Monthly Archives: August 2005


I’ve always had a certain amount of admiration for people who can, despite all logical evidence to the contrary, deny the obvious. The flat-earthers who insist that the pictures of a very rotund Earth have all been faked by NASA; the 1980’s record industry reps who blandly kept repeating that Boy George was a heterosexual; even the Bushites who still believe that weapons of mass destruction did, in, fact, exist in Iraq (even though it is now painfully obvious that, if Iraq had actually possessed any WMDs, they would have had to have been small enough to be featured as the newest tool on the Ronco Pocket Fisherman).

Yes, the stalwart Kennedy/CIA conspiracy theorists, crop circle fanatics and Brad Pitt/Angelina Jolie spokespeople have always impressed me with, if not exactly their intelligence, then their dedication. It takes real gumption and fortitude to hold on to your beliefs long after they have been disproved, and while I wouldn’t want those same people performing brain surgery on me, it is still a comfort to know that such simple, uncomplicated souls exist.

Or, at least that’s what I thought until one of them came to live in the same house with me.

When it comes to denying the obvious, my daughter Clementine is second to none. Next to her, the former Iraqi Minister of Information looks like an amateur, and Johnnie Cochrane looks like a beginner. Need someone to stand in front a hundred microphones and claim Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown are in the throes of wedded bliss? Clementine’s your girl.

I first knew that she was going to be a pro at denial when she early on perfected the quintessential sibling cry of: I didn’t do it! (I know: lots of kids can say this with a straight face, but how many of them can, like Clementine, say it convincingly in the two seconds before their younger sibling starts to cry?)

After that coup she then went on to perfect the art of denial in the tough playing fields of the cookie cabinet: once she had successfully pulled off saying “no, I did not eat those cookies” as crumbs flew from her lips, she was ready for the big time, and could, without turning a hair, deny all knowledge of the Clementine tooth-sized bite marks on her brother’s arm.

In fact, it was after witnessing her push her brother off of the couch and then deny it so skillfully that even I began to doubt whether it had really happened that I started to think that maybe she has a career in Hollywood ahead of her; not on the big screen, mind you, but in front of the press microphones. Suddenly, I could see the future, and from where I sit it now seems inevitable that Clementine will someday end up as a Hollywood PR flak; how I dread the prospect of one day turning on the TV in 2025 just in time to catch Clementine earnestly announcing to the world that Robert Downey, jr. has just completed his 112th (and most successful!) stint in rehab.

As you can imagine, this was a rather depressing thought, or at least it was until I considered the alternative: what if, instead of making a career out of denial, she decides to make it a lifestyle? In that case, the best I would have to look forward to is one day seeing her stand in front of the school board with a time line in one hand and a picture of Noah’s Ark in the other, gamely trying to provide scientific evidence for something called “intelligent design”. Yikes–when you look at it that way, even Robert Downey, jr. starts to look good.

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Old Yeller

Logging on to MSN the other day, I couldn’t help but noticing the headline blaring across the top of the page: “Is Yelling Worse Than Hitting?” My response was immediate and visceral: God, I hope so– there’s no way I could hit as hard as I can yell. It was with a bit of trepidation, therefore, that I finally clicked onto the link; once there I saw, to my immense relief, that I needn’t have worried at all: the article did indeed go on to say that, yes, yelling was much worse than spanking. It then, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, went on to suggest several ways that parents could avoid yelling, my favorite two being 1) Try not to be around stressful people and situations (like, perhaps, your children?), and 2) Retreat to a quiet room and light a soothing candle whenever the urge to yell overtakes you. ( Since the urge to yell usually overtakes me when one of my children is chasing the other one around the living room with a steak knife, suggestion #2 would probably not be the wisest move in my household, and in fact would undoubtably lead to a spate of articles with headlines like: “Are Puncture Wounds Worse Than Mental Scars?”)

When did yelling get such a bad rap, anyway? As far as I’m concerned, yelling has it all over spanking. For one thing, with yelling you don’t even have to be within arm’s reach to be effective; on the contrary, the farther away the yell-ee is from the yell-or, the more effective it seems to be. (Nothing says I’m serious like a reprimand delivered from two houses away.) And then there’s the fact that yelling gives you a much broader range of nuances to choose from: from the casual stop riding on the dog yell, to the more strident stop peeing on the dog yell, all the way up to the frantic don’t put that in your mouth–it came out of the dog yell.

In fact, one of the best things about yelling is that you don’t even have to raise your voice to do it: every child knows that the most frightening yell is the silent one, the one your mother mouths to you as she is on the phone, the one you can’t quite make out but looks something like just you wait.

Of course, to give the authors of the MSN article credit, I’m sure that there are plenty of houses where the parents don’t really yell, just like I am sure that there are plenty of houses where they never watch anything but educational TV, never eat any food that is not triple-certified organic, and never make any decisions without first holding a family meeting. And I’m sure that these families are very, very happy; even if it is in a Stepford kind of way. My question for them, though, is this: what happens when all those poor un-yelled at children finally go and live in the real world? How do they deal with their first boss, their first room-mate–even their first spouse? Do they just dissolve into a puddle at the first raised decibel, or what?

At least with my children, I know that whatever unreasonable boss, psycho room-mate, or Jerry Springer spouse the world throws at them, they’ll be O.K. Even now, at the tender ages of four and eight, they could probably already go to a PETA convention wearing full-length fur coats and emerge completely unscathed. Heck, they could probably wear a PETA t-shirts to a cockfight and be none the worse for wear. Now, if only I could find a way to make them immune to siblings and steak knives, they’d be set for life.

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Of all my father’s wives, my favorite (except, of course, for my mother), was Josephine. It wasn’t really anything that Josephine did when she was married to my father that made her stand out in my mind, but rather what she did when she left. You see, Josephine, in a marvel of stealth planning that the Bush administration could learn a few things from, took everything with her when she left. Everything. Somehow, between the time my father left for work in the morning and the time he came home at night, Josephine managed to remove every single item from their townhouse; unless it was something that unequivocally belonged to my father (like his socks), she took it with her.

She took the toothpaste from the bathroom. She took the ice trays from the freezer (but left the ice–the water bill must have been in his name). She took the food from the refrigerator, the light bulbs from their sockets, the toilet paper from the spindle, and the hangers from the closet. The few things she didn’t take, like his clothes and the trayless ice cubes, she left where they lie: shirts and pants in the bottom of the closet, underwear (still folded) in the spot where the dresser once stood. It was, in the words of my older sister, who visited not long after it happened, as if everything there had been beamed up by aliens, or vaporized in some kind of Josephine-erasing bomb.

We never saw Josephine again. I was only four or five at the time, but I remember that it seemed to me that Josephine had finally completed the disappearance cycle started by all the other wives: first disappearing from our sight, and then, with the help of a pair of sharp scissors and my grandmother’s determined hands, snip by snip disappearing from all the photos, until finally, because we were not to speak of them, disappearing from our collective memory altogether. In her leaving, Josephine did nothing more than the others had; she just did it in double time. And with panache.

Although it’s been over thirty years since I last saw Josephine, she is, these days, often on my mind; not because I’m thinking of pulling a stunt like hers (I think it would be much more efficient–and easier on my back–to simply throw my husband’s clothes, and his ice cubes, on the front lawn), but because, somehow, even though they bear no blood relation to her, my children have inherited Josephine’s talent with disappearance.

Or rather, they almost have. Perhaps because they are younger, and more inexperienced than Josephine was, they have not quite perfected the art of disappearing. What they now do–instead of a complete fade– is, in Harry Potter lingo, “splinch themselves”–that is, in the act of disappearing, they leave something of themselves behind.

Often what they leave is tiny, like the blueberries on the kitchen floor that were previously infesting their objectionable breakfast bagels. Other times the objects are larger, like the shoes and socks that mark their recent presence in the entryway. Sometimes, even, the objects are quite large, like the bicycles and scooters that lie in the driveway, their wheels still spinning eerily.

One thing, though: what they lack in their ability to completely disappear, they more than make up for with their speed: whereas Josephine’s disappearance took all day, Clementine and Clyde can be gone before I’ve had time to say : “Don’t forget to put away your…”

With practice, of course, I’m sure that one day they will achieve Josephine’s level of mastery, but until then I guess I’ll have to be content to gaze upon their “splinched” leavings. At least–for now–that means I don’t have to worry about naked ice cubes in the freezer.

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When I was pregnant, the biggest mistake I ever made was not, as some may think, the weekly “family-size” package of Oreos, but rather reading all of those peppy advice books. This fact was most recently brought home to me during a downtown window-shopping expedition with my 8-year-old daughter, Clementine. We were looking at the displays in Black Hound Gallerie when I saw Clementine read something silently to herself; after a split second’s pause, she turned to me and asked: “Mom, what’s a pervert?” Here it was: the moment that all those advice books always referred to as a “teachable moment”; where I, as the parent, was supposed to deny my natural squeamishness and instead make myself available for questioning.

The last time Clementine and I had such a “teachable moment” was the time I rented Love, Actually to watch with her over Christmas break and somehow forgot about all of the incredibly graphic (but funny) sex scenes. According to the teachable moment theorists, when two of the characters started to assume a position that even I didn’t know the name of, I was supposed to turn to Clementine and calmly ask her if she had any questions about what she was seeing onscreen.

What I did instead was jab frantically at the remote control for a full minute (before finally realizing it was the control for a stereo that stopped working two years ago), toss all the pillows off the couch in a futile search for the DVD remote, and then, as a final resort, throw myself bodily across the TV screen. That’s when I noticed that all that snappy British dialogue had put Clementine to sleep probably twenty minutes before.

Hopeful of another reprieve, I glanced over to Clementine to see if there was any chance of repeat somnolence; unfortunately, however, it seems that Clementine finds Black Hound much more stimulating than Hugh Grant: she was wide awake, and still waiting expectantly for her answer. I could also tell by the gleam in her eyes that, in all likelihood, she already had a pretty good idea of what a pervert was; she was just trying to see if I would deliver the goods or if I would come up with yet another pathetic lie (like the time I told her that it was against the law for people to go to Disneyland more than once every three years). This time, and to the surprise of both of us, I delivered; or at least I tried to, while still staying within the boundaries of extreme tolerance. (Heaven forbid I should pronounce as “perverted” the very thing her future husband–or wife–likes to do the most).

“Well,” I hedged, “a pervert, I guess, is someone who, ah, thinks about, you know, sex, more than the average person.” Regretting immediately that I had committed myself to anything so definite, I began to backpedal faster than a Supreme Court nominee.

“Not that there is an average–I mean, people have been arguing about that forever. Look at Lenny Bruce. Look at the whole concept of ‘prurient interest’.”

Suddenly, I realized that maybe this was a “teachable moment”; I began to talk about the definitions of obscenity; about anti-miscegenation laws and forced sterilizations; even about James Joyce’s Ulysses and Nabokov’s Lolita, until suddenly I noticed that my audience was no longer listening, and had, in fact, probably had not been listening since the word sex left my mouth five minutes before; instead, she was skipping down Aspen street, singing “I’m a pervert! I’m a pervert!” at the top of her lungs.

So much for teachable moments. Next time I don’t care what the books say: I’m going with the pathetic lie. I wonder if she would have believed me if I’d told her that a pervert was somebody from Pervertia?

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