Monthly Archives: April 2009

Forkin’ Spoons

Let’s talk about forks.

According to Wikipedia (looking up stuff on Wikipedia is my second favorite way to waste time; my first is watching old episodes of Never Mind the Buzzcocks on You Tube), forks were being used in ancient Rome as early as 200 C.E. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that they became commonplace in Great Britain. Before that, anybody who showed up at a party with a fork–back then it was strictly BYOC (bring your own cutlery)–was considered either “effeminate,” “Italian,” or, worst of all, “effeminately Italian.”

That means that it took approximately sixteen hundred years for the idea of not using your fingers when you eat (an imminently sensible idea, if you ask me) to travel 900 miles. It thus follows, then, that if x=fork, and y=distance (and accounting for the curvature of the earth and the average air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow), I should reasonably be able to expect my children to start using forks in approximately…let’s see…oh.


Or at least that’s how it seems.

I did actually teach them to use forks at one point. I remember it well, and even if I didn’t, I have proof: it is written down in Clementine’s baby book. (Clyde, as a second child, of course has no baby book. He’s lucky he has a birth certificate. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on whether or not second children do better in the Witness Protection Program than firstborns, since there’s so much less evidence of their previous lives to erase.)

I’ll admit that I probably didn’t really emphasize the whole fork thing hard enough: my lectures on good table manners are generally limited to the edict thou shalt not gross out thy fellow diners (meaning that elbows on the table are ok, as long as they are not up there to demonstrate to your tablemates how the big scab on your forearm has recently turned all green and puckery), but I’m pretty sure I included something about how that poky thing sitting on the table next to your plate is for picking up food, not for stabbing your sister.

And yet, somehow, in the years that we have been dining together, my children have become less likely to use a fork, not more. Heck, they can hardly even be convinced to use a spoon, and even a 12th century Englishman could use one of those without being called a nancy boy (or worse yet, an Italian).

And, before you start thinking that I’m one of those people who think that Buffalo Wings should be eaten with a knife and fork, understand this: I am so not. (Actually, I’m one of those people who think that Buffalo Wings shouldn’t be eaten at all–if I wanted to eat a basket of bones and skin covered in some amorphous goo I would fry up Paris Hilton.)

Really, I’m ok with using your fingers to eat finger food–french fries, pizza, the olive from your martini. And I realize that, thanks to our driving culture, more and more foods become finger foods every day (French toast sticks, anyone?). But the foods my kids consider “finger-worthy” go beyond even Jack-in-the-Box’s wildest marketing dreams. I’m talking about cereal (in a bowl, with milk), spaghetti, and even soup.


At this point I’m starting to think that the only way I will ever again be able to eat in public with my children without shame is if one of them someday invents a time machine and uses it to take us all back to the Stone Age.

Of course, even then I get the feeling that when we go to the big Mammoth Feast we’ll still probably be asked to sit in the Neanderthal section. Or at least as far away from the Italians as possible.

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If there’s one thing I know for sure about raising children, it’s this: it definitely leads to more questions than answers. For example–is there anyone out there who actually believes that juice bags are less messy than, say, an open bucket of red dye? And how come the inventor of Pokeman cards has not yet been lynched? And, really, why is the sky blue, anyway? But, by far, the question that has been first and foremost in my mind (at least lately) has been this: what kind of a person leaves their tooth lying on the kitchen counter?

I’m not talking about one of those tiny little front teeth that are such delicate little slivers that they look like grains of rice; no, I’m talking about a big old honkin’ molar, one of those things that look so tooth-like that a dentist could hang it up outside his office for advertising.

And no: I don’t rent out my home to the local “fight club”–there is no good reason for me to come home and find a tooth lying on my kitchen counter. What there is, however, are two very bad reasons: my children, Clementine and Clyde, also known as, “the tooth-shedders.”

But wait, you say: what about the Tooth Fairy? Doesn’t the Tooth Fairy solve that whole problem of “dental detritus”? After all, no kid is going to leave their tooth lying around once they realize that they can cash that baby in at the Pillow Bank for a nice crisp one-dollar bill ($5 in some houses, I hear)–are they?

Isn’t that the theory behind bottle deposits? That if you make something valuable enough people will no longer throw it out of their car windows? (Or, in “The Curious Case of the Missing Molar,” that they will no longer leave it on the kitchen counter.) Well, that’s the theory, anyway. But, just like you still see bottles on the side of the road in Oregon and Michigan, so it follows that occasionally, even with the Tooth Fairy, you still find teeth on kitchen counters.

This is especially true with my daughter, Clementine: not only has her supply of teeth far outlasted her supply of naivete, her teeth started falling out so late that there wasn’t even a chance to get the Tooth Fairy scheme started in the first place. (That’s the problem with raising skeptical kids: eventually they become skeptical about the stuff you’re telling them, too.)

With her little brother Clyde it was a bit easier. Although his teeth started falling out even later than hers did, he’s at least moderately willing to go along with the whole Tooth Fairy thing in order to collect the payoff. Maybe that’s because with Clyde I at least tried to put on a good show: I even did the whole “tooth under the pillow” thing. (This lasted until he figured out that having a tired parent fishing around in the dark for change was not the surest way to easy money. “What did the Tooth Fairy bring you last night?” “Eighty-seven cents, a paper clip, and a Dos Equis cap.”) Now Clyde and I just work it as a straight up barter situation: he hands me the tooth (usually–thanks to the school nurse–in a nice, clean baggie), and I hand him the money. It’s like a drug deal, but without the glamour. Or the drugs.

Clementine, however–obviously realizing that the pleasures of money are fleeting at best–has gone for the much bigger payoff: grossing me out. And, I must say, that when it comes to grossing somebody out, it’s hard to beat a tooth next to the butter dish (outside of a morgue, that is). Because, just like they always say: cost of a tooth–one dollar. But grossing out your mom? Priceless.

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Game Night

When I was growing up, one of my favorite TV shows was The Carol Burnett Show; I especially liked the sketches where Vicki Lawrence portrayed the obnoxious matriarch of an equally obnoxious family. (Yes, I know that they eventually developed those sketches into a truly dreadful sitcom–Mama’s Family–but, in it’s purest form, it was pretty funny.)

One of the running jokes on the sketches was the argument the family would always have whenever they played Monopoly, with the tag line being, “Can you buy houses when it’s not your turn?” I was thinking of that line the other day when I was playing Monopoly with my own family, and I realized that if we could be said to have our own tag line, it would be this: “How much rent do I owe if there are three pieces of lint and a button on Baltic?” Of course, in our family, tag lines aren’t just limited to Monopoly. There’s also the Sorry version: “Is the champagne cork part of the red team, or the yellow?”; and The Game of Life one: “If all of the broken toothpicks fall out of your car, does that mean that everybody just died and you have to start over?”

Every board game we own contains approximately 0% of the original pieces. Wait, I take that back: they each still contain the actual board. Other than that, we might as well be playing with cavemen. (Yes, I know that you can get replacement parts for games, but really: if I was the type of person who was organized enough to do that, I wouldn’t have lost the pieces in the first place.)

The worst part of it is that, as much as I’d like to blame this whole situation on my dreadful children, the truth is that it’s probably all my fault; after all, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. (Unless, of course, you’re playing that “Hi-Ho-the-Cherry-O” game, in which case the little tiny piece of fruit will roll as far away from the tree as possible, most likely to come to rest under the couch).

No, I know that this particular problem is my own personal comeuppance. While my memory might be fuzzy on some things, I have very clear memories of the way I treated our games when I was a child: chewing up the Monopoly money and spitting it at my sister when I landed on Park Place (“What? I paid the rent–if you don’t want to pick it up, that’s your problem.”); covering over the rooms on the Clue board in order to turn it into a Mystery Date/Clue hybrid (“I’m going to guess in the helicopter, with Jan Michael Vincent?” “Nope–it was Ernest Borgnine.” “Ugh!”); and stealing all of the Sorry pieces to use as Oscar statuettes for our Barbie Academy awards ceremony.

Still, knowing it’s my fault doesn’t mean I don’t wish we could play a game of Scrabble without having to rely on a knowledge of Welsh (or other consonant heavy languages).

Of course, at least with board games there is the advantage that, even when the game is in a less than pristine state, you can still play it. You can’t say that about a lot of the more modern games–there is no lintball/broken toothpick fix for a Wii. (Or, if there is, I’m not clever enough to know it.)

Over the years I’ve heard a lot about how great video games are at developing hand/eye coordination. Board games, however (at least the way they’re played in my house), develop resourcefulness, which, in the long run, is a much handier skill. After all, what’s the point of being able to make the kill if some guy with a handful of toothpicks and a ball of lint is just going to be able to trick you out of it?

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Social Secretary

There is nothing in this world that I loathe quite so much as answering the phone only to hear a child’s voice on the other end saying, “May I please speak to Clyde?”

Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I begrudge my children–or anybody else, for that matter–the use of the phone. I’m not one of those parents who sets up an egg timer next to the phone so that I can limit all calls to two minutes or less, nor am I one of those who pace nervously around while the phone is in use, all the while muttering things under my breath like, “If you have so much to say then why don’t you just write them a letter?” and “This phone needs to be free in case there is an emergency.” Hey, I was a teenage girl–once. I understand needing to use the phone. I know what it’s like to spend all day in school, only to have to spend another hour on the phone afterwards dissecting what, exactly, happened during the preceding seven.

In fact, as far as I’m concerned they can talk on the phone all they want. The more they’re on it the less I have to deal with all the calls for donations, surveys, and offers to save me “tons” of money on my car insurance. (How long do you think it was after Alexander Graham Bell first invented the telephone that he got a call from a telemarketer? I’m guessing it was almost instantaneous; the first phone call probably went “Watson! Come quick, I need (click click)–hang on, there’s someone on the other line.”)

No, it’s not the fact Clyde is using the phone that bothers me, it’s that his use of the phone always leads to my having to use it too. ( I must have used up my ability to talk on the phone for hours in high school, because as an adult I’m never happy when the phone rings. It’s probably the number one reason–next to cheapness–why I have never gotten a cell phone).

Whenever Clyde’s friends call him, I always end up on the phone. This is because, invariably, the last few words I hear Clyde say before he hangs up always are, “OK: see you there.”

“See you where?” I’ll ask.

“The pool (park, movies, Pay ‘n Take, etc.)” he’ll reply.

“What? When?”

“In a few minutes.”

“But what about violin (Cub Scouts, soccer, etc.)?”


And then I’ll end up calling the child in question, asking to speak to the parent, and trying to untangle the mess of commitments that our children have just made together. (“Oh, Clyde can’t go to the two o’clock show? Well, how about….”) The next thing I know (because it’s already been promised, see?) is that somehow I’m the one stuck with taking four kids to see Mall Cop.
All because the other parent didn’t just call me in the first place. If they had, it would have been a different story:
“Can Clyde come see Mall Cop with us at two?”
“Sorry, he’s got violin.”
“Oh. Well, can you take them at four?”
“Sorry, I’d rather stick needles into my eyes until they fall out and then pour bleach into the empty sockets.”
“(click click) Sorry–gotta go. Someone’s on the other line.”
See? Problem solved.

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