We Are the Champions
How I encouraged my kids’ obsession with world records.
My daughters’ obsession with world records was the perfect prep for our family’s own entries into the annals of history
“KNOW WHO ATE the most hamburgers in one sitting?” asked my 11-year-old daughter, Cathy. “It was Robert Matern, at the University of Rhode Island in 1973. He ate 83.”
She continued: “And the world record for holding your breath— that’s 13 minutes, 42 and a half seconds. Robert L. Foster did it while submerged in a swimming pool in California in 1959.
“Now try this one: do you know what was the oldest domestic rabbit ever?”
“No,” I said, hunching lower over my breakfast cereal. Cathy had gotten a hold of the Guinness Book of World Records and had been grilling me for the past 10 minutes while I tried to read the paper.
“Eighteen years old,” said Cathy. “It was a girl rabbit. Daddy, you don’t know anything.”
Eight-year-old Betsy, tilting back her chair, chimed in, “I wish we could do a world record and get in a book. We’re so ordinary.”
“You’ve already got a world record,” Cathy told her. “You hold the world record for ugly.” She and fiveyear-old Marcie laughed.
“How about you?” Betsy shot back, banging her chair down for emphasis. “You’ve got the world record for dumb.”
“Hold it,” I said. “Ceasefire. We’re each of us remarkable in our own way. Why, this family probably sets records every day without knowing it.”
“Well,” I said, “I haven’t been looking for world records. But starting now, I’ll keep my eyes open.”
“The biggest eye in the world,” said Cathy, “belongs to the giant squid. Thirty-eight centimetres in diameter.”
THE THREE YOUNGSTERS promptly forgot the conversation. But the notion still had a lingering appeal for me, so I put a small spiral notebook on my bureau, and each night I recorded exactly what I’d observed throughout that day in the way of unusual household performances.
Eighteen months later, when the notebook was clogged with facts, figures and dates, I winnowed out those accomplishments that might possibly have been duplicated elsewhere. It is conceivable, for example, that some other child once lost, over a 10-month span, the right shoe of three successive pairs of sneakers. But until evidence arises to the contrary, I remain confident that the rest
of these meticulously verified feats represent world marks.
Consecutive Days Juice Spilled at Breakfast: 17
(February 2 to 18, 1975)
As was the case when Joe DiMaggio set his record of hitting in 56 straight baseball games, there were days when this streak was kept alive only on the last time at bat, so to speak. I remember how Betsy, on the 14th, late for school, snatched up a book and sent a flash flood of orange juice the length of the table. Another time, it was the dog, Superstar, erupting onto my lap after a fancied biscuit, who tipped a glass. The day the streak ended, my wife, Liz, looked at me and whispered, “We made it!” and her eyes filled with tears. I suppose Mrs. DiMaggio cried, too, when it was all over.
Most Frequent Use of the Word “Gross” in a 12-Minute Telephone Conversation: 48
(April 29, 1975)
This record was established while Cathy was talking with her friend Jody. (She also said “grossingest” twice and “grosso” once, but these variants were not counted.)
Though somewhat winded after her extravagant performance, Cathy was willing to answer a few questions. What on earth had she been talking about? Somebody in their class. Who? Bruce. Well, what was there about Bruce that caused such overwhelming revulsion? Nothing much, really. Matter of fact, Cathy admitted, he had kind of a, you know, cute smile. Then she actually liked Bruce? Oh, Daddy, don’t be gross.
Greatest Number of Consecutive Days Television Set On and Not Watched by Anybody: 15
(July 12 to 26, 1975)
Before we all left for our seashore vacation, I said to Cathy, “You shut off the TV.” Two weeks later, when we came home, we found it going full blast. Cathy appeared mildly surprised. “I guess I forgot to shut it off,” she explained helpfully.
“Look at it this way, dear,” said Liz. “A lot of houseflies who might have been bored to distraction at least got the chance to watch Walter Cronkite.” And that’s the way it was, Saturday, July 26, 1975.
Shortest Lifespan for a Christmas Present:
(December 25, 1974)
It was a helicopter. Betsy shredded off the wrapping paper and yanked the