My favorite childhood game was one my mom invented. She called it "cockroach." Before I describe it though, a few words about cockroaches. Cockroaches are part of every urban experience to some degree. You don't have to be particularly messy or disgusting to have them in your home, although it helps. They're resilient, hardy, and indisputably vile. And in 1980's New York City, they were as common as a Williamsburg hipster is today. The difference is that when you flip on the light switch in your kitchen for a midnight snack, hipsters don't scurry out of your cabinet in droves, at least not yet. But give it time. Gentrification is real, people! At its current rate, entomologists can expect to discover a newly-evolved species of cockroach with a soul patch, a fedora, and horn-rimmed glasses, endemic only to Brooklyn and some parts of Queens.
Anyhoo, each month, the "exterminator" would visit our apartment building with his giant backpack and spray can of chemicals. I looked forward to his visits. My mom would sequester our cats (this was pre-cat allergy), gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, turtles, or whatever-pet-our-family-had-not-yet-accidentally-killed-by-other-means in a back bedroom. The exterminator would then spray every corner of the rest of the apartment. I would trot after him, happily inhaling toxic fumes as I peered over the nozzle of the spray can, pretending we were two Ghostbusters on assignment.
I shudder to contemplate the long-term health impacts of my junior apprenticeship with the exterminator. But since my water bottle is BPA-free and I just ate an organic egg for breakfast, it's all good, right? So back to the game. My mom was creative, imaginative, and always inventing games--and she read Kafka. In this game, she would lie on her back and wiggle her arms and legs in the air and say in an innocent, high-pitched voice: "I'm a little cockroach, please turn me over!" I would push her over, and she would suddenly turn the tables and scream: "MEAN UGLY COCKROACH COMING TO GET YOU!!!," and chase me all around the apartment while I squealed in terror and delight. Countless children's books and movies have explored the theme of scary parents.
A child's idea that a beneficent parent and protector is secretly an evil beast hell-bent on their destruction surely predates Shakespeare. Paige relishes a version of the same game, where I pretend to be "Mother Gothel" from the Disney movie "Tangled." I make an insane-looking face (more insane than usual, I mean) and bark out various commands in my scary "Mother Gothel" voice while Paige screams and laughs hysterically and tells me to both stop and keep going. Alaska's frosty climes are generally inhospitable to vermin and have allowed my kids to thus far exist in blissful ignorance of cockroaches. However, since we are basically doing to the planet what the exterminator was doing to my family's apartment, I think it's safe to say that Alaska will see its share of cockroaches in the next fifty years. I for one welcome this development. My dream for Paige is that she, too, will one day play "cockroach" with her daughter.