Monthly Archives: December 2012


I used to worry that my house seemed to attract the strangest sort of thieves: dark, shadowy creatures that would creep into my house in the dead of night, only to steal objects that, by all rights, should be completely worthless to anyone but their owners.

Completed homework assignments.

The second page of three pages of sheet music.

A single shoe.

And then I figured it out. While it was true that all of those objects were seemingly unrelated, (as well as being almost completely valueless), they did, in fact, have one very important thing in common: they were all intensely personal. And then I realized what was really going on: whoever was breaking into my house and stealing those things was using them to cast dark spells of tragedy and woe upon their victims, spells such as, “You will now be dooooomed to fail your chemistry test,” or “With this stolen shoe I curse you with perpetual tardiness!” This “dark spell” theory was particularly compelling since the objects that were stolen were only ever stolen when their absence would cause the most suffering: the completed homework, for instance, never disappeared from the backpack the night before it was due, but rather waited to go missing until everyone else was already in the car and waiting for the homework’s owner to make their appearance. (Of course, some would argue that the homework could have, in fact, actually gone missing the night before—that until its owner happened to open the backpack to look for it, the homework was neither lost nor found. Of course, since the moment of discovery never once happened until the owner was already ten minutes late for school, that’s a mystery that will have to remain unsolved.)

For a long time those events didn’t really bother me; sure, there was a dark wizard (or three) creeping about my house at night, but at least he (they) weren’t targeting me. Not really. And then, one day, they started taking things that—while still being essentially valueless to any but their owner—actually did have some kind of monetary value. Which meant that they were now taking things that I had to pay to replace. Suddenly, having dark wizards skulking about the place at night didn’t seem all that benign.

Take, for example, the time they stole the power cord to my daughter’s computer. One day I noticed her making frequent trips to my office to “borrow” my cord, and when I asked her about it she replied that someone had stolen her power cord. (Strangely enough they had left the computer itself alone.)

This was a new (and distressing) twist: only the darkest and most clever of wizards would be able to creep into a room at night and make off with the power cord of a Tumblr addict. What was worse, though, was when we discovered, upon closer inspection, that this particular thief was not only evil, but also very clumsy; he had dropped the power cord less than a foot away from where he had stolen it, and then—probably because he was so embarrassed at his clumsiness—kicked some dirty clothes over the top of it to hide his black deed.

At this point I don’t know which is worse: having a clutch of dark wizards creeping into our house at night, or having a clutch of clumsy dark wizards stumbling about. I hate to say it, but I’m going to have to go with the clumsier of the two being the worst: after all, one day they might be clumsy enough to accidentally turn their dark magic on me and my things.

And that really would be tragic.

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The other day I was in the cafe at Bookmans watching a two year-old have a meltdown. (First, just let me say how much I don’t mind it when other people’s children throw a fit. It doesn’t matter how piercing the scream, how nasal the whine, how violently they kick the back of my seat: if it is not my child, then the disruption doesn’t bother me in the least. Really: I’ve even stayed sanguine after being vomited on by other people’s children, because at least I know—unlike the parents—that this will almost certainly be the only time I will be puked on all day. So yeah, trust me: when I was watching this child have her temper tantrum it was not with annoyance, or even self-righteousness, but rather with a happy little voice buzzing in my brain that said, over and over, “That’s not me, that’s not me, that’s not me…)

And then, of course, her parents went and said something to the child that completely ruined my happy little buzz: “I can’t wait until you’re old enough to just tell us what you want.” Because that statement reminded me that my children are now at that magic age when they are completely capable of telling me what they want, and have been for some time, and yet, when it comes to understanding them, I would gladly trade an inarticulate toddler for a (semi) articulate teenager any day of the week.

For one thing, the things a toddler want actually make sense. In fact, they are remarkably similar to the things I want as well. Think about it: here’s what a magic “toddler translator” would reveal to us.

“I want a cookie!” their shrieks would say. (Me, too!)

` “I want to be carried!” (As do I!)

“I want to be made happy by being given something that in all likelihood doesn’t even exist!” (Same here!)

See? Toddlers make sense. It doesn’t matter that they don’t have the words to tell you what they want, because at least the things they want are normal human desires. Teenagers, on the other hand, want things that would require a whole other verb tense just to explain. Things like, “I want you to go away/come here/leave me alone.” Or, “I want you to be concerned/leave me alone/you never loved me/go away/where are you when I need you/leave me alone.” What?

And then, of course, there are the requests that they phrase in normal everyday English, and yet still don’t make sense. Requests like: “But why can’t I hitchhike to California this weekend? It’s my life.” And “It’s none of your business where I spent last night. Can I have some money? Because I’m going back tonight, that’s why.”

And let’s not forget that when a toddler doesn’t hear the answer they want, they just scream. A teenager actually tries to debate their way into a yes. (I would rather hear that piercing shriek of righteous indignation than have to endure arguments on how useless algebra is and how seat belts actually kill more people than they save. And please, spare me for the rest of my life from hearing any more about the Many Wonderful Uses of Hemp.)

I think, though, that the single greatest difference between dealing with a toddler and a teenager is that, at least with a toddler you believe (as the parents at Bookmans clearly did) that one day things will surely get better. With teenagers, it’s all you can to do to hold on to the belief that things will, maybe, possibly, hopefully, not get any worse.

And even that is a tough sell most of the time.

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When I was in college, a friend of mine owned both a VCR and a movie to play in that VCR. I know that these days, when you can watch a movie on your phone, that isn’t such a big deal, but back then it was. Or at least it was in my circle of friends: we were so broke that we used to fantasize about one day being rich enough to afford the name brand mac and cheese. But I digress. He owned an actual movie. And that movie was Monty Python’s Holy Grail.

Now, Monty Python’s Holy Grail is a funny movie. A hysterical movie, even. And one that, yes, can be viewed over and over again and still be entertaining. However, even the great Monty Python has its limits, and after a solid semester of watching The Holy Grail night after night I was done. More than done. Not only could I not watch The Holy Grail anymore, I couldn’t watch Life of Brian or The Meaning of Life. I could barely even watch Time Bandits, and that was just Terry Gilliam.

Anyway, the point of all of this is that, yes indeed, it is, in fact, possible to get too much of a good thing—or at least that was the point for me. (The point for you might have been: get wealthier friends). However, as I said, that was the point for me, and it was a point I managed to remember for many years. Right up until the very moment, about two years ago, when I didn’t remember it anymore. Which explains how it came to be that I let my kids ruin The Simpsons for me.

Don’t get me wrong. The Simpsons is a great show—probably one of the best shows on television. It’s clever, biting, and quite often really, really funny. And, just like The Holy Grail, I can’t stand to watch it anymore. I can barely even bring myself to read Matt Groenig’s “Life in Hell.” And why? Because my kids ruined it for me.

The thing is, they were clever about it—or at least cleverer than me. If they had simply played episode after episode of The Simpsons I would have had sense enough to stop them before it was too late. They didn’t ever watch The Simpsons, though. No, they were sneakier than that. What they did was watch Family Guy, American Dad, Futurama, The Cleveland Show, South Park and anything and everything on Adult Swim; and they watched these shows over and over and over again, until even the guys at Netflix must have been impressed by their single-minded determination to view cartoons 24/7. (Or maybe appalled. Yeah, I’m going to go with appalled.)

I don’t know why I find this to be so surprising: when they were younger they were the same way with the Land Before Time series. They watched those movies so often that the rewind button wore out on our VCR. (To this day I think that if I ever run into the person who voiced Sara the Triceratops—say in line at Starbucks, or something—I will probably hit them. Hard.)

Who knows: maybe I’m the one who is missing out on something. Maybe, for them, watching the same shows (and listening to those same voices) over and over again is their version of a koan. Maybe instead of “the sound of one hand clapping,” it’s “the sound of Peter Griffith’s voice.” Maybe, by seeing the same thing again and again, they are getting beneath the surface of reality and seeing the light that connects us all. Maybe this is actually the next step in our evolutionary process—from Primitive Man to Video Man, and maybe I’m just an evolutionary holdout, like the appendix, unnecessary and easily irritated.

Or maybe they really are just trying to drive me crazy.

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I once read that the definition of a boy is “noise with dirt on it.” I would have to say that this definition seems remarkably apt—at least until they hit puberty, and then it just needs to be expanded a little so that it also includes the word, “smelly.” Actually, come to think of it, after they hit puberty you could probably leave out the noise and dirt part entirely, and just define boys as “a portable smell.”

I should have seen this coming when my son came home the first week of sixth grade and announced, “They told all of us we have to buy deodorant. Now.” As the mother of the accused, I found this blanket statement given out to an entire class to be rather offensive. (Although, I suppose, not as offensive as it would have been if it had been given out to my child and my child alone.) And I was a little bit worried that it might have some kind of damaging effect on the development of my boy’s self-esteem—after all, I’m not sure how I would take it as an adult if someone told me I needed to go buy some deodorant—right now. What would the effect of a statement like have on the tender psyche of a growing adolescent?

As it turns out: none. In fact, it seems that my concerns about Clyde’s burgeoning ego were entirely misplaced. When the “smell” eventually arrived (as Clyde’s teachers had correctly foretold it soon would), he wasn’t chagrined at all to be told about it—on the contrary, he positively reveled in it. Case in point: the other day he came home from school and took off his shoes; this immediately killed all of the nearest houseplants and sent the cat into a fit of retching. “For the love of all things holy,” we admonished him. “Go take a shower. You stink.”

Clyde, far from taking offense at this greeting, actually stood up a little bit taller. “Really?” he said. “I smell that bad? Huh: I guess that guy on the bus wasn’t kidding.”

We tried to explain to him that having complete strangers tell you how bad you smell wasn’t something to be proud of, but he never even got close to understanding what we were talking about. After a while, just to shut us up he started nodding in agreement, but we could tell by the sparkle in his eyes how proud he still was. I smell bad! Really bad! So bad that people noticed! we could clearly see him thinking.

Which is why, I think, the deodorant lecture fell on such deaf ears. I know now that it was a cry for help from the adults trapped in a closed room with up to thirty adolescents, but in order for it to work they would have needed to have a room full of adolescents who were embarrassed about how badly they smelled—not proud of it. And besides, even if the lecture had worked there is no deodorant in the world that would help with this kind of funk—unless, perhaps, it was a special kind of deodorant that was meant to be applied to the feet. (I think they actually have that type of deodorant—it’s called “clean socks.”)

No: the truth is that the only real help for this kind of funk is a good healthy dose of shame. The kind of shame that should have been accomplished by the lecture the students were given at the beginning of the year, but, alas, apparently was not.

Perhaps next year they can start off by giving the deodorant lecture to the parents. That probably won’t help with the smell any time soon, but it might help with the shame. I know that, personally, I’m ashamed just thinking about it.

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