Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Failures Make Better Stories

Of all the birthday cakes my husband has had in his lifetime, he only talks about The Kelvin Cake. We call it The Kelvin Cake because, while the boxed cake mix had been purchased at a New Jersey Acme, its instructions were printed solely in Arabic. The oven temperature was given in Celsius.

My mother-in-law is a scientist but couldn't remember the Celsius-to-Fahrenheit conversion formula off the top of her head.  Instead, she attempted to convert from Celsius to Kelvin to Fahrenheit, and the completed cake was a gooey mess in the middle. We still laugh about that failure of a cake twenty years later.

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When I spent my first Christmas away from my parents at my in-laws' home, my mother-in-law sent them a floral arrangement. The card read: "Thank you for sharing sympathy with us." It was supposed to have read, "Thank you for sharing Cynthia with us," but someone at the florist screwed up. If they hadn't, we wouldn't remember that gift. Now, we laugh about it every Christmas.

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Have you ever noticed that these are the things we remember and tell stories about? Not the perfectly planned parties and the calendar-worthy vacations. What sticks with us are the unexpected, the snafus, and the outright failures.

Storm Cloud - Flotsam of the Mind

I was thinking about this at the beach early last week. The afternoon had turned sunny but windy. The kids were happily body surfing while I watched a storm cloud roll in. It began to sprinkle. Within a minute, it was a deluge. The kids stayed in the water as the rain poured down on them. The other beachgoers scuttled away, but I just stood there. Swimming in the rain is fun, and leaving once I'd been soaked to the skin wasn't going to make me any drier.

When we finally walked up to the house, we laughed about my soaked clothes. I gleefully stomped in puddles and splashed with the kids. It was an unexpected moment to remember, and I thought it might be the way we'd remember the vacation. A couple hours later, a nasty virus suggested otherwise.

It's still too soon. I can't laugh about the sickness and the ruined vacation. But someday I will. And my parents will laugh along with me, because that's what family does. We celebrate our shared experiences, especially when they don't go as planned.

Next time I'm fretting over the perfect vacation destination or the perfect holiday meal, I'm going to try to remember that no one will remember it if I succeed. Only if I fail will it be laughed about and remembered for a lifetime, because failures make better stories.


I know you have a story. What's one thing that went wrong that you still laugh about years later? Would you still remember if everything had gone exactly as planned?


4 comments:

  1. Getting caught in the rain in Portland, after P had poison sumac for the whole trip, deciding to cut our losses at that moment under an entryway in the rain and jumping on the next plane home.

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    1. I'm familiar with cutting your losses. We once left a Saturday-Saturday Cape Cod vacation on Wednesday. Cold, pouring rain, husband had to leave for work, and I had a migraine. That was the end.

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  2. When I was a kid, my mom got a new pressure cooker, so we decided to stew tomatoes as a first project. When things seemed well under way, we took a break in the back yard. Suddenly there was a big boom and clatter from inside, and back in the kitchen, we discovered tomatoes everywhere ... on the walls, on the cupboards ... even the ceiling! Well it didn't take a genius to realize the pressure cooker had exploded, as the lid was half way across the room. In shock, surveying the damage, we realized it could have been much worse if we had been in the kitchen when things blew up! We looked at each other and ... just started laughing, and laughing. And every time we looked back at each other, it started all over again. It was a mess to clean up, but we weren't hurt so ... what the heck! My father, however, did not share our humor and saw nothing funny in the situation. But his sober reaction ... well, it just made us laugh all over again.

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    1. Danger and destruction! That's a good one. Glad you were safe.

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