This being Germany--the pagan holiday, Carnival, kind of like Hallowe'en-- appearing right before Lent, for convenience, the kids have no school Monday and Tuesday. Now, says the fifteen-year-old, would just be the perfect time, please Mom, for another overnight computer-games party. So okay, if you do your clarinet practice and go to fencing and complete your homework . . . yes, yes, yes. Now, my husband and I have weathered two other all-night computer parties with charming, very school-oriented young men with delightfully nerdy interests like U.S. Presidents and good internships, and found that the young men fell silent about 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. on each other occasion. Not this time. They were lively as all get-out when I went downstairs at 7:00 and I immediately discovered the reason why: there, on the coffee table, stood several empty cans of Red Bull and some other Godawful substance called Monster cola (140 mg caffeine per can, as opposed to around 95 in your average cup of coffee).
I stomped around, removed cans, yelled at my husband to yell at the boys, while, in the background, the boys were alternating, "But I didn't drink any," with "Mom, has it been scientifically proven that this stuff is bad for you?" and "Besides, you never told me I couldn't drink this and I didn't buy it--my friends brought it."
Grrrrr! I said. And reminded the kid that once upon a time the principal of my old school dealt with a problem girl who'd stolen the rabbit from the science room and played with the animal in the bathroom.
This would not do, said the principal.
"But," said the girl, wryly grinning, "I never heard of a rule that you could not play with a rabbit in the bathroom."
Well, Carnival in Deutschland is the time when everyone is playing with the rabbit in the bathroom. The Ruhrgebiet doesn't go as far as New Orleans, where mooning from balconies is the least of it (a very experienced friend admitted that Carnival in New Orleans had introduced her to sexual positions and language that had previously seemed beyond the reaches of her Olympic imagination) but still, there's plenty of topsy-turvy.
You stand out on the street (my husband and I went as cowboys and our youngest went as a hippie) and yell, "Hello! Hello!" as the carnival floats go by--and the folks on the float, dressed in hats that look either like a Freemason's hat on steroids or a bishop's mitre on speed (complete with pheasant plumes) throw you candy. But sometimes they throw it AT you rather than TO you. In Cologne, a few years ago, Cologne being the heart of carnival around here, there were reports of people being hit in the head with massive boxes of chocolate and frozen hams. It didn't get quite that bad here . . . . I did duck once or twice when the hard candies pelted down . . . and though we stood in chilly pouring rain we heard good band music and saw every costume imaginable, from Jack Sparrow to nuns (but with split skirts showing a lot of thigh) to a toaster (complete with toast).
And then I had a sedate tea with a good friend, and we gossiped. A lovely day, by the end of it.