Boiled peanuts were the ceremonious gift.
Boiled peanuts were the ceremonious gift.
Look: I’m the last person in the world to be ragging ANYONE about homework, because I spent most of my childhood simply acting as if homework were merely an absurd suggestion from ridiculous grownups – grownups WITHOUT weaponry to enforce these hilarious suggestions.
That is, until I hit Catholic school. There, to my dismay, I found someone had equipped the nuns with a secret wooden arsenal of rulers – and slapping hands, besides, which they clearly were highly trained in the use of, particularly in the application of maximum pain and minimum trace marks that might reveal their cruelty beyond the crumbling walls.
Still: that only made the game of homework avoidance more of a challenge.
I spent sixth grade math class playing a diabolical game with Mr. Elvins. I would prop up my book right on my desk, hiding my empty notebook. To me, it seemed so blatantly obvious that I wondered at times, even then, if I was trying to get caught.
The trick went like this: chubby Elvins was too lazy to collect and grade any homework. So all he would ever do was randomly choose students each day and have them give him the answers to the math problems from the previous night’s homework.
If he called on me, I’d simply look down at the problem, solve it in my head, and give him the answer.
Mr. Elvins was so rigidly blinkered at the idea of any student, much less a GIRL student, being able to pull off such a Las Vegas trick, that although every once in a while he’d cast a suspicious glance at my book wall and my wide-eyed innocent gaze, he was not about to rouse his low-belted, big-bellied body off the chair behind The Big Desk and actually CHECK to see if I’d done the work.
Even in college, I was able to scam a bit.
I was scholarshipped to college, but worked my way through the rest of it: there’s more than tuition, of course: there’s drinking and partying money you need.
So naturally, I was loathe to waste my money on $400 books. Actually, what used to end up happening to me at the beginning of each semester was this:
I’d enter yon bookstore with all good intentions of buying the books I was supposed to buy, but then I’d get so very intrigued with all the OTHER cool-looking books from all the OTHER classes that I’d buy THEM instead, leaving me, er, a little short when it came to MY books.
So I’d make deals with the other students. I was a phenomenal studier – a perfect test-taker. I knew JUST what professors wanted to hear in essays, on tests. So I’d find myself someone who was NOT, and pair up with them.
They had the books, and I had the savvy, so we’d both make out.
Now, I have two daughters, and I’M the one who’s supposed to be getting on THEIR case to do their homework.
What an ethical conundrum.
Considering that despite all my rackets and schemes, the whole problem with the homework thing throughout my whole life was that I didn’t believe in it to begin with – and I still don’t.
After all, unless you’re on salary, and have major responsibilities at your job, which you for some reason have to take home – most adults go to work at a certain hour – say, nine a.m. – and come home at five p.m., and then they’re DONE.
Kids, on the other hand, get up at around six a.m., get home around three p.m., and I’ve seen mine – and others – work on their homework for HOURS.
In New York, I queried one teacher: “How long do you expect a student to work on homework for your class?”
“I expect them to spend about 45 minutes,” she answered blithely.
At the time, my kid had seven periods. That would add up to five hours and fifteen minutes of homework a night if all her teachers expected the same.
In addition to a day’s worth of school? That’s just wrong.
So I face an ethical dilemma, as I try to align myself with my kids’ teachers.
Sure: boring homework has its place in life. It’s good practice for life, since we all will someday face a life of work with incredibly useless, boring tasks that we will have to perform.
But will we have to perform them for hours and hours, after work, and all weekend?
I dunno. I’m a grownup now, and I still think homework sucks. And I sometimes still write notes to get my kids out of it.
“Dear Teacher: Please excuse my child from her homework last night because we were attacked by a giant squid. Love, me.”
Okay, maybe NOT that outrageous. But I DO make sure to write it on my InklessTales.com stationary, to ensure my “authority.”
I just can’t stand the idea of watching them do 100 math problems when we could count flowers outside instead.
“Why are fewer copies of Playgirl sold than of Playboy?”
“Because all a girl* has to do to see a MAN naked is ASK.”
Sometimes, a girl has to finagle NOT to see the poor shmoe naked, as in:
The difference between men and women? (Well, ONE of the many?)
While he may mourn for a few days when she doesn’t call, he will NOT, as women will, agonize over WHY she did not call, because he ALREADY KNOWS.
He’s done it himself, in all likelihood.
Most boys have.
The three nicest – or the three most suspicious – and, too often, the three most horrendously echoing words ever heard pinballing in a waiting person’s mind, ever to fall from a careless mouth.
(This is not counting “I love you,” which is a whole other essay of “he said/she said” unto itself.)
She hears: “I’ll call you.”
Possibility Number One:
“Whoa Nelly, You Are The One, in which case. I don’t want to fuck it up by calling you too soon.”
She waits. Thinking mistakenly they are speaking the same language, which you will see they are not.
Possibility Number Two:
“It was OK. Maybe I WILL give her a call sometime. Unless, maybe, tonight’s night works out pretty cool. I dunno. Hey – is that a roast beef hero?”
Possibility Number Three:
“Hey, DUDE, what ELSE was I supposed to say? I WASN’T going to call?”
What women don’t understand is this:
WHEN MEN DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY,
WHEN MEN HAVE SOMETHING THEY’RE AFRAID MIGHT MAKE THEM OR SOMEONE FEMALE UNCOMFORTABLE OR (YIKES) UNHAPPY —
THE TERRIBLE POSSIBILITY EXISTS THAT TEARS MAY SPROUT FROM LUSHLY MASCARA’D EYES…
Something paralyzes their vocal chords more effectively than any cobra strike or sneaky pygmy blow dart.
Men shut down completely.
They practice avoidance. They become as unreachable as an Arctic research base. They return calls and/or texts as frequently as a sports agent.
Girls: take the not-so-subtle hint.
Cut your losses.
Even if it was going GREAT?
For some reason, it’s not going great anymore, and unless you’re prepared to start breaking several of the stalker laws in these United States, snag yourself a possible restraining order and even, perhaps, an arrest?
He’s not worth it. No one is.
Move on to someone in whom you trigger the feelings outlined in Possibility Number One.
Even if you don’t feel the same? It’s good for your ego, at least temporarily.
Just don’t forget the MOVING ON part. Remember it’s HIS cowardice, and society’s hundreds of years of hammering into male heads that they MUST NEVER DEAL with feelings against you, NOT your own self-worth, that silenced your cell.
THAT last bit of cheering-up is in The Secret, Closely-Guarded Girl Manual, remember: It’s not YOU, it’s HIM. So you KNOW it’s true.
* Men and women are referred to here as “boys” and “girls” deliberately – because when it comes to relationships, we ALL turn into teenagers.
Well, the community in Manatee County, Florida, as reported in the online periodical, “mysuncoast.com” last October, 2009, is united by a red ribbon breakfast against prescription drug abuse by teens. They say their mission is to be “the wall.”
I guess they’re going to be a beribboned wall. “Pounding the pavement” with their ribbons and bows.
Not really sure how that’s going to help the estimated 2,500 teens SEEKING illegal prescription drugs, but that’s their plan, anyway. Guess it’s better than nothing. It might make the teens laugh too hard to take drugs.
The Connecticut Hartford Courant reported this month that although a federal survey says teen drug use is down, teens don’t see drugs as all that terrible, which the feds find vaguely disturbing, natch.
While I am terrific at picking out things like computers, colors, solutions to most problems, etc., there is one thing I am really, truly horrible at in my life.
Two spectacular mistakes in my past spring immediately to mind.
One was a crack addict, desperately in need of drug treatment.
The other was a FORMER crack addict and blazingly explosive alcoholic. (He could seriously have used some genuine alcohol rehabilitation – but then, one has to want the help.)
While I was under no delusions I could CHANGE either of these idiots, I was delusional enough not to NOTICE either gigantic flaw until I was in too deep to get out fast enough.
The soft HEART in me, unfortunately, softened my HEAD.
The thing was? Both of these <ahem> fine gentlemen would have done well to have gotten help in the teen years. BEFORE they stumbled along and cut swathes of destruction through the lives of women like me, and others, before and sadly, after me.
(Don’t, whenever you sluff off a moron, wish you could phone the next poor victim and warn her? Totally NOT out of jealousy, but rather out of pity for the next girl? As in: “Honey, sit down: Let me just tell you what this jackass is REALLY like…” Ah, if only they would listen…)
Early course correction. When I was a teacher at a college, the math department had this GREAT picture of a train wreck.
“This train was only off by .0000023 degrees.”
But it was enough, over time, to wreck the train.
I loved it. I use it as my own parenting philosophy.
Get help early on with addiction recovery. Save the teen, and save the adult a world of misery – and the rest of the people’s lives they touch. Including your own.
I don’t know how many people out there recall the lovable Saturday-morning cartoon gentleman Mr. Magoo, but for those of you not as addicted to YouTube as I am, his gimmick is that he’s blind as a bat.
(For those of you who’d LIKE to get to know the old codger better, here he is in an old black-and-white beer commercial. You know, back in the good old days when kids’ cartoon characters were deemed perfectly suitable for, you know, beer.)
ANYWAY: While navigating some really ridiculously stupid outdoor steps the other day – put together, I swear, by someone who REALLY either wants a lawsuit, or wants NO visitors, ever – they’re unlit, and all different sizes – it’s like they’re booby-trapped or something – my oldest daughter runs up to me, as I’m slowly navigating down the perilous path.
“What are you doing?” I say, a little irritably, as she gently takes my elbow, as if I’m elderly or something, and she’s helping me across the street.
“Er, well, I dunno,” she says, non-plussed. “You ARE a little hard of seeing, you know.”
Hard of seeing. Hmm.
Never quite thought of it that way.
I’m Ms. Magoo.
Not just CONTACTS, which are a drag, really, sticking your finger in your eye, and not being able to fall asleep on the couch watching television, or reading a book in bed. Do that, and wake up with holes in your cornea, or at the very least, your eyes stuck shut.
But rather, really open up your eyes and SEE, when the dawn breaks, you throw off the blankets and stretch into the day.
I’ve never experienced that feeling.
You know: waking up and being able to actually SEE past my hand. Or even actually SEEING my hand. Clearly, I mean. I wonder what that would be like?
You know: the one where they actually slice up your eyeballs? Make them better, stronger, etc? (Insert intro from 1970s hit TV series, The Six Million Dollar Man)
I used to be afraid of it – and I used to be right – because the whole trick of it was to find a doc with experience, otherwise you could end up worse off than you started.
But all the way in California (of course, now that I’m here in California, wouldn’t you know?) I just heard about some docs in New York who are pretty darn skippy good at it. At the Stahl Eye Center, with locations in Manhattan and Long Island, N.Y., they have doctors are graduates from top universities such as UCLA, John Hopkins and Yale. Their 35-year record is pretty good, too: they meet or exceed the norm for the surgery – and it’s independently verified, which is cool.
And, being in quite enough pain, thank you, having been literally run over by a truck on November 28, it’s nice to know the procedure is (a) virtually painless, and (b) the recovery is in a couple of hours, with most patients seeing clearly in a day or so.
Makes a girl want to fly back east, is what it does.
SEE what I mean?
(Little joke there. Very little.)
Because it’s not about vanity.
It’s about booby-trapped stairs, and independence, and not having to worry about losing glasses, and most of all? Not having to worry about worrying daughters.
Still. It was nice – I think – being called a ninja.
Considering when I met him, I was shouting: “You suck!” at him.
I had an excuse. The house in which I live here in California is a virtual palace: in addition to all the black leather furniture, the stone floors, the decks festooning every outdoor wall, and the pool house – which houses, ha-ha, not only an in-ground pool and Jacuzzi, but also a pool table – AND an arcade, an air hockey table, a fuzball table, and other fun-fun-fun activities…
… but also the crappiest television service I’ve ever endured.
This would NOT be so terrible if I did not have two daughters, 13, and 10, who live with me in tranquil nowhere, and when they are bored, expecting me to be “Julie McCoy, their cruise director,” because apparently horses to ride, miniature horses to visit, three and half-acres (with a pond) to stroll around on, and the aforementioned Pool House of Joy are not QUITE as entertaining as, say, iCarly, or SpongeBob.
So there were actually two gentlemen – and gentlemen they were, indeed, to suffer such abuse at the hands of a tiny, leather-clad loudmouth, when all they really did was politely inquire:
Which triggered extreme wrath indeed, and the following blast, when I spotted their spiffy little “DirectTV” shirts.
“I have DirectTV, and you SUCK,” I said.
Maybe, kinda, too loudly.
To their credit, they were shocked and dismayed, instead of outraged and defensive, which, also frankly, (apparently Today’s Word Of The Day) would have been MY reaction.
The tall, blonde DirectTV guy, about six feet, six inches tall – putting him at about a foot and a half taller than myself, bent slightly over me apologetically, with a dash of defensiveness.
“Well,” he said, “all you had to do was call 1-800-DIRECTTV.”
Still enraged, I stared back, eye to, well, chest. “How would I KNOW that? Is it on the screen, at night, when it would be a smart time to LET me know? When I might be inclined to order? Like I said. You SUCK.”
His babyface fell. “You can call them right NOW,” Blonde Jock suggested helpfully.
“YOU call,” I dared him, crossing my arms over my chest.
Charmingly, he took my dare.
“I will,” he said, pulling out his flip phone.
And he DID.
(Later, the ex-footballer confessed, after we became Lifelong Friends For Five Minutes, he’d always wanted to learn how to ballroom dance. “Good choice,” I advised him, “You’ll get laid for the rest of your life.”)
Between the two of them, we got my service upgraded to the next level, easily and quickly. The only potential glitch was the customer service phone rep was Southern, and started out a little brusque, but that was easily dispatched when I laid on the Georgia sugar: that is, calling him “sir” (he was obviously older than I was) and deliberately mentioning my other home in Rocky Plains.
Amazing how things go smoother south of the Mason-Dixon line when you’re “from around there.”
It WAS funny watching the DirectTV Duo listen to me switch up accents quicker – and way better – than Angelina Jolie or Meryl Streep.
By now, we were all great friends; I’d pulled out my iPhone with the graffiti cover for admiration, as well as my ever-present Leatherman, for further admiration. (Blonde Jock is planning to get the iPhone soon, as was intrigued with my mirrored privacy cover.)
And, of course, anyone with a penis is always intrigued by a genuine Leatherman.
(If you don’t know what the Leatherman tool is, http://www.leatherman.com/)
After show and tell, the conversation turned to the fact I’d just been run over by a truck, which was true.
“So, you’re like, a ninja,” said one of them, in an impressed whisper.
Ninja? Aren’t ALL moms?
“I wish you were MY girlfriend,” he said, in a sort of awestruck tone. “Or that you could train my NEXT girlfriend.”
Thinking this would be a good time for me to mount my white steed Silver and “Hi-Ho” off into the sunset, since any time any conversation veers even remotely into the territory of “can I have your number?” or “girlfriend” or even “what’s your name?” I tend to get a bit skittish, I laughed and said there was fudge calling me at the front of the store (which indeed there was) and waved good-bye – where, in fact, the sistah selling the chocolate pound of wonder and delight even walked me to the very front of the line. How cool is that?
Nah. Just a woman, following the Secret, Closely-Guarded Girl Manual.
This fat-stacked headline was red-lettered boldly on the back of the semi that I cannot help but assume was trying to introduce me to the aforementioned Christ Himself in person, by way of steamrolling my puny convertible to smithereens as I was being forced onto the California Freeway last week.
Perhaps the publicly reproachful driver felt, as he muttered words of encouragement to himself, foiled in his efforts to separate my soul from my body, that perhaps I was a pro-choice supporter, and he could feel sure that another in The Crusade might tag me later – and I’d plummet downward, instead.
“Jesus! That was close!” I said to my beautiful assistant, Lacey, my passenger.
Although the driver could not hear – he was, by then, far ahead of me, blowing the doors off California’s law against truckers driving faster than 55 mph – it DID give me some satisfaction to say it.
The trucker DOES make a point, however, that I’ll wager he himself is too ignorant to know he’s making.
Words – particularly names – have enormous power.
Take my own. You might as well. There are an awful lot of Elizabeths out there.
So many, in fact, Elizabeth Stone wrote a Lives column in the New York Times Magazine about an online gathering of Elizabeths in May, 1999 – an article which obviously caught my eye – and I, obviously not being shy, wrote the New York Times to tell them, and they, obviously tickled by my response, even published it.*
[READ THE LETTER AT THE END OF THIS POST.]
(So: on my tombstone, or in my obituary, someone PLEASE mention that I was at least ONE time published in The Grey Lady?** Thank you. Much obliged.)
To carry on:
Unlike the many Liz, Lizzie, Bess, Libby, Bitsy, Bette, Betsy (the Elizabeth who birthed me is one), Belle, Beth, Bettina, Eliza, Lisa, Liza, Tibby, and the list goes on ad infinitum, I myself prefer: “Elizabeth,” the anglicized form of the original Hebrew name “Elisheva,” meaning “my G-d is an oath.”
What “my G-d is an oath” means, though, I’m not sure.
People, when I introduce myself, nearly always try to be kind of smooth, and say: “So… do you go by ‘Elizabeth,’ or…” Then they trail off, sort of expecting me to fill in one of the above nicknames.
(Sometimes, though, they just insert the horrid “Liz.” Which is not horrid, of course, on some people. Just horrid on ME.)
Which means I have to jump in quickly with: “Yes, ‘Elizabeth.’ It’s a few more syllables, but I’m worth it.”
(Actually? My good friends, and even my oldest daughter, call me “Tish,” a nickname I got dubbed with by someone whom I love with all my heart – but that’s another story.)
I’d often heard rumors that medics, in efforts to revive someone, will call their name, but I’d dismissed it until I’d reluctantly found myself headed to the Emergency Room with yet ANOTHER concussion (I’ve been told that if I were a pro athlete, I’d be forced into retirement.)
Promptly, and to the extreme embarrassment of everyone – except, of course, me – I dropped like a stone, right at the nurses’ check-in station, galvanizing everyone into action.
Although I recall little of the actual dive downward, I DO remember two things:
A sharp pain in my chest where a cruel nurse helpfully twisted my skin sharply to revive me – which, although it certainly focused my attention, even THAT didn’t pull me out of the fog I was in – until I heard the nurse ask one of my kids: “What’s her name?”
Naturally, in standard kid-fashion, I heard the kids go: “What?”
As if the nurse has asked instead:
“What is the cosine derivative of x minus the square root of pi?”
“Her NAME,” the nurse asked again. “What is her NAME?”
“Oh,” they said. “Elizabeth.”
In their defense, I think they had to stop for a moment and remember my name isn’t actually MOM.
When the nurse started barking “Elizabeth! Elizabeth!” in that demanding sort of way, it really DID pull me back. Sort of the same way your own grownups do when you’re a kid and you get the call from your bed: “Get up! The bus will be here any minute.”
Calling my name brought me back from Neverland in the oddest sort of way that confirmed the rumor: it turned out to be a sort of Dr. Jekyll experiment on my own self that left me with a “Dang! It’s TRUE!” feeling, wondering what ELSE I’d heard that might ALSO be true.
Jesus Christ! There’s a whole world of weirdness out there to discover!
Hopefully, though, I won’t have to get concussed or run over to find them all out.
# # #
* Where Everybody Knew My Name
Published: Sunday, May 30, 1999
Elizabeth Stone’s Lives column (May 9) on the on-line gathering of Elizabeths reflected perfectly the trend for small groups to coalesce on the Internet based on hobbies, interests or random commonalities like names. The Internet, vast as it is, seems to spark a small-town quilting-bee longing in many users.
Of course, there was another reason Stone’s column caught my attention. I’m also an Elizabeth. Maybe I’ll send her an E-mail.
** “The Grey Lady” is the nickname journalists have for the prestigious, much-revered New York Times.
I’m visiting my family in the deepest heart of rural northern Georgia, a place where the wildest action happening is watching the kudzu overtake the pines lining Route 20 to Atlanta – that is, on the extremely rare occasions we load up my sister’s seven children, ranging in age from 18 months to 18 years in the giant grey commercial vehicle her family uses for transport.
There are no chain stores here. No 7-11s, no Outback Steakhouses, no Galleria Malls. The biggest cluster of stores is located at a lonely intersection of country roads only locals travel, consisting of The Rocky Plains Community Store, Nancy’s Cuttin’ Up Salon, The Baptist Church, and while there are two new gas pumps, you can still set yourself up with dyed diesel and dyed kerosene from old-fashioned pumps that look like something out of the 1950s.
No one has yet to be able to explain to me what, exactly, dyed diesel or dyed kerosene is used for, nor why it is dyed, but they are politely apologetic as they forlornly explain to me that they do not know, as if they are announcing the funeral of a long-lost friend, and they ALWAYS call me ma’am when they do so.
This throws me, living as long as I have in New York. I still think of myself as a “miss.”
Nevertheless, as strange as dyed diesel, dyed kerosene, and sheets of relentless zudzu plants as intent on overtaking the entire state as horror movie triffids might seem? Michigan has Georgia beat, hands down.
Here’s the latest news from the Wolverine State – and some insight, perhaps, as to why Michigan acquired that toothy nickname:
According to Associated Press reports, in Muskegon, this week, a man was sentenced to 45 days in jail for biting his girlfriend’s five-year-old son in the face.
In the FACE.
Why did he do it?
Because the little boy bit him first, of course.
Duh – gotcha back.
The boy’s mother defended the boyfriend, explaining that the man was merely trying to discipline the boy – after all, said boyfriend was trying to get the kid to brush his teeth when the kid bit the man in the face.
Perhaps the man was trying to demonstrate the value and strength of a good, healthy set of chompers. Why, I wonder, were their mouths and faces so close together in the first place? Were they sharing toothbrushes?
Interestingly, the mother didn’t turn the guy in – school officials, noticing the bite marks on the child’s face, alerted Child Protective Services.
I don’t know about any of you, but I can NOT think of an excusable reason for ANYONE to bite my kids. Were anyone to attempt such a foolhardy thing, I can honestly say they would begin to know the true meaning of wolverine.
In Mount Clemens, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, a 33-year-old mother was sentenced to six to 20 years in prison. Her crime? She settled her 10-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son down for some soothing hot chocolate – laced with sedatives – then set fire to the house and expected them all to sit quietly with her and, well… die.
The judge basically decided she’d forfeited her status as “mommy” from now on.
Luckily, the kids shook off the wooziness and escaped the house in time. Mom had taken the kids out of school early, too.
Big disappointment, huh? Usually when mom takes you out of school early, it’s a good thing.
Writing straight-like-that they are “scarred for life,” the kids have my sympathy – but so does the mom, to tell you the truth.
Apparently, she suffers from a mental illness which affects six million Americans – 5,999,999 of whom did NOT attempt to kill ANYONE today, FYI, although thank YOU, “fair and balanced” Fox News, for making darn SURE that’s the first “fair and balanced” item you mention in your “fair and balanced” report on this “fair and balanced” news day.
Way-to-go, perpetuating that old-fashioned “fair and balanced” stigma against mental illness.
Odd, isn’t it, Fox has to keep reminding us that they’re “fair and balanced?” How come The New York Times never has to defensive – I mean, defend – itself all the time like that?
While we’re at it, why do all crime news reports describe men who commit them like this:
Carpenter/Architect/Professor/Janitor Massacres Many….
NEVER ONCE MENTIONING whether or NOT the male of the species has even propagated the species?
But if a WOMAN commits a crime, her status as mother FAR OUTWEIGHS any other accomplishment she might otherwise have earned?
Mother of Two Embezzles Funds…
It will only be in the last paragraph that we may or may not learn she’s also received the Pulitzer, a Grammy Award, AND the MacArthur Genius Grant.