The Apprentice Becomes the Master

So for years now, I’ve used a technique I call “Audiobooks for the Captive Audience” to introduce my kids to new books while we’re in the car and they can’t escape.

Mark has turned my strategy against me.

He’s playing a book in the car that makes my ears hurt and my soul feel like it is being rubbed across a cheese grater.

I have a high tolerance for adaptations, and a reasonable tolerance for allusions to / inspiration from other books.  I have no tolerance for flat-up imitations.

The book he’s forcing into my head, much like an ice pick, is basically a retelling of The Hobbit.   He knows this.  This is WHY HE THINKS I SHOULD LIKE IT.

There are four books in this series.


Pick Your Battles

Me (to myself):  Wear the bikini.  You’re 45, who cares what you look like, just wear it.  It’ll be fine.

Go downstairs en route to pool.

Mark lets out a wail like an ax murderer has caught up with him.  “My eyes!  Oh god!  There’s some things you just can’t unsee!”

Sam:  “Relax.  It’s just a swimsuit.  It’s not that big a deal.”

Me (in my head):  Gosh, that’s decent.  I really appreciate–

Sam continues:  “Save that reaction for when they’re making out in the kitchen.”

Thanks, Sam.

Mark: 4. Fourth Wall: 0

Friday afternoon

Me:  We’re going to a play tonight, Mark.  I need you to remember, it’s a play.  They have lines.  You can’t be shouting advice at the characters.  The people in the audience don’t like it.  You just can’t.

Mark (scoffing):  I’m in middle school now, Mom.  I know.


Friday evening

Eliza Doolittle (paraphrased):  You are a jerk and I can get along without you.

Henry Higgins (paraphrased):  Ha, ha.  Good one.  Great joke.  Now come home.

Eliza (paraphrased, singing):  The world gets along without you.  Stuff happens without you making it happen.  Even important stuff.  So sod off, Henry Higgins.

Henry:  (paraphrased):  Ha!  Hahaha!  I am a professor and I can argue this turn of events so I still look good!  You’re acting like a forceful independent person and it’s all thanks to ME.

Eliza stalks over to Henry.  Stands before him.  Tense moment of silence.

Mark:  SLAP HIM!

Guffaws in the audience around us, craning heads in the audience across the theater as people try to work out what was funny.

Sorry, Olney Theatre. We’re working it, I swear.

Fantasy vs Science Fiction

Mark:  “If you could wish for ANYTHING, what would you wish for?”

Mark’s friend:  “Hmm…I have to think.  What would you wish for?”

Mark:  “To control time.”

Mark’s friend:  “A slice of pizza that you could eat as many times as you want but it always regenerates.  You know, it disappears and comes back.  So you can eat it again.”

Mark:  “Regenerates WITHOUT saliva.”


Mark:  “I want the superpower to make things out of nothing.”

Me:  “I have this superpower.”

Mark:  “WHAT?”

Me:  “I made four things.  Out of nothing.  It took a long time.”

Mark (cottoning on):  “Ooooo….that doesn’t count.”


Mark:  “I meant with my mind.”

(In my head):  I have to admit perhaps not enough thought was involved…

Mark Reviews Olney Theatre’s Mary Poppins

After the painful learning experience (to Mark–the production was excellent) of The Diary of Anne Frank, Mark was excited to have our next show be lighter fare.

Me:  “What did you like best about Mary Poppins?”  

Mark:  “I can’t say.  The whole thing was AMAZING.”

(silence while he considers further)

Mark:  “I liked how it had things from the movie and things from the book, AND new things.  But I missed ‘I love to laugh.'”

(interlude while he sings “I Love to Laugh.”  Feel free to sing along at home!

Mark:  “I LOVED the mean nanny.  I mean, she was the EXACT OPPOSITE of Mary Poppins.  Mary Poppins says ‘a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.’  Miss Andrew says ‘trenchcoat and treacle will work.'”

[points to mama here for holding it together as I realize he’s misheard the lyric ‘brimstone and treacle’ as ‘trenchcoat and treacle’.  Bonus points to Mark, though, for filling in an alliterative variant that more or less fits what he saw on stage–she was wearing something like a trenchcoat. ]

Mark:  “And the word shop.  The word shop was AWESOME.”

(interlude while he sings “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”  Free free to sing along at home!)

Me:  “What about the special effects?  Did you like knowing how some of them worked?”

[we attended a pre-performance workshop]

Mark (in a world-weary tone):  “Yes.  But I think I would have figured most of them out.”

Me [judiciously not mentioning his blase attitude now is in marked contrast to the excited whooping that accompanying Mary Poppins flying right over our heads at the end of the production–we were in the balcony]:  “Anything else?”

Mark:  “I thought the child actors were very brave, getting up in front of hundreds of people like that.”

P.S.  The cast was utterly kind, coming out to meet audience members and allowing photos with them.  Mark isn’t blowing after-the-fact smoke about the child actors either; we had to wait until they came out and he could tell them how impressed he was before we could go home.

P.P.S.  All three children were humming Mary Poppins songs Saturday morning (but not the same song), which I have to assume is a mark of a good experience.


The Diary of Anne Frank

So we went to see “The Diary of Anne Frank” at Olney Theatre Center on Friday.  Given our other experiences with Mark and theater (Godspell  and A Christmas Carol, for instance), I figured I’d better give him a plot summary beforehand.

Mark (listening with widening eyes):  “Are you sure this age appropriate?”

Me (in my head):  That’s a fair question, actually.  We didn’t take you to “Angels in America” last weekend, so what exactly makes the AIDS epidemic age-inappropriate but the Holocaust okay?   Context.  Handling.  Nobody’s naked on stage.  I’m not necessarily convincing myself. because that’s a lame bottom line.  But I say, “Yes.”

Mark:  “This doesn’t sound fun.  Theater is supposed to be fun.”

Me:  “Sometimes.  But sometimes theater is supposed to educate.”

Mark:  “Hmph.”

He’s okay through the first act.  At intermission he asks to go home:  “I don’t want to see this.  Theater is supposed to be fun.  This is NOT fun.”

Me:  “Theater is supposed to educate too.  Sometimes that means making us uncomfortable.”

Mark retorts:  “Well, it’s working then.”

It’s not helping Mark that Otto Frank is played by Paul Morella.  Mark is a Paul Morella groupie.  He insists on going to the one-man Christmas Carol every year and usually mouths along (silently, mostly) to his favorite parts:  “Marley was dead to begin with…”  Mark is just devastated by Otto Frank’s epilogue, made worse because his actor-hero seems so seriously unhappy.  His fists are clenched when the lights come up.  “I.  Am.  Going.  To.  Invent.  A. Time.  Machine.  And.  Stop.  This.”

Good job, theater.  Seriously.  The response to overwhelming injustice should be This should not have happened.  I want to keep it from happening.   But humans being what we are, it’s hard to get there with numbers.  We get there with stories.  Stories about individuals.

This, child, is why we’re here.





Betsy, In Memoriam

Our cat, Betsystar Mousebane, went to hunt with StarClan yesterday.  I say ‘ours’ but she chose us.  I don’t know if cats, like wands, always choose the wizard, but she did, along with everything else she ever did.

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Betsy had, as we say now, serious leadership potential.

When we moved in 2004, we gave in at last to Paul’s ongoing begging for a cat.  It turns out that when you go to animal shelters with a second-grader, a preschooler, and a newborn, most cats cringe in their cages.  Not Betsy.  She stood at the bars, watching Paul as he walked back and forth, the other cats skittering back even farther as he got close.  “I don’t belong here with these losers,” her gaze said.  “Get me out of here, kid.  I’ll make it worth your while.”

Once she got home, it became clear Betsy did not think of herself as a house cat.  God no.  She was merely a very small tiger, who chose, for purposes of her own, to live with us.  When she stalked through the grass (good luck keeping her inside, btw–she was a master of waiting by the door and bolting when it opened), you thought were looking at a close-up of a big cat hunting a zebra.

We didn’t realize this wasn’t the normal state for cats until two others came to live with us.  They walk like house cats–pad, pad, thump, none of the shoulder-rolling stalking of Betsy.  Who took her new job as in-house hunter very seriously.  Good thing, too; our 110 year old house had lots of mice.  She ate only the first one (not sure I’ve had to do anything nastier than clean up the mouse head and leftover guts.  Ewww.).  After that, she just brought ’em to us.  According to my calculations, Betsy rid the world of:

1 rat

1 squirrel

38 moles

dozens of mice

2 birds (which is one less our house windows have–she clearly specialized in vermin)

She was particularly proud of the squirrel:


Why is the dead squirrel in my house?  Well.  There was a broken screen in one of the ground-floor windows, which ended up working as Betsy’s cat door.  ALL of the creatures she killed outside came inside…and once, a mouse that wasn’t quite dead.  It was still alive enough to crawl behind my kitchen cupboards in an unreachable location and die.  We called him Polonius.

Betsy tolerated preschooler Sam and sometimes crawled into the car seat with baby Kate (and later, Mark) but she loved Paul.

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Nobody else could get away with holding Betsy like that.

She would sit on the back of the couch and lick his head, as if he were her kitten.  So we thought she might like, you know, real kittens.

We were wrong.  She hated Cloudstalker and Graytail every day from the time they came to live with us until yesterday.  And she was boss.  Betsy was, at her largest, only 8 pounds.  Cloudstalker has ended up 16 pounds.  About once a month for years, he convinced himself ‘I think now I can take her.’  Betsy would kick his butt and things would go back as they had been…for another month.

Cloudstalker is walking around right now nervously, as if she’s hiding and is going to spring out and kick his butt any moment.

Then there was the time she got caught in someone’s cat trap.  She was missing.  We were a mess.  I had 4 kids under the age of 10.  Betsy was my most common adult companionship.  Different species, but at least she was a grown-up.  We put up flyers.  We sent her picture to animal shelters.  Finally we got a call:

Animal Shelter:  ‘We think we have your cat.’

Me:  ‘Think? She’s microchipped.’

Animal Shelter:  ‘She won’t let us close enough to check the chip.’

Me:  ‘You have our cat.’

When we got to the animal shelter, she was sitting in the cage, making a noise I’d never heard before:  HUR. HUR.  HUR.  I’m reasonably sure it translates to “I’m going to hurt you.  Then I’m going to hurt your family.  Then I’m going to hurt your friends.  Then I’m going to hurt your family’s friends.  Then–”

We heard that growl in only two other contexts:  the drive to Maryland, and as she got older, vet check-ups.

Here’s how the four hours to Maryland sounded:

Gray (regular high-pitched meows):  “I don’t like this.  I really don’t like this.”

Cloudy (regular inquisitive meows):  “So, what are we doing anyway?”

Betsy (HUR.  HUR.  HUR):  “I’m going to hurt you.  Then I’m going to hurt your family…”

The cats had to stay in a kennel overnight because we weren’t closing on the house until the next day.  It wasn’t until I came back for them and saw Betsy’s posture that I realized she thought she’d been sent back to the pound.  I’m not sure anyone’s ever been so happy to see me but I felt terrible she thought we’d abandoned her.  Never.

We’d been told to lock the cats in the room with their litterbox at the new house and give them time to get used to it.  Betsy was having none of that.  She was out of her crate, scratching at the door, and had left to explore the rest of the house before Gray and Cloudy ventured out of their crates.

We loved our furry little badass, and we miss her.










Not really a holiday, exactly. But good question.

Me:  “Oh, look.  It’s November 5th.  Guy Fawkes Day.”

Mark:  “Guy Fawkes?  Who’s that?”

Me:  “He tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.”

Mark (incredulous):  “And we celebrate that?  WHY IS THIS A HOLIDAY?”

Successful Play-doh Extraction

So we’re at the doctor on Wednesday…

Doctor:  “Mark, um, the inside of your ear is blue.”  Looks some more.  “Did you put a bead in here?”

Mark (emphatically):  “No!”

Doctor:  “Does it hurt?”

Mark:  “No.”

Doctor:  “Do you have trouble hearing?”

Mark:  “Yes!”

(Inside my head):  THAT explains a lot.

Doctor:  “Well, it has to come out.  Schedule with the ENT.”

Scheduled with the ENT.  (I have to type it as ENT, not Ent–otherwise I has visions of Treebeard poking twiggy fingers into Mark’s ear).

Hastily rescheduled Friday morning after a sobbing Mark called from school that the 2 PM appointment overlapped the school Halloween costume parade.

ENT:  “Okay, Mark, let’s get that bead out.”

Mark:  “Will this take long?  The costume parade is at 2:30.”

ENT:  “Not if you hold still.”


ENT:  “Oooaaaakkky.  It’s crumbling, so not a bead.”

Mark (indignantly):  “I did NOT put a bead in my ear.”

ENT:  “I think it’s play-doh.”

Mark:  “Oh.  That.”

(Inside my head):  The paper wad up the nose.  Now this.  You’re out of easy-to-retrieve-from orifices, kid.

In the car:

Me:  “How DID you end up with play-doh in your ear?”

Mark:  “I sleepwalk.”

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