Monthly Archives: March 2009


First off, let me say that I am a fan of the Twilight books; while I probably won’t be putting them on my bookshelf next to Jane Austen any time soon, they were by no means difficult to read. In fact, I sucked all four of them down like Jell-O shots.

Part of the initial appeal–at least for me–was the story of the author: a young mother with three boys under the age of ten manages to crank out a 500 page novel in three months. And no, she wasn’t helping herself to her children’s Ritalin–she doesn’t even drink coffee. Naturally, as a fellow writer with young children, this piqued my curiosity–as well as made me insanely jealous. And so I internet-stalked her, hoping to find interviews where she might reveal the secrets behind her “writing with children” success.

Does she put NyQuil on their pancakes instead of Mrs. Butterworth’s? Do the kids have a playroom that is so well sound-proofed that it makes the gun shop basement in Pulp Fiction seem amateurish by comparison? Is there, perhaps, a nanny?

The answer to all of these questions was, surprisingly, “no.” In fact, in one interview she talked about how she “liked to write out in the middle of the house, so she could keep an eye on what was going on.” That’s when I realized that, unfortunately, I was never going to be able to glean any useful “writing with children” tips from her, because apparently she and I were of two completely different species.

First: who wants to “keep an eye on their kids”? If you know what they’re doing, then you are obligated to get up and stop them. If there is one thing that I have learned from my kids, it is that “I didn’t know” is an almost foolproof excuse.

Secondly, though, there is the fact that if you are somewhere where you can keep an eye on them, then that means that they can keep an eye on you. This totally negates a parent’s greatest weapon: the illusion of omnipotence, also known as The Wizard of Oz ploy. Letting your kids know that you found out about their transgressions using traditional methods (“I saw you hit your brother”) is the same as having the curtain pulled back on the Great and Powerful Oz. It’s so much better to cast the illusion of being at the center of an extensive network of spies, all of them willing to sell out your child at any time. (“My sources tell me that you were hitting your brother today. On the head. With your right fist. Repeatedly.”)

Of course, perhaps Ms. Meyers doesn’t have to be quite as sneaky as the rest of us; after all, she does have three boys, and, as everyone knows, even the brightest of boys displays a Homer Simpson-like oblivion about the powers of direct observation. Take, for instance, the fact that windows are see-through: while a girl will usually at least glance up at the house to see if she is being watched before wacking her little brother on the head, a boy will stand in front of a plate glass window big enough to drive a Hummer through and wack away with abandon, thinking that, just because they are outside and you are inside, you don’t know what’s going on.

“I wasn’t hitting him!”

“Yes you were–I saw you through the window.”


Come to think of it, if you take the “female sneak gene” out of play, maybe it is feasible that Stephenie Meyers regularly keeps tabs on her children while sitting out in the middle of the house. But writing from there? No way.

I’m still going with the NyQuil on the pancakes for that one.

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Liar, Liar

Probably one of the greatest arguments against having more than one child is that it by doing so it becomes increasingly difficult for parents to lie–especially to the younger children. Try telling a five year old that you’re calling the North Pole to report his naughty behavior to Santa Claus while there is a twelve year old in the room who is not only rolling her eyes so hard she looks like a slot machine, and but also muttering under her breath, “Oh yeah? What’s the area code for the North Pole, anyway?” Or try keeping the tooth fairy myth alive when, like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the older child insists on pointing out to the younger one how one of their friends with divorced parents got two visits from the tooth fairy: one at their mom’s house, and one at their dad’s.

And forget about maintaining the charade of “parental infallibility;” you know, the one that depends on that old chestnut “I can always tell when you’re lying?” There’s no way you’re going to maintain that fiction when the younger child sees the older one run circles around your detective abilities nightly.

However, having said all of this, I must add one caveat: that the increased difficulty in lying also provides one of the greatest arguments for having more than one child, because by doing so you’re also making it increasingly difficult for the children to lie, as well. This is called the “I Know What You Did Last Night” factor.

Children are the ultimate stoolies. They’ll tell on each other even when to do so implicates themselves (there is no 5th Amendment in childhood). Example:

“I saw Clyde sitting in his playfort eating a bag of marshmallows he stole from the kitchen.”

“How could you see that?”

“I was on the roof.”



“Clementine lost her jacket again! I know, because I saw her going through the ‘lost and found’ pile at school.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Looking for my gloves.”


It’s true: a bitter sibling is a parent’s best hope for finding out what’s really going on in their household–I don’t know how parents of only children manage to find out anything.

Of course, eventually, even for parents with several children, this information stream comes to an end–eventually all children figure out that they each have so much dirt on the other ones that if anyone were ever to start spilling, the others could retaliate, and then the first could re-retaliate, over and over again, ad infinitum, until it ends up with all of them being grounded for so long that by the time they get out your 401k might actually be worth something again.

When governments reach this level we say that they have reached MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction). When children reach it we just say that they are growing up. (Go figure.)

However, until that fateful day comes, it is in a parent’s best interest to try and milk their live-in narcs for all they’re worth.

Because, when all else fails, parents can always fall back on that other old chestnut: “You might as well tell me what happened–your sister already told me everything anyway.”

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There are two kinds of people who live in my house: those who are old enough to drive, but can’t find their car keys, and those who are old enough to walk, but can’t find their shoes.

And then there’s me: the only time I can’t find my car keys or shoes is when someone–presumably someone who has misplaced their own–takes my keys and shoes for themselves. So I guess that means that there are three kinds of people who live in my house. Whatever.

Here’s what I don’t understand about this scenario: why me? Not “why me?” in the sense of “woe is me–someone has stolen my shoes again”–although there is plenty of that–but “why me?” in the sense that, evolutionarily speaking, it just doesn’t make sense.

Look: I’m a throwback. Everything about me screams “recessive genes,” from my blue eyes, to my inability to roll my tongue (yep, that’s genetic), to the fact that I have an actual, honest-to-God real toenail on my little toe (all the better to climb trees and escape Sabre-tooth tigers with). And yet, even though I live in a house filled with brown-eyed, tongue-rolling, freaky little vestigial toenail-having, dominant-gene possessing humans–as dominant a tribe as any you could imagine–I’m the only one who ever seems to be able to find my shoes.

I wonder what Darwin would have to say about that? I mean, if poor little recessive me is the only one in the house who is able to hold on to a pair of shoes, then it must be a recessive trait, right? I mean, why else would I have it? And that’s when it all stops making sense.

It makes no sense at all to have a trait that actually inhibits your ability to flee from danger; logic would tell you that, over the course of a few millennia, the cave man who is stuck in the cave searching for his sandals when it’s time to go on the mammoth hunt isn’t going to get fed that night. (Same goes for the caveman who was supposed to drive everyone to the hunt, but couldn’t find the keys to his cave SUV).

And yet, these are the very people who have flourished. Why?

I’ll give you one guess: intelligent design.

That’s right: the only possible explanation is that everything you thought you knew about evolution must be wrong: Darwin was wrong, Stephen Jay Gould was wrong, your high school biology teacher was wrong. All of them. And who was right?

Ben Stein.

Only intelligent design could explain the proliferation of a group of people who have become less capable of surviving as time has passed, because only the sort of “intelligent designer” who finds it amusing to make out butts get bigger as we get older would design a creature that spends a good part of everyday looking for its shoe. Not shoes mind you, but shoe, singular. It is the loss of one shoe that is especially vexing for me, because, unlike when both shoes are lost, when only one is gone it is hard to give up looking.

“It must be here somewhere” you find yourself thinking, “because the other one is right here.” Logically, it just seems that, unless one is attached to a prosthetic foot, both shoes should always be right next to each other.

But no: I have been searching for one of Clementine’s missing shoes since 2005, even though she has long since outgrown the remaining one. Which means, I guess, that there is actually only one kind of person living in my house: those who are foolish enough to lose their shoes, and those who are foolish enough to keep looking for those shoes for the next four years.

And, as everybody knows, there is no trait more dominant than foolishness.

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Thank God for the British.

Worried that you might be drinking too much? Well, you can always take comfort in the fact that you’re no Amy Winehouse. The same goes for swearing, and Chef Gordon Ramsay. And let’s not even get started on the whole teeth thing.

Lately, however, the British have come through for me yet again, this time on the subject of childhood nutrition. It seems that there was a fifteen year old boy somewhere in Britain who had gotten to be that age while living on a steady diet of Pop Tarts, jam sandwiches, and…well, apparently, that was it.

Doctors, hoping to perform some kind of an intervention, gave this boy a complete nutritional work-up, and came to the conclusion that he was completely, utterly, 100%…fine. (Except for a slight iron deficiency, which seems to suggest to me that he should be eating more Pop Tarts.)

Just like with Amy Winehouse and Gordon Ramsay before him, hearing about this unnamed British boy (or rather his parents) gave me one of those temporary bursts of smugness that are so rare in my typical parenting day. Finally, I thought to myself, a child I can look at and say, “Well, at least my kids aren’t that bad.”

Not that they aren’t close. But somehow, allowing a child to subsist on a diet of nearly nothing but ramen noodles (as Clyde does), or cheese crisps (as Clementine does) just doesn’t seem nearly as irresponsible as allowing a child to eat hundreds of Pop Tarts, if only because Pop Tarts seem sort of trashy. (We can thank Toaster Strudels–the epitome of class–for that).

Still, on some level I realize that it is only luck on my part, and not good parenting, that has made Clyde fixate on noodles and not Pop Tarts, and that we are only one grocery store aisle (and about eight years) away from being the subject of our own nutritional intervention.

How did this happen? I know that there are lots of parents out there (henceforth referred to as type “G” parents–“G” for “good”)who manage to get their kids to eat nutritionally balanced meals every day. Their kids eat a variety of foods–they eat fruits, they eat vegetables–they even, sometimes, eat sushi, for cryin’ out loud.

These children, not surprisingly, are usually referred to as “good eaters,” as in when the pediatrician asks you about your child’s diet and prefaces the question with “Is she a good eater?” (I never quite know how to respond to this, mostly because I am always reminded me of the scene in Airplane! when Robert Hay’s character announces “I have a drinking problem,” right before he pours a glass of water all over himself; or the Steven Wright joke where somebody asks him, “Did you sleep well?” and he replies, “No: I made a few mistakes.”)

Part of the problem, I guess, is that you never hear the term “good eater” applied to adults, even though there are plenty of adults out there who are just as picky as the most particular child. If you don’t believe me, try getting a group of more than four adults to agree on which restaurant they’re going to eat at that night–bonus points if you throw in the words “Ethiopian food” and “father-in-law.”

Still, there’s a difference between not wanting to eat food you can’t pronounce (although who can pronounce the ingredients listed on a box of Pop Tarts?) and not wanting to eat something that just came from a different shelf on the refrigerator.

I mean, even Amy Winehouse drinks more than one kind of alcohol.

Which means that, I guess on some things, the British still have me–and my kids–beat.

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