Monthly Archives: September 2014


Last weekend my husband asked some of our daughter’s friends to leave the house, a request to which Clementine took great exception. I think her exact words were so rude. And granted, maybe my husband’s choice of words (“All of you, get the !@#$ out of my house!”) were not the most poetic, or the most politic (he probably shouldn’t count on receiving his ambassadorship any time soon), but I wouldn’t call it rude, necessarily. More like forceful. Determined. Unwavering. And, in the end, necessary, as shown by the fact that even after that statement it took another three hours to get our couch back.

And this was after it had already been occupied for the previous twelve.

Clementine, however, still didn’t understand. Her view was that since during the majority of the previous twelve hours her father had been asleep, the timer on couch squatting hadn’t really started until he had woken up that morning. Or rather, since her guests had arrived shortly before her father went to bed the night before, the timer had started, but then had been put on pause. (I have to admit I was kind of rooting for this argument to work—if it did it would have all sorts of implications for the hotel industry.) My husband’s view was much less nuanced. “Naw,” he said. “It’s time for your friends to go.” And with an offended huff (and another hour or so of nagging), they went.

I can see how Clementine might have gotten the mistaken impression that her father was being unnecessarily harsh. In a normal situation, telling people to “get the !@#$ out” of your house would almost always be considered rude. However, what she needed to understand is that this was the farthest thing from a normal situation. This wasn’t a friendly visit, this was an occupation, an invasion, really, and as such needed to be handled in a different way.

Think about it this way: when you see the very first cockroach scurry across your kitchen floor do you think, “Well, it was only the one. Maybe he was just passing through?” No, at the first sign of an infestation you get out the big guns, or rather, the big can of Raid. And it is the same with couch squatters: at the first sign of an infestation, you pull out the big (or at least bad) words.

Of course, even after that explanation Clementine still didn’t see it as an infestation. She still saw it as a friendly visit. A long, drawn-out, noisy, messy visit. But then again, Clementine doesn’t pay the rent. Or the Netflix bill. Or buy the groceries. And she most definitely has never had to flip over a couch in the middle of the night to make someone understand that, no, they really weren’t welcome to crash in your living room any longer.

In other words, Clementine has never been in college.

Something tells me that sometime in the next four years or so Clementine will become intimately familiar with the kind of scenarios that make telling people to “get the !@# out of my house,” seem like the most amicable solution. She will come to realize that there are times when social cues and subtly just doesn’t work, and that waking up in the morning to see the same people who were partying in your living room the night before gets old after the twentieth or thirtieth time it happens.

When that day comes Clementine will be grateful for the memory of her father telling her friends to “get the !@#$ out” of his house. In fact, she might be so grateful that she ends up quoting him directly.

Right down to the very last !@#$.

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Dress Code Deux

The last time I wrote a column about how much I despised school dress codes was when my daughter, Clementine, was in her first year of middle school and was “dress-coded” for wearing a shirt with blue trim on the sleeves. Because apparently the “Blue Sleeve Trim Gang” was in town, and boy, if there’s anyone you don’t want to mess with, it’s them. Anyway, the school dress-coded her, I complained, and then, a few years later, the school closed its doors. I’m not saying I had anything to do with it, but, the fact is that I’m still around and the school isn’t. Something that Clementine’s current school might want to take into account, since now, in her senior year of high school, she has been dress-coded again.

For showing her shoulders. (Seriously, only Michelle Obama gets more grief for her arms than Clementine does.) And even though it is the same part of her anatomy that caused Clementine to be called to the office both times (well, the first time at least—since she was working as an office aide technically she was already in the office when the second incident happened), the reasoning behind the two incidents could not be more different. The first time was in a misguided effort to stop Clementine from inadvertently showing any allegiance to her gang. The second time was to stop her from inadvertently showing any allegiance to her gender.

You can see the problem here, right? Because while she never actually belonged to any gang, and could quit one if she did, there’s really nothing that she can do about being a girl. At least not non-surgically.

The bottom line is that school dress codes, as they are written concerning “revealing clothing,” are completely and utterly sexist. Always. Not “usually,” not “often” and not “possibly” sexist, but always sexist. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you heard of a boy being dress-coded for wearing revealing clothing? (And don’t give me that “What about the ban on saggy pants?” because since part of that fashion is to have your underwear showing, nothing is revealed. That’s a ban on clothing that is either gang-related or unprofessional, not one that is based on showing too much skin. Because if showing too much crack was really the problem then no school in America would ever be able to hire a plumber.)

The other way you know it’s sexist is because the ban on girls revealing reveal “too much skin” is always followed up with the complaint that by doing so they are causing a distraction to their male peers. “If you wear that skirt, the boys won’t be able to pay attention.” For the sake of my word count we’re just going to ignore how that statement is not only sexist, but hetero-normative. But we’re not going to ignore how it makes it clear that a boy’s right to an education trumps a girl’s.

Here’s an idea: perhaps the next time a boy is distracted by a girl’s arms (or, depending on the culture, her hair, feet, face or existence), instead of the school removing the girl from the classroom (and privileging the boy’s right to an education above the girl’s), maybe the school should take this teachable moment for what it is and actually teach the students that we all have the right to an education, just as we all have the right to be treated with dignity and respect.

Who knows? Maybe if schools started teaching this lesson now then the next generation will be able to focus on real issues in the classroom (like, I dunno, math and history and all that good stuff), and we’ll all be smarter and happier for it.

No matter how distractingly nice our arms may be.

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Cruel Shoes

I know that I have written about this before, but it bears repeating: I have no idea how my son, Clyde, wears the shoes that he does. Fit, it would seem, is completely optional. Of course, so is color, style, appropriateness for weather and physical activity—but all of those issues pale in comparison to the fact that the shoes he wears almost never, ever fit him.

I was reminded of this yet again when I took him to buy a pair of shoes for one of his dance classes the other day. Using the size of the shoes he was currently wearing as a guide, I told the woman at the dance studio what size I thought Clyde was; she handed him a pair of shoes to try on while she and I talked over more important matters, like how a thin little pair of shoes could cost so much money. So we didn’t get to see Clyde putting the shoe on his foot. We did, however, get to see him peel his foot back out of it after she had felt Clyde’s toes to check the fit and noticed that the shoe was so tight his toes had practically curled under his foot like some kind of 19th century Chinese concubine. As he peeled the sausage casing/shoe off of his foot, and as the foot itself unrolled between us like some monstrous tongue, both the woman trying to fit him with new shoes and I had the same reaction. “How did you ever get that on in the first place?”

“I dunno,” was his illuminating answer.

It’s hard to be angry at him when he’s being so accommodating—he will literally put on, and wear for the next six months—any shoe you give him, without one word of complaint. It’s frustrating, though, because, all things being equal I’d kind of like to buy him shoes that fit, and it’s hard if he reacts to everything from a size five to a size nine the same way. “Maybe it’s a little tight.”

When I was little there were still some shoe stores that had those old machines that would x-ray your feet to see how well your shoe fit. I never used them (I remember my mom putting the kibosh on that idea), so I don’t know if they actually worked, but shoe shopping with Clyde is starting to make me wish that they were still around.

It’s not that I don’t understand Clyde’s hatred of shopping. I totally get doing anything possible to get out of trying on new clothes. (In fact, when the New World Order arrives and we each get issued our own personal clone, I’m not going to use mine for spare kidneys and corneas—I’m going to make mine go clothes shopping for me. Although, after spending a few years doing that my clone might wish I’d gone the organ donor route instead.)

And yet, even I don’t have a problem with shoe shopping. Well, not as much of a problem. So I really don’t understand his reluctance to get a pair of shoes that actually fit.

It’d be a little different if we had someone to pass the outgrown shoes down to, but even though Clyde’s “big” sister is now both four inches shorter as well as four shoe sizes smaller, I doubt that she will be growing into Clyde’s cast offs any time soon. Not that she could take them if she did, because one of the most obvious downsides to wearing shoes that don’t fit is that you wear them out quicker when you can only fit half your foot in them.

The upside being, of course, that when they do wear out, you don’t really care. After all, it wasn’t like they fit in the first place.

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As the youngest child in my family, I can attest to the fact that there are a lot of problems with growing up the youngest. The best lies have all been taken. Your parents already know what day the report cards come in the mail. The only extracurricular activities open to you are the ones your older siblings have already outgrown the equipment for, unless they didn’t do it long enough to actually get the equipment, and then in that case the answer is a flat out “no.” Why? “Because your (sister/brother) tried that once and quit, and no way am I wasting all that money again.”

Of course, there are also a lot of benefits to growing up the youngest. All of the good lies may have been taken, but you don’t really need the good lies, because, depending on the number of siblings ahead of you, your parents have probably relaxed/been worn out to the point where they are only asking for your excuse as a token gesture anyway. It’s a ritual, the same way a lodge member in a town of 200 will still ask his fellow lodge member to participate in call and response—although instead of replying to “The sun always rises in the East,” with “But the shadows stretch to the West;” with parents and children it’s more likely to be “Where were you all night?” and “The Abstinence Club meeting ran late.”

I’d like to think that this is a two-way street: just as parents seem to hold older children accountable to a higher standard, so too do those same children hold their parents accountable, with the reverse being true for the younger set. Yes, parents expect the older siblings to be home by curfew, but older siblings also expect parents to be home before the crack of dawn as well. It goes both ways.

This became abundantly apparent to me the other night, when my son Clyde (the youngest) got up in the middle of the night for a glass of water. I happened to be sitting on the couch, writing. On the couch with me was a blanket that circumstances led me to believe had been taken outside earlier by my daughter, Clementine. Those circumstances were that it was now moderately crawling with caterpillars.

I say “moderately” because in the course of the previous twenty minutes no less than three caterpillars had crawled across my laptop screen. Three isn’t really a lot, especially for caterpillars (three black widow spiders would have been another story), but it was more than the maximum number of caterpillars I like to keep on my body at all times. About three more, to be precise. I was trying to decide whether or not that was enough caterpillars to make it was worth my time to get up, take the blanket outside, and shake it off when Clyde found me. Always of the opinion that it is better to have more input (even if I ultimately choose to ignore all of it), I decided to tell Clyde about my current caterpillar problem, and see what he thought.

“Hey Clyde,” I said, “there’s caterpillars crawling all over me.”

He didn’t bat an eye. “Mmm hmm,” he said. And then added, almost as an afterthought, “Are you high?”

“No,” I spluttered. “Of course not.”

He nodded his head. “Then you should probably get them off of you.”

That was it. No judgement, no offers to conduct an intervention, just a simple request for the facts. And when I denied being in an altered state, there was no disbelief, either. Just some sage advice.

Yeah, when it comes to being the youngest, maybe the best lies have all been taken because you don’t really need them anymore anyway.

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