Charlie Brown’s Parents

Right Click for URL, image poached from Wikipedia.

I had the honor today of interviewing a very famous children’s book author on the phone.  She lives in upstate NY, and called me from a CT area code, and the interview was arranged through a management company.  How famous is she?  Enough famous to be wealthy from writing books, that’s how much.

She is also lovely, lovely, lovely, lovely.  She’s very smart and reflective and she has wonderful things to say about independent booksellers, supports them with this link on her website.  She thinks kids watch too much TV, parents don’t take an active enough role in their kids’ educations, and that standardized tests don’t do or show anything about anybody no how.  She is passionate on these topics.

Here’s a hint:  Her name rhymes with Those merry Smells.

I asked her a question that she gets asked a lot.  She all but shouted, “Oh I hate this question!”

At first I was embarrassed.  I generally try to ask, at least mostly, questions that probably don’t get asked.  I do a reasonable amount of reading and research, especially on the instances when I get to interview someone who’s sort of a big deal.

But here’s the thing.  The reason the question I asked bugs this author is that nobody asked the question before her beloved children’s books became a television show.  The question I asked was, “Where are your characters’ parents?”  She said that she generally answers, “Having coffee with Charlie Brown’s parents.”  See?  Lovely.  And as a writer, I’m totally sympathetic to how annoying it is for somebody–especially some po-dunk journalist–to second guess a writerly choice.   Especially if nobody second-guessed when it was a writerly choice and the TV people rogered it all up for me by needing to flesh out my story.

After explaining that she did consult extensively on the original season of the TV show, she said, “I have nothing to do with the TV show anymore. I sold the rights to it.” And proceeded to tell me what a crime it is that kids watch 40-50 hours of TV a week on the national average, and that kids’ TV consumption should be totally limited, and when they do watch, it should be wholesome things for children, like the show made out of the characters and story lines she created. I totally agree with her here.  I have watched far, far less TV in my lifetime than many other folks my age, and have gone long stretches as an adult with no TV at all.  And if I’d had help when my kiddo was small, I probably would be still such a person.

So when I made myself lunch, I was thinking about it, and trying to imagine myself into her shoes, and I thought, “Wait a bloody second here.”  It seems to me that if somebody sells the rights to her stories to TV, but her name is still in the credits of every single episode, they should expect to be asked about the TV choices.  It seems to me that somebody who feels so strongly that children don’t have enough books in their lives as a rule and that parents spend too much time plopping their wee ones in front of the boob tube (I’m totally guilty of this, perhaps not 40-50 hours a week guilty, but P definitely watches, and has always watched, too much TV) should maybe think a second before selling the rights to her stories to television.

So why do I feel guilty for asking this marvelous individual a question that upset her?  Her getting upset has nothing to do with me.  And I could not telepathically know that she’d be upset by the question.  And really, I think she has no right to be upset by the question–at least not a logical right–and if she has guilt and regret for getting fat off something to which she is in principle or morally opposed, well, that definitely has nothing to do with me.

So I’m not embarrassed anymore.  I shouldn’t be.  I respect this author’s right to her point of view, and from that respect, nothing about the TV show will make it into my article, but a person seriously can’t expect to have her cake and eat it too all the time.  Isn’t it enough that she gets to be a big deal children’s author?  I know, personally, at least 3 people who would totally kill for that opportunity. And most of the people I know who are published authors would say that getting your books in print is more about luck and doggedness and editor’s aesthetics than about skill.

Mellowcreme Pumpkins Are Delicious.

Some of you who know me might be surprised that I think so.  I’m really a salty, coffee-cream-only, once-a-month sugar cravings kind of gal.  I’d rather eat a steak, well, used to rather than a pile of sweets hands down.  Now, I’m more likely to have a Morning Star Tomato Basil burger with piles of cheese and spinach on a bagel as an indulgent treat.  Or an americano with tons of room, and resultantly tons of cream, from Starbucks.

But I love the hell out of these mellowcreme pumpkins that start appearing six weeks before Halloween.  They’re heartier candy corn.  Made out of the same stuff.  But I despise candy corn.  It’s got a grainy texture and, as much fun as it is to eat one color at a time, it’s a wholly unsatisfying exercise and not worth the potential dental damage.

But the pumpkins are somehow soft when I bite into them.  They’re half way between candy corn and taffy and they taste like butterscotch (which I also really dislike).  They cause the saliva to flow generously and my jaw clenches with over-sugared spasms the very moment they pass my uvula.  I like to pop a second one before the first is all the way down, and then the warm butterscotch goop coats the room-temperature curd of butterscotchy deliciousness.  So the act of chewing becomes a marriage of two mellowcreme forms: rock and lava.

I didn’t allow myself to revisit this love until last year when, in a particular fit of escapism from my marvelous retail job, I bought a bag at Giant and a festive Halloween candy dish and I ate them.  Pearl ate some, too.  Brad thinks they’re gross.  And he’s right.  But they’re delicious gross.

Shooting Apple Juice

Mom Comedy:

We got some of these neato Take ‘n’ Toss cups with straws for Pearl so she still has the top, but doesn’t have the juvenile, sippy cup thing.  She’s six after all.

The thing about the cups is that if you put the straw in the lid, then try to close it when it’s full, some of the liquid will squirt out of it.  Simple physics, but it wasn’t really obvious to me at first.

“Mommy, can I please have some apple juice please?” (when she remembers, she does say please twice)

“Of course.”

I put the lid on, forgetting about the liquid squirting, and some apple juice leaped forth.

“Whoa, mommy.  Why are you shooting apple juice?”

“Because I ran out of heroin.”

“What are you talking about, mommy.”

“Nothing, Pearlie.  I just forgot to take the straw out before I put the lid on.”

Sometimes, being me and a mom is dangerous.  Sometimes, things come out of my mouth before I think about them, and in this case, it took me 12 hours to laugh at my own joke.  When I went to bed that night, I laughed so hard and long I cried.  Still, if Pearl were a touch more savvy and persistent, that whole comedic moment would’ve led to a long and impossibly protracted discussion of drugs and addiction that I’m not sure Pearl has the cognitive powers to grasp.

Oy Vey. Think before you talk, mommy.

 

The Writer’s Voice

I often get manuscripts that are a microsecond away from publication that have a giant mandate across the top from the production editor, “DO NOT TOUCH THE AUTHOR’S VOICE!”

The thing that troubles me about this mandate is not that I try always to be respectful of a writer’s voice, but that a writer’s voice is not smoke and mirrors.  So often what these writers mean when they refer to their voices is that they stack up fragments to indicate tension or suspense or a particular rhythm of motion that an author feels they can’t convey with mere language (imitative fallacy), or that they like to sanction habits that are puzzling and labor-intensive to break or address in revision like having to write in a consistent tense, or using an active construction.  Or the hyperactive hyphenation that seems to appear in any two words preceding a noun.

So in a rare and brief moment of humility, I thought to myself, “what the heck is a writer’s voice?”  I feel as sure as I know my own name that I know what a writer’s voice is, but when I tried to explain it to myself, I came up with nothing more enlightening than syntax.  Mostly, it’s the order in which writers string together words, even within the confines of a subject, verb, object grammatical structure.

When I think about why I read what I read, it’s at least 80% about the writer’s voice.

I dug out a few of my favorite text books from my exhaustive study of writing in college, and I looked for index entries on voice.  I looked for some mention of it in E.M. Forester’s Aspects of the Novel, thinking, “Surely!  If there is to be a definitive statement about what constitutes a writer’s voice, it’ll be there.”  I looked in a glossary of Literary Terms, all to no avail, so I gave up and asked the internet.

The internet talked about voice most exhaustively in relation to high school level writing.  Wikipedia told me that voice is more-or-less tricky to define, and that it varies by author, and that it spans all of the constituent parts of writing: syntax, punctuation, diction, dialogue, character development, etc.

It occurred to me, given this somewhat imprecise and potentially unreliable information,  that stacking up fragments could, in fact, be considered to be voice.  But at what cost?

My point is that writers earn their voices by writing.  By practicing the craft.  That the voice is not something that can be inserted into a work by means of cheap manipulations of punctuation and syntax, and that creating a voice by manipulating the rules of grammar is an amateurish impulse that should be squashed by editors and agents very, very early in the development stages of a book.

Here are some examples from Deepening Fiction.  I’m going to pick some stories at random and put down the first sentence or two.

“On the day he left her for good, she put on one of his caps.  It fit snugly over her light brown hair.  The cap had the manufacturer’s name of his pickup truck embossed above the visor in gold letters.” *

“I received one morning a letter, written in pale ink on glassy, blue-lined notepaper, and bearing the postmark of a little Nebraska village.  This communication, worn and rubbed, looked as though it had been carried for some days in a coat pocket that was none too clean.” **

“A salesman who shared his luqior and steered while sleeping…A Cherokee filled with bourbon…A VW no more than a bubble of hashish fumes, captained by a college student…And a family from Marshalltown who headonned and killed forever a man driving west out of Bethany, Missouri…” ***

There’s no doubt in my mind that these three, grammatical introductions were written by three distinct authors.  The things that constitute these writers’ voices, the choices they made, are not things like making up a new way to use the semicolon, or the overuse of sentence fragments.  The voice-making choices here are things like describing paper as glassy, as starting a story about hitchhiking with a series of clauses, punctuated by ellipses, that paint an evocative picture.  These choices, these voices tell us something about the story we’re about to read.  Even the first and most mundane of these story starts, about the day he left for good, we get a sense of the tension in the story, a heterosexual couple who agree about hats, but apparently not about love.  The particular choice to say “his truck’s manufacturer” instead of “Ford” or “Toyota” is a choice that lends to voice.

And I would go so far as to say that voice is especially important in the romances I am paid to read.  Especially since there are so many norms for the genre, so many tropes and rules and very specific expectations from readers.  It is a pity that there’s such a limited understanding of voice in these particular writers’ circles, since voice is really the only distinction between some of these books.

* “The Cures for Love” by Charles Baxter

** “A Wagner Matinee” by Willa Cather

***”Car Crash While Hitchhiking” by Denis Johnson

Halloween Cabaret

Brad and I have wildly differing tastes.  He’s all sci fi, fantasy, first person video games, goblins and zombies, mythology of all sorts, heavy metal, and runes and tarot and the goddess.

I’m all literary fiction, folkish music with smart lyrics, Woody Allen, Wes Anderson, Northern Exposure, crafting, knitting, bohemian, feminist criticism, agnostic.

Our aesthetic overlaps to a minor extent in that we both think that the way Victorian England & Early America look are neat, and we both like some music that’s been called dark cabaret, or darkwave.  We both dig the hell out of Halloween.  For him it’s spiritual, for me it’s whimsical.

We agree on some art–generally unusual, stylized work that puts unlikely things together, or that involves intricate depictions of the innards of machines and people.

So we went to Target yesterday and took a gander at the Halloween aisles (which are already polluted with GD Christmas stuff), and Brad found this black death mask that he got for his !!!Halloween Costume!!! because !!We are having a Halloween party!!

This is significant for a number of reasons.  Despite that I’ve wanted to go dressed up for Halloween the whole time Brad and I have been together, we never have.  We spent our first two, I think, Halloweens handing out Halloween candy with his pagan friends.  Last year we planned, but didn’t have, a party with our then-neighbors, the smashing Breons.  We had the idea for an awesome event on the same weekend as Colbert & Stewart, so our guest list was appropriated.

Then this morning we were talking about the soundtrack for our Halloween party, and about how we both think that Jill Tracy is pretty boss.  And how we should make our playlist all kind of like that naughty, gravelly, neo-cabaret music.  So we started using all three of our mobile devices (He has a Droid 2, I have a Droid X and a Galaxy Tab) to go back and forth between Spotify, Last.fm, and YouTube to pick songs.

The songs, apparently, were the easy part–though there’s not quite as much neo-cabaret that sounds spooky as we’d like, we have an adequate list whose seeking gave us both new artists to love.  Our music will hopefully be news to some of our guests, but listenable for everybody.

Somehow along the way, we decided we’d like to have a French cabaret themed Halloween party, welcoming costumes from any cultural event or fiction from 1850 to prohibition.  We’ll accept costumes from Elizabethan/Renaissance England, too, since Brad’s going to be Black Death.

Then we discussed booze.  What should we serve.  I went straight to the classic cocktails, whiskey sours, G&T, etc etc.  Brad was like, “I don’t think they did cocktails.” I was like, “Wha?!” But then I thought about it, and he’s right.  It was probably all wine and straight liquor and maybe mulled wine or hard cider and beer and absinthe.

After about fifty puns about Cabernet (“We should have Cabernet at our Cabaret,” and “We should call our Halloween party Caberet Sauvingnon,”) from Brad, I dove face-first into research about this question, and it’s difficult to find anything out about French cabaret food.  Tons and tons of stuff about the art, the performances at cabarets (which was initially just place that served liquor), Montmartre, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Moulin Rouge, etc etc.  I learned about the true Bohemians, about the anti-absinthe propaganda, more about the art of the period, and I have a pretty swell idea that Montmartre is a swell place to be now, as it was then (if you were Bohemian or just legitimately middle class or poor).

So now I’m looking into French cuisine/culinary history, and I think take a trip to the actual library, and then I’ll make guesses about what sort of things cabarets fed their patrons.  My present feeling is that it was probably pretty unremarkable if several hours perusing the deep and wide annals of the great interwebs yielded so little.  Certainly there will be cheese and wine.  The rest, however, is yet to be imagined.

So I’m going to make a category for this post, and you can follow the plans and development and decorating.  I’m on a pretty tight budget, and would like to devote the best of it to reasonably good food and booze, so I’ll have to be imaginative, and this is the sort of project that makes for good blogging.

Discipline Trouble

I hate punishing my kid.  Hate it.  I want to figure out a way to do it without making her feel hopeless.  I want to figure out a way to communicate love through punishment.  People who hit their kids probably think that sounds wacky.  I’ll admit it’s counterintuitive, but I feel like hitting her is counterintuitive, too, so love via punishment?  How’s that such a stretch?

I know we punish our kids because we love them.  Or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.  I think I do it more because I don’t want to be embarrassed to have a kid who’s in jail at 17.  I tried to explain to her that I was punishing her because I didn’t want her to grow up and not know how to act and wind up in jail.

She’s presently grounded from TV and a lot of other fun stuff for two weeks.

I wanted to only give her a week of punishment, but then she argued and thrashed and moaned, and so I kept tacking punishments on to her one week of no TV.  She wound up with two weeks of no TV, no playdates, and two days (already served) of going to her room after school until supper.

She’s been pretty reasonable about it, and she mentions it often, so I can remind her that I’m punishing her for reasons that are in her best interest, instead of because I want to torture her and am just mean.

She has become somewhat stoical about it.  She’ll say, “I just really miss TV (sigh) I wish I wasn’t punished.”

“I wish you weren’t punished, too, Pearl.”

“How about if I do something nice every day?”

“Sorry P.  Still punished.”

“Maawwwwm!”

“Pearl, why are you punished?”

“Because I broke the towel thingy in the bathroom.”

“And?”

“You told me not to play on it and I didn’t listen.”

“Right.”

“Oh kaaaay. I guess I’ll just go to my room then.”

But when I first told her of the punishment, she told me she wanted to go live with grandma forever.  She even called grandma to ask if she could.  Grandma told her she could come for the weekend, but I said not till her punishment is over.

I talked to my mom about it later, and she said, “Pearl’s like you were.  You were hard to punish.  You would just go play happily in your room.  You didn’t care much about TV.  It was really frustrating.”

I don’t remember being punished aside from spanking until I was a teenager, and at that point there was no precedent so it was too late.

I don’t remember a single instance of what I was spanked for.

I want a better system that that, but I don’t know where to find one.  She’s pretty uncomfortable with the present arrangement, so I guess it’s working for now, but what happens when she’s good to go read in her room for hours on end.  I can’t ground her from books, not and retain any self-respect.

Ideas, other moms and dads?  Books to recommend?

Mars, Venus, Masturbation, a rant

**Disclaimer:  The following contains euphemisms for human sex organs and self-inflicted human sex acts.  Some of these may be considered to be offensive or profane.  Please hit your back button immediately if you even remotely suspect you will be moved to revulsion or tears of righteous indignation over mention of astrology or the notion that people, and women especially, can benefit from being aware of and in harmony with their own sexuality via self-inflicted orgasms**

Still here?  Good.

Some people want to be missionaries for God.  I want to be a missionary for masturbation.  I want to visit all the other cultures of the world and tell them that if god/Allah/Buddha (though I totally get that the whole ascetic Buddhist way is about denying oneself pleasures, even when they are available) etc didn’t want us to do it, he woulda’ made our arms shorter, and that–I can only speak for women here, having never myself possessed anything more tangible than an honorary penis–when a woman knows how to come, from practicing on herself, she’s in for a highly rewarding, adult sex life.

Joycelyn Elders would be my matriarch, godhead, and source of inspiration, and I would write books and give lectures and sell bumper stickers that say “Elders is my homegirl.”  Her effort to popularize masturbation as a sexual outlet for kids who’re too young to handle the consequences of genital sex was pure genius.

That nobody got on board with it is evidence of the shortsightedness and absurd repression of our culture.

That happened at a really pivotal moment in my girlhood.  I was about 12 or 13 (or 10 or 11?), and had that wild, pubescent sex drive, and masturbated rather constantly.  Thank god someone in the government, on TV, affirmed that what I was doing was ok, because if the sham of a text book my health class used was to be believed, masturbation was “no replacement for the real thing.”

Without Elders’s straight-faced, authoritative,  acknowledgement of what I’d previously suspected, that masturbation was a totally valid, healthy sex replacement, and I was in no way old enough, or physically or emotioanlly ready to be a mom, or to be hitting the streets looking for penis, anyhow; who knows where I’d be now…

As a side note, I wonder if it’d been the suggestion of a white man it would’ve been taken more seriously.  Just sayin’.

My early efforts at being a masturbation missionary consisted of buying the book, Sex For One, for a few of mygirlfriends who claimed not to masturbate, or to have tried, unsuccessfully.  I did this in high school and the early years of college.  I believe I might’ve bought a copy for my sister, Ellen.  The book, in case you’re wondering, affirms and celebrates masurbation, providing drawings of all different types of vaginas, some history, etc, etc.

But even in the back of that book, where some letters to the author were printed, most of the tales of enlightenment or joy in masturbation were from men.  I remember one in particular where a man used a magazine and baby powder to “make it with all different types of women.”

I was in this production of “The Vagina Monologues” in college that, if memory serves, only discussed the vagina and its pleasure and its depth and complication in terms of intercourse with other people.  My hope, of course, is that Eve Ensler has added some bits about masturbation.

Men are encouraged to spank their monkeys, polish their poles, jack off, stroke it, bust a nut, etc, etc, as if it is  a cure for boredom, (and maybe it is?), a rite of passage, another inextricable privilege of having a penis!

I don’t have the time or inclination to do a media study, but I’d be willing to bet something magical and significant that there are about a million times more media images of men pleasuring themselves than there are of women, excluding porn, of course, but maybe/probably there, too.

And every type of man is allowed to masturbate and be open about doing so.  Women who do and who are open about it are branded feminists or crass or loose with that tongue-clucking, condescending, world-weariness that our repressed brethren are wont to employ.

No other readily-accessible pieces have been penned by eggheads either, apparently, because a number of key word searches in Google Scholar leave me unenlightened, and with results as zany as representations of women in horror films, and some psychological piece about “fear of the clitoris” and Freud.  So even in academia, where NOTHING is taboo and no topic unexplorable, there’s a serious shortage of attention paid to masturbation, it would seem, in either sex.

So then I was thinking about that insanely popular and quasi religious (I believe?) book called Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus that was a self-help, marriage/relationships book that became popular at about the same time as Elders was part of Clinton’s cabinet.  Having never read it myself, but being aware that my parents both did and wholeheartedly subscribed to the notions therein, I’ve never been particularly interested in it.  My parents and myself are on opposite ends of the ideology continuum.

But then I wondered if there’s any astrological reason the people who wrote that book used Mars and Venus in particular.  I think there must’ve been, though the two planets aren’t credited with specifically gendered energies, the characteristics that get attributed to their influence are typically labeled “male” or “female” in our (flawed and inadequate) Western conception of the richness and social importance of gender representations.

Mars is “ego, aggression, sexual drive, individuality, survival, yang, passion, courage, sports, competition, war, stamina, independent in relationships, conflict, force, vigor, mechanical ability”

and Venus is “love, relatedness, values, social urges, art, beauty, creation, attraction, luck, personal magnetism, money, nurturing mother love, sensuality, bonding energy, harmony and merging”

These are according to http://www.myastrologybook.com

S’what?  Men, being from Mars, are full of vigor and conflict, which they are encouraged to take out on their penises. Women who’re from Venus are full of social urges and bonding energy and so can’t be associated with something as base as self pleasure?

It seriously blows my mind that it’s not 230% obvious that celebrating masturbation as a legitimate sex act is a farmin’ good idea, and SHOULD be addressed in school, with sex ed.

Let’s take it to the people.  Who’s with me?

Amish

These two humans look amish, but I’m guessing they’re part of a traveling cast on account of their highly well-formed faces and the garishly painted bus behind them.

Amish people do all sorts of things well:  breed, grow vegetables, raise barns, apply well-built roofs to secular homes for a fraction of the cost, etc etc.

But I have been experiencing some anxiety over them of late.

We go to this farmer’s market on Saturday Mornings where there are a number of Amish vendors.  They have produce and baked goods and cheese and raw milk and really everything.  We often buy tomatoes, peppers, squash/zucchini, onions, garlic, and all sorts of other stuff.

Recently, I’ve felt a strong impulse to boycott the Amish stands (which is insane, I know), and the answer about why came to me this past Saturday when we were at the market, and there were almost exclusively deformed Amish with evident issues of delayed development. The young girl, probably between 13 and 15, who sold me the $6.00 pound of homemade butter (that is neon yellow, by the way) could barely count, make a fist, or focus her eyes.  She was all but drooling.

Clearly there’s inbreeding.

Amish people deny the importance of education, their children being lucky to get to the equivalent of an 8th grade education.  There’s an extent (I think depending on the sect of Amish?) to which modern medical intervention is eschewed, which doesn’t offend me terribly, I myself believe that the minimum of medical intervention is probably always for the best, but the thing that bugs me is that the Amish are essentially imprisoning their own.

They have that thing where the youth can choose to leave, but unless the youth is exceptional—but the odds are stacked against him since his cousin is probably his mother, and he barely has an education at all, and any medical intervention for any genetic abnormality he possesses has been denied, so he may also have an abnormally large left side of his mouth, or be blind in one eye or something—he is probably going to prefer to return to the tender womb of his Amish brothers and sisters, and their increasingly genetically inferior kin.

The thing that makes me really embarrassed to be so bothered by this is that I think that people should be allowed to do whatever they want.  I am highly permissive toward others’ beliefs and desires and intentions.  I want people to do what makes them happy, so long as they’re not hurting anybody else.

But there’s the thing: when I buy their produce, I’m enabling them to continue in their mistreatment of young people, in their haughty, traditionalist points of view and beliefs and faiths that–since their education is so minimal–they can probably barely articulate.

And the Amish are not required to follow the same rules that I am required to follow under the rationale of public safety (i.e., I MUST vaccinate my child if I want her to go to public school), so if, by some miracle of little-g-god, one of these young Amish do join the secular world, and they get Polio or Mumps or Measles or something, well, I mean, as much as I would prefer those rules not be in place for anybody, how is it reasonable for the Amish to take these risks that I’m not legally permitted to take?  Secular people are discouraged from engaging in sexual congress with family members, and the offspring of such unholy unions are generally removed from the offending parent’s custody.

I mean, normally when I see a disabled kid, I feel love for the parent (for being a parent of a disabled kid), and pity, and pride.  When I see the deformed Amish, I am angry at the parents.

So somebody set me straight.  Somebody who knows more of the Amish than I.  I’m being ridiculous, right?  The Amish are financially successful, and their people are hale and hearty and contributing to the economy, right?

Child Pre Teen? WTW?!

My kid gets funnier by the day.  Her diction improves as does her understanding of the world, and I love it.  Apparently, also, however, she turned 13 sometime in the past 3 days.  She has started to feel like it is her right to insert herself into this adult world as if her lack of experience, understanding & education are of no consequence, and that her context works for everything.

It is as entertaining as it is infuriating, and I FAR prefer this to the terror and chaos and frustration and anguish of the Terrible 18-months to four-years-old we experienced.

Pearl and Brad and I are eating dinner one night, and Pearl’s talking about how the kids at school hypnotize each other with their lunches.  She says, “You just have to love it.” (huh?!)

She picks up my glass and says, “Mommy, follow this with your eyes. You’re getting very sleepy.”

So I start asking her if it really works, and if she’s seen any of her 6-year-old compatriots eat an onion like an apple or cluck like a chicken.  She seems to be pretty confused, and Brad’s looking fairly entertained, and I’m chuckling like a madwoman.

“So what do your friends hypnotize you with?” I ask.

“My milk, my sandwich, anything I love.” (oooh.)

“Why do you do this?”

“I don’t know, mommy.  Everybody does it.” she says, looking at me with incredulity, as if that’s the most obvious thing ever, and of-fucking-course.

I have a flash of mother-brilliance, and so I take the opportunity to quip some advice that I see as particularly valuable.

I say, “So Pearl, sometimes kids do mean or bad stuff, and you don’t have to do it just because everybody else is.”

“Yeah!” says Brad, “Like if anybody wants to rub your skin with an eraser, tell them no!”

“And don’t join the Pen 15 club, Pearl.”

“What’s that?”  She asks.

“It’s where somebody writes a grownup word on your hand, it could get you in trouble.”

Her eyes light up devilishly, and she says, “I want to.”

“Want to what?” I ask.

“Join that club.”

“But Pearlie, I just told you it’s not a good thing to do and you could get in trouble!”

“Well it’s my choice.” She says, rolling her voice around like a marble in the back of her throat, and looking at me like I’m from the moon.  So I shoot back,

“Who are you and what have you done with my sweet girl?”

“What?  I just want to, mommy.  I still love you.”

Oy Vey!  Moms, am I right?