Monthly Archives: December 2006


Recently, my son Clyde has officially announced his intention to one day join the Boy Scouts. I knew this would be inevitable the minute he saw his first Cub Scout uniform, since few things are more appealing to Clyde than a uniform (he’ll even wear an Arizona Cardinals shirt out in public). Still, I was hoping that we would get a few more years respite before the whole “Boy Scout” issue reared its ugly head; after all, his sister Clementine hadn’t realized that Brownies and Girl Scouts even existed until she was in the second grade. Unfortunately, due to Clyde’s abovementioned uniform fetish, such blissful ignorance on his part was not to be.

Still, for a while I held out hope that, after two years of seeing his sister put on her little Brownie skort and vest, Clyde would want to join the Brownies instead. This would have been fine with me: even though, I, myself, had run screaming from my own Girl Scout troop–I’m allergic to crafts–they are an organization that I can wholeheartedly support. The Girl Scouts, after all, don’t have a problem with lesbians, and make the whole God thing optional. True, during the brown-shirted Brownie phase they do have an unnerving tendency to look like something out of Hitler Youth, but that issue soon resolves itself with the arrival of their khaki green Girl Scout uniforms (whereupon they instead begin to look like a contingent of Third World traffic cops). All of my hopes for my own little transgendered Brownie, however, were for naught: as far as Clyde is concerned, it’s Boy Scouts or nothing.

My first reaction to this was “ Ok then: nothing it is.” After all, if I had wanted to let him join a homophobic Christian organization with military overtones I would have signed him up for the Klan: for one thing, the uniforms are probably a whole lot cheaper (as long as you hit the White Sales at Penneys), and for another, nobody expects a Klansman’s mother to iron on a million little patches. But then I thought about all the good the Boy Scouts do, and I wavered.

There’s all of the little old ladies that get helped across the street, for one thing. (The only time the Klan helps little old ladies cross the street is when they’re running them out of town.) And then there’s the fact that, when we want to imply that someone always plays fair and follows the rules we say: “He’s a real Boy Scout.”

And finally, I reasoned, it’s not the fault of the Boy Scouts themselves if their leadership makes a few jackass decisions concerning atheists and homosexual Scout leaders–is it? And by allowing Clyde to join (and paying his dues), I wouldn’t really be supporting hatred and intolerance–would I? I mean, it’s not like these things are institutionalized within the Boy Scouts themselves: it’s not like they have badges for “gay-bashing” and “bible thumping”–do they?

In the end I’m sure that we’ll let him join–not because of any of my rationalizations, though, but because of one of my most enduring memories of the Boy Scouts themselves. One day, in a National Park in Thailand, we stumbled upon a clearing filled with hundreds of young Thai Boy Scouts–it must have been the Thai Jamboree, or its equivalent. As one young scout ran by us, my husband flashed him the Boy Scout salute; with a smile of joy and accomplishment the boy promptly flashed back with the same. It was a moment that transcended languages and cultures, and when I think back on it now it reminds me that–beyond any ideas of religion or politics–what the Boy (and Girl) Scouts really seem to represent is fellowship: something there is far too little of in the world today for me to ever deny Clyde a chance at his.

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Food Fight

When my daughter, Clementine, pens her first tell-all memoir, the book’s most Mommie Dearest moment will undoubtably involve not wire coat hangars, but rather, food. Specifically, any food that has left the Mommie Dearest-approved “green zone” of the kitchen and/or dining room. What’s more, I’m sure that in the made-for-TV version of her book I will be played by a (hopefully) recently “Jenny Craiged” Kirstie Alley (obviously she’ll still have to wear extensive make-up in order to appear older than her 140 years, and therefore closer to Clementine’s estimation of my true age),and that the drama’s opening scene will feature Kirstie/me lurching into the living room, clutching handfuls of stringy gray hair and screeching:
“No…Food…In…The…Living Room!” Meanwhile, a suitably cowering Clementine and Clyde (played, no doubt, by Lindsay Lohan and the latest Culkin child) will carry their offending pieces of organic celery sticks and spill-proof Perrier boxes back into the kitchen. And then they’ll cut to the scene of me eating a Snickers bar with a knife and fork.

That will be her version of it. My version, and the one you are getting to read now, is a little different. For one thing, I am nowhere near to being the obsessive-compulsive food freak that Clementine will undoubtedly paint me as; while in her version I will be an uptight foodaphobe who can’t see a bowl of fresh raspberries without reaching for the spray bottle of “Shout,” the truth of the matter is that I am just the opposite; at one time I was a child with “food/boundary” issues very similar to her own. Not that I could ever get Clementine to believe it when I’m in the midst of admonishing her for attempting to carry a handful of ice cream into the living room (the theory obviously being that if it never touches a dish, it’s not really food), but the unvarnished truth of the matter is that I was once more like her than I now care to admit.

I can understand why she might reason that a couch cushion is as acceptable as a plate for holding a few pieces of hot, greasy bacon, or that the best place to set a lipping full glass of chocolate milk is halfway on/halfway off of the VCR because in my youth I made similarly ill-advised decisions such as hiding a can of frozen orange juice overnight in my sock drawer. (The vision of my mother pacing the floor and seemingly interrogating the carpeting with “why, why, why?” no doubt has something to do with this particular memory being permanently etched in my mind).

It is, in fact, my own childhood memories that cause me to be so hard on my own children now: I am like the ex-smoker who can’t see someone light up without nagging them about the dangers of smoking; except, in my case I cannot see a popsicle being waved around within a 6-foot radius of a set of lace curtains without immediately sounding the alarm. Nobody knows as well as I that in the child mind the neuron pathway between no napkin and well, here’s a nice pillow is a very, very short one indeed because my neurons once traveled the same route.

Of course, since that explanation doesn’t translate into drama as well as the image of the food-obsessed mother freaking out over a breath mint on the couch I guess I’d better get used to the idea of there being a little (or a lot–depending on Jenny Craig) of Kirstie Alley in my future. Still, it could be worse: Clementine could hook up with O.J.’s old publisher, and I could look forward to holding the starring role in a gruesome tale of the mother run amok over a box of spilled Saltines. I can already picture the title: If I Ate It.

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Old Fart

When he wasn’t busy writing biting satires railing against the social inequities of 18th century Britain, Jonathan Swift would sometimes turn out other, less noble pieces of literature. One such piece was a treatise on farting. While this particular piece of work was not terribly well received (at least no one would admit to liking it), it has, in its way, proven to be inspirational. For me, the mere knowledge that it exists–just knowing that the fiery trail of flatulence literature has been blazed before me–has given me the chutzpah to proceed with this week’s column. (I feel I should mention something here about “standing on the shoulders of giants,” but, considering the topic under discussion, the imagery might be a bit much). Yes, in case you haven’t guessed it already, this is a column about farting; more specifically, my children’s love of it.

Now, the first thing I need to establish is that I am not above a good fart joke. I will giggle with the best of them when some poor actor on stage intones, “Speak to me, O lips that have never told a lie,” and a digestively gifted person in the audience ad libs a reply.

As a matter of fact, it wasn’t that long ago that my friend Regina and I, during a bike tour of Scotland, came across a book of Scottish ghost stories with the line (spoken by the soon-to-be-ghostly child residents of a burning castle) “Mither, mither, the reek it smithers me!” and adopted said line as our own personal warning system for whenever the Scottish ale and kippers got to be too much for our American systems. (“I wouldn’t come into the tent right now.” “Why?” “The reek; it’ll smither you.”)

And I always enjoy it when my friend Bill entertains us with his stories of being snowed in on Denali for three days with two tent-mates and a seemingly endless supply of salmon jerky.

I would even go so far as to say that I am still able to appreciate a good fart joke when the joke is on me: the last time I went hiking in Antelope Canyon with my daughter, Clementine, she took perverse delight in “crop-dusting” the narrowest, tightest confines of the slot canyon ahead of me–and let me tell you, kippers and salmon jerky have nothing on a girl who survives on nothing but potato chips, sweet tarts, and yogurt. ( I doubt whether even people deep in the canyon when the flash flood sirens go off ever made better time climbing the ladders out of there than I did). But even so: I was laughing.

So it’s true: I do like a good fart joke; my children, however, absolutely adore them. (Especially my son, Clyde, whose obvious bliss at being able to stand naked on the arm of the couch and greet people with his own special version of “Ode to Joy” just reinforces my belief that’s he’s only biding his time with us until the new frat house opens at NAU.)

So, then, what’s the problem? I guess when it comes down to it, the thing that bothers me the most about my children’s predilection for farting jokes is that, even when I’m in on the joke, I’m not. Just as the “dead baby” jokes of my childhood drew the line between what I thought was funny and what my mother did, the farting jokes of my children are supposed to draw the line between what they think is funny and what I do. While I may laugh at the “fart in the bath tub” routine the first five times, they’ll still be laughing at it after fart number twenty. To them, when I’m no longer laughing is when the joke really becomes funny. In a way, I guess that’s my role: to them, I’m just another Yahoo.

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