Monthly Archives: June 2013

Maggots R Us

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.

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The Rule

One of the first things I learned as a parent was that children are obsessed with technicalities. Therefore, setting a rule for a child is like asking for a wish from a malevolent genie: no matter how carefully you think you have worded your request, there will always be some loophole you didn’t see. With the genie, if you ask them for a million dollars they are likely to grant your wish in the form of several tons of pennies—directly above your head. With the child, asking them not to throw balls in the house pretty much guarantees that they will all be kicked.

Like I said, you can try to get around these problems by carefully wording your requests: “I want a million dollars, not to land on me and kill me,” or “No balls may be propelled from any appendage while inside a domicile,” but a clever genie or child will always find ways to get around that. “What? It didn’t land on you; it rolled on you,” and “But I was outside when I knocked the ball in through the window.” That’s why, when it comes to rules, I have found that it is much easier to make mine less specific, not more. And in fact, I have managed to parse them down to one simple rule that even the cleverest of children (that would be my own) have yet to find a way around.

Don’t annoy me.

That’s The One Rule in its entirety. The beauty of such a simple rule is that it can change with the times without my having to amend it. Whereupon on a normal day “don’t annoy me” might mean “no running chainsaws outside my bedroom door before seven AM,” on a day I’m hungover it might mean “no chainsaws outside my bedroom door at all.” (Actually, the rule is almost always no chainsaws outside my bedroom door, because who has to go get more gas when they run out? Me, that’s who. And that’s annoying.)

At first my children complained about the arbitrariness of The One Rule. “But you’re always annoyed about something,” they said. “How are we supposed to know what will annoy you next?”

“You can’t,” I replied. “So why take a chance?”

I like to think my parenting style is a cross between a Hawaiian volcano goddess and Aunty from Beyond Thunderdome: firm, caring, and just a little bit cray cray. To outsiders (and my children) that might seem a little harsh, but the way I see it is that they should be grateful: at least I don’t make them sacrifice virgins or fight each other to the death in a steel cage. (Actually, the problems at my house usually stem from me trying to stop such activities.) When you think about it both Pele and Aunty really had the same goal: keeping the miscreants under their charge from killing each other. That’s where most of their rules—and mine—come from. And if sometimes some of their rules seemed to get a little bit out of hand, well, we’ve all been on those road trips where someone finally says something like, “No one can chew their food more than twenty times or less than three times ever again!”

Which is why I refer you once more to the beauty of The One Rule. Don’t annoy me. If Pele had had such a rule in place than maybe their wouldn’t have needed to be quite so many volcanic eruptions over the millennium. And if Aunty had had such a rule, then Mel Gibson might need never have risked his magnificent mullet in the Thunderdome. But then again, there are some people who just seem born to break the rules. Even if there is only one of them.

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Shoe Tree

The other day I was reading in our local paper about our semi-famous (or rather, semi-infamous—semfamous?) Southside Shoe Tree. Because I always enjoy a good debate (and sometimes even a good old-fashioned argument), I followed up on the story online so that I could peruse the comments section. Once there I was not disappointed as people speculated on what could possibly be the purpose behind such an unnatural phenomenon. Some people said that it was a way for drug dealers to advertise. (Although since when do drug dealers need to advertise? Some things, like toilet paper and drugs, seem to come with a ready made customer base). Others said gang activity. (Somehow, I think the other gangs would make fun of a gang that was a fan of “shoe tagging,” but then again when I was in school we used to make fun of people who kept the tags on their ball caps after they bought them, so what do I know?).

And, then, of course, there was the old standby, Obama. (Whether it was Obama himself who was throwing the shoes up into the tree, celebrations by his decadently liberal followers, or despairing acts by those destroyed under his reign of terror was never made clear. In my head, however, I pictured the first scenario)

My personal theory (and one I did not post—that’s right, I’m a lurker) was that the shoe tree is where all of the shoes that are “stolen” out of children’s houses every night end up. Hey, it makes as much sense as those other theories. And besides, how else do you explain all of those stolen shoes? That’s right, I said stolen: every single time I have known of a pair of shoes to go missing from a child’s possession, not once have those shoes ever been “lost.” They have, each and every one, down to the very last flip-flop, been stolen. If you don’t believe me, just ask your children; after all, how many times have you been running late to school, only to have your child tell you: “I can’t find my shoes. Somebody must have taken them, because I left them right here.” See? Damn you, Shoe Tree Thief!

But then I started thinking: what if all of these theories turned out to be true? Could it be? Could there possibly be a tinfoil hat big enough for all of these theories to fit underneath? What if Obama, in order to get jumped into the infamous Shoe Tree Drug-Dealing Gang (slogan: “Our drugs will get you higher than a pair of Converse in a tree!”), snuck around at night stealing children’s shoes? It’s just so crazy it must be true.

If I was the Tea Party, that’s the angle I would work. Because the problem with having an organization filled with old guys (like the they do) is that those groups tend to get smaller and smaller as the years go by—unless, of course, you are constantly bringing in new, younger members. And what better way to recruit young people than to give them a way to get their mothers’ off of their backs?

“Where are your shoes?” suddenly becomes an easy question to answer. “Mom, we’ve been over this before. I told you: Obama took them. Do I need to show you the pie chart again?”

When you think about it, it’s a natural fit: children are born conspiracy theorists. Coming from a world where they have been forced to eat broccoli and memorize multiplication tables (even the twelve times!), the idea of a worldwide plot to make them miserable doesn’t seem too far-fetched to them at all.

Now if the Tea Party could only work something in there about the Tree also eating all of the missing math homework, they’d be golden.

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I had never seen my son, Clyde, get quite so excited about a menu item before. But there was no doubt that he was excited: his eyes lit up and a big smile crossed his face when he saw that the restaurant we were eating at had, of all things, artichoke hearts on the menu.

“Ooh,” he said. “Artichoke hearts.” And then he turned to me and asked, “What does an artichoke look like?”

Not wanting to scare him away from this new found culinary adventuresomeness (he usually turns straight to the burger page), I tried my best to describe artichoke hearts without making them sound too “weird.” I definitely tried my best to avoid using words like “thistle” and “gourmet.” And so I said things like “spiky” and “mediterranean” instead. Unfortunately, though, I knew that I had been a little too vague when Clyde got a confused look on his face and then asked me, “But how do they walk?”

“Walk?” I repeated, now equally confused. “They don’t walk. An artichoke is a plant.”

And then the confusion on his face was replaced by disappointment, followed by a plaintive, “But it says ‘hearts’ on the menu.”

“’Heart’ in this case just means ‘middle,’” I explained.

“Oh,” he said, obviously let down. And then he turned, as usual, to the burger page.

Suddenly I had a vision of what it was, exactly, that Clyde had been hoping to order: a brimming plateful of little, bloody hearts—still warm, and, if Clyde had his way, probably still beating. Such is life when you are living with the world’s most dedicated carnivore.

I should have seen this coming years ago. After all, one of Clyde’s first complete sentences was “I’m gonna eat that burger.” (It came while we were waiting in traffic and he saw a Jack in the Box semi with a picture of a much-larger-than-life burger on its side.) And then there was the time we went snorkeling when he was six. An octopus our guide had caught and tossed in the boat had had the temerity to wrap one of its tentacles around Clyde’s leg. Seeing how upset Clyde was, the guide had promised him that he would be able to eat the octopus for dinner that very night—which Clyde had gladly done, enjoying each bite both for the flavor and the revenge.

Of course, it doesn’t help that Clyde’s sister is the most squeamish of vegetarians—even the most unrecognizable chunk of meat in our fridge will get the “gross” seal of disapproval from her. Which means, naturally, that the more “life-like” (for want of a better word) the thing Clyde can eat in front of her is, the better. The time we went snorkeling certainly wasn’t the last time his meal involved having a tentacle hanging out of his mouth. In fact, I’m sure that if he is ever served some sort of animal leg with the hoof still attached it will be the highlight of his gastronomical life.

At least until he manages to finally get his plate of beating hearts.

The worst thing about all of this is that I can’t bring myself to break Clyde of this bloodthirstiness, because deep in my heart I know that he is right. Not because I want to enjoy a steaming Aztec-style meal myself, but because I know that if you are going to be eating a fellow creature then the least you can do is to be fully aware that you are, in fact, eating something that was, up until fairly recently, still very much alive.

Especially if you are hoping to gross out your older sister.

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