When I was growing up there was this book I loved to read that was about a Very Dirty Little Girl. In this book the parents of the Very Dirty Little Girl kept trying unsuccessfully to convince their daughter to take a bath, until finally one day a wise old lady who lived down the street told them that they should just let their daughter get as filthy as she liked, and then, when the dirt on her arms got to be about an inch thick, plant radish seeds on her while she slept. Sure enough, a few weeks after they planted the seeds it was harvest time, and the little girl was so mortified to be a walking garden that she never refused to take a bath again and everyone lived happily ever after. The End.
What a charming story. Unfortunately, it is nothing like the story I am about to tell. My story is about a little boy who refused to stop taking food into his room, and how one day, at her wit’s end, when there were no more dishes left for the rest of the family to eat off of, his mother ordered him to go into his room and bring out every plate, cup and spoon he could find. Every one. Even the ones that had gotten kicked under the bed. And how the little boy had come out of his room a few minutes later, green-faced and nauseous, and asked his mother, “Um, so, how exactly do you get rid of maggots?” And how the mother then handed him a dustpan and a broom and said, “Sucks to be you.” And there was no happy ending, and, really, not even a The End, because the very next week the boy was back in his room eating pizza in bed.
That’s the problem with real life as compared to fiction: not only is it is an awful lot messier (and sometimes, especially when there are maggots involved, grosser), there is also the fact that people in real life almost never learn from their mistakes.
Oh, they might think that they have learned. Like in the case of the “Very Sad Boy and the Maggoty Maggoty Day,” the boy was sure that he had learned his lesson. Unfortunately, however, since the maggots had been on a pork chop bone, the only lesson he really learned was not to leave pork chop bones in your room. Pizza, half-eaten burgers, petrified corn flakes in curdled milk—all of these, apparently, are still fine. It is the pork chops that are the problem. Or maybe just the bones.
And what’s worse is that it would seem that even that tiny, tiny lesson didn’t take, because on reflection the boy decided that it wasn’t even really the pork chop bone that was the problem, but rather the lack of a dog to take care of the bone. Apparently the problem wasn’t so much that the boy wanted lo live like he was in a medieval banquet hall, but rather that his serf (that would be me) hadn’t been handy enough about bringing in the hounds to clean up after he was finished. And, I suppose, the chickens to clean up after the hounds.
I sometimes think that if my children walked into a tiger cage, and were mauled, they would only learn to avoid tiger cages—lions and bears would still be “okay” (at least until proven differently with their own mauling). And, in fact, I strongly suspect that if the Very Dirty Little Girl was a real child (and mine), the only thing she would have ever really learned from her radish experience would have been to avoid the produce section of her local market.
At least during planting season.