Finish your book or people will starve in China

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Reader response to stories without a resolution

Yesterday I told you that I forced myself to read through a book of short stories even though I hated most of them. After one or two disappointing stories, a reasonable adult would have closed the book and moved on.

 

That’s my problem. You have to be a reasonable adult.

 

Somewhere on the way to adulthood, I got lost. My body has stayed doggedly on the path and looks it. The me inside the body has been lollygagging around for years, sleeping under the stars, and taking as many detours as possible. Every time I see one of those billboards on the highway to Adulthood with the sophisticated grown-ups standing in front of their shiny homes or boats or cars, I feel compelled to paint big black mustaches on their smiling faces.

 

So I fail in the adult part. That leaves the reasonable part because it’s possible to be a reasonable non-adult. I fail there too, but it’s not my fault. I blame it on my mother. First, she’s not here to defend herself; and second, she made me clean my plate.

 

Beware of beans that accuse

When I was growing up, we had strict rules at the dinner table. You had to try a little of everything. Even if it made you gag. And you had

to eat everything on your plate. You all know why it was necessary: the starving people in China. They would not have food on the table if I did not eat the food on my table that made me gag. When I was little, this made perfect sense, but as I write about it now, the logic seems a little fuzzy. (Mom, if you are reading this blog in heaven, please contact me as soon as possible and explain.)

 

From an early age, I learned that if you have a serving of mushy green beans from a can (yuck!), do not try to roll some of them over the edge of the plate to hide under the rim of the plate. When you are required to lie say, “Thank you, I enjoyed my dinner; may I be excused?” you will have to take your plate into the kitchen. Then, each of the spurned green beans will rise up and say, “J’accuse.” (They are French green beans.)  Your callous little heart will be exposed, and everyone at the table will know that you really don’t give a whit about the starving Chinese.

 

Now do you understand how important it is to finish books you start? Books are like mind food. If it’s on your plate, you eat it. Even if it makes you gag. And you do it for the Chinese because that’s the kind of person you are – kind, compassionate, always putting others first.

 

So, thank you internet reader, for reading this blog and conquering your gag reflex. Every word you read puts food on the table of someone in China.

Learn to read before it’s too late

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Sometimes truth is written in large, bold letters, in plain English, and yet we do not comprehend it until it is too late. I know.

 

I married late, just shy of my thirtieth birthday. My husband and I are particularly suited to one another, as we both suffer from mild cases of Foerster’s Syndrome that manifests itself in compulsive punning. I highly recommend marriage between people with the same brain disorder. Neither of us see anything wrong with the other but find it odd that so many other people suffer from compulsive eye rolling when they are around us.

 

For two people to be so manifestly suited to one another, you would assume they lacked nothing. And yet, there was this nagging desire for children. After several unsuccessful years of trying to plan parenthood and a long journey of knocking on various medical doors, there was no “in” in the womb. The best option became adoption. Miraculously within just one year, we were blessed to receive a child.

 

To say that having a baby in your family changes your lifestyle is like saying that a tornado rearranges your furniture. Being subjected simultaneously to sleep deprivation, lack of adequate food, repeated exposure to prolonged periods of piercing noises, to say nothing of the sights and smells of a creature that secretes at both ends, is normally considered a violation of one’s human rights. However, because parenthood is voluntary, it is not against the law. I have never fully recovered and still wake at the slightest sound, always expecting a shrill cry of terror or the dread sound of someone deciding that they didn’t want their dinner after all.

 

Not that there were never moments of bliss. The cooing babe, the laughing cherubic face, those small chubby fingers grasping our hands–all of these soothed the heart and calmed the sudden fears.

 

As if one child were not enough, we decided we’d like to have two children. Again through a number of unusual circumstances, we were able to adopt a  five-year-old when our first child was three.

 

Little did we realize the imbalance of power this would cause. It was double the fun, double the pleasure, but now we were clearly outnumbered.  After marching backward in retreat for sixteen years, we stopped one day and looked at one another. It was painful as we both now resembled something that had been left in the dryer too long.  Who were these two former adults, reduced to tears, begging a child to obey, spouting threats, stomping feet, and shouting for the hundredth time, “I’m not going to tell you again.”

 

We were reduced to mere shadows of the bright, articulate, patient, wise people we used to be. Almost effortlessly, our children could initiate a major storm in the home and within the hour forget the quarrel while we were left stunned and shell-shocked.  If you had asked them about it that same evening, they would have been unable to tell you what all the fuss was about. Meanwhile, upstairs, we would be brooding, wondering where we failed, why we lost our temper, should we consider sending them to military school or a nunnery (can parents still do that?), have we lost our minds and don’t know it, does it matter, and was the point of paying thousands of dollars for braces so that they could sass with straight teeth.

 

It was in just such a mood that I happened to read the message that someone in the United States government has been trying to get across to its citizens for years.

 

Normally I do my reading outside of the bathroom.To me, the bathroom is like the train: get to where you are going, then get off. I always take the shortest route. I have friends who ride the train for fun, but not me. On that day, however, the station hadn’t arrived, so I cast about for something to read while I waited.  The only available reading material was a can of air freshener.

 

Imagine my shock when for the very first time, I took the time to read what it said. There in lettering which stood out from the rest of the text it said, “KEEP AWAY FROM CHILDREN.” It was a warning, and one that I had read repeatedly on a variety of products, yet never understood.  How many times had I read that or some variation like “KEEP OUT OF CHILDREN’S HANDS”?

 

Why had I never once understood the message? Once you fall into the hands of children, your life, as you now know it, is over.  Money that might have been there for your retirement is tied up in hundreds of stuffed animals, plastic action figures, gym shoes, and enough fingernail polish to paint a car.  All your illusions of being a patient, reasonable, logical adult will be shattered, and you will find yourself lying on the living room floor screaming and crying out, “Because I said so, and I’m the boss.” Meanwhile your children will be in their room playing Monopoly or surfing the web because it is no longer interesting to see you throw a hissy fit.

 

This government warning is pervasive and yet so few read or heed it. Instead of all the debate about teaching children phonics versus sight-reading, shouldn’t we be teaching adults to read warning labels? In college and graduate school, I spent hours explicating Shakespeare, yet never learned to understand the simple meaning of a warning written in bold letters on a can of air freshener.

 

Go ahead and have kids if you must, but don’t say you were never warned.

The government has been trying to warn you!

 

Their arms are short but their reach is long.