Monthly Archives: April 2013


It’s never a pleasant surprise to get a call from the school nurse. When that call comes not because your child has fallen off of the swing set or has thrown up in the hallway (the most primal fear of all for the elementary set), but rather because their odor has disrupted the class, well, that’s probably the least pleasant surprise of all. Especially when it happens for the second time.

The first time I got a call about my son, Clyde, smelling too nasty to attend class was when he was in kindergarten and a family of skunks had a domestic disturbance underneath our house. Or maybe it was a swinging skunk party. Either way, everyone in my family was woken up at three am by a smell so dreadful that after a few hours our noses all collectively checked out, and by the time school rolled around none of us could smell anything at all anymore, let alone each other.

A call later that morning from the school nurse told me, however, that the smell was still very apparent to the rest of the world. And, by the way, would I like to take home this pamphlet on “How to Keep a Clean House”? I’m sure she meant well. I’m sure she didn’t mean to be condescending and belittling. And I’m sure that, one day, the story of me standing in the hallway screaming a series of increasingly bizarre sleep-deprived profanities at her—until Clyde’s teacher gently led me outside—will just be another urban myth. Probably.

This most recent odor call, while a little different, was no less mortifying, because this time the odor in question came from Clyde himself. Or, at least, this time the odor was of his own making. You know the adage “a skunk can’t smell its own scent?” Well, as it turns out, it is also true that a boy can’t smell his own feet. That’s right: this time, the smell in question came from Clyde’s feet.

Clyde’s feet (or rather, his shoes) smelled so rank that he was sent to the school nurse (poor woman), who once again called me at home to let me know about the problem. Oh, and by the way, would I like to participate in this program they had for struggling families who couldn’t afford to buy their children new shoes?

Luckily it wasn’t the same nurse, and also luckily my many years of embarrassing incidents with Clyde between kindergarten and middle school had desensitized me quite a bit when it came to accusations of negligence, indigence, and general sloth, but despite being able to keep my temper this time, the feelings of mortification were still the same. Or, at least they were for me. Clyde reacted the exact same way he had in kindergarten: he was beaming with pride. “I smelled so bad I got sent home!” he said to me proudly, both times. It was like he had won an Oscar in Odor, or maybe a Grammy for Gaminess. Either way, he was as proud as could be—a fact that, this time, at least, I tried to get across to the school nurse, to no avail.

“I tried to tell him as gently as possible,” she said. “I didn’t want to embarrass him.”

“Please,” I replied. “Embarrass him. Humiliate him. Bring back the pillory and make an example out of him. Because getting the day off from school will definitely not get the right message across to him.”

I’m not sure she believed me. Of course, the (insincere) look of repentance on Clyde’s face wasn’t helping things. He was even starting to tear up. Or maybe it was just the smell that, in the small room, was starting to get to us all.

Huh. Maybe a skunk can smell his own scent after all.

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Good Fences

Robert Frost once famously said that good fences make good neighbors, and while this is certainly true, I think that it would be much more accurate if he had also added, “and even better siblings.” Because there is nothing that makes the sibling relationship more bearable than a door that closes between them. And when I say bearable, I of course mean bearable for the rest of us: my children might be shut away inside their own rooms privately wallowing in misery and despair, but as long as they are not making each other miserable and despairing (and as long as their misery and despair is of the quieter sort), I am okay with that.

Some people might disagree, and say that, on the contrary, keeping your misery locked up behind a closed door is exactly the sort of behavior that contributes to developing one of those damaged psyches that keeps their feelings bottled up inside to fester and burn for the rest of their lives. The fact that some people think that this is a bad thing tells me that some people have probably never driven across the country with two children who despise each other. And they have most definitely never shared a hotel room with them.

Please understand that I still firmly believe that giving your child a sibling (or two) is by far the best method there is for socializing them, and especially for teaching them how to handle unpleasant, annoying, and frequently, downright psychotic people. There really is no other method quite so effective. Heck, even professional torturers must experience pangs of guilt and self-doubt every now and then, causing them to let up on their victims—these are emotions that are entirely unknown to your average older sister So, yeah, I believe that having siblings is necessary. However, as necessary as it may be, that still doesn’t mean that I want to experience all of that socialization first hand. After all, I already did my sibling time when I was growing up; I’ve been (somewhat) socialized. And that is why when we travel I always insist on getting accommodations with a door that closes somewhere in the middle.

I have no other requirements. Cockroaches are fine, bed bugs are tolerable, ancient burial grounds inches below our feet are not a problem. I wouldn’t even mind if Norman Bates himself checked us in, bloody knife in hand. Is there a door separating the room into two different spaces? Then I’m fine.

In fact, if I had my way we would arrive at the hotel in two different cars, sit at two different tables in the restaurant (or better yet, two different restaurants), and maybe even vacation in two different towns. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy spending time with my children, and I’m sure that (sometimes) they enjoy spending time with me. Being together with them is a good thing. It’s just that, on a vacation, it’s hard not to have the phrase “too much of a good thing” circling through your head constantly.

This summer we are going on a two week trip through the canyon, and I have to admit that the part that makes me the most nervous is the fact that the Grand Canyon is notoriously bereft of doors that shut. I know, I know: it’s a big place. My question is whether or not it will be big enough to separate two warring siblings. And yeah, I know that we would not be the first party to be at each other’s throats down there, but unlike some of the others that didn’t get along so well, I would actually like for my entire party to make it out alive.

Or, barring that, I would at least like to be able to make it out with a tiny shred of my sanity.

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During this past spring break my family and I got to stay at a hotel that offered a bocce court. For those of you who don’t know, bocce is a game that is kind of like horseshoes, but instead of throwing horseshoes at a stake in the ground, with bocce you throw different sized and colored balls at each other, the object being to throw the larger colored balls down the court as close to the smaller white ball as possible. Or, if you are a boy, the object being to use the biggest, bluest balls as props in a series of obscene pantomimes.

Actually, I use the term “boy” loosely, since this was a game that was apparently started by my husband, someone who is several decades beyond his boyhood. But it was also a game that was enthusiastically received by my son, Clyde, who at eleven still has years and years of boyhood in front of him. Or, if my husband is any indication, decades and decades.

Watching them together on the bocce court (they did get around to playing—eventually) made me glad once again that there are two of these “boy people” in my family, because, really, if there was only one I think that he would drive me absolutely crazy. Or, at the very least, crazier.

For whatever reason (maybe my girlness), I’m just not cut out to handle boydom on my own. While I often think that some of the crude and obnoxious things they do are funny—hey, I liked Beavis and Butthead, too—unlike them, I have my limits: my amusement (and tolerance) begins to wear thin after the third time someone sneaks up on my while I am lying on the couch and farts in my face, not to mention the thirtieth time. And there are only so many times (okay, one) that I can listen to the Southpark Christmas Album before I declare it verboten. And as for Family Guy—well, I think everyone knows by now that my tolerance for that dried up a long, long time ago.

And that’s why I am so very grateful there is another boy in the house to pick up my slack. Grateful that there is another boy in the house who is not only willing but excited to go see the new Three Stooges movie. Another boy in the house who can understand that clearly the new Call of Duty game is completely different from the last six, and needs to be pre-ordered today. Another boy in the house who knows that there is no such thing as too much pizza.

My husband once explained the connection that boys have with each other by telling me that the only person in the world who can stand to be around an eleven year old boy is another eleven year old boy; that, he said, is why the friends you make at that age can remain your friends for years, even after the point when all seemingly rational people would have abandoned the friendship. (Like, for instance, the fifth time your friend’s antics get you arrested.)

I’m not saying that girls, and their friendships, aren’t just as irrational sometimes, and aren’t just as intense. And I’m also not saying that girls friendships, and relationships, don’t have their annoying features that can easily get on an outside viewer’s last nerve: they do. Anyone who has ever been within hearing distance of a multi-girl sleepover can attest to that (if they manage to hang on to their hearing after the first few high pitched giggle screams, that is).

But, I have to admit that there is something that is special about the relationship boys have—if special is the right word for something that is seemingly based on trying to punch each other in the testicles over and over again.

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Road Trip

My daughter, Clementine, got her driver’s license late last year, which means that she has been driving on her own for about four months now. Which also means that it was about time to teach her how to drive to Phoenix.

Although this is something I certainly wasn’t looking forward to, it was also something that was very necessary: it is impossible to live in Flagstaff without ever needing or wanting to drive down to Phoenix. Whether to pick someone up at the airport, worship at the pale blonde wooden alter of Ikea, or just experience what it’s like to live with the absolute certainty that you will not need your coat for a few hours, Phoenix trips are inevitable. And because they are so inevitable, and because kids who grow up in Flagstaff make the trip so frequently that they start to recognize the very trees (who among you does not have a family “pee bush”?), there tends to be a blurring of the fact that the road to Phoenix is really, actually, pretty scary.

Many of us who have made this drive for years have had that reinforced for us the hard way, whether through personal experience or through the experiences of someone close to us. Luckily for me, the closest I have ever come to personal tragedy on that road was following along behind someone who had a tire blow out on a curve, and watching in disbelief as their truck rolled over and over dozens of times before impacting a rock wall so hard a washing machine-sized boulder was knocked loose. So even though I know that the need to learn to drive that road correctly is very real, I also knew that it was something I was dreading teaching. Which is why I made my husband do it.

To be fair, he was the one that wanted to do it anyway. But as I crouched down in the backseat, closing my eyes as we passed big trucks at highway speed, I wondered yet again how people do it who don’t have anyone to pass off the more unpleasant bits to. And there are always unpleasant bits. (I’m sure my husband felt the same way later, when after our safe arrival in Phoenix Clementine wanted to celebrate by going to a cosmetics boutique that was larger than most auto parts stores. I bit the bullet on that one, and got to be the one who watched her spend what seemed like two hours debating over the perfect mascara. (“Um—the black one?” I said, unhelpfully, when she asked for my help. “They’re both black,” she said. “Sorry,” I replied. “That’s the limit of my mascara expertise.”) Of course, when we checked out, my expertise at paying the bill came in much handier.

We all have our little skills, I guess. Like my husband’s skill at being the front seat passenger in a car that, to me, seemed to be hurtling us toward our doom for the entire two and a half hour trip.

“You might want to back off a little bit,” he would say, remarkably calmly, I thought, as we attempted to drive up into the bed of the truck in front of us. And, later, “You might want to get back on the road for a while. That rumbling sound means that your tires are off the road.” (Only later would I notice the indentations of his fingernails in the seat.)

Because he managed to stay calm though, Clementine also managed to stay calm while he was giving her these little nudges, which was good—calm is always good at 75 miles an hour. If only I could have managed the same. Still, I don’t think my little whimpers were too noticeable from the back seat. And besides—isn’t that what the radio is for?

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