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Slug-bug Daddy

We've Got a Lot of Kids

Our kids have been playing Slug-bug for several months. On a particularly long, dull, sodden and bickering car-ride back from some interminable shopping trip, my lovely wife Maria taught them to scan the freeway for Volkswagen Beetles to pass the time and keep them from picking on each other for sport.

The rules of the game are simple: at the sight of a Volkswagen Beetle (the "bug"), the first to shout out "Slug-bug!" followed by the color of the discovered bug, can cheerfully and without malice, punch the nearest brother or sister or parent, atta-boy-style, on the upper arm, (the "slug"), no questions asked, and importantly, without retribution from possibly bigger and stronger older siblings always interested in reinforcing their bigger-and-stronger-ness.

It’s a popular highway game apparently invented before recorded history, devised to pass the time on long, boring car trips. "Slug-bug silver!" followed by a friendly tap on the upper arm. A century ago the Amish might have played a similar game. Maria thinks it should have been called sluggy- buggy. Ancient Egyptians might have played the game, watching for eunuchs carrying their Boy-King in an opulent sedan, Slug-bug Tut.

Our family started out on the game just fine. In egalitarian fashion, the fastest and sharpest eye earned the right to tap their seatmate on the arm, atta-boy-style; grins all around, and all eyes peeled for the next Slug-bug.

As time lurched on and our kids became more sophisticated and somewhat bored Slug-buggers, slowly, imperceptibly, things began to take a wrong turn with the Slug-bug game. The first hint of trouble began with a spontaneous expansion of the rules called "No Slug-backs". The No Slug-backs clause was instituted by our younger children, because our older children seemingly saw no ethical problem with Slug-bugging the exact same VW Beetle the younger sibling had just identified, lustily punching the younger sibling quite smartly on the arm. Or stomach. Or head.

In anticipation of an instant and logarithmically more painful retaliation, a still-toothless twin might desperately lisp "Thlug-bug yellow, no thlug-backs!" to chant the charm that will avoid the inevitable retaliatory Slug-bugging, somewhere that might really hurt.

One afternoon our youngest boy revised the game to include Slug-bug Sheriff. As a chronically late parent I found Slug-bug Sheriff a particularly useful revision. It’s convenient to have a whole vanload of kids watching for mobile speed traps.

Other siblings developed new, more obscure Slug-bugs. If one wants to slug one’s little brother, what’s to keep the game from including whatever Slug-bug that’s close and convenient? Why not Slug-bug Fire Truck, Slug-bug bicycle, Slug-bug Hitchhiker with a separate Slug-bug on the other arm for the hitchhiker’s girlfriend, no slug-backs?

I admit that I found the whole Slug-bug thing really rather cute. On a recent trip uptown for supper, full of affection for our cute children, I expanded the game to what I thought was a logical extreme: Slug-bug Alec. Alec quickly retaliated: Slug-bug Daddy.

But by this time, the rules had become intricate and clearly lacking moral fiber, the whole Slug-bug thing had gotten completely out of hand, our littlest kids were in tears half the time, so Maria and I were forced to intervene, enforcing a return to rules-based orthodoxy and fair play.

First, Slug-bugs were only for actual VW Beetles. No Sheriffs, fire trucks, hitchhiker’s girlfriends, Alecs or daddies. Rule two: the no slug-backs clause was not required, because only one kid can identify one bug, and using the same bug for a retaliatory Slug-bug would be henceforth banned from the game; finally, rule three: no slugs. If a child spied the VW Beetle first, they can trumpet the "Slug-bug" phrase. That’s it. No actual hitting.

There are two Slug-bugs parked in a grassy lot just east of town, and whenever we pass that particular stretch of Bank Road all four kids will wait until the exact moment that the Beetles can be seen, then the van will explode with Slug-bug cacophony: slug-bug-yellow-slug-bug-orange-slug-bug-yellow-slug-bug-orange! They’ll argue the rest of the ride home about who won. But like most of their scrums, the victor is seldom clear.