.  They flip cards at windows, heads, legs, girls, the floor, the ceiling, the wall – I bet I picked up 6,800 cards that week.  And I nagged so much just to ensure that they would occasionally sleep and not forget to change their clothes, I found it easier to clean up myself than to ask them to help.

There were actually two church groups spending the week together in Asheville.  Although we separated during the day, at night we had programs as a large group.

On Tuesday, we visited a Labyrinth.  Our goal was to quietly walk the maze-like path while praying and pondering.  The boys took this as an obstacle course; a challenge to see who could run through the quickest.

Afterward, we all stood in a large circle on a concrete pad.  I had a clear view of one young man who was directly across from me.  His finger was lodged into his nose so far up you could not see his knuckle.  The girl beside him was from the other church and was staring at him with a look of disgust and amazement.  I could see her thought bubble, Is he really digging into his nose right here beside me?  Could he possibly get it any further up?  Can he possibly be my same age?

As his finger disembarked and he relaxed his arm beside him, the group leader announced to all, “Now grab the hand of the person beside you, we are going to pray.”

I wanted to save her.  I could handle a boogered hand much better than she.  I considered diving in between them, grabbing his snot remnanted digit so she would not have to.  But it was too far.  I could not get there in time.

Bless her heart.  I wonder what she thought as we all bowed to God.

Girls at that age are advanced.  Michelle and her friends were having intelligent conversations with the chaperones, listening to music, and braiding each other’s hair.  Calm, cool, and collected.

The boys were were walking around like Beavis and Butthead.

That’s why I volunteer with middle schoolers.  They are incredibly interesting.  Incredibly funny.  Unpredictable.  Pushing the limits.  Full of life.

I had a late birthday for my grade.  I’m a September baby.  My mother has repeatedly told me she should have held me back.  Although I’m fifty, my maturity level is the same as a 26-year-old woman.  Some things never change.

 

 

What’s My Role?

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I had the opportunity to chaperone our middle school youth group’s trip to Asheville, NC, this past week.  Asheville Youth Mission is a Christian organization that coordinates service opportunities for groups throughout the year in and around their mountain town.  We took 13 teenagers and experienced six mission placements in a week.

We worked at Manna Food Bank where Michelle, four other kids and I “got” to rip open hundreds of mesh bags full of rotten, slimy okra and toss them into a compost pile.  There was gagging and one episode of vomiting.  Not me or my child.  Michelle is used to disgusting food.  She was just thankful that she didn’t have to eat it for dinner this time.

We planned a pirate party at a day care center for adults with severe intellectual disabilities.  We shared some great jokes with our new friends:

What’s a pirate’s favorite country?

Arrrrgentina!

I left that afternoon both uplifted and incredibly grateful for my healthy children.

This was my second year at AYM, so I wasn’t surprised that I would be spiritually and emotionally moved at some point during the week.  I just didn’t know how.

Day 1 was the okra; not moving – emotionally or spiritually.  Perhaps gastronically, but that’s about all.

Day 2, however, hit me hard.

We pulled up to Hinds Feet Farm around noon.  It was not a corn field.  It was actually a safe place for people to go who suffer from traumatic or acquired brain injuries.   These adults come to Hinds Feet Farm, held in the back of a church, daily, where they build friendships and participate in programs.

I was fortunate to break bread with Sarah, Jay and Vanessa, three of about 15 present last Tuesday.  Jay immediately shared that Sarah was his wife; they both wore wedding bands.  Sarah clarified that their marriage was spiritual, that at this point they were unable to live together and had not yet had an official ceremony.

After lunch, several of our new friends shared their stories.  We learned that Sarah and Vanessa had been in car accidents.  Vanessa’s was three days after she turned 16.  Jay was hit in a brawl, fell backwards, and suffered significant bleeding on his brain.

Although their stories were inspiring, it was the lessons they shared that really hit home with me.

Each told us that they were intelligent; that they weren’t scary; that they just struggled with speech and with memory.  They asked us to treat them like real people.  Not to shy away from them.  Not to assume they aren’t smart.

As I listened to them, I thought about all that is going on in the world today.  Perhaps part of their struggles was my fault.

I don’t hang out with anyone who has a traumatic brain injury, so I simply don’t understand.  In fact, I don’t really hang out with Muslims, the homeless, those outside of my socioeconomic sphere, transgender folks, etc., etc.  Sure, I have acquaintances at work and throughout the community who are different from me, and, they are some of the nicest, most engaging people I know.  But I’m not eating dinner with them on Saturday night.  Instead, I spend my free time with my family (all lily white, middle class, southerners), and friends from church or clubs or my neighborhood (most lily white, middle class, southerners).  I’m guessing it is difficult to truly understand others if you don’t spend significant time with them.  In fact, Sarah said with slow, slurred speech, “You can’t understand if you don’t walk in someone else’s shoes.  And your feet are probably the wrong size.”  I think I should at least try them on.

At times, I get so frustrated with the unrest in our world.  Things seem so dire.  And yet, if I’m honest with myself, I can’t say that I’m doing anything to make it better.  Perhaps I should spend a bit more time pondering my role in all of this.  And maybe I should work a bit harder to connect with those who don’t look, act and think just like I do.

The Sandspurs

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This coming Saturday is a busy day for the Tanners.

At around 4 AM, I drop DJ off at the Raleigh-Durham airport.  She’s going to Durbin, South Africa, with her aunt.  A once in a lifetime experience that she will experience… at age 19.

At 9, I pick Michelle up from Camp Kanata, an overnight camp where she will have spent the week with one of her best friends.  She was stoked when I dropped her off last Sunday.

At 3, I drop Stephanie off for four weeks at Camp Seafarer on the coast of North Carolina where she will be a Camper in Leadership Training.

It’s good to be my kids.

When I was younger, often the highlight of a summer day was earning a nickel when my brother bet me I wouldn’t stick my tongue in the sand hole in our backyard.  You could rake that dirt off with about three scrapes from your Incisors.  Well worth it when the ice cream truck came musically down Berkshire Road.

My backyard could be Africa, if I wanted it to.  It could also be sleep away camp or a spaceship or a battlefield.  All we needed was a hole, which my dad dug for us in the back corner of the back yard.  Six of seven of us could fit into it at once.

The principal’s kid lived behind us on the other side of the fence from our fort.  We didn’t like the principal.  We didn’t like his kid either.  My mother, the preacher’s wife, encouraged us to be nice to him, to include him in our group.  We didn’t much listen to her suggestion.  I’m certain it was my brother’s fault.

Today, kids don’t have to pretend.  They’re doing the real stuff!

They don’t even have to deal with sandspurs.  Where did those boogers go?  If you would have pulled all the sandspurs out of my dad’s yard when I was a kid, you’d have been left with a really nice rock collection.  That’s all there was.  Dirt, rock and sandspurs.  They hurt like hell May to mid-June, but come Summer Solstice, our feet were so tough, we could have walked to Africa, barefoot.

We didn’t go to overnight camp.  We didn’t sail or canoe or shoot archery.  Well, we did have a bow with arrows that had a rubber end.  We shot them at each other’s butts.  They seldom stuck, but boy was it exciting when they did.

I’m sure there were camps back when I was a kid.  I saw the movie Meatballs.  Maybe I didn’t go because I wouldn’t leave my mother’s side.  I didn’t want to go to half-day bible school without her and my dad was the minister at the church.  I wasn’t really homesick; she was just a really good mom.

I’m glad my kids are able to do some really cool stuff in the summer.  I’m glad they are having experiences I didn’t have at their age.  I just doesn’t seem fair that I’m at home, working, while they are gallivanting around the world!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

These Horrible Teachers

Mean Teacher

It has to have something to do with the folks who are drawn to teach high school.  The elementary school teachers our family has encountered have been wonderful.  The middle school teachers as well.  And now that we’ve gotten through a semester of college, it seems that the only ones with the problems are that dag burned senior high bunch.  Somewhere around 9th or 10th grade, the people leading my children in their classrooms change.  It happened with DJ, and now it is happening to Stephanie.  Poor souls.

These people are apparently, “trying to kill” my kids.

I’m not clear on the method, but upon entering high school, almost daily, and for nearly four years without ceasing, a child at my dinner table informs me that at least one, and often more, of their teachers, are “TRYING TO KILL” them.

I am dismayed to discover that not only are they trying to get rid of my children, but they are also doing the same to EVERY other kid at their school.  This is a cruel group of adults.

“EVERYONE IS FLUNKING MATH,” I am told when my child confesses to a less than worthy grade.

School administrators should really do something about that.

“Is Ashley flunking too?” I inquire.

“Dad, SHE’S a genius!  But EVERYONE else is FLUNKING!  I know I only got a 73 on the test, but Ann Marie got a 62!”

“I’m so proud.  You weren’t the very worst.”

“Oh, and EVERY girl in that class has a tutor.”

“Mmm.  Well I saw Grace’s mom the other day, and she didn’t mention a tutor.”

“Well, I’m not sure about Grace, but EVERYONE else does.”

“Does Sarah?”

“I DON’T KNOW ABOUT SARAH!!  But Lilly does.”

“So how many girls are in the class?”

“Like 18.”

“So out of 18, you are firmly aware that one has a tutor?  That is like 5%.”

“I’m sure there are more.”

“Mmm.”

The other day I discovered that another teacher had given an exam and had not covered any of the concepts that were on the test prior to.

“Dad, I didn’t do very well on my math test.”

“Why?”

“Because she tested us on material that she had NEVER covered in class.”

“She didn’t cover any of it?

“No.”

“Well, she should be fired.”

“I agree.”

A friend told me his son got a B in PE.  Not unheard of, but this high school boy is one of the strongest athletes at the school.  When my friend asked his son how in the heck he managed to not ace physical education, his son informed him that the teacher was making them write down the rules of volleyball for a grade.

“Don’t you know the rules of volleyball?” his dad inquired.

“Yes I do.  But dad, you aren’t supposed to WRITE in PE!  So I didn’t so the assignment.”

My friend then informed his son that if he ever got a B in PE again, his life would radically change.  He son questioned what that meant.  My friend simply said, “Get that B, and you’ll find out.”

I am sometimes amazed at at what my children will do to lengthen a writing assignment.  Apparently you can go into a Word document and increase the font size of your periods.  On a five page paper, that adds about four 52 characters.  They only have to stoop to these elongating tricks because their teachers assign unreasonably long papers.

When DJ was a sophomore, I was so concerned at the ineptness of one of these instructors that I set a meeting to confront her unprofessional behavior.  It was interesting that she saw things differently than my daughter.  I was a bit embarrassed.  Now, I do a little more investigating before zinging off a terse email to our school’s headmaster about the lack of intellectual prowess of her staff.

I am a lucky dad.  I have three very smart and capable kids who do very well in school.  Thank goodness, considering the teachers.

What’s Hangin’?

DJ had spring break two weeks ago, Michelle was off last week, and Stephanie is off this week.  This schedule does not lend itself to much meaningful family time.  But we are getting our money’s worth out of Netflix!

Last Tuesday, to entertain Michelle, her grandmother took her to a YMCA yoga class.  That evening over dinner, I asked about her experienced.

“Oh my Gosh!  You’re NOT going to BELIEVE what happened.”

She was clearly appalled.

“Do tell,” I insisted.  As If I had a choice.

“Well, I was in the middle of my cat pose in Nana’s yoga class, and this old man walked in.”

“Yea.”  I could only imagine what happened next.

“And he squatted down right in front of me.”

“And?”

“And, well, his… ah… his, you know…”

“No.  I have no idea what you’re trying to say.  Just spit it out.”  She was flustered.

“Well, his, his BALLS fell out of his short-shorts!  Right in the middle of class.  During the CAT pose!”

As if it would have been more acceptable during Downward Dog.

“He had clearly just come from the pool because he was wearing his bathing suit, which did NOT have a lining, and it was WAY too short for him, and at one point I think he knew he was dangling because he tried to cover himself with a towel but it didn’t work, and it was disgusting!  I almost threw up.”

I myself have seen those same balls, I’m sure, in the Y locker room.

I think there’s an age for men, maybe 75, 76, where you a) stop buying new clothes that are appropriate for the times and your body type and b) you just don’t give a rats behind who sees your business.

Lisa and I went to St. Bart’s for our honeymoon.  It’s an island in the French West Indies.

Neither of us spoke French.  In fact, Sunday – Thursday I drove the wrong way down a one way street  into the town of Gustavia each day until a native cursed me out waving his hands up and down as we nearly ran into him.

“Connard!!  Americain stupide!!”

Because we couldn’t read any of the signs on the island, we were quite surprised to discover that our mid-week beach excursion was clothing optional.

We drove our rented jeep up to the parking area and sauntered out to the sand.  There was no one in sight, so we set up shop.  We were dressed.  I pulled out some Goldfish and a John Grisham novel when much to our surprise an older gentleman and his wife walked up in front of us, opened up their beach chairs, and promptly pulled down their pants.

Yes, like Michelle’s experience, his business was right in my line of sight.

I leaned over to my wife, “If we’re gonna stay here, I’m gonna need a drink.”

“Or a blindfold,” she quipped.

This is not the vision I had of a nude beach.  I was expecting Baywatch sans bikinis.  NOT The Golden Girls and their dates.

There should be a penalty for nudity after a certain age.  And I include myself in the “certain age” category.  At this point, no one wants to see me nude in a fully lit place.

There becomes a point in one’s life that more clothes are better than less.  There are no exceptions.  It’s just a hard and fast rule.

If you’re over 30, maybe 35 for some, you’ve hit that point.  Cover it up!

We’re One Weird Family

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Maybe it’s Mother’s Day that has brought about our most recent conversations.  I’m really not sure.

Lately it has been comical to hear my girls talk about awkward moments due to the loss of their mom.

When Michelle was riding with a friend and her mother, something was said about moms helping at school for some project.  The friend quickly reprimanded her mother for saying the “m” word in front of Michelle.

“It’s OK,” Michelle assured her.  “You can talk about mothers with me in the car.  It doesn’t bother me.”

Stephanie then shared the time last summer at camp where they were paired with a peer for prayer time before bed.

“The girl got on my bed and said, ‘My friend’s mom has cancer.  Can you IMAGINE your mom having cancer?’”

“Well actually…”

DJ was recognized at the Senior Salute, an end of year assembly for the National Charity League.  It’s a Mother/Daughter service club that Lisa started with her six years ago.  Each girl stood on stage with their mom and a short speech was given about their relationship and their work together over the past few years.  DJ decided she’d be recognized with another friend whose mother died a year or so after Lisa.  Pretty good strategy for what could have been a fairly awkward situation.

Last Tuesday Michelle asked me if dogs had periods.

To be perfectly honest, I had to think a minute.  We don’t have dogs, and I don’t recall ever seeing a doggie tampon (This is yet another reason not to have a pet).

I assured her they must and then DJ chimed in saying indeed they did and that there were diapers that could be purchased for that time of the month.

Apparently Michelle went to school and announced her findings to her girlfriends.  When she returned home that afternoon, she said, “Kimmy can’t believe I asked you if dogs had periods.” I asked her why Kimmy thought that was so odd.  “Kimmy said it is weird that I ask my DAD questions like that.”  We laughed.  I suppose she could have called the vet.

Last week we also talked about girls who are “loose in the booty” as my oldest kid describes them and why girls might be prone to be boy crazy.  We talked about self-esteem and how critical that it come from within and not from some shady dude who pays you a little attention.

The week before we chatted about Michelle’s class field trip to the Poe Center where they got about 75% of the sex talk.  I filled her in on the rest.  Stephanie told her at the Poe Center she was going to have to stand up in front of the group and talk about girls’ breasts.  “They actually call them breasts.  I hate it when they call them that.  They’re boobs.  Old ladies have breasts.”  Thankfully, Michelle was spared the chest chat.

I realize our family is a bit odd, maybe more open than others.  But I’m gonna take that as a win as we celebrate our sixth motherless Mother’s Day.

On The Go!

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Last Thursday night DJ and I headed out for our last college tour. It was accepted students’ day at George Washington University in DC. We left Raleigh at 5 PM.

Stephanie fussed as I walked out the door, “Dad, you’re NEVER home!  You’re gone all the time!”

I reminded her that she was the one who spent four days the week before on a school sponsored Outward Bound trip and that it was also she who had plans both Friday and Saturday nights for the weekend that was before us.  That didn’t seem to matter to her. Apparently I should be at home when she wants me there. Or, to be safe, always.

Although in my head I knew she was being unreasonable, I  did feel a bit guilty for leaving.

I had warned DJ that we had to leave Washington right at 2 PM on Friday so that I could get back before 7 to see Michelle’s school play. Although she had only a small part, I felt it important that her parent be in the audience.

DJ understood, “Dad, we always leave these college visits early.  You always have to get back home for something.”

She said it matter of factly, no irritation intended.  But, irritation was taken. Another slight breech to the parenthood portal.

At 4:30 Saturday, I gave up. We were right around Fredericksburg, Va, and traffic was at a standstill, similar to what it had been since we pulled out of downtown two and a half hours earlier.  I was doomed to disappoint again.

I jumped from I-95 to US 1. I was working my GPS and my iPhone traffic alert aggressively seeking alternative routes.

One thing is clear:  I’m going to have a massive heart attack in my car one day.

When we finally hit Richmond, it was 5PM. The GPS indicated we’d get to the theater by 7:45. That’d be too late. At least I’d equally disappoint all of my kids!  No favorites.

I cranked up the speed and wondered what was worse, teaching my 17 year old that it was OK to break traffic laws in the name of Peter Pan or lying to my 11 year old, telling her how much I enjoyed the performance i did not see.

A 17 year old has a more mature mind.  I broke the law.

We came to a screeching halt at 7:19 in the driveway of the school. I jumped out of the car and ran toward the door. The gas tank light was on empty. The place was dark, Act 1 complete.  The lights came up, and Michelle entered stage left.

Hot damn!  I made it.

It’s hard to be a parent.

91 Useless Hours

 

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I am done.  I’m moving to Florida.

Can you imagine living in Boston?  I mean, why, why, why would you choose to spend your life, or even 45 minutes, in a place that feels like the Siberian Tundra?

Over the past three weeks, my children have missed more school than they’ve attended due to inclement weather, and they have also watched more TV than imaginable.

As busy as my oldest daughter seems to be, we recently calculated the number of hours she has spent watching the TV series Gossip Girls over the past few weeks.  I believe it to be about 91.  NINETY-ONE hours.

Can you imagine what could be accomplished in that amount of time?

Extreme Home Makeover could do an overhaul of your entire home, demolish and rebuild, in 91 hours.  You could fly around the world in a Boeing 747, TWICE, and have enough time leftover to play a round of golf.  If she moved quickly, 91 hours might even be enough time for DJ to fully clean up her room.  Well, the way it looks today, that might be pushing it.

DJ, Stephanie and Michelle don’t just watch a single show.  No, all three log-on to Netflix and watch television series.  Like from show 1 to show 200 – or more!  Michelle is addicted to Gilmore Girls.  Both of her sisters have completed that epic and have moved on to others.

They are now asking me to upgrade our Netflix account so that more people in the family can watch different shows at one time.

Guess what?  That ain’t happening.

Well, unless all four of us get trapped in this house for another 24 hour period.  Come to think of it, Netflix may be the only reason someone in this foursome is not dead yet.

 

Awkward and Beautiful

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Sometimes you gotta do stuff you don’t particularly want to do. For my ninth grader, it’s shopping for underwear with her father.

I don’t rotate mine as often as I should.  I just get so attached to them.

Perhaps it is my bad example that puts us in the panty pinch.  I have a specific test for tossing my intimates.  When jogging, it sometimes feels like my shorts are falling off.  If I look down and my pants are intact, I realize it’s my boxers that have gone south underneath my sweats.  Although preferable to the alternative, I’d rather the inner layer slide down while running down Ridge Road than the outer, this sensation is my signal:  this pair must go.  Elastic is such an important part of the underpant.

Stephanie came to me last weekend with an urgent need for an undie upgrade.  She reluctantly chose to hit the mall immediately, rather than wait for her aunt or another viable female to schedule a trip.

As we walked through the doors of Crabtree Valley Mall at 8 PM on a Tuesday night, she grabbed my hand, “It is so embarrassing to do this with your dad.  I so hope I don’t see anyone I know.”

“There are other things I’d rather be doing too, like digging or welding.  But baby, we’re just making memories.  Twenty years from now we’ll remember this night – our first trip to Victoria’s Secret.”

They had a sale, 5 pair for $27.  Finding her size and the style she liked was a challenge.  Although there seemed to be designated slots for each type, it looked like an underwear tornado had touched down on that table.  They were all mixed together.  It was like trying to find a specific pea in a crock pot of vegetable soup.

Men’s boxers are in packages, sized by waist.  Women’s aren’t.  Some mediums would have barely fit over my head (no, I didn’t try).  Others would have fit William Howard Taft.

“Stephanie, I think you need to try these on – we need a baseline.”

You’d have thought I’d suggested she run naked through the store.

“Dad.  I’m NOT trying on underwear at the store!”

“Whatever.”

I held each pair up, opening the waist to see if I thought It would fit.  In the end we bought ten.

I actually cherish these moments – the ones that other dads don’t get to experience.  They’re awkward, uncomfortable, funny… and beautiful.

I’ve got the Snapdog Blues

My two oldest kids now participate in Snapchat.  It is the new Twitter.  For weeks I called it Snapdog.  I don’t know why.  Just got it stuck in my head that Snapdog was the name.  My kids found that irritating so that’s still what I call it.

With Snapdog (chat), you send a photo of yourself to a friend, or an enemy I suppose, via your cell phone.  When they click to open it, they can only view the pic for three seconds and then it disappears.

Presumably, I could take a picture of my privates and “sext” them to some unsuspecting Snapdogger.  I figure it would take at least 3 seconds for them to figure out what a close up of that was – not something you see on a daily basis – and then swala – poof – the “proof” is gone.  My privates are private once more.

The problem is, for those who are technically savvy, the pics and/or videos, can be found from that vanishing Snapdog spot by simply plugging in the iPhone to a computer and pressing a couple of buttons.

I had 15 girls spend the night last week.  If you’re having one or two, why not bring them all?

When one of the 12-year-olds arrived, her mother standing at the door, three other 12-year-olds were standing in the front hall.  None looked up.  All were holding their phones Snapdogging those who were not in attendance.  Perhaps we should have invited them rather than the ones who were there since they didn’t seem to want to talk to each other.  Not one welcomed the newcomer – no screams or silly hugs.  Not one spoke to her mother.  I could have shoved a banana up my nose and danced the Rumba, and not one would have noticed.

Throughout the night, the photos were flying.  And every girl who was not invited, although to me it felt like every girl was invited, got to peek in on the fun – that they weren’t having.  As an adult with no spouse, I sometimes feel like I’m the only one not spending a weekend evening hanging out with my wife.   What a delight it would be to be able to see pictures of everyone else enjoying themselves with their spouses while I sat home alone sending selfies through Snapdog.

I think my girls are smart enough not to send inappropriate photos of themselves through social media.  But who knows?  Michelle made a bucket list last week – it looked like this:

Michelle’s Bucket List

1.  Skinny Dip

Yea – that was numero uno.

I’m gonna take her to a pool this summer and throw her in naked – wanna get that one checked off the list ASAP.

As much as technology has enhanced my life, sometimes I just get the Snapdog Blues.  What happened to Hide-n-go-seek?  Spin the Bottle?  Truth or Dare?  Ahh – now those were the days.