The Sword of Damocles, Being a Horse’s Ass, and Assassins

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time (which is how all the best stories start), there was a king named Dionysius (not to be confused with the partying demi-god Dionysius). Kings generally have dudes hanging around them and this king was no exception to the Dude-rule. And one of the more suck-up-to-the-king types was named Damocles.

One day (which is related to once upon a time), Damocles was in a particularly sucky-up mood and was therefore sucking up, telling Dionysius (the King) how fortunate he was, how wonderful it was to be such a great man of such great power, so surrounded by magnificence (and so on and so forth). That particular day (which is also related to once upon a time), the king had had Enough.

So the king asked if Damocles wanted to trade places. Damocles (have you figured out he wasn’t the brightest banana in the bunch?) thought this was a dandy idea and eagerly accepted the king’s offer.

Damocles was dressed in the king’s finery and surrounded with all sorts of luxuries and extravagances. And Damocles thought life was just peachy keen indeed.

Until he happened to glance up.

You see, while kings get the good stuff (they get the centers of the meat, cushions on their seat, houses on the street where it’s sunny—extra points if you get the reference), they also have to worry about people who want their job. Think Julius Caesar/Ides of March. Because back in the day of Dionysius and Damocles there weren’t Secret Service dudes around to open the front door of the castle for assassins, so assassins had to be much sneakier about things. And sneakier assassins mean kings have to pay attention.

Dionysius wanted Damocles to understand the possibility of imminent danger, so arranged to have a huge sword hung over the throne held by a single hair from a horse’s tail.

Have you ever had a huge sword hanging over your head? Probably not, so let me fill you in. It can be a bit unsettling. And by “a bit” I mean “very.” And if that sword were being held by only one hair from a horse’s tail, it would be extremely unsettling. You might even consider yourself a horse’s ass (near the source of said tail) for getting yourself in that particular situation.

Do you know what you do when there is a sword hanging over your head, tied none too securely with a single hair from a horse’s tail? You glance up. Frequently. You are unable to enjoy the luxuries, the food, the music, or the beautiful maidens around you. Then you glance up more frequently. Your heart begins to pound. You stomach begins to knot. And finally you beg your kind and generous king to take back the crown and the position for Pete’s sake!

Lesson learned: with great fortune and power you get a side helping of anxiety and peril.

And that, my darling, is the story of the Sword of Damocles.

Love, Mom

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It’s Time to Wake Up! Clocks and Other Tick Tocks

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time, there weren’t any alarm clocks. In fact, there weren’t any clocks.

When Mrs. Joe Neanderthal thought Joe should get up, she banged him over the head with his club. Since there weren’t any clocks, Joe couldn’t even say, “It’s only 5 am!” and go back to sleep. Which was OK since A) Mrs. J. N. was not the type to put up with whining and B) Joe couldn’t count.

Wake Up! The History of Alarm Clocks. DearKidLoveMom.comThen along came School and Start Times and alarm clocks had to be invented.

The first clocks were used by the ancient Greeks and were made from water falling through gears and levers. This is the origin of the popular phrase: I’m sorry I’m late, there was a drought.

Sundials were an improvement since they weren’t affected by an occasional drought or deluge, but cloud cover (and night) put a damper on time-telling. Which is why bacchanalia tended to last all night (no one could say “I have to be home by 3am” since no one knew when 3am was).

The first mechanical-type clock was during medieval times (the era, not the dinner theater). Clocks told the bell-ringers to ring the bells and the bells told the people to get to church.

Finally in 1787, Levi Hutchins in Concord, NH, invented the first American alarm clock. Why we didn’t just copy the European alarm clock I have no idea. But Levi wanted to get up on time (which for him meant 4am. This ridiculous hour has caused alarm-clock rage through subsequent ages.).

Isn’t it great getting up really early on a non-school day?

Love, Mom

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The Big Thank You | Part I

Dear Kid,

“WOW! This is Fan-TAS-tic! Thank you SO MUCH!!!”

The words gush out as we open presents and they are lovely to hear. Well, they are lovely to hear if the gift giver is in the room. Actually, they are lovely to hear even if the gift giver isn’t in the room, but the gift giver can’t hear the thank you if not present (pun intended).

I really hope you followed that.

Enter: The Thank You Note.

The first Thank You Note was written by Joe Neanderthal. He wrote it to a Saber Tooth Tiger who had generously eaten Joe’s friend Blorg rather than Joe. It looked something like this:

x marks the spot. DearKidLoveMom.com

Interestingly, that particular Saber Tooth Tiger never ate Joe. Joe assumed that this was because of the Thank You Note (in reality, it was because Blorg caused the Saber Tooth Tiger to have a very upset stomach from which he died).

From then on, Joe insisted that everyone write thank you notes. Mrs. Joe Neanderthal was so surprised she forgot to be annoyed.

Love, Mom

 

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Surprise! It’s a Gift

Dear Kid,

“What’s in the box?” When the postal service, UPS, or FEDEX brings something to our house, someone inevitably asks about its contents.

Except at this time of year.

Around this time of year there is an unspoken agreement not to ask about packages. Sometimes we pretend we don’t even “see” a box (which might, just might, contain a gift) that has been delivered.

During the rest of the year, curious kids look in bags that have been lugged home. This time of year a quick “not for your eyes” is enough to keep everyone busy elsewhere.

I love that we love surprises. I have never understood the stories about people who search for their presents so they know what they’re getting.

There is an LL Bean commercial (which I have thoughtfully provided for you) that shows gifts wrapped so that there is no question as to what the package contains—yet the recipients look perplexed about the contents. I love that.

I love the moment of anticipation wondering what’s in the box or bag or envelop. I love watching you slowly rip off the wrapping paper to find out. I love/hate when Dad decides to start a monologue (always a looooong monologue) about what the contents of his gift might possibly be (although I kind of love it more when the monologue ends).

Surprises are gifts in and of themselves.

Surprise!

Love, Mom

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Midas, Gold, Ears, and Keeping Your Opinion to Yourself

Dear Kid,

Once upon a time there was a King named Midas (keep reading–you probably don’t know the whole sordid story).

Be careful what you ask for... King Midas got his wish DearKidLoveMom.comNow, Midas was a twit of the Most Twitful Variety. He was also Stooopid. But he was king, so he pretty much got his way.

One day, a Rather Drunk Man riding (well, teetering on) a donkey showed up at the king’s palace. Because he was Extremely Bored, Midas went out to meet the RDM.

Lo and behold, it turned out that the RDM was less man and more demi-god and happened to be named Silenus who was the ex-teacher and now follower of Bacchus.

You may recall that Bacchus was in charge of vineyards (and more importantly the wine made from the grapes in the vineyard [not sure why it’s not vin from a vineyard…]) and Midas was Most Eager to meet Bacchus.

Off went Silenus and Midas (over the river and through the wood) and eventually they found Bacchus. Bacchus told Midas he could have one wish (and only ONE).

What would you wish for if you had only one wish?

Did I mention Midas’ twitness? Midas reached far back into his brain (which wasn’t very far at alll) and said he would like gold. Actually, what he said was that he wanted to be able to turn things into gold.

Bacchus rolled his eyes, told him he was an idiot, granted his wish, and sent him on his way.

Off Midas went (through the wood and over the river), turning random branches and trees into gold as he went. Midas was One Happy Dude.

Once he arrived home, Midas decided he was hungry and called for servants to bring him lunch. As you know, Midas couldn’t eat because everything turned immediately to gold and chewing gold was not a skill he’d acquired.

Some versions of the story say he touched his beloved daughter, turned her to gold, and lived miserably ever after. Nonsense. This is what the story really says.

Ai-yi-yi! said Midas as he figured out what an idiot he’d been. (Pay attention, this is probably the part of the story you don’t know.) Midas whined and wailed and gnashed his teeth and carried on at Great Legnth. And the gods heard him and said they would take back the “gift.”

But.

Because with the gods, there is always a BUT.

Midas was told he needed to hike to a particular river and dunk his head in. Which he did (it was three days of hiking, you know). As soon as he immersed his head in the river, all the gold rushed out and into the sand and to this day if you go there, you will find gold in the river.

That is not the end of the story.

Just about the time Midas’ hair was dry, Pan came along (Pan was half man, half goat and was a pretty big party-er). Pan was playing his flute (the Pan flute–really) and boasting how he (Pan) was better than Apollo (god of the sun and music). This was not smart, especially since Apollo heard Pan.

Okey dokey, said Apollo, Game on.

Tmolus was called to be the judge. The two played and (duh) Apollo won and that should have been the end of it.

Except Midas was a twit. And he made the mistake of telling Pan that he (Midas) thought Pan was the better musician. This was not smart, especially since Apollo heard Midas.

Apollo was Not Amused. As he passed Midas, he whispered, “I thought you were a man–now I won’t be confused.” Or perhaps he whispered, “You’re an ass.” Either way, he gave Midas donkey ears.

This upset Midas rather significantly, as his vision of “Great King” didn’t include donkey ears.

So Midas ripped his cloak (kings wore cloaks in those days) and made himself an ear-covering hat. He told people he wore a hat because it helped with his headaches (which no one knew he’d been having).

That worked fine until (you knew there was an “until” didn’t you?)

Until it was time for Midas to have a haircut.

See the problem?

Midas swore the barber to secrecy, saying he must swear never to tell another human. Which worked fine. Until (you knew there had to be an “until” didn’t you?)

Until the barber was about to explode and whispered the secret in a hole in the ground. Reeds grew from that very spot and whispered Midas’ secret.

The barber had kept his promise, but still everyone knew.

The moral of the story? Sometimes it is better not to give your opinion.

Love, Mom

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Too Much Crazy in the World (The Bad Kind of Crazy)

Dear Kid,

There are some things in life I understand.

I understand that when you spill coffee on your favorite shirt it is likely to cause a permanent stain. I understand that weekends are often too short and that the Bengals are unlikely to make it to the Super Bowl. I understand that elves are not going to show up to clean our kitchen.

Doesn’t mean I have to like those things, but I understand them.

Stop the Crazy! DearKidLoveMom.comAnd then there are things in the world that I simply do not understand.

I don’t understand people who abuse children. I don’t understand people who chop off journalists heads. I don’t understand people who take hostages in the Lindt Chocolat Cafe. I don’t understand people who kill other people because of the color of their skin. I don’t understand people who do crazy violent things in the name of religion (any religion).

On some level I know I’m not supposed to understand these people because they are psychopaths or psycho-bigots or psycho-somethings. Intellectually, I know they’ve been taught to hate and they’ve been taught that Violence Solves All.

Intellectually knowing doesn’t make it easier to understand. And there have been far, far too many scary-violent-unbalanced-disturbed-crazy things happening in our world.

Do I have a solution? Well, no. Perhaps just that we should all try a little harder.

And keep the crazy fighting where it belongs—in congress.

Love, Mom

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Basketball Invented Here

Dear Kid,

In 1891, James Naismith was sitting around watching clouds and butterflies in the Springfield, MA sky and decided to invent basketball. Actually, I’m not sure there were clouds and butterflies. And there wasn’t any sky because Naismith was inside.

Not exactly what Naismith envisioned. DearKidLoveMom.comaThe real story. Naismith went to college at McGill (in Canada) where he played pretty much every team sport, including gymnastics. Then he graduated and became the director of athletics at McGill and eventually moved to Springfield, MA, to be a physical education teacher (that was in the days when it was called physical education because we hadn’t invented the word “gym” yet) at the YMCA International Training School (now Springfield College).

In case you hadn’t thought about it, I should point out that it is not tropical in Springfield, MA, in the winter. In fact, it is downright cold. And up to that point, indoor games were not physical enough to burn off the energy Naismith’s class brought to the Y every day.

The head of the Physical Education department told Naismith to invent a game (in 14 days) that would “provide a physical distraction.” The game also had to 1. Not take up too much space, 2. Keep the track athletes in shape, and 3. Be fair and not too rough.

Naismith got to work and poof! basketball was invented. As he created the new game, Naismith wanted a game that didn’t have the hazards of a small ball or puck (so he used the big, soft soccer ball). He decided passing was the safest (there was no such thing as dribbling at that point—players had to pass the ball from the point at which it was passed to them). And he reduced body contact by nailing the baskets (peach baskets at the time) over player’s heads so that the goal was unguardable.

Clearly modern day basketball has poo-pooed the no contact part of the original rules.

The first game of basketball was played December 15, 1891. During the first game “Most of the fouls were called for running with the ball, though tackling the man with the ball was not uncommon.”

In 1904, basketball became a demonstration sport at the Olympics in St. Louis, and in 1936 became an official sport in the 1936 games. Cool note: Naismith got to hand out the medals: US (gold), Canada (silver), Mexico (bronze) and was named the honorary president of the International Basketball Federation.

Love, Mom

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