Monthly Archives: October 2012


The following conversation seems to take place all too often at my house. Me: What happened to this (shower curtain, toaster, book, door, lawn chair, etc. etc.)? Child: It got broken. Me: But how did it break? Child: I dunno. It just broke. And we need a new one.

In my house, it seems, no person is ever actually responsible for breaking anything: things just simply “break.” It is almost as if my house—and everything in it—is nothing more than a tiny, tiny scale model of the Universe, a place where objects (and, unfortunately, people) march inexorably towards entropy, a place where, despite the best intentions of everyone involved, everything must always eventually fall apart and return to the void. In other words, my house is a living, breathing representation of the second law of thermodynamics, the same law which states that it is the natural tendency of the Universe to fall apart into disorder over time. Of course, the second law of thermodynamics is usually thought to refer to a lot of time—vast amounts. In my house, unfortunately, it all happens on a faster scale. Much, much faster. Like, say, in six months or less.

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold,” should probably be painted on my front door, a warning to all those who unknowingly enter my house’s accelerated time status. That alarm clock you just bought? Better not bring it inside: it will fast forward to the end of its life in minutes. And your new ipod? Forget about it. It now has a life expectancy of seconds.

Of course, you might get lucky. You might stumble upon one of my house’s rare “time pockets” where things age normally. Curiously, these places all seem to be clustered around the areas where only adults congregate (or are supposed to congregate). Places like my office, my bedroom, and the adjoining bathroom. It’s fascinating, really: a hair dryer that has lived for years quite successfully in my bathroom will, upon a brief relocation to the children’s bathroom, instantly fall apart.

“What happened to this hair dryer?” I’ll ask in dismay, holding the various pieces in my hands.

“It got broke.”

Sometimes I can almost catch the time shift in action. Sitting in the kitchen, I will suddenly notice the sound of a door opening and closing again and again, as if the door was going through an entire lifetime’s worth of opening and closings in one afternoon. Soon thereafter, I will receive the news that “my door got broken.” When I (foolishly) ask what happened to it all I get back will be: “I dunno. It got broke. And we need a new one.”

If I was smart I would figure out a way to work this to my advantage. Have you ever started a recipe without reading the instructions thoroughly, and then, halfway through making it came to a line that said “let sit six months” or something similar? Me, too. If only I had remembered that I could easily have taken care of that step in Clementine’s room in a matter of days.

The worst part about the time shift, though, is that it doesn’t only affect objects: it also affects people. There can be no other explanation for the fact that just last week my kids were toddlers, and now they are teens and preteens. And surely “time shift” is also the only explanation for the fact that I, too, have aged correspondingly. Hmm: and I always thought that the reason I felt so much older every time I went into their rooms was because of the mess. Turns out, it was just the second law of thermodynamics (express version) in action. Again.

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Dress Code

Before I start this column, let me just say that I really do understand the reasoning behind school uniforms. I understand how a homogenous look can sometimes help with the awkwardness that comes from having students of vastly differing socioeconomic statuses attending the same school. And I understand that having everyone dress the same way could, perhaps, also create a sense of community between those same wildly differing students. And I even understand how a school uniform can make it easy to spot who belongs and who doesn’t: in a sea of black and white, nothing stands out quite so much as plaid. I understand all of this; I understand uniforms completely. What I don’t understand is the rationale behind a dress code.

Again, there are parts of a dress code I understand. I understand the need—especially when puberty first starts to run rampant through a population—to cover up certain body parts. (I’m talking about the parts that are usually only exposed when visiting a doctor or certain European beaches. Or perhaps when playing doctor on certain European beaches). And I also understand the rationale behind not allowing any type of clothing that glorifies illegal, immoral, or otherwise repugnant behavior. (Please leave your Presidential debate t-shirts at home.) And I even understand the need to place limits on clothing that could be considered distracting or disruptive: no matter how really, really cool that live scorpion bola tie is, it’s probably best to save it for the family reunion. So yeah, I understand both the basic idea of a dress code and the rationale behind implementing one.

What I don’t understand are vague and arbitrarily enforced rules about what color pants and shirt you can and can’t wear that are disguised as a dress code. Those rules I don’t understand at all. (Again, I get the whole homogenous argument, which is why I understand uniforms. But as anyone who has ever argued with their husband about whether those socks are blue or black can tell you, punishing people for wearing the wrong color shirt is a nightmare waiting to happen.)

Take the incident that happened in my family a few years back: my daughter, Clementine, went to a school where she was dress coded for wearing a grey shirt with blue trim around the collar. Grey was an allowable color. Blue was not. The blue in question was no bigger than a shoelace. It was not neon. It did not have batteries. It did not, from certain angles, advertise a particular brand of bong or vodka. It was just blue. And yet she was sent to the office for a “dress code violation.”

Who knows? Perhaps there was a vicious gang sweeping through west coast cities that September leaving a swath of destruction and despair a mile wide in their wake. Perhaps the school had just received word of their activities. And perhaps the name of that gang was…the Grey Shirt With Blue Collar Trim Gang! (Winner of the Most Awkwardly Named New Gang of 2010).


Or perhaps her school was just so focused on the minutia of following the rules that it forgot why the rules were there in the first place. Perhaps it was so concerned with not appearing slack that it forgot that it was also important not to look ridiculous.

Looking back, I’m still not sure how Clementine wearing a grey shirt with blue trim on the collar that day prevented her from learning the value of x and the history of the former Yugoslavia, unless it was the fact that she couldn’t learn any of that because she was sitting in the office. On the bright side, however, it wasn’t as if she didn’t learn anything; unfortunately, though, in middle school they rarely give tests on”Ways to Survive A Bureaucracy.”

For that, you have to wait for college.

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Driver, Driver

There is an Amanda Palmer song that has become my theme song this Fall: it is dark, it is somber, and it is melancholy, and, well, in a word, it’s perfect. It’s called “I Have to Drive.” Actually, I began to think it might be my theme song two years ago, when Clementine first started going to school at FALA and daily trips to Cheshire became a part of my routine. (Sometimes even more frequently than daily, depending on how much she managed to forget that day. I think my record—or maybe my limit—was four trips in one day.) Then last year, when Clyde started taking dance classes four times a week in Sunnyside, it seemed an even more appropriate theme. This year, however, there is no question about it: not only is Clementine still at FALA, and Clyde is still dancing, but now he has begun to go to school at MEMS, which, as you know, is also in Sunnyside. Oh, and did I mention that both of their music lessons—which are usually right after school—are over by Harkins? Yeah: “I Have to Drive,” is right.

Their music teacher and I have discussed the feasibility of digging a secret tunnel that runs from Cheshire to South Milton. I think it could happen, if we were just organized enough. Remember how in “The Great Escape,” all the Allied POWs took turns digging the escape tunnel out of the German POW camp? Think about it: if every local who was stuck on Milton just jumped out of their cars, ran over to the tunnel, dug a few shovelfuls of dirt and then sprinted (or, if it was a Friday afternoon, strolled) back to their cars, then we could have our secret tunnel dug in no time. Alas, we will probably never be as organized as those Allied POWs, for the simple reason that now we all have smart phones. I mean, realistically, how much digging would the Greatest Generation have accomplished if they had had Angry Birds and Facebook at their fingertips?

The other option their teacher and I have discussed is installing pneumatic tubes all around town so that we could just pop a child into the tube and have them pop out a minute later at their school/dance class/music lesson. Just like when you make a deposit at the drive thru at the bank. Of course, it probably wouldn’t be very comfortable. And there would always be the chance that, just like when you try to deposit twenty dollars in pennies, they could get stuck. I think, however, if tubes were a viable option I would be willing to put up with those slight inconveniences—especially since it wouldn’t be like I was the one who was being inconvenienced. But the fact that it might also be hard on the violins and dance costumes does give me pause, not to mention that taking the tube to school would just give them yet another chance to lose their homework. (“Where’s your math homework?” “The tube ate it.”) And then there’s the little issue of them already having had a version of this in “The Jetsons,” and, if I remember correctly, even with the tubes Jane Jetson still had to drive the kids to school. In her pajamas. Which I’ve done.

So then: no tunnel, and no tubes. That just leaves two options: either my kids start doing less stuff, or everybody else and their kids starts doing less stuff, so that at least the roads are clear when I have to make my daily dash from Cheshire to Sunnyside. Any takers? (Put your hands down, dads: we all know this is a question for the moms.)

Yeah, that’s what I thought. Alright, then: cue up my theme song. School is about to get out, and I have to drive.

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The other day I threw out or gave away all of my son, Clyde’s, toys. The only ones I kept were the ones that had some kind of sentimental value, and only then when they had sentimental value to me. (The broken wind-up toy that he got in Paris got to stay, while the still functioning Gameboy went to Goodwill. And as for the action figures, the only one that got to stay was the Martian Mindhunter, because, really, Martian Mindhunter is just fun to say.) Clyde didn’t make any fuss at all about the things I got rid of: in fact, sometimes I would hold up a particular toy and say, “What do you think, Clyde? Should we get rid of this?” and he wouldn’t say a single word against giving that item the heave-ho. “Well, okay then,” I would continue, “if you’re sure…” And into the trash (or Goodwill bag) it went.

Contrast Clyde’s reaction to the Great Toy Purge to that of the daughter of a friend of mine: this girl not only responded to the removal of just some of her toys with piteous wails, she also clung to the items as they were removed from the house like they were relatives being sent off to the camps. At one point the garbage can even became a sort of toy tomb where she sat and cried. (I’ve never really understood what exactly happens when somebody “gnashes their teeth,” but I’m thinking it probably looks very similar to what this child was doing.)

So why the big difference between the two children? True, Clyde is a few years older than this girl. And also, he is a boy (although as any mother of a son can tell you, boy drama can be just as potent as girl drama—sometimes even more so). But really, I think the biggest difference was distance: whereas the girl was right in the room as the Great Toy Purge was happening, Clyde was on a trip with his dad, half a world away.

Wait: you didn’t think that Clyde was actually in the room with me when I asked him if it was okay if I threw out this toy or that, did you? Of course not: do you think I’m crazy? No, operating under the assumption that it is usually easier to obtain forgiveness than permission, I waited until I knew that Clyde would be gone for a few days before I began the Great Purge. And if I did ask an imaginary Clyde what he thought of what I was doing a time or two, well, removing five bags of garbage, two bags of toys, three bags of clothing and enough books and games for a $100 Bookman’s credit does tend to make a person somewhat punchy, don’t you know.

When I suggested to my friend that she take the same approach the next time she embarks on another Purge of her own she demurred by saying, “But that wouldn’t be fair.” To which I replied, “I know: isn’t it great?”

Look, I used to be all about “playing fair,” too. And then I realized that me and my kids have very different notions of what “fair” actually means. To me, “fair” means that everyone gets an equal shot. To them, it means that they get what they want. Period. This is understandable: if I’m honest, I’ll admit that I would like to get what I want to get all of the time, too. But the difference is that at least I know what I want. I know that I’d rather have a clean room and a $100 Bookman’s credit than a pile of unused toys and ancient board books.

And I’m sure Clyde will, too. Just as soon as he notices.

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