Pa Ingalls Had Bad Ideas: C+S Book Club

If I’ve learned one thing from life, love and fiction it’s that most great relationships consist of one logical, methodical quick thinker, and then a nonsense person. Pa Ingalls was the nonsense person in the Little House universe, but not the benign kind. A benign nonsense person would, say, decide that it would be a great idea to open a used book store in small-town New England and then they let the logic person figure out how to do it. Pa’s more like “let’s cross rivers and woodlands to go build a house underneath the earth for whatever reason and not really take care of our dog while we’re doing it.” Every couple needs an idea person: the problem was, Pa Ingalls’ ideas were bad.

Good looking couple, though.

During the Big Woods years, Ma and Pa Ingalls more or less serve as the Goofus and Gallant of 1800s forest life. Caroline painstakingly dyes her butter with carrot juice so that it looks more appealing; Charles lets shiny hot lead bullets cool within reach of toddlers. (Granted, he did warn Laura, but that child was half Charles, after all.)  They balance each other pretty well, except that it is the nineteenth century and every time Pa wants to get into a covered wagon and move onto an Indian reservation that the family has no legal right to occupy (a true thing!) Ma just had to pack up the calico and deal with it.

The Ingallses were poor. It’s fine to be poor, but I can’t help but think it’s because Pa can’t settle himself in one place and be normal. You can tell the family is poor because the inventory of their possessions is so small that I can recount it decades after reading the books. Ma had one (1) china shepherdess, Pa had one (1) fiddle, they clearly owned a thimble because Pa did that Jack Frost stuff on the windows which was admittedly pretty cool, and then one day a year they had a pig bladder to play with until it disintegrated because that is not a toy, it is a body part. Okay, so the family wasn’t doing terribly but wasn’t raking it in either, and they went off to find a “better life” or whatever. Problem was, Pa wasn’t good at finding it.

First the family lives in the Big Woods of Wisconsin. It’s pretty good; they have a garret full of dried vegetables in the winter and they run around in bonnets in the summer; Ma has the love and support of her family close by; sometimes Laura gets a piece of hard candy if they take the wagon into town. As I said above, they’re poor but in a comfy way. This is when Pa gets it into his head to, in the great words of T.L.C., “go chasing waterfalls” even though he quite literally would be better off sticking to the rivers and the lakes that he’s used to.

Bad Idea Beard

Bad Idea Beard

The family piles into a covered wagon and crosses a swollen creek, huddling in a rickety wooden cart that I don’t even think they caulked per Oregon Trail recommendations. Oh, did I say the whole family? Not their dog Jack, who was left to swim alongside the wagon and drown. Jack comes back later because he is a Very Good Boy but that was a bad position for Pa to put his kids and dog in. While I know dogs served more of a utilitarian function in those days, you can’t deny that Laura loved that pup and for good reason. Jack jealously guarded and protected his family from everything … except for Pa’s poor choices, which almost killed him.

The family gets to Kansas, but psych! They move onto Osage Indian land and they aren’t allowed to be there. You know all those times Pa says racist garbage like “the only good Indian is a dead Indian,” and you kind of try to put yourself in the head space of a white man from the 1800s, but it STILL seems awful? To make it even worse, Pa was acting like the Osage were dangerous intruders when he was on their land. It’s like a racist version of that movie The Others, where the characters think that their house is haunted because they don’t realize that they are the ghosts. Sorry if you haven’t seen The Others, but it came out 15 years ago and was good but not amazing.

You know the real threat in that part of Kansas? Of course you do. It was weird white people. More specifically, the “Bloody Benders,” a family – or possibly not a real family? – who ran a tavern of horrors where they murdered over twenty people. The Ingalls drove by the Bender tavern at one point, saw the murderess, looked her in the face, but didn’t have tavern money. This is one time when Pa’s inability to provide for his family actually saved them, so that’s nice. What’s not nice is pretending like the Osage were out for blood when the real killers were more like a 19th century homespun Manson family.

The Bloody Benders

The Bloody Benders

The books kind of shift the timeline here, but after that the family moved back to The Big Woods. “Lesson learned! Better stay comfy-poor in these big woods!” That’s how a normal person would react. Not Pa! He decides maybe if it would be better to go move to a hole next to a creek in the coldest and snowiest state, and Ma says “Charles, that sounds irresponsible and also like a weird thing to do, even for people in the 1800s.” Just kidding! Societal conventions wouldn’t have allowed it. She just packed up the china shepherdess and they moved into a dirt hole.

the dugout, recreated

the dugout, recreated

At this point the Ingallses kind of move to and fro within Minnesota for a while. Then they go to Iowa for a bit to manage a hotel, a weird kind of Wes Anderson-y chapter in the family’s existence. While that seems like a tough lifestyle to mess up, Charles finds a way. He wasn’t into the hotel so he works at a grist mill for a second, the family lives above a grocery store and then they live in a rented house… and THEN the family skips town under cover of darkness and they go back to Minnesota. Okay. Cool. Minnesota is a bit too warm and dry so then the Ingalls go to De Smet, North Dakota, where they experience the worst winter America has ever had, per my twenty-year-old memory of The Long Winter. Laura meets Almanzo, gets married, and no longer has to live under the rein of her father’s nonsense ideas.  I mean, Manly’s favorite food is apples fried with onions, so I’m not saying he’s perfect; I’m just saying they get a bit more stable.

During her whole childhood, Charles (and Caroline, but we’re talking Pa here) was also painfully oblivious to Laura’s feelings of inadequacy, probably because he was too busy making plans to get lost in blizzards or move out of a perfectly good cabin into a way less-good cabin. Laura always thought Mary was so much better than her, probably because of things like Mary having a legit ragdoll, Nettie, while Laura just had a handkerchief that was trying to be a doll. Laura clearly had a hangup the size of the wide-open prairie about Mary having blonde hair, because she brings it up a LOT. You’d think Pa would have squashed that nonsense or, at the least, informed Laura that Mary was seriously not even all that blonde but Pa was cooking up a schemes and a once-annual pig tail so I guess he never got around to it.

Brown-haired Mary.

Brown-haired Mary.

 

This is just the tip of the Bad Idea iceberg. Remember the time Pa dressed up in blackface for the minstrel show? Or almost got blizzarded to death that one Christmas? When I was a kid, I thought Pa seemed like the most fun dad ever, what with his singalongs and scruffy friends and all. Now that I’m older, I can see Pa through Ma’s eyes instead of Laura’s – and what I see is a whole lot of nonsense wrapped up in a legacy of terrible ideas.

Mama From ‘All Of A Kind Family’ Was Some Kind Of Crazy Genius

Gilbert Blythe, Dream Man or D-Bag?

Marilla Cuthbert Was A Creepy Church Hag

Life Lessons From Harriet The Spy

Life Lessons From The Fault In Our Stars

This Is Where I Leave You

Matilda: The Book For Book Lovers

Miss Honey Is Wonderful

Gritty, Dystopian ‘Little Women’ Plotlines

Amy March Was A Total Bitch

Tiny Crush Tuesday: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On

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Matilda: The Book For Book Lovers

Roald Dahl was born 100 years ago today. He delighted so much in absolutes and extremes, I think he would have loved reaching such a nice, round, very-old age. Or maybe he just knew how delightful children find absolutes and extremes: so many of his characters are the worst (like Miss Trunchbull) or the best (Miss Honey) or otherwise the tallest or luckiest or poorest or … I don’t know, adrift in a giant peach, for example. Point is, nobody is ordinary or middling in the world of Roald Dahl. One of Dahl’s most extraordinary creations is Matilda Wormwood, the mischievous, telekinetic child genius of Matilda.

It’s funny: Matilda is unlike any child or adult I’ve encountered, but among my closest friends and favorite people I count a disproportionate number who once felt that they were just like her. I longed to be acknowledged as a kindergarten super-genius like Matilda, but something about her character made me feel seen.  If you identified with Matilda too, then you can already guess what I loved about her: not the mischief or the magic, but the transformative power of reading. Matilda is about belonging and overcoming, but it is above all a book for book lovers.

Matilda was the only character I remember putting voice to that frustration most child bookworms have: not being allowed to read enough. Matilda’s parents don’t think reading is important, but they also don’t think that Matilda is important; Matilda’s trips to the library are the largesse of their negligence. Mrs. Phelps, an elderly librarian who is just trying her best, directs Matilda to the children’s books then is astonished when Matilda makes her way through all of them in weeks.

When I was 7, I saw this as evidence that I was just as special as Matilda. I despaired during every second grade library trip. We were only supposed to get books from the picture book area, yet outside of school I had already blown through the Baby-Sitters Club and Nancy Drew and was on to Charles Dickens and Shakespeare. Now I realize that Matilda’s frustration is common to a certain type of kid. Almost every child who loves to read feels dismissed by teachers or parents who confine them to the “baby” books that are appropriate to their grade. I still remember my grandmother telling me that she used to check out so many books from the library that the librarian confronted her mother, insisting no child that small could be reading that much. This was in the early 1930s. Matilda was singular, but there sure are a lot of Matildas.

If you identified with Matilda as a young book lover, you probably related to her take on material that was a little out of her grasp. Look at her opinion of Hemingway:

Mr. Hemingway says a lot of things I don’t understand, especially about men and women. But I loved it all the same. The way he tells it I feel I am right there on the spot watching it all happen.

When I was re-reading Matilda I had to stop and go back over that sentence, because that was it. That was exactly how it was reading adult books as a small child. Sure, I followed the basic plot of Emma and Jane Eyre in fourth grade, but sometimes the adult’s motives and experiences were beyond my reach. I was good at reading, but I still hadn’t lived more than nine years. Still, isn’t that also how LIFE was when you were a small child? You couldn’t make sense of adults’ actions all of the time, but you still observed them.  It was so validating to read about another kid who could comprehend all of the words on a page, but not really get the subtext – yet still love what she was reading.  Plenty of A Midsummer Night’s Dream didn’t make sense when I was very young, but I knew enough to know that it was beautiful. It’s why Matilda whispered “it’s like music” after Miss Honey recited Dylan Thomas.

In the film adaptation of Matilda, the narrator says that authors cast out their books “like ships onto the sea.” I love that simile – authors work and dream and agonize, but they have little say over the fate of their books once they’re published. But like Matilda – and THROUGH Matilda – sometimes the right one drifts to you and takes you along:

The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.

Miss Honey Is Wonderful

We want to welcome you all to Matilda Week, and nobody is more welcoming than Miss Jennifer Honey. As children we adored this kind-hearted teacher who recognized each child as a full, complex and important person. As adults, we are even more touched by Miss Honey as a survivor of a traumatic childhood who keeps her soft heart after years of abuse. She is a lesson in tenacity, warmth and loveliness. Miss Honey is wonderful.

Miss Honey Is Kind And Soft
Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

Miss Honey: so softspoken, she sits to speak to the class.

 

Fact: I adored my third grade teacher Ms. Cuthbert so much that when she invited her students to go to her wedding ceremony, I actually showed up. I sat near the back of the church with my parents and saw my teacher become Mrs. Hibbard. I watched in awe as one of my favorite teachers walked down the aisle in a gorgeous, puffy, 1993 gown, and wasn’t embarrassed at all to be there. Mrs. Hibbard was delightful, fun, and kind, but strict when she needed to be, and that’s exactly what you want in a teacher, and a teacher who will impact your life forever.

That’s what Miss Honey is. She truly cares about her kids as if they were her own, when she definitely doesn’t have to, especially given the environment of Crunchem Hall. She is so invested in her students and makes sure they are actually learning not only what was in their textbooks but about life itself. And she does it in a way that makes you feel like she’s more of an older sister, rather than an authoritative figure, making you more prone to listen and heed her instructions. She’s the kind of person that gave so much of herself to her class that she, too, would invite you to her wedding, and would give you a wink as she passed you while walking down the aisle.

Miss Honey Is Lovely

One day this summer I woke up from a dead sleep, thought “Miss Honey is my summer style inspiration,” wrote it down and went back to bed. I was right to think that. Miss Honey wears classic pastel dresses, understated makeup and has a non-dated hairstyle. Miss Honey is the teacher who keeps a tissue under her watch and that is so wonderfully specific. At one point in the movie she wears the best tortoiseshell glasses, although Book Miss Honey wears them all the time. Dahl never gets detailed about Miss Honey’s wardrobe, but I think the movie nailed it: she’s the kind of person who looks lovely first because it makes her happy to look nice, and second so that the children see that coming to school and teaching them matters to her.  Miss Honey has a “lovely pale oval madonna face with blue eyes and her hair was light brown.” It’s not so much important that she’s objectively pretty, but that the kids think she is — don’t you remember being 5 or 6 and thinking your favorite teacher was just the prettiest person in the world?

During the blog meeting where we discussed Matilda Week, we watched a clip of toddler Matilda making her own breakfast and pouring a glass of juice. Then they got to the moment when Matilda places a tiny flower in a vase and I think a scientist could have pinpointed the exact moment when both of our hearts broke (that’s what scientists do, right?). There was something so poignant about this little forgotten child not just surviving without help, but also making space for the little things that make life beautiful. I feel the same way when you learn about Miss Honey’s cottage: she has less than she deserves, but the lengths she goes to to make it neat and pleasant tell you a lot about her character.

Miss Honey’s house is “like an illustration in Grimm or Hans Anderson.” It is incredibly tiny and the water comes from a well outside. There are overturned boxes for chairs and a little camping stove to cook on. I used to imagine it would be like living in a child’s play fort. The cottage is less bleak in the movie, but both versions show that Miss Honey knows how important it is to find bits of loveliness in an ugly world. She also decorates her classroom with students’ artwork and bright colors, even though she has to hide it when the Trunchbull comes into the room – it’s that important for her class to be surrounded by loveliness.

More about Miss Honey's cottage here.

More about Miss Honey’s cottage here.

Miss Honey Treats People Like They’re Important

When I was 8 years old, I read Matilda and wanted to be the main character. Not so much levitating objects, I just felt positive that I was special and there was simply no Miss Honey to notice it. I devoured adult classics like Matilda did, but in hindsight I was, admittedly, ordinary. Except, of course, no child, no person, is ordinary. Miss Honey knew that intuitively and it influenced the way she treated every child in her classroom. If you look back and think of your very best teachers as a child (or your favorite babysitter or aunt or librarian), that is probably a quality they had: they looked you in the eye and saw a light that might not have been brighter or more beautiful than anybody else’s, but it was yours. Miss Honey notices that Matilda is unusually intelligent almost instantly. But she isn’t that teacher who only cares about the smartest or the most challenging pupils. Miss Honey writes easy words on the board for the more “average” kids and warns the whole class about the upcoming weekly test with Trunchbull. As they say in the movie, she “appreciates each child for who he or she is.” Miss Honey recognizes Matilda’s strengths not just as supernatural abilities, but as character traits that will help her throughout life: “It’s wonderful you feel so powerful. Many people don’t feel powerful at all.”

 

Miss Honey Is Stronger Than Her Past

Miss Honey is a survivor of trauma and lifelong abuse, and against the odds, she is much bigger than the worst things that have happened to her. After the deaths of her parents, Miss Honey lives under the control of her cruel aunt – the Trunchbull. It’s chilling how perfectly Dahl describes the invisible chains of an abusive relationship: “I became so scared of her I used to start shaking when she came into the room.” “Over the years I became so cowed and dominated by this monster of an aunt that when she gave an order, no matter what it was, I obeyed it instantly.” “I was by then so dominated by my aunt to such an extent that I wouldn’t have dared [leave.]. You can’t imagine what it’s like to be completely controlled like that by a very strong personality.”

Here’s where I get amazed. Miss Honey wanted to go to university and was only allowed to go on the condition that she come home early every day to work for her aunt. When she graduated, Trunchbill docked her pay because Miss Honey “owed” her for the expenses of her childhood. Miss Honey finds a house and rents it on 10p a week and leaves, while still working in her aunt’s school because she loves to teach. Her past makes Miss Honey’s smaller moments of bravery, like confronting Trunchbull about Matilda’s grade level or approaching Matilda’s parents, nothing less than astonishing. It frames all of her qualities – kindness, appreciation of beauty, empathy for her students – not as traits, but as CHOICES that she has made and worked for and cultivated. Most of us aren’t born with extraordinary gifts like Matilda, but the idea that anybody can live a life of kindness and beauty after surviving such darkness — that is the real magic in Matilda.

 

Mama From ‘All-Of-A-Kind Family’ Was Some Kind Of Genius: C+S Book Club

Sweep out the sukkah and check the china shepherdess for buttons, because it’s time for another edition of C+S Book Club! Rather than lamenting that Amy March is a total bitch, or revealing that Marilla Cuthbert was, in fact, a creepy church hag, today we’re going to talk about someone who is better than you and I could ever dream of being: Mama from Sydney Taylor’s All-Of-A-Kind Family. Mama was so clever and calculating that I almost wanted to call her an evil genius, but she was also the kindest, most chill mother in RL-4 chapter book history.

Look. I don’t have children. But I did read that one book about how our children would be classier if we raised them like French children, and I’ve seen some episodes of SuperNanny, which is a show about how our children would be classier if we raised them like British children from 1905. Plus I’ve read those articles that Facebook friends post about why children shouldn’t have technology and fast food, as well as those other articles that Facebook friends post about why children should have technology and fast food. And let me tell you: not a ONE of those so-called experts had anything on Mama. Case in point: her dusting scheme.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then chances are you didn’t read All-Of-A-Kind Family. If you did read it, the dusting ploy is seared in your memory along with chocolate babies and that time Henny got lost in Coney Island. (FREAKING HENNY, am I right?) The chapter was titled Dusting Is Fun, because it was 1951 and Sydney Taylor didn’t really have to try (honestly, what was her competition in children’s entertainment? The show Lassie. That’s it.). By the end of that chapter you, a grubby-faced 90s kid wearing a t-shirt decorated with puff paint, wished you were an old-fashioned child in the Lower East Side dusting for free. And for fun. That is how powerful Mama’s dusting plot was.

Ready for the scheme IN ITS ENTIRITY? Hold on to your pinafore. Mama hid buttons around the front parlor. By the way, their house only had like 4 rooms and one of them was a parlor used strictly for fancy decorations and pianos, that’s how high-class Mama was. Okay, so then the dusting girl had to find all of the buttons while she was dusting. Also Mama got straight-up sneaky with it, like those buttons were under table legs and piano keys. You had to DUST. IT. UP. If you found all of the buttons, you had done a good job dusting.

All right, let’s talk about the genius parts of this plan:

  1. The girls never knew how many buttons there were. Say you’ve found 5 buttons. You couldn’t just call it quits at that point, because maybe there were 9 buttons that day. You had to dust every damn thing, and only then could you be sure you had all of the buttons.
  2. Mama kept it fresh. Sometimes she’d bring out the buttons a few times a week, and sometimes she’d wait two weeks because what did she care, she had those little dusting girls under her spell and they would WAIT FOR IT. They’d wait for those buttons.
  3. In case you missed it, the prize was that you had done a good job dusting. Mama raised her kids to want to do a very good job at something because it feels good to know that you’ve done a very good job. Mama quarantined four children with scarlet fever in a spotless 4-room apartment during Passover; she knew that you didn’t get a ticker tape parade every time you did a damn chore.
  4. But Mama was the best ever because one week she hid a penny every day. Judging by how much candy the girls could buy for a penny, it was basically a dollar. Do you know how great it is to find a dollar when you’re cleaning? Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertie sure do.

Mama wasn’t all dusting and parlors, though. She also was really good looking. The girls introduced her to the Library Lady and they were so proud because even though she had, at the time, 5 children, she didn’t look like the other women in the neighborhood: “like mattresses tied about the middle.” Which admittedly sounds harsh, but you know exactly what they mean. I’m sure they’d all love Mama just as much if she were a lumpy mattress-lady, but the point is Mama had a whole bunch of kids and her figure and outfits were still on point.

While Mama enforced rules, she was lenient when it mattered. When Sarah made that big fuss about not eating her rice soup that one day, Mama stuck to her guns, but once Sarah had a few bites of the gross congealed soup she let her move onto something more appetizing. (I loved re-reading that chapter, because it so reminded me of when you’d get stubborn about something or throw a fit as a kid, and you wouldn’t even know why you were doing it, but you couldn’t will yourself to stop.) And when Gertie and Charlotte used their pennies to buy candy and crackers and ate them in bed, Mama played it like she had no clue, just because it makes kids feel smart and important having a secret.

The All-Of-A-Kind Family was medium-poor. They were second generation-ish Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side in 1912 long before their neighborhood became some sort of real estate holding for foreign billionaires. However, Papa had a scrap shop and they lived on one floor of a house instead of in a crowded tenement, so they were doing pretty okay. Mama was really good at being medium-poor. She was frugal where it counted, but she still allowed for splurges like a trip to Coney Island, or a treat when they went to the market.

If I can have one quibble about Mama, it’s that she finally had a boy and she named it Charlie. Look. One of my favorite real-life little boys is named Charley. It’s a great name. PLUS Adult Charlie from the book is such a cool grownup. You spend the whole time hoping that he and the Library Lady will meet and hit it off and … well. You know the rest. (Also: another post about the Library Lady, maybe?). So it’s great that Mama names a kid after him. It’s just … Mama. Did you forget you already have a Charlotte? She’s going to have so much Middle Child Syndrome. On the whole Mama picked good names – Library Lady even said! – so I can’t be too annoyed. And at least she didn’t name him after Uncle Hyman.

Library Lady = the Miss Honey of this series.

If I have kids, I’m going to skip the parenting guide telling me to make my children be more French. I’ll bypass the naughty step. I’ll steer clear of the Facebook click-bait. As far as I’m concerned, the best parenting guide there is this one weird old chapter book with no real plot. If I am even 1/10th of the benevolent evil genius Mama is, I think my kids would turn out just fine.

 

Gritty, Dystopian ‘Little Women’ Plotlines

Remember Little Women? Of course you do. It’s the 1860s tale of 4 New England sisters – the bitchy one, the one with a complex gender identity, the social anxiety one, and the other one – learning about life, love, and saving your work in case of manuscript fire.

Except now that the C.W. is getting into it, Little Women is going to be more like this:

Little Women is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined – all while trying not to kill each other in the process.

Okay, we can work with that. I read Little Women probably a dozen times as a kid, and I lived in the dystopic streets of west Philly. Here are some sample plotlines:

  • When the girls are sorted on … I don’t know, Sorting Day … in the burned-out shell of the Reading Terminal Market, Meg is a Carer, Amy is a Flouncer, Beth is a Die-er, but Jo… Jo is OTHER and must hide out in the garret of Aunt March’s house so The Faction doesn’t enlist her.
  • Aunt March’s house is, like, somewhere in Delco.
  • The girls from the ruling class all collect L.I.M.E.s, or ligament-installed mechanical elements. They’re like weird extra robot arms and legs. Amy, being poor, buys a sawed-off body part from the black market instead … until the schoolmaster throws it in the snow. Gritty.
  • Beth, a meek child, frequently steals away to Laurence II, the mega-computer next door where the brain and memory of Mr. Laurence were uploaded before he was captured by … Them. I guess.
  • “They” have maintained a ruling society that has cut the lower class off from the modern world, but Meg infiltrates at Sally Moffat’s ball on the Main Line.
  • Meanwhile, Jo must hide the burned control panel of the wire tap she wears to the event by standing awkwardly against the side of the room.
  • In a feral state of fear and mania, Beth beheads a hitchhiking robot that she meets on one of her few trips out of the home.
  • Amy has to conceal her radioactive superpowers that she acquires after she falls through a crystallized chemical layer while sludge-skating on the Delaware.
  • She is saved by Jo, who is still furious that Amy smashed the hard drive for her allegorical exposee on Them.
  • Dystopian Jo didn’t save her work in a second location, either.
  • And Dystopian Amy is still a bitch.
  • A group of young rebels, led by Jo and Laurie, meet in a secret cell in Manayunk. It’s up to Operation Pickwick to save the day.
  • Instead of being reasonably good at piano and an accomplished artist, respectively, Beth and Amy are an EDM D.J. and a computer graphic programmer.
  • With the underclasses and recent immigrants cut off from the health care system, Beth takes it upon herself to care for a struggling foreign family in the grips of scarlet fever. After beating the disease, she lives under a cloud of weakness and brittle introversion, until eventually relapsing and dying in her teens. Okay, so you don’t really have to change that one. Like I said, grit. Pure dystopian GRIT.

Okay, so this is not going to be good. And if it airs, I’m watching every week.

The Sorting Hat: Random Stuff, By Hogwarts House

Keep your eye out for owls! This week is big in the Harry Potter world: JK Rowling, Harry, and, of course, Neville Longbottom all celebrate their birthdays at the end of July. We cannot reflect on the Potterverse without asking that eternal question: which house are you in? We’ll be forthright. In Pottermore, both of us were given the choice between Gryffindor and one other house — Ravenclaw for me and Hufflepuff for Traci.  We aren’t house-ist …  but we also acknowledge that each has its flaws. Gryffindors are self-important, Ravenclaws are nerds, Slytherins are cold, and Hufflepuffs are human puffalumps. We love them all, and believe that anything – anything – can be sorted into a house.

Fast Food Restaurants
  • Taco Bell: Slytherin
  • McDonald’s: Gryffindor
  • Arby’s: Ravenclaw
  • Wendy’s: Hufflepuff

Reasoning: Nothing says “resourceful” like turning a Dorito into a taco shell. McDonald’s are the beloved popular favorite. Arby’s takes itself seriously and is true to its quirks – like, who serves roast beef? And I’m not sure if Wendy’s even knows that it’s a restaurant, plus their mascot is a bit on the adorable side. Like, it chose to represent itself with a grinning freckly child. That’s pretty Hufflepuff.

Coffee Chains
  • Dunkin Donuts: Gryffindor
  • Starbucks: Slytherin
  • Tim Hortons: Ravenclaw
  • Gloria Jean’s: Hufflepuff

Reasoning: The most outwardly ambitious coffee franchise – convinced that people will spend more money on it because it’s clearly superior – would have to be Starbucks, the Slytherin of the coffee world. Dunkin gets stuff done – America runs on it, after all – which is more of a Gryffindor thing. Gloria Jean’s is frothy yet unpretentious – it’s for anybody. It’s at the mall and all the sizes are in English. Hufflepuff. Tim Hortons just gets down to business – they’ll get you your double double and they won’t screw up the order.

Social Networking Platforms

 

  • Facebook: Slytherin
  • LinkedIn: Ravenclaw
  • Friendster: Hufflepuff
  • tumblr: Gryffindor

Reasoning: Social justice warriors, but up for a a little diversion? That’s tumblr, and that’s Gryffindor. Cunning Facebook will use all of your personal data… but they’re devious yet fair, because everything is spelled out in the terms of service. LinkedIn isn’t exactly fun, but if you think outside the box you can find it very useful. Friendster… bless.

Styles Of Jeans
  • Carpenter: Hufflepuff
  • Skinny: Slytherin
  • Boyfriend: Ravenclaw
  • Bootcut: Gryffindor

Reasoning: Carpenter jeans aren’t stylish, but they’re cut so that anyone could wear them. Plus “unafraid of toil?” I always imagined that Slytherins would be the more fashion-forward witches and wizards. Boyfriend jeans are perfect for curling up in the library or working out at the lab. Bootcuts are relaxed enough to take your on all sorts of adventures – not so loose or so rigid that you can’t save the day in them.

90s Nickelodeon SNICK Shows
  • Clarissa Explains It All: Ravenclaw
  • Are You Afraid Of The Dark: Slytherin
  • All That: Hufflepuff
  • Hey Dude: Gryffindor

Reasoning: Not all Slytherins are bad, but they are less likely to shy away from the Dark Arts. Clarissa, with her homemade video games and quirky style, was obviously a Ravenclaw. All That was open to everything – sketches, music, vital information for your every day life. And Hey Dude was all about working together for a common goal.

March Sisters
  • Meg: Gryffindor
  • Jo: Ravenclaw
  • Beth: Hufflepuff
  • Amy: Slytherin

Reasoning: This might be an unpopular opinion, but creative, unconventional Jo – brave as she was – also reminds me of deep-thinking, brainy Cho and Luna. Dutiful Meg seemed more concerned with following the right path and being fair to everyone. Beth was just a sweetheart, and preferred staying at home to going out into the world – although she even made grouchy Mr. Lawrence love her. Amy was a social climber who would do what it took to have the life she felt she deserved (she was also a total bitch, and I say that with love).

Hair Accessories
  • Scrunchie: Hufflepuff
  • Bobby Pin: Gryffindor
  • Headband: Ravenclaw
  • Those snappy clips that gymnasts have: Slytherin

Reasoning: Scrunchies are soft and work on all hair types, even if they aren’t cool by conventional measures. Bobby pins can pin back your hair, but they’re also useful little tools  in all sorts of jams. Headbands are practical with a bit of whimsy – your hair is off your face, but still flowing free. Remember those hair clips that, like, Dominique Moceanu used to wear back in the day? It was sort of harsh but unbelievably effective, like the Slytherin of hair accessoreis.

WB Shows
  • Dawson’s Creek: Gryffindor
  • Felicity: Ravenclaw
  • Gilmore Girls: Hufflepuff
  • Seventh Heaven: Slytherin

Reasoning: Felicity was the most, well, collegiate show. All those sweaters. Very Ravenclaw. Gilmore Girls is a feel-good show about a town where everyone is accepted, basically. Dawson’s Creek, with (admittedly whiny, forehead-y) main character Dawson, was about young people who, in their hearts, were always trying to do the right thing. Seventh Heaven was a calculated grab for an untapped market of fairly right-wing fans.

Children’s Story Book Characters
  • Madeline: Ravenclaw
  • Arthur The Aardvark: Gryffindor
  • Pooh: Hufflepuff
  • Max, of Where The Wild Things Are: Slytherin
Board Games
  • Monopoly: Ravenclaw
  • Candyland: Hufflepuff
  • Clue: Slytherin
  • Risk: Gryffindor
Taylor Swift Songs
  • Our Song: Hufflepuff
  • Bad Blood: Slytherin
  • You Belong With Me: Gryffindor
  • Mean: Ravenclaw
Top 10 Boy Names
  • Noah: Gryffindor
  • Mason: Slytherin
  • Ethan: Ravenclaw
  • Jacob: Hufflepuff
Top 10 Girl Names
  • Ava: Slytherin
  • Mia: Hufflepuff
  • Charlotte: Ravenclaw
  • Emily: Gryffindor
Birthday Party Decor
  • Balloons: Hufflepuff
  • A “Lordy Lordy Look Who’s 40” sign: Slytherin
  • Streamers: Gryffindor
  • Noisemakers: Ravenclaw

 

Gilbert Blythe, Dream Man Or D-Bag: C+S Book Club

Gilbert Blythe just died again. I say again because, had the fictional Gilbert been a real person, he’d be about 120 years old, and sorry friends – or sore-y, Canadian friends – there’s just no way. But for a lot of us, Gilbert lived and breathed through the 1980s CBC Anne Of Green Gables movies. Jonathan Crombie was a Toronto youth acting in school plays when he was cast as Gilbert, and he made the character more lovable than I think he even was on the page.

When Crombie died earlier this month, we lost a little bit of Gilbert Blythe. Ah, but which Gilbert Blythe? Things aren’t always black and white in Avonlea (don’t get me wrong, Avonlea is  very, very white, insomuch that Anne’s red hair is a real exotic shot of diversity). In a previous C+S Book Club installment, we dispelled the idea of Marilla Cuthbert as a kindly yet stern benefactress: in my heart, she is first and foremost a creepy church hag. Likewise, one could argue that Gilbert Blythe is an early 1900s dream man – but just as easily, he could be an old-timey sarsaparilla-scented burlap douchebag. Let’s discuss.

Gilbert Blythe, D-Bag

I’ll defer to our Anne of Green Gables synopsis from our last post about the book: “Published in 1908, Lucy Maud Montgomery’s story is a timeless tale of orphans and family and imagination and screwing up your hair and dreams and getting your friend drunk by accident and Canada and Canadians and will they/won’t they romance and child-buying. Especially child-buying. When Anne, a plucky carrot-topped orphan with a heart of gold, ends up in Green Gables, she brings love, light, and happiness to Matthew and Marilla, a brother and sister who are married or whatever. ” Today, we look into the romance in question, between Anne – a child nobody has ever loved, who longs to achieve despite an early childhood deprived of education – and Gilbert, a boy who has parents and stuff but is still really mean to the orphan who wasn’t allowed to go to school.

I mean, Gilbert. First of all. Your top academic rival is a little girl who had to raise a litter of Garbage Pail twins and talk to herself in the woods instead of going to school. You think she’s weird? I don’t know, maybe it’s because her only childhood friend was herself, in a mirror. Then she finally gets to interact with humans and basically manages not to seem like a feral child – success! And you mock her, day 1. Kind of a dick move, Blythe.

If you’ve forgotten, Gilbert called Anne “carrots” and pulled her hair. Here’s something boys don’t seem to get: it hurts when you pull hair, because that shit is hooked onto your scalp. Also, “carrots” is sort of a juvenile insult for a thirteen-year-old. Oh, what’s that? Isn’t Anne 11? Yeah, she is – but Gilbert missed school for a few years to help out his sick dad or something. If Anne of Green Gables were a 1980s sitcom that’s the part where Anne would scream “Yeah? Well at least you HAVE a father!” and storm off. But the point is, at thirteen it’s pretty pathetic to have to make fun of a child two years younger than you, much less one who is the indentured servant of a mean old bag and an elderly man who’s afraid of her. I’m sure it’s in part due to Gilbert’s teasing that Anne dyed her hair green that one time.

In our last Anne Of Green Gables post, I posited that we could call an Anne and Gilbert post “Anne And Gilbert: Shit Or Get Off The Pot,” or alternately, “Anne And Gilbert: When You Hate Someone It’s Probably Not Because You Secretly Love Them.” If you’re a young lady, I want you to repeat that last title to yourself a few times until it really sinks in. When you hate someone, it’s probably not because you secretly love them. Also, if a boy treats you like garbage it’s probably because he’s garbage, not because he’s in love with you and doesn’t know how to show it. What nonsense is that? But people believe it, and maybe Anne and Gilbert are a little to blame. Or maybe …. maybe she liked him for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, he was the dirtbag of her dreams.

Gilbert Blythe, Dream Man

First of all, in Gilbert’s defense, Anne is kind of an idiot. We know that she grew up in shacks and orphanages, and we aren’t saying it’s her fault she’s an idiot, but she still is. It’s like when that homeschooled kid whose parents forgot to socialize her would transfer to your school, and she just didn’t grasp social norms. You understood that she was struggling with the whole… milieu, or what have you…. but that didn’t mean you particularly wanted to hang out on weekends (don’t worry, I know, #NotAllHomeschoolers).

So, yeah, he did call her carrots. She was particularly sensitive about her red hair, so I do get that. But that was ONE TIME. Chill, Anne. You’re going to let that follow you for your entire high school experience, or whatever you call high school when it’s a one-room schoolhouse and your teacher is banging Prissy Andrews? He pulled your hair, he didn’t kill your parents. He couldn’t because you don’t have any. As far as insults go, carrots is pretty weak. Hair-pulling is admittedly shitty, but holy cow, Anne broke a slate over his head. Slates were what chalkboards were made of before Pinterest invented chalkboard paint, and those things had sharp edges. Disproportional use of force, Anne. Jeez. Anything stupid Gilbert did after that point is probably because you concussed him.

Also, Gilbert isn’t the one who declared an academic rivalry; that was all Anne. And when you really think about it, she picked the kid who had been out of school for two years taking care of a parent (pressed much?). Talk about low-hanging fruit.

Anne didn’t really chill out until Gilbert saved her life. Gilbert wouldn’t have had to save Anne’s life if she hadn’t set herself off down a body of water pretending to be a poem. Classic Anne, y’all. Also I was joking that it’s Gilbert’s fault she dyed her hair green; that was her own shit.

My take? As a kid, I was firmly in the Gilbert Blythe, D-Bag camp. He reminded me of boys who would make fun of me for having red hair, or freckles, or reading too much. But now I see that Anne needs to get a damn grip. A lot of people are kind of awful when they’re 13. I’d go so far as to say that most kids hit a developmental stage of just being horrible people somewhere around middle school. So Gilbert made fun of you one time? Meh. No big. I’m glad that Anne eventually realized that he had a good heart, sharp mind, and awesome hair so their six kids weren’t all total carrots. And considering they named their son Shirley, those kids needed all the help they could get.

 

Tiny Crush Tuesday: Marcel The Shell With Shoes On

I think everyone knows what it’s like to feel tiny. Maybe, like me, you waited around for a late high school growth spurt, only to find it leaving you at 5’2 (if they invent time travel, please tell my nine-year-old self that she can shelve that copy of Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret for another decade or so, and also that those exercises don’t work). Even if you aren’t physically small, you’ve probably been the least-accomplished person in your grad school classes, or the new guy at work. If you’ve always felt both full-sized and adequate, that’s very nice but you can stop reading and go back to self-actualizing and exceeding expectations and knowing what’s on the top shelf of your cupboard; we’re done here.

Marcel The Shell With Shoes On is a big star – the focus of three YouTube videos and two books –  who knows a thing or two about being tiny. The Marcel videos have garnered millions of YouTube views; the third video, posted yesterday, is edging up on a million hits already. A big factor in his success is that while most of us are not sneaker-wearing mollusks, we all know what it’s like to feel small. I mean, except for those large, successful people who we dismissed in the first paragraph. But that little shell is so self-assured and confident, and doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry that he can’t nibble on cheese without experiencing a cholesterol event, or that his sister Marissa took an ill-fated journey on a balloon.

Sure, Marcel has a few setbacks. He has to deal with the idiots of the sea (shrimps), wishes he had a dog (although lint is a shell’s best friend), and longs for a nickname (don’t we all? I finally got one in college, but it was Smalls, and I tried telling everyone that it was stupid, but I don’t think they could hear me because my tiny voice died out before it floated up to their ears). And he fears his household Bichon, who, like so many Bichons before him, has a distinctive face-smell and only cares about snoozin’ and treats. But Marcel handles everything in a matter-of-fact way, with these little bursts of confidence. It reminds you that moments of tininess are a part of the human experience (and shell experience as well?)  that you can acknowledge without shame, because everyone’s been there. Except those buffoons from paragraph one.

But while adults feel small some of the time, children feel small all of the time. Do you have children in your family? You can’t buy their love, but you also don’t need to. The three Marcel shorts are free on YouTube. Marcel is my nieces’ and nephews’ favorite thing ever. I know you aren’t supposed to get small children to calm down by sticking them in front of a screen, but frankly they aren’t my children and these videos work better than anything else I’ve tried. Marcel videos have defused so many grumpy kid moments, and garnered me so much Fun Aunt status, that I think I owe Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp some kind of Edible Arrangement or cookie bouquet. And for Marcel, a single cherry cordial that he could work his way through over the course of several holiday seasons.

Even better, if you know children or were one once, Marcel is the star of two fantastic children’s books. The first, Marcel The Shell With Shoes On: Things About Me, has the nephew seal of approval: I bought it for Hank’s fourth birthday in July and he’s nearly worn it out. The second, The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been, hits bookstores today. The first book, at least, is also available as an audiobook if your Marcel voice isn’t up to par. As I start to realize that my favorite childhood books were about self-important jerks like Amy March and creepy church hags like Marilla Cuthbert, it always feels nice when you find picturebooks that both kids and adults can enjoy.

Weirdly specific selling point: Things About Me is hand-lettered in a spidery curlicue script. This means that you get to read the book out loud to kids who are independent readers but haven’t learned cursive yet. After kids learn to read there are fewer and fewer chances to read aloud to them, but it’s good for them. And for you: makes you feel big, makes them feel small, which – Marcel would tell you – isn’t so bad.

Books That Should Be Banned Because I Hate Them

It’s Banned Books Week – the time every year when the academic and bookworm communities team up and tell meddlesome parent associations that they can suck it. And of course, they can and should: banning books is not cool. It usually happens because parents pressure schools and libraries to get rid of things they don’t want their kids to see. That would be fine if it was because these books were truly awful, like A Child’s Guide To Excluding Other Religions or Racism 4 Kidz. But that’s usually not the case.

Here’s the thing, though. If books can be banned simply because folks don’t want their kids exposed to the greater world, I think it’s only fair that the rest of us should get to arbitrarily have books banned too – because we hated them. I was in the AP/Honors track in high school, and in our particular school that meant that just about all we read were “the classics.” Now, don’t get me wrong, those dead white men can write. But some of those books were so dull and dusty that – even though I can see their value from an educational perspective – I wouldn’t mind banning them … because I hated them. Welcome to a very special edition of C+S Book Club, in which we become an anti-book club.

Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

In this book, we high school juniors learned about Africa from the perspective that really matters — this one white guy who is dead (see what I mean?). I couldn’t even get through the Wikipedia entry on this to refresh my memory, because even that was too boring. But the point is, a bunch of European dudes went through the Congo River on a boat getting obsessed with each other. There were definitely heads on sticks and some kind of a “native” rebellion and a melodramatic death scene. YAWN.

The Once And Future King by T.H. White

This was part of our summer reading before Freshman year of high school – and let me tell you, there’s no better way to stifle a lifelong love of reading than to assign seven books, including a 700-page Arthurian fantasy, to be read over the course of two months (read: the last two weeks before vacation ends), so that the kids don’t even have time to read of their own volition. But hey, high school is when you start to learn a lot about yourself — and this is when I learned that apparently, I hate Arthurian fantasy. The copy on the Barnes and Noble website says that this is a tale “of beasts who talk and men who fly, of wizardry and war.”

You know what else is that kind of tale of beasts who talk and men who fly, of wizardry and war? Harry Potter, which – fun fact! – did not ruin my fourteenth summer.

One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

It’s important for kids to understand that life in a Soviet gulag was tedious as hell, but even as a 15-year-old, I could have figured it out without having to read Ivan Denisovich’s boring day in prison develop in real time. When I discovered my study sheet from my AP English exam, I had subtitled this book something like “(more like 100 years in the life of me).”

I learned 1000% more about prison life by watching Orange Is The New Black, so maybe that can replace this 200-page snoozefest in the high school curriculum.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Unfair grudge? Maybe.  I’m shooting for reading 50 books this year, and Gone With The Wind, with its 1000-page count and twerpy protagonist, singlehandedly threw off my timeline. I know of people who read this in high school, but we didn’t because a white guy didn’t write it* (Margaret Mitchell is a white lady). Still, I figured I should see what the fuss was about.

I still don’t get it. People are obsessed with this book. I usually am able to view books as  a product of their time, but GWTW really tested my patience. Rhett and Scarlett and the gang being racist? Totally unsurprising, and it would be unrealistic if they weren’t. But Mitchell portrayed all of the Black characters as simplistic, childlike dumb-dumbs who, even after emancipation, truly needed the guidance and protection of the good white people. Guys. The “mammy” is literally called Mammy. Mind you, this was written in 1936, not during the Civil War era.

There’s also a truly cringey “no means yes” rape scene (it’s totally fine, they were married and Scarlett wanted it UGH).

Finally, the book is only so long because the author takes about 200 pages to describe scenarios like “Scarlett goes to a barbeque and learns that this guy is engaged.”

If schools want to teach a civil-war era novel that also has inspired a feature film (because you can fill like a week of class days watching the movie), let’s go with Solomon Northrup’s 12 Years A Slave. Please.

* We did read To Kill A Mockingbird and Black Boy, so there’s two. Oh! And Wuthering Heights.

Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger

Okay, I don’t really want this banned, and I didn’t hate it. But is there some way to short-list who gets to read it? I’m thinking about those earnest high school boys who think they’re deeper than everyone else, were born in the wrong era, and probably have Bob Dylan posters tacked up in their rooms. Give them one dose of Catcher and they become positively insufferable, because it reinforces their idea that they’re the only one who’s not a “phony” (except ol’ Phoebe, etc). Honestly, a great book, but teens who think they know everything don’t need more ammo. Let’s assign them Franny and Zooey instead, until they’re old enough to have a balanced perspective on the Holden Caulfield character.

F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, But Only For Some People

A few years ago I went on a huge Lost Generation reading kick, and I’m still so fascinated by the era they lived in, the style of writing, all of it. However, like Catcher In The Rye, some kids don’t  have the perspective to read these critically. I don’t really want these on the banned list. These are exactly the kind of books I want kids reading, even if some kids don’t understand it at an adult level. It’s just that from my own high school and college days, I remember a lot of people reading these books and feeling so much admiration and awe for the very people who were being criticized in them. It’s like watching Mean Girls and coming away with the message “man, those Plastics really were the coolest kids out there, weren’t they?”

I guess I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t read Catcher In The Rye or books about high society written by the Lost Generation. I’m just saying we should teach them to read critically or, barring that, teach them to shut the heck up.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Story time: we read this book in Honors English my Freshman year. I enjoyed it, but sometimes didn’t do awesome at the pop reading quizzes we had because I was more into binge reading on weekends than reading two chapters a night or whatever. When it got time to write the essay at the end of the unit, I killed it. A friend’s computer was broken, so I offered to type hers up too – not fixing the little mistakes I found because that would be dishonest and I was almost compulsively honorable at that stage of life.

When we got the graded papers back, I was ready to see the big fat A at the top of my page – and saw a 65%. WHAT. THE. HELL. 65% was a grade I’d only heard about before, from other people, unfortunate people whose lives weren’t like mine. My friend, whose paper I knew wasn’t as good, had like a 97%. All throughout my paper the teacher had scribbled snide little comments like “your words??” (next to the word “enamored” which is not even a weird word for a 14-year-old to know). So I went to the teacher to see what was up, and she scheduled a meeting with my parents and a vice principal because she thought it was plagiarized. The school was on a plagiarism witch hunt because some kids had been kicked out for it the year before. She claims she marked my paper down 30 points but that can’t even be right, because it was still 2 points less than my friend’s error-ridden paper. She obviously just failed it because she didn’t think I was smart enough to turn in something so good.

Anyway. I got the grade restored, in part because the vice principal vouched that she’d see me pour over Dickens when I was a third grader stuck at my brothers’ basketball games, and in part because my partial rough draft was still in my notebook, complete with crossouts and doodles. Only by the grace of God had I not written something embarrassing like “Mrs. Pacey Witter” or “Jack Dawson 4 lyfe” in the margins.

Point is: I liked this book initially, but thanks to that teacher (Mrs. Hammerton, Honors English, Aquinas Institute 2000, what’s up?) – well, if you can just have books banned willy-nilly because they give you uncomfy feelings, then I’d like to do that here, please.


 

I enjoyed just about everything I had to read in school: from Greek drama to ancient myths to Shakespeare to 19th century romanticism. But there were still those books that I just could not get into. How about you all – any books you wouldn’t lose sleep over the banning of, because you hated them so much?

 

 

C+S Book Club: This Is Where I Leave You

25 years ago Hillary Foxman wrote Cradle and All: A Mother’s Guide to Enlightened Parenting. But in the present day, she and her four children have gone from the cradle to the grave, offering us  – by way of example – a modern guide for how to sit shiva. Or how definitely not to sit shiva, anyway. In celebration of today’s theatrical release of This Is Where I Leave You* based on the book by Jonathan Tropper, we offer the family how-to guide that the Foxmans didn’t publish:

The Foxman Guide To Sitting Shiva

* Minor spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the book or seen the movie – but plan to – and don’t want to know anything that happens, stop right here! Read the book, catch the movie, then come back.

Do: Turn down offers to date rando people your mom’s friends want to set you up with

If you’re one of the mourners who’s had a death in the family, you have the upperhand in every conversation. If you don’t feel like talking to people – not because you’re sad, but because you are tired of talking – you can just blame it on the fact that you’re too “depressed” to engage in conversation. So if your mom’s friends know you recently separated from your wife because she cheated on you with your boss, feel free to turn those sly dating offers down.

Millie Rosen brings her daughter, Rochelle, who is 27, unmarried, and pretty in a forgettable way. She positions her right in front of me and makes painfully obvious attempts at engaging us in conversation. What pretty much every person in Elmsbrook except Millie knows is that I am not Rochelle’s type, being that I don’t have breasts and a vagina.

Do not: Bring your cougar girlfriend home for the first time for your father’s shiva unannounced

Phillip, the youngest of the Foxman kids, surprises his family by telling them his much old girlfriend, Tracy, is coming for the week. Actually, no. He didn’t even tell them, it was more of a guerrilla attack.

He flips the phone closed and looks at all of meaningfully. “She’s here,” he says, like we’ve all been waiting. Like we have any idea what he’s talking about.

Tracy is not only much older and wiser, but she’s actually her therapist (that’s how they met, naturally). Meeting a significant other’s family can be intimidating enough, but even more so when it’s a full on family gathering, and it’s because of a death in said family, and also if everyone in that family is insane.

Do: Help your mom if an older widower is hitting on her

Mr. Applebaum knows what it’s like. He lost Adele a few years ago, and if he can be of any comfort to Hillary, he will be. But when he’s ogling at her breasts for just a litttle too long, maybe it’s time to step in. She did just lose her husband, after all.

Do not: Smoke pot in a temple

Or smoke pot in a temple-adjacent Hebrew school. Probably the best idea is to not smoke weed anywhere near places of worship or where kids go to learn the next day. Even if you found a joint in your dead dad’s suit.

Do: Borrow clothing

If you’re a little stressed about remembering everything you need to survive an entire week stuck in a house, remember that someone probably has whatever it is you need, like a suit for the first time you’ll step foot in a temple since your youngest sibling or cousin’s mitzvah. Besides, sometimes there’s fun stuff in the pocket (see above).

Do not: “Borrow” anything without asking

Because that’s stealing. Whether it’s your sibling’s money, DNA for a child you’re trying to have (don’t ask), or your estranged spouse’s half of the bank account, you don’t need to add theft to the list of your family’s woes.

Do: Use shiva visiting time to get the dirt on people you grew up with

If there’s anything good about sitting shiva, it’s that you get to see friends and family (that you like) that you haven’t seen in forever. Plus you can get information on them you previously weren’t able to glean on Facebook. Like the good old days.

Do not: Call a childhood friend by their embarrassing nickname as an adult. Especially if they’re a rabbi.

Kids have embarrassing nicknames that aren’t particularly ones they choose. And if you’re seeing someone for the first time in a long time, it’s an honest mistake if you accidentally call them by their nickname. But just think twice before calling your childhood friend Boner, while he’s officiating his burial.

Do: Prepare for your place in the sleeping arrangements hierarchy

Are you married with kids? You get your own room! Coupled, no children? Well, you probably get a bed, at least. Single, even if it’s because your wife was having an affair with your boss? Buck up, you’re sleeping in a basement, probably on the floor or something.

Do not: Ferberize your child the week they’ll be living with a house full of people

When you let your child “cry it out” at night, the entire household ends up crying it out as well. Save the sleep-training for your own house.

Do: Expect a lot of food

Shiva means seven in Hebrew, which is why the family sits together in their house for seven days following the death of a loved one. Friends and family come by, and apparently in Jewish culture, they come bearing food. Lots of it. Like, you won’t have to make any meals for the next two weeks. Bless.

Do not: Fake a suicide to get your significant other to stay

Standing on a roof threatening to jump if your boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with you and leaves town is not safe (why should I even have to say that). But this scene happens in the book, and this is all I could think about:

Do: Expect the unexpected

If you’re trapped in a house for a whole week, there’s no telling what you’ll uncover. You don’t need to full on Harriet The Spy it, but if you keep your eyes and ears open you may figure out stuff about, say, your mom’s neighbor lady friend that you never would have guessed.

Do not: Expect any of your secrets to remain hidden over the course of seven days

The flip side of that: whether you’re expecting a child, trying to expect a child, married to a skuzzy workaholic, or in a weird relationship with an out of your league older lady, as soon as the first person figures it out everyone else will follow.

Do: Reconnect with old friends

There’s a good chance shiva (aka adult grounding) will bring you back to your old high-school stomping grounds, so use that time wisely and track down all those Penny Moore, one-that-got-away types.

Do not: Reconnect with old friends that way if you’re still married

Even if you’re married to the worst person ever … just don’t.

Do not: Have sex with a house full of mourners

I think people have a tendency to think that walls = silence. Not all walls are soundproof, and if there are other people in the house, they can usually hear whatever you’re doing. That being said, it’s probably not the best idea to have sex (especially if you’re going to be loud) while shiva is still going on. Even if you’re trying to have a baby and timing while ovulating is key.

Do: Have a prepared speech on your life

I assume after just one day, shiva can get tedious and repetitive, so it’s best to not embarrass yourself and just have a prepared monologue when someone comes up to you and asks what you’re doing with your life. It’s like a high school reunion, but for sad family and friends.

We perform our sad little shiva smiles on cue and repeat the same inane conversations over and over again. He just slipped away, Mom says. Three kids now, Wendy says. I’m a photojournalist. I just got back from a year in Iraq, embedded with a marine unit, Phillip says. We’re separated, I say.