Monthly Archives: March 2010

Il Duce

This morning I was called a fascist twice while I was still in my pajamas—once time before I even had had my first cup of coffee. I don’t know about you, but personally I think it is physically impossible to be a fascist before your first cup of coffee. I mean, even Mussolini wasn’t a fascist before his first espresso—he was just grumpy, like the rest of us. Anyway, after being called a fascist for the second time (act of fascism number two: asking Clementine to hang up her towel), I decided to call her out on it: did she really know what that word meant, or, like Orwell once said, was she just using it as a synonym for “bully?”

As it turns out, she did know what that word meant (thanks for nothing, stupid schools). And so then my next question for her was whether or not the fact that I insisted on the towels being placed neatly back on the rack after use qualified me as a fascist, or if rather I was really just a “control freak” (her second choice epithet). She said it did; I insisted it didn’t. Being civilized human beings (albeit ones with way too much time on our hands), we decided to let wikipedia settle it. Here’s what we found.

It turns out that one of the basic tenets of fascism is Social Interventionism—the willingness to influence Society in order to promote the state’s interests. Since I, as the State, have a vested financial interest in not scooping up wet, mildewy towels off of the bathroom floor every morning, and am willing to intervene in other people’s socializing in order to accomplish this (“Get off Facebook right now and come out her and pick up your towel”), this would seem to support Clementine’s argument. Score so far? Clementine 1, Mom 0.

Next comes Authoritarianism, the idea that outside of the State no human or spiritual values can exist. Clementine points out that, in the course of my argument, I did tell her that it doesn’t matter how they hang up at their towels at other people’s houses—this is how we’re going to do it here. So okay: Clementine 2, Mom 0.

Then it’s on to Nationalism—the notion that the state is a single organic entity bound together by ancestry. Uh-oh. I guess I did follow up the above statement with, “And besides, you don’t belong to that family—you belong to this one.” Sigh. Clementine 3, Mom 0.

But what about Imperialism, the drive by the State to expand its borders? I’ve never done that. Except, of course, for the fact that we did add another bathroom on to our house a few years back, thereby doubling the number of towels racks—and towels. Damn. Clementine 4, Mom 0.

Next comes Indoctrination, the idea that school is simply a tool to train children in the values of the State. Surely I can’t be accused of—what? Okay, so one time I said, “My God, I thought you were studying geometry—I can’t believe you don’t even know how to fold a towel.” Really? That’s all it takes? Alright, alright: Clementine 5, Mom 0.

The final tenet we come to is Social Darwinism, the belief that the State must purge itself of all undesirables. Well, I guess I did threaten to make her go live with her father. But come on—she knew that was an empty threat: her father and I are still married to (and live in the same house with) each other. Really? Okay. Fine.

So there it is: in the “Is My Mom a Fascist?” argument, it looks like it’s Clementine 6, Mom 0.

I guess from now on you can just call me Il Duce. As long as you pick your towel up from off of the floor, that is.

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Secret Keeper

When I was a freshman in high school, a friend of mine inadvertently let slip a secret about a book I was reading. Even though now I can hardly remember what the big plot secret was (I think it had something to do with the fact that Merlin was actually Arthur’s second cousin, or something like that), at the time I was pretty upset. So upset that when later that year I got the chance to ruin “The Return of the Jedi,” for her, I didn’t hesitate—as soon as I got home from the movie theater I sprinted over to the phone, called her house, and, when her answering machine clicked on, gleefully chortled out: “Leia is Luke’s SISTER!”

Unfortunately for me, however, (or rather, fortunately for her), it’s somewhat impossible to enunciate clearly while “chortling,” and so my triumph (and my message) was somewhat muted. Or nonexistent, actually: she told me that her entire family—including her cute older brother—had gathered around the answering machine to try and decipher my garbled message. They’d only given up when it had become time for them to leave for—you guessed it—“The Return of the Jedi.” By the way, she added, exactly what had I been trying to tell her, anyway?


Still, even though my “big reveal” didn’t work out very well that time, it did give me a taste for the potential of the whole thing. In fact, the experience of almost getting to be the person who broke a big piece of news was so exhilarating that I vowed that next time around I would be the person to do it. I would be the detective who called the entire dinner party together and then screamed “It was Leia’s butler’s second cousin that did it!” (Or something like that.)

And the thing is, frequently, I am. My kids learned early on not to bother me with trivial information like who got the high sore on the spelling test—they know that I want to know the dirt: who got sent to the principal’s office, who threw up in the middle of art class, who brought nothing but a can of beans for lunch (oh wait—that was my kid). Anyway, they know that I want to know the Big Secrets, so that later, when I’m talking to the appropriate mothers, I can make the Big Reveal.

Which makes it even odder that they, who know me the best, now accuse me of being the opposite of the Big Revealer: they accuse me of being the Secret Keeper. It’s true: lately they’ve been acting like I’m some sort of mid-level Freemason, waiting for the rest of them to learn the secret handshake and the contents of the twelve rooms of Ishtar before I can share the temple wisdom. Of course, they don’t come right out and say all of that; instead, they sit in the living room and complain.

“A bass lesson? Today? Why didn’t you tell me—I would have practiced.”

Or “Why didn’t you tell me my Science Project was due this week? Now it’s going to be late.”

Obviously the real problem is that my family has not yet discovered the mystical source of all my power, the all-seeing, all-knowing oracle that I consult on a daily basis to find out what lies ahead. I’m not sure what other people call it, but my people (mothers, that is), call it a calendar (KAL-en-dur).

Yep: who knew that all I needed to become the Ultimate Big Revealer of All time was a calendar? Because when you have a calendar, all secrets are revealed. Well, maybe not all secrets. You do know that you have a dentist appointment—you just don’t know that the dentist is actually Princess Leia’s second cousin. For that, you still have to see the movie.

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I love words. I love how you can get into serious internet debates over their proper spelling (“rigamarole” or “rigmarole”?) I love how there is a word for almost everything, and I love how when you discover just what that word is you suddenly realize that you can’t possibly be the first person to feel the way that you do, which sometimes can be very comforting. (Take schadenfreude, for example. The fact that there is already a word for “unholy glee felt at another’s misfortune” makes me feel somewhat like less of a jerk when I chortle gleefully at the sight of shivering Phoenicians wearing nothing but shorts, sandals, and shocked expressions. Somewhat.)

Sometimes, though, the opposite happens: words fail me, and it seems that there really isn’t the right word for what I’m going through; this, in turn, makes me feel terribly alone in the world. At least, it does until the right word reveals itself once more. That’s what happened to me recently, when I was desperate to find a word that describes a person who is constantly losing their shoes.

Luckily, just that day my absolute favorite word website, AWAD (A Word A Day), featured the word “discalced,” which means “to go barefoot.” A ha! I thought. If the word for going without shoes is discalced, then the word for having lost your shoes must be “miscalced.” And therefore, it only follows that the word for someone who constantly loses their shoes must be . . . Clementine.

She has always been like this—her nickname as a baby was “Shoeless Joe.” You know that Hemingway short short story—“For sale: baby shoes. Never used.”? Change “shoes” to “shoe” and that story could have been written about her—we had such a large collection of single baby shoes at our house that people always seemed surprised to find out that we didn’t have a one-legged baby to go with them. If anything, as she has gotten older her propensity to miscalce every pair of shoes she owns has just gotten worse—in fact, losing shoes has become such an accepted part of her daily routine that she doesn’t even bother to look for the missing pairs any more; she just accepts it as the “will of the Universe.”

I, on the other hand—the person who is tasked with buying all of these shoes—have not.
For example, the other day she lost a pair of dress shoes while they were still in the box. When I insisted that she go back into her room and look for them a little bit harder, she responded with “What’s the point? They’re gone.”

“Gone?” I replied, aghast. “What do you mean gone? I just bought them yesterday.”

“I dunno,” she replied.

“Well, did you wear them anywhere?”


“Did you take them out of the box?”


“Did you put them away?” (Here her reply was unintelligible, thanks to the whoops of laughter coming from my husband and myself at the thought of Clementine ever putting anything away.) After I wiped my streaming eyes I asked her again. “No, seriously, did you put them—snort, giggle—away?”

“No,” she said coldly.

And that was that. They were gone. For now, at least. Because that’s the thing with her missing shoes—I’ve realized that they have a tendency to show up just when she outgrows them.

And then we give them to Clyde.

Somehow, just picturing the look on Clementine’s face as she watches her little brother walk around in her missing high heel lace-up Oxfords is all the schadenfreude I need.

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Clash of the Titans

A school holiday, followed by four snow days, then the weekend, and then a two hour delay? And then a four day week of early release followed by yet another snow day? There can only be one explanation for this: obviously, the gods to whom our children are praying are much more powerful than the ones the rest of us are worshipping.

I know; it’s hard to believe. In fact, I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t just witnessed it firsthand. I, too, openly scoffed as my daughter, Clementine, went around the house conducting all of her voodoo “snow day” rituals: the three ice cubes in each toilet, turning her pajamas inside out. Scoffed at her until they started working, that is.

By the third day I had started following around behind her, trying to undo everything she did. I couldn’t do anything about the pj’s (for one thing, she’s not that light of a sleeper; for another, she goes to bed later than I do), but as for the ice cubes—no, I didn’t scoop them out by hand. I added hot water instead, trying to melt them. Well, not exactly hot—more like warm. Or at least body temperature. Hey, I had to go anyway, okay? All that hot chocolate has to go somewhere.

Still, all of my attempts to undo her voodoo tricks were, in the end, no match for her super voodoo powers. Steinbeck once said, “Ah, the prayers of millions; how they must fight and destroy each other on their way to the throne of God,” and I’m sure that, for him, that was true; however, I’m thinking that mothers and children don’t even pray to the same deity. I doubt our patron saints would even consent to be seen with each other in public—in fact, they probably wouldn’t sit in the same row at the movie theater even if they only had one bag of popcorn.

At one point in my life I would have been upset that my deity appeared to be so much weaker than Clementine’s—I mean, really, four snow days in a row? Put our two gods in the ring and it would have been a TKO for Clementine’s by day two. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that different gods have their different specialities. It’s not that Clementine’s god (who I think, judging from the blood-stained shrine in the corner of her room, is Cthulu, Devourer of Souls) is better than mine—he’s not—it’s just that he is better at creating chaos. Like four snow days in a row.

And like I said, that’s okay—for a child. As you get older you realize that, while worshipping the gods of chaos might be more fun (the parties are certainly better), it’s a lot more work than worshipping the more mundane household gods of order. And not nearly as useful.

Take the goddess of lost car keys. (Frequently worshipped by making a pilgrimage from the car, to the bedroom, to the kitchen, to the living, to the bathroom—repeat as necessary.) Or the god of keeping crappy cars alive for one more day (Mantra: “Come on baby, come on, you can do it, just start, just start. Oh, you piece of—thank you! Thank you!”). Or, my favorite, the Guardian Angel of Lost Files. (To contact this deity, make a sincere and repentant prayer to St. Norton, offer up a blood sacrifice—bitten off fingernails will do— and promise to save more often. It must be noted, however, that this is a god I’ve prayed to less and less since I converted to Macism.)

So, in the end, I have to remember that it’s not that Clementine’s snow day gods are more powerful than mine—it’s just that they’re worshipped more diligently. But I’m still going to melt all of her ice cubes. Just in case.

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