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Date archive for: April 2010

Enough for Two

You know the best thing about being an only child? There’s no math involved. No fractions required to divvy up the last piece of cake. No pie chart needed to see who got the most TV time.

Sibling-free, I got it all. All the love. All the attention. I got praise for the academic subjects I mastered, like French, and even those I didn’t, like trig. When there’s no competition, you get kudos for succeeding at arithmetic as simple as this: Love divided by one is one.

It wasn’t until I was an adult — and pregnant — that it first occurred to me that love might have a numerator and denominator. My husband and I worried how our beloved dog would cope with having a cooing, pink love-hog in the house. Isn’t it a crime to lavish affection on something and then ask it to share that affection with someone new? I asked our vet.

“Love grows,” he said.

“What does that mean?” I asked with a seriousness that should be reserved for conversations about heartworm and distemper.

“The heart expands,” he purred cryptically. He was one of those hippie earth-father vets with tons of his own kids and a fluffy, wisdom-indicating beard. “Love multiplies.”

Damn it! There would be math.

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No More Meanies

It’s a futile exercise, but once in a while, I do it anyway. I indulge in a little nostalgia for things that used to be. New York Seltzer. Grunge fashion. The theme to The Larry Sanders Show. These things made me genuinely, stupidly happy until, like gnat carcasses, they were wiped clean from the windshield of our whizzing culture.

But when I take my deliberately slow and doubtlessly ill-advised stroll down Reminisce Road, there’s something I find I miss more than anything else, something I never truly appreciated until it was gone — the asshole.

Have you noticed it doesn’t exist anymore? In bygone eras, they were everywhere you looked. The guy who refused to leave a tip, the boss who dumped work on your desk at 5:15, the driver who pulled in front of you and slammed on her brakes.

Different generations had different names for these loathsome blights on common courtesy. Shakespeare called them knaves, pignuts, clotpoles. Early Americans denounced them as scalawags and reprobates. Your grandpa may have cursed the neighborhood lout, heel, or cad.

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Home School

I teach writing to college students. I school them in story structure and tone, coach them in voice and diction.

My students teach me things, too. I’ve learned, for example, how ridiculous the phrase “Professor Starshine” sounds. I’ve learned that making literary analogies to Ghostbusters — no matter how clever it seems to me — is inscrutable to people who were born in 1992.

But the most important thing I’ve learned from my students is this simple fact: When a four-year old pees on the floor, he ought to clean it up. You’re looking at me as though I just made another impenetrable Ghostbusters reference, but let me explain.

Parents are working harder than ever to get their kids into college. They start saving when their children are born, help them choose college prep courses as early as middle school, and schlep them to transcript-dazzling extracurricular pursuits throughout high school.

But from where I stand — at the front of a classroom of legal adults who show up at a writing class without a pen — I fret their efforts may be off the mark. In fact, some of my campus colleagues and I agree that while today’s parents get an “A” in Getting Their Kids Into College, they get an “F” in Teaching the Entitled Little Buggers What to Do Once They Get There.

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Sex Talk

We modern parents are so enlightened. Unlike our Dark Age ancestors, who whacked through the child-rearing jungles with dull old saws like “curiosity killed the cat” and “children should be seen and not heard,” we encourage kids’ inquisitiveness.

We quench their thirst for knowledge by reading them books about disgusting insects and having long talks about thunder: “I have no idea where it comes from. Good question, sweetie! Let’s look it up!” My son’s favorite PBS cartoon always seems to be explaining why mold grows on sandwiches.

Because our generation applauds children’s curiosity. We reward it. We even brag about it. Until the day it turns toward our underpants, and then we freak the flip out about it.

That happened to a friend of mine last week. Another parent in her son’s preschool brought a newborn baby into the classroom, and the tots began asking her questions. One piped up with the inevitable, “How did the baby get in you?”

While curiosity may not kill a cat, it can do serious damage to a postpartum female. Caught off guard and loathe to decide for other families when — and, dear god, how — this delicate topic should be broached, the new mom explained that she and her husband had engaged in strategic “hugging.”

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My columns are collected in three lovely books, which make a SPLENDID gift for wives, friends, book clubs, hostesses, and anyone who likes to laugh!
Keep Your Skirt On
Wife on the Edge
Broad Assumptions
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