Monthly Archives: March 2007

Happy V.D.

This year, my daughter, Clementine, spent the week before Valentine’s Day making a card for everybody in her class. Since she’s in a multi-age class, this project entailed making a lot of Valentines–48 of them, to be precise. So it wasn’t too surprising when sometime around Valentine number 20 she started taking shortcuts. Unfortunately, the shortcut she used most often was to abbreviate “Valentine’s Day” into “V.D.” As in “Happy VD.”

Since Clementine is the type of person who is never satisfied with the short answer to anything, and since she also has the unnerving habit of trying to utilize all new words as often as possible, this was a can of worms I was more than a little loathe to open. And so, when confronted with the specter of either having Clementine ask every sniffling person around her if they “thought they might be coming down with syphilis,”or taking the cowardly way out and saying nothing, I did not hesitate to count myself amongst the chickens.

Besides, maybe she’s on the brink of discovering a whole new era in greeting cards: Hostility Greetings. Her market niche could be break-up cards, with each card featuring a cute, hand-drawn cover, followed by an inside message saying things like “Happy VD–Think of Me When You Pee,” or even “Congrats on Your Chlamydia (look it up yourself, smart guy”). You get the idea: it’s still all very much in the developmental stage–or, at least it could be, if I’m careful not to quash her creativity now with a slew of unnecessary “facts.”

Of course, Clementine’s possible future challenge of the Hallmark dynasty is just one of the reasons I didn’t point out her awkward choice of abbreviations–there was another, more fundamental reason for my silence. The truth is, what she puts on the cards really doesn’t matter, because, as everybody in the grade school set already knows, Valentine’s Day isn’t about the sentiment–it’s about the chocolate. It’s the same for Christmas, Easter, and Halloween–sure, kids know that there’s some kind of holiday involved, but as long as the candy keeps flowing, the specifics just aren’t that important. That’s what doomed Columbus Day–no chocolate. It’s also why all the people who try to stem the commercialization of religious holidays with slogans such as : “Let’s put the ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas’” don’t stand a chance. Until they start marketing a solid chocolate Jesus (and that won’t happen as long as there are people in the world who insist on always biting the heads off first), the Easter Bunny will own Easter.

You’d think that at least one of the major religions would have caught on to this by now; after all, it would be a great way to generate new recruits. I know, I know: they already offer eternal salvation and all that–a concept which is fine if you’re into delayed gratification–but if they ever want to attract those who like to live for the moment, those who consider a 15 second commercial break an excruciating interruption (in other words, those born after 1990), religions had better start thinking about handing out some of the good stuff now.

Interestingly enough–even though, historically, they haven’t really been into recruiting–it is the Jews who seem to have the best handle on this: a friend of mine recently told me that there is a Jewish holiday that not only encourages drinking, but eating cookies as well. That’s a start, but if they really want to pack ‘em in, they might consider switching out the cookies for chocolate, and even better, adding in some video games. While I can’t speak for everyone, I’m almost certain that if there were to be a Jewish holiday that offered video games, candy, and soda, my son Clyde would offer to circumcise himself.

Now I wonder if Clementine’s new card line will offer a card for that?

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive


The other morning I awoke to an awful smell. It was one of those smells that are all too familiar to anyone who ever misspent their evenings drinking multiple pitchers of Michelob Dark on the porch at Alpine Pizza followed up by a 3AM Denny’s Grand Slam breakfast run, (eggs over greasy). It was the kind of smell that, for many people, is reminiscent of the last week of school (or, depending on what kind of a student you are, the first); the kind that, in all probability, hastened the invention of the bathroom fan by a good twenty years. In short, it was a smell I had hoped to never experience again, and one that I certainly never expected to be emanating from the confines of my son Clyde’s room–at least not for another ten years or so. (Dear God, I thought–if he’s already drinking cheap beer at age five, what’s next–a Lego bong at age nine?

(Un)Happily, though, it turns out that Clyde was not, in fact, attempting to break the Drew Barrymore record for earliest entry into the Betty Ford Clinic–it was just Day 2 of his science fair experiment–and there were still 12 more days to go.

His experiment was fairly simple: do bean seeds grow better when given water, soda, or milk? In theory, this was a great project: not only was it simple enough for a five-year-old to do, but it also had the added benefit of promoting healthy living. Smugly, I pictured myself at the end of the experiment, one arm draped benevolently around Clyde’s shoulder while we gazed down together first upon the shriveled “soda” and” milk” seeds, and then upon the vibrantly healthy “water” seeds. Using my best Robert Young voice, I would point out to Clyde how obvious it was that water was healthiest for all growing things–bean seeds and little boys alike. And then I would nod in approval as Clyde solemnly vowed to never touch soda again (and maybe milk, too–after all, if he ever hopes to date any of the hippie chicks in this town he had better start learning to drink soy lattes).

Unfortunately, my plan failed on two counts: not only were the soda and milk seeds failing to shrivel and die, but they were also responsible for creating a smell so pungent that it could have been used to hide meth labs. Normally this would have been enough for me to call a halt to the experiment, but this was Clyde’s first Science Fair project–one he had come up with all on his own–and so I was hesitant to stop it mid-session. After all, I reasoned, what if by doing so I was stifling the future career of a brilliant medical researcher? How would I feel if one day, years from now, I were to overhear Clyde glumly saying, “Yeah, I used to be interested in science–until the day my Mom tossed out my science fair experiment. By the way, you want fries with that?”

And so we toughed it out until the end–nearly two weeks of walking into the house every day and yelling at the cat before remembering where it was that smell was actually coming from. Hopefully it will all pay off, and someday, when Clyde has discovered the cure for leprosy, or malaria, or even dandruff, he will thank me in his Nobel acceptance speech.

I do, however, still have one nagging concern: what if the point of the whole experiment was not, in fact, to see whether beans grow better in milk, water or soda, but rather to see how long I would put up with the smell? What if what Clyde was actually doing was some kind of twisted sociology experiment–with me as the subject?

Eh. I’m sure there’s still a Nobel prize for sociology, even if it is the evil sort.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive


Even though in many ways–and for many hours of the day–she is a delightful person, there is no way that my daughter, Clementine, could ever be confused with a morning person. I used to think that she inherited this trait from my sister, a person who considered the “crack of noon” to be the natural starting point for any day. (Once, after being forced by circumstances beyond her control to get up before dawn, she commented wryly that she had never before realized that 6 o’clock could come along twice in the same day.) This, however, is not Clementine’s problem: on the contrary, she usually wakes up on her own a good two hours before school starts, fully charged and ready to go. This is not a good thing: it’s bad enough having someone snarling at you the first thing in the morning–when they snarl at you for two hours plus it becomes another form of torture altogether.

Actually, if she were at all lethargic it would be a boon to the rest of, since most people would pick “grouchy and slow” over “grouchy and fast” any day of the week. Just think about Jurassic Park, and how the scariest creatures there were the velociraptors: not only did they have bad attitudes, they were scary fast to boot. In my house, Clementine is the equivalent of a velociraptor: not only does she wake up annoyed that the universe has failed to confirm to her expectations yet again, but she also wakes up this way at 6 AM each and every day of the week.

Sometimes, because she does wake up so early, I start to think that maybe the problem really is a lack of sleep, and will shoo her back into bed in the hopes that–in the same way that when you get an unsatisfactory answer from the Magic Eight Ball and you shake it again to try and get a better result–the next Clementine that crawls forth from the crypt will be of a slightly more pleasant variety. Unfortunately, this is usually about as successful with Clementine as it is with the Magic 8 Ball: all you really end up doing is going from “outlook not so good” to “my sources say no.”

Of course, none of this would be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that Clementine’s little brother, Clyde, is her complete opposite. He’s like a character in some 1930’s “plucky orphan with a heart of gold saves the day” movie, so blithely cheerful that you almost expect him to come out of his room wearing knee pants and a bow tie and declaring “I say, what absolutely spiffing weather we’re having.” Seeing the two of them together in the morning is like watching a concert where Huey Lewis and The News opens up for Marilyn Manson: not only is it hard on the audience, but Marilyn Manson doesn’t appreciate it much either. In fact, if pressed to articulate on her morning funk, Clementine would probably say that people like Clyde are the reason mornings are so unbearable for people like her.

In a way I can see her point–when she comes out of her room in the morning she is often no more than taciturn; however, once her own personal “little ray of sunshine” comes beaming out of his own room, all bets are off. It is like seeing a bear that has been peacefully hibernating being driven from its lair by a pack of yelping hounds, and just like with a real bear baiting, the version that is played out at our house is all to prone to turning ugly.

Sometimes I think it would be better if they were both morose morning people–at least it would remove some of the schizophrenia from our breakfast table. But then again, maybe not: I have to live here, too.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive

Just a Sec

Some parents like to let their children know when they are going over the line by addressing them by their full names–all three of them. (Or, if one of your parents is a pop star, all sixteen of them. Maybe this is why the children of celebrities grow up to be so messed up: by the time their parents get through “Fifi Trixiebelle Superhero Moxie Coca-Cola™…” they’ve already forgotten what it was they were scolding them for).

This has always seemed a tad unwise to me. For one thing, what if, in a Pavlovian sense, you’re setting your kids up for a lifetime of cringing every time they hear their own middle names? And, considering that sometimes children are names after older relatives, what if you’re also sabotaging your child’s relationship with that honored family member? After all: what kid would want to hang out with dear old Aunt Gertrude if every time she heard the name she had to fight the urge to duck? The main problem I have with the “full name scold,” however, is that there already exists a perfectly good way to let kids know when you are upset with them: yelling.

Don’t get me wrong: I try not to yell. I try to be reasonable. I try to be calm. But then, after all my attempts at reasonable and calm have resulted in zombie-like stares of noncompliance, I yell. At least with yelling I get a reaction–proof of life–even if it is in the form of an exaggerated eye roll, a lurching out of whatever piece of furniture was being bonded with pre-yell, and an aggrieved, “Geez Mom–you don’t have to yell.” (Which is ironic, since the very fact that they were mired in inactivity up until the point I finally lost it and yelled proves that yelling is exactly what I do have to do.) The truth is, without the yell I would barely register on their consciousness–I would simply be another flyspeck on the Gameboy of their life.

In fact, before the yell they are usually so catatonic that I almost worry about their hearing–or, at least I would–if it wasn’t for the fact that each of my many calm and reasonable entreaties actually do elicit a form of reply: the hated “just a sec.” In the world of yelling, “just a sec” is such a standard precursor to the yell that it is almost as if we were doing some sort of “call and response” series in a church: “Clean your room”; “Just a sec”; “Right now”; “Just a sec.” Aliens watching first a Catholic service and then chore time at my house would probably be left wondering when we were going to get to the “amens.” (Or, conversely, they would think that in our religion , instead of saying “amen,” the high priestess yells.)

So why must we perform this domestic liturgy? Why can’t we cut out all of the middle stuff, and get right to the action? The answer, I think, lies in something my husband once told me way back when we were first dating. I asked him why it was that, despite repeated rejection, some men seemed to find it necessary to hit on every single woman at a bar. He looked at me as if I was kidding, and then answered, “Because, one night, one of them might say ‘yes’. And then all those ‘nos’ become worth it.”

Maybe that’s my children’s rationale as well: someday, worn down under the weight of a hundred “just a secs”, I will be too weary to even yell, and instead will simply get up and do it myself–suddenly making all of those “just a secs” worth it. Somehow though, the idea that child psychology and male psychology are all but interchangeable does not set my mind at ease. But then, that’s a subject for another column.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive


When my daughter, Clementine, had a friend sleep over the other night, my husband mentioned to the parents that he and I would be watching Jackass 2 later on that evening. Although he didn’t really think Clementine and her friend would be interested in watching it, he thought that it was best to make a full disclosure of the evening’s activities. As it turns out, this was a good thing: the parents were dead set against their child having anything to do with Jackass 2 (they said they were worried that if their son saw the movie, he might try and imitate the stunts).

Later on that evening, after I had watched the movie, I thought back to that comment and all that it implied. While part of me wondered just where, exactly, they thought their son was going to find either an obliging horse, an arena full of bulls, or even a box of questionably smelly fake “beard” hair, another part of me wondered if they’d really understood what this movie was all about, or whether they had just issued their Jackass fatwa solely on the basis of Jackass 2 being an “R” rated movie.

Not that there is anything wrong with that–if I was any kind of a parent myself I’m sure I would probably want to keep my children from watching “R” rated movies, too. The problem is, though, that with the current ratings system, an “R” rating is just about meaningless. Take a movie like Jackass 2, for example: how does this movie–its only “crimes” being language, nudity and some really gross scenes (see: Horse, semen, referenced above)–get a “restricted” rating, while a movie like The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland–a movie so soul-searingly bad that I was afraid that if I continued to watch it my internal organs were going to get up and leave the theater without me–pick up a “G”? I mean, really: sure Jackass 2 featured a graphic scene of a guy taking a dump on a three-inch toilet, but in The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, Elmo sang. A lot.

A few years ago, when the movie The Aristocrats came out, there were a lot of comments from the movie-going public about how a movie like The Aristocrats clearly showed the limitations of our current movie ratings system: even though this movie did not feature a single exposed nipple, loaded gun, rotting zombie corpse or mountain of cocaine, it was still deemed so foul by the MPAA that it wasn’t even given an “X.” And yet Racing Stripes, which came out the same year–and which featured the horrifyingly awful spectacle of Dustin Hoffman supplying the voice of the wise, old, zebra-counseling donkey (in an effort, one can only assume, to financially ensure his continued supply of “exposed nipples and mountains of cocaine”)–got a “G.” (Personally, I would rather watch Marlon Brando do just about anything with a stick of butter than to have to endure the sound of the same voice that once said “Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me,” braying the words, “B-b-b-elieve in yourself.”)

I think the time has come for a new ratings system to emerge, one that more accurately reflects the cinematic pitfalls that movie trailers so often conceal. This would be especially helpful for children’s movies, which in general tend to be so bad that the highest praise I can usually bring myself to give one is that it “didn’t suck.” The new ratings system, however, would warn people about a movie like Racing Stripes by giving it a “D” rating (for dull), or about a movie like Mary-Kate and Ashley Go (fill in the blank) by giving it a “V” (for vapid).

And movies like Jackass 2 and The Aristocrats? They would clearly get a “FASBNFSO” (Funny as hell, but not for sleep overs).

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive