Eleanor Eats Ice Cream

There is an often-told family story about my first reaction to ice cream in which I have a complete meltdown because it’s too cold and sweet. It ends with my mother having to actually take apart the stroller to clean up the sticky mess I made.

I always assumed that I remained stuck in my only-broccoli-and-sweet-potatoes-please phase for much longer than I apparently did because I recently discovered photographs of me at the age of three devouring a very large bowl of chocolate ice cream and making a huge mess in my grandparents’ dining room.



At least, I make an attempt of helping to clean up.


Ella and Leigh Grow Up

I went to Leigh’s this afternoon to hang out before she jetted off across the country to college. She’s lived far away for over a year and a half now, and I have to admit that it feels weird when we spend time together while we’re home. Not a bad weird, mind you, there’s just a stark difference in the people we were before she left and the people we are now.

Today, Leigh and I talked about Kony 2012, the World Bank, and diversity in STEM at her university. I don’t think that any of these subjects would have come up previously, even when we were finishing up high school. Then, conversation would be about the people we knew, performing arts, or school. And earlier while we were in middle school, we would have been running about with dolls or planning our “Knight School” (Perhaps I’ll write about Knight School in a coming post, as the whole idea and its execution was, in retrospect, equally hilarious and ridiculous.). We were so innocent and juvenile in middle school, fiercely holding on to childhood when everyone else was beginning to think about boys, clothes, and makeup. We vowed to wear black on our thirteenth birthdays to protest becoming a teenager and would loudly object if anyone used a swear word or was remotely crass within our earshot.

But over time and especially in the last two years, we’ve grown up. Our voices still sound the same, Leigh’s bedroom still has the same Gone with the Wind poster near the mirror, I still don’t swear, but we’ve lost the childish impulse to yell “llama” or blather on and on about American Girl (Leigh performed regularly in their musicals for close to three years, and I got to use her discount when purchasing stuff for my dolls—a friendship perk which I embraced wholeheartedly.). We’re calmer now, more mature, able to talk about meaningful things, and that makes me happy.

There was always that part of me that worried that as I grew up, I turn into someone younger me would have hated. Maybe I would be too rebellious (though to twelve-year-old me that meant swearing, staying up past midnight, and wearing too much black—and I’ve indulged in the second almost every night for years now) or too serious. Even worse, I might lose interest in all of the things I formerly loved. But none of that happened.

Younger me would admire older Ella and Leigh. They talk just like adults and really understand the implications of current events, but still burst out laughing if they catch each other’s eye when someone has unknowingly referenced some old inside joke or humors memory. We may no longer play with dolls, but we look back on those days fondly, and I don’t think a day will come when we won’t get over excited or obsessive about books. I really look forward to the coming years, as we continue to become real adults, with the security of knowing that the things that matter will never change.

How to Stun Second-Graders Into Silence

It’s not easy to stun a room of second-graders into silence, but I guarantee that this picture will do it:

We were discussing different cultures, and when we put this picture up on the Smart Board, 25 seven-year-olds gasped and gawked.

Maybe it’s the sea-green eyes or the piercing stare, but this Afghani girl has that same effect on people of all ages. She’s become iconic, an image many people conjure up when they think of National Geographic.

I will never forget my own reaction to discovering the original photograph while digging through old issues of the magazine when I was ten. She looks both terrifying and terrified. The horrors of war and an escape to a Pakistani refugee camp are conveyed in the way she almost glares at the camera. You feel as if she isn’t just captured on the page, she’s staring right at you, and she knows all of your secrets.

At the time, I screamed and slammed the cover face-down onto the floor, but a moment later, I flipped it back over to take another peek. As scary as the image can be, you feel compelled to stare back, to lock eyes with the image, and puzzle out the her almost baffling beauty.

If you haven’t seen the image before, I’d love to hear what you think of it in the comments. Did you startle the way I did or did you gasp and stare like my students?

If you’re interested, there is an article about going back to find the girl seventeen years later. It’s amazing, and the picture Steve McCurry took is just as striking.

I’ve had this new layout around for a few weeks now, and I’m curious to know whether you like it or not.

And it’s that time again. I’m writing this week’s Reader-Selected post tomorrow and need you to vote for the topic.

I also hang out at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, where I sometimes reblog pictures as beautiful as this one.

The Reason Why My Mouth Hurts When I See Whisks

With a whopping 67% of the vote, “The Reason Why My Mouth Hurts When I See Whisks” won this week’s reader-selected topic.

Now, this story would make sense if I were a toddler or even under the age of six. Alas, when the whisk incident went down, I was ten, which makes it a bit embarrassing and even more amusing.

For Christmas 2003, one of our neighbors gave us a beautiful Christmas card and an ornament. It was a very nice, thoughtful gift–the stationary was thick and glossy, depicting Mary holding baby Jesus in her arms, face aglow at the wonder of his birth (though quite frankly every new mother I’ve ever met has looked that much in awe and in love with her baby), and the ornament was a very small whisk, hung on a thin red ribbon, a reference to how much my mother loves cooking.

My mother was thrilled, propping the card up on the windowsill in the dining room and immediately hanging the miniature whisk on the tree. I was almost equally as excited. Sure, the card was lovely, but that wonderfully shiny whisk was just the right size for my American Girl Dolls’ hands, large enough to look a little strange and unwieldily in the way that all whisks do, yet the right size to make eggs or flour light and fluffy.

The moment my mother left the room, I snuck over to the tree and untangled the ribbon from the branch. This whisk was clearly destined to be mine. I selfishly fondled it in my hands for a moment, tracing my fingers over the twisted metal.

And then, I did something unexplainable.

I put the whisk into my mouth and bit down.

I was long past the age of putting things in my mouth to figure out how they worked. I wasn’t even teething.

Perhaps it was the shiny steel or how deliciously devious I felt wedged between the wall and the tree. Maybe I was hungry.

But whatever the reason was, I had abandoned all common sense. Whisks, even miniatures ones that almost fit, do not belong in mouths, and you most certainly should never bit them.

As I released my jaw, I discovered that the whisk was stuck. A tine was jammed between each set of my front two incisors–top and bottom–making me unable to open my mouth. I tugged at the handle, but it was no use. That whisk wasn’t going anywhere.

I may have just made an incredibly stupid decision, but I was not entirely lacking in intelligence. I knew that if I left my hiding place and sought help, everyone would know that I had been trying to nick the ornament, and I would get in trouble. So I tried to dislodge it again. And again. And again. It didn’t budge.

After five minutes of fruitless tugging, I began to cry. Having a whisk stuck in your mouth is painful. My teeth were being shoved apart, and my gums were throbbing. I was suddenly sure that I was going to be stuck with a whisk in my mouth for the rest of my life. The kids at school would call me whisk-head or something else ridiculous, but not ridiculous enough not to make me upset. My life was over, and I was going to have to starve to death behind the Christmas tree. I wondered if the pine scent would hide the smell of my decaying body.

A few more minutes of silent sobbing later, I gathered what was left of my courage and ran into the kitchen, crying and pointing at my mouth. My parents were shocked to see their ten-year-old daughter, who earlier that day had been sitting upside down on the couch reading Fast Food Nation, with a whisk stuck in her mouth and bawling like a banshee.

Thankfully, I was not subject to any questioning while they helped me dislodge each of the metal tines from between my teeth. Even though over eight years have passed, I can still feel that horrible scrape of the metal against my enamel as my mouth was slowly released. It was a horrible, disgusting feeling, not only because I knew that I had most likely caused permanent damage to my front teeth, but also because everyone was going to know just how stupid I was. And I was so determined to be finally be taken seriously and be allowed to sit at the “adult table” at dinner parties*.

When I was finally freed from my tine-y prison**, I ran down the hall to the bathroom to look at my teeth. They remained perfectly straight, still guaranteeing me entry into the no-braces-ever club, but there was a noticeable, albeit slight, space in between my top two teeth and another one, even smaller, between my bottom two incisors. My gums were, surprisingly, not bleeding, but looked red and angry all the same.

The ornament was washed and placed back on the tree within the hour, dangling from a branch, reflecting the white glow from the fairy lights almost too innocently. I glared back, willing it to look at least a little guilty for hurting me, though the entire experience had, admittedly, been my fault.

The next day, when I walked into the kitchen to make myself breakfast–two glasses of orange juice and all of the oatmeal I can consume, please–I noticed one of my mother’s people-sized whisks mixed in with other cooking utensils in crockery next to the stove. I raised my hand to my mouth and winced as I briefly had a flashback of the pain, the panic, and the terrible scrapping. Later that day when I saw the whisk, I winced again, and it repeated every time I looked at the ornament or the unoffending ones in the kitchen.

These unfortunate whisk flinching and flashback moments have not decreased over the years, and every time I think or see a whisk, my mouth briefly hurts with phantom pain. Christmastime and seeing that ornament again only makes it worse. This year, I succeeded in jamming it back into its box before anyone had a chance to hang it on the tree, which has made the holiday season considerably more enjoyable.

So there you have it: another example of why you should never be greedy and nick ornaments off of a tree.

An alternate take-away from this post is that Ella is sometimes very foolish.

Or we could all have a laugh about ornaments and the silly, silly things we did as children.

Do you have any funny Christmas stories? Feel free to tell them in the comments!

*Ten-year-old Ella, one day you are going to be eighteen and still be forced to sit at the folding table in the sunroom. However, you will be allowed to stay up as late as you want and talk with adults starting when you’re about fourteen. So stop complaining and go eat the pint of blueberries you hid under your bed again.

**Hahahaha. Puns, I can make them, you guys! Puns! (I should start writing these posts sometime before ten p.m. when I start to get giggly.)

I’m putting up another poll for next week’s reader-selected post down below. A lot of people want me to talk about food, so I’ve added that as an option as well. Hopefully, I’ll get my post about going to see John and Hank Green up before the end of the weekend. And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Guinea Pigs Are Soft As a Baby’s Butt and Other Test Responses From Seven-Year-Olds

One of the best parts of having a mother for a teacher is getting to hear about the silly things that her students do. I’m a particular fan of their writing. Here’s an excerpt from one student on their recent test on banking.

Something I would want to borrow money for is to buy a guinea pig because they are solf as a baby butt. Another reason why I would buy a guinea pig is because they look adorable. The lost reason is because they are healthy. What would you do if you could borrow money?

Soft as a baby’s butt? Too funny!

Also, she only made about two grammatical errors and two spelling mistakes, which is pretty darn amazing for a seven-year-old!

And did I mention that my mom teaches at a charter school in the inner city? Nearly every kid is on free or reduced lunch, and they don’t have access to the same materials I did growing up. Many don’t have computers or more than a few books in the house. Considering where the kids started the year, seeing them being able to write like this is phenomenal!

Still. Soft as a baby’s butt? I. Can’t. Stop. Laughing.

Also, one of her students recently wrote a story called “My Dirty Shirt” about the day he got mud on his church shirt. Unfortunately, he forgot the “r” in “shirt.” That mistake has been the best one so far.

I love children so much.

I’m keeping the voting open for about a week longer on the first two polls below. I’d really like to know what people did and didn’t like about my daily posting in 2011, and what they’d like to see in 2012. Finally, you can vote at the bottom for what you’d like to see in tomorrow’s post.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Five-Year-Old Ella and the Time She Got Caught on a Fence and Ripped Through Her Underpants

As I am feeling particularly goofy tonight, I thought that I would tell a funny story.

When I was a child, we had a backyard that could be accessed via a very tall (close to seven feet, if memory serves me well) wooden gate. But for the longest time, I could not figure out how to opperate it. So instead of going through the house to get into the backyard, I would climb up our neighbors’ chain link fence, grab hold of the top of our fence, and very awkwardly drop down into the yard, hopefully avoiding a hydrangea bush.

Unsurprisingly, this very bizarre and inefficient method never worked very well, and I had a tendency to get stuck in the process. Now, pretty much any five-year-old will panic in this situation, but I would also start to flail, in an attempt to get free. Normally, I would tumble down fairly easily and go on my merry way, but I once got caught by the hem of my dress on the top of the chain link fence, and somehow ended up hanging upside down, suspended by my dress and underpants.

When I finally fell face-first into some ivy, I discovered that while my dress did not appear to be harmed, I had somehow managed to rip through my underpants. However, we’re not talking a little rip around the hem, here, they actually had ripped horizontally through the crotch. It looked like a weird sort of loincloth.

Amusingly, because I was only five at the time, I just got up, walked through the house, and went to play in the backyard without mentioning the rip to anyone or changing my underpants. I cannot remember how I ended up getting rid of the underpants–whether I tried to toss them or bury them in the backyard (Person who purchased our house, please do not dig under the pine tree in the corner, or you’ll be very, very sorry. Also, there is a dead cat in a trash bag under the butterfly bush, who was layer to rest with a proper Christian funeral, complete with a eulogy, so you might not want to mess with that, either.), like I did the time I ripped and bloodied a shirt while messing about with a curtain rod and slate roofing tiles.

I wish I could say that this was the last time I ever got caught on a fence, ripped through a pair of underwear, or fell on my face, but alas it is not. Fortunately, with the exception of a very unfortunate experience in the pond at summer camp, none of these repeat experiences have been very awful.

Note: When deciding whether or not to hurdle over a fence, it should be taken into consideration that fences are often higher than they look. This especially applies to the one in the yard of my beach house. I do not know this from experience or anything.

In the spirit of democracy, and because I’m very curious to know what my readers think, why don’t you scroll on down to these three polls and vote.



And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Buys Books for Christmas

Since Thanksgiving is officially over, I can finally justify getting started on my Christmas shopping. And let me tell you, I take my Christmas shopping very, very seriously. While I do enjoy receiving presents (particularly books, all relatives who have been asking me for a Christmas wishlist), giving gifts is a thousand times more fun and exciting.

Today, after dropping Pippa at the the train station, I took the subway downtown to my favorite independent bookstore, The Strand, and hung out in their children’s book section for over an hour selecting titles for my youngest cousins. Of course, I can’t tell you any of the names here, because those two wonderful scoundrels could potentially wind up on this blog, but trust me, the books are good.

It was interesting selecting them because I am neither a ten-year-old boy or a twelve-year-old girl, and I have never had restrictions on what I was allowed to read. If it was in the house or the librarian would let me check it out, I could read it.

I was the type of kid that knew my own limits and would ask my parents questions about everything, and it all worked out okay. I read Fast Food Nation when I was ten and began making self-righteous rants about nutrition and cruelty anytime we passed a fast-food restaurant and throughly enjoyed being taken to two-hour long speeches about a book on Myanmar when I was nine (During the question and answer session I got to ask the author why he chose to write the book and completely surprised the author and audience with the seriousness of the question and how sincerely and earnestly I asked it. I also tried to convince my dad to let me visit the country, but for obvious reasons I wasn’t allowed.).

So when I was collecting books that I thought might interest my cousins, it felt strange to have to ask myself about how appropriate the book would be for that age group. One day, I know that the twelve-year-old will love Shine by Lauren Myracle someday, but rape, drug abuse, and a hate crime don’t exactly add up to something the average parent wants their twelve year old daughter to be reading. The oral sex scene, cursing, and smoking also knocked Looking for Alaska by John Green out of the running, even though I had been exactly her age when I read it. And even Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan was probably too much, considering that the characters meet each other in a porn store (they’re both there by accident), and there is some underaged drinking.

The ten-year-old was a bit more difficult because while I have been a twelve-year-old girl at one point, I have never been male. And from what I’ve heard, boys don’t often enjoy the same books as girls. Something about the ridiculously sparkling vampires and drama-filled romances seem to put them off, and frankly I can’t say that I disagree with them in many cases. It takes the rare author to pull it off. (Stephanie Perkins, I’m looking at you.) So I approached this gift selection with a bit of help. An employee and I traipsed up and down the aisles searching for things he might like, a task made more difficult by the fact that his reading abilities far outstrip his maturity–not many ten-year-olds are happily reading The Lord of the Rings on their own.

But despite the limitations, I still have a whole bunch of excellent books to give to both of them, and I cannot wait to hear what they think of them. December 25th cannot come soon enough.

Next on the Christmas to-do list is taking care of the cards and finding the world’s most ridiculous pair of underwear to give to Pippa as a gag gift. Pippa, the strange tutu-thong get-up I saw in Victoria’s Secret a few months ago is no longer for sale, but just you wait, I’ll find something ten times worse. Watch me.

And with that, Maxwell and I bid you all a good night from our very cushy and warm pile of blankets and pillows.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive a weird spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

In Which Ella Surprisingly Ends Up Helping to Teach A Kindergarden Class

Note: I had planned for today’s post to be a continuation of the story I was telling yesterday from the time I went to the Maureen Johnson book launch, but then I realized that tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and it would be much better to have a pre-written post for then.

Also, I have fun news to share!

Today, instead of writing doggedly at home, taking breaks, of course, to slam my forehead repeatedly into the table and drink way too much orange juice, I went into my mom’s school to help out. Now, I had been planning to do this for some time now, but it had taken quite a while for the proposal to work its way through the administration. But it entirely was worth it–spending the day in an inner city school is both incredibly fun and exciting. (Or at least that’s the way it felt for me, an eighteen-year-old who has a great deal of energy and almost boundless enthusiasm when it comes to kids.)

I started out just observing my mom’s class, which she teaches with another lovely woman, but after lunch I got to help out with their social studies lesson. They were supposed to watch a video made by the organization that runs Plimouth (how they spell it, for some reason–I always thought it was with an y.), have a discussion, and fill out a outline of the facts they learned before they wrote a letter to a child who lived through the first year of settlement. (We used the real names of the Plimouth children for this activity. Believe it or not, some of the kids had names like “Wrestling,” “Helpless,” “Dust,” “Delivery,” and “Ashes.”)

However, in the way that most things tend to go when it comes to kids or lesson plans, it did not go exactly as planned. The computer malfunctioned, turning the video into a series of brightly flashing pixels and a disembodied voice that sounded half like Sarah Palin and half like a robot, sending the class into peals of giggles. But my mom picked things back up again by just explaining the gist of the movie and drawing pictures with the LCD projector (It’s crazy how much technology has changed in the past eleven years. All we ever had in second grade was an overhead projector and three, bright blue Macs.).

I also got to use the pointer tool to point out the countries in Europe, explain religious persecution, and debunk a few common Thanksgiving misconceptions. (My mother had told me the night before that I was under no circumstances to tell them that European settlers started genocides, destroyed entire cultures, and were generally brutal to the native peoples. I was to keep it at “unfairly killed and hurt” for the day.)

But then the acting principal knocked on the door, called me “sweetheart” in an incredibly saccharine way (something I had sincerely hoped would have ended since I’m now an adult), and asked me to go help out in the kindergarden classroom. More than a little shocked, I followed orders and walked into the kindergarden classroom where the kids were having their Thanksgiving Day party. I’ve recently been babysitting several kids who are in kindergarden, so I felt right at home. They’re still at that wonderful age where they are (mostly) angelic and will try desperately to do the right thing to get your attention and affirmation.

I mostly spent the duration of their party checking homework and pulling together worksheets, while watching the Charlie Brown Thanksgiving special (which, by the way, is  somewhat racist, paints the Pilgrims as huge heros, and portrays all parties involved as complete caricatures of themselves–and people wonder why I’ve never liked Charlie Brown or Disney movies) out of the corner of my eye. But then, school technically ended and “homework club” began. I read them two stories and then spent the next two hours, either squatting on the floor or perched in a very low chair, helping the kids with their math.

I must admit that I loved it. The kids were so sweet and were all trying very, very hard. One girl was having a lot of trouble forming her numbers properly and was printing them upside down and/or backwards, and while it was challenging, I really enjoyed working with her to write them correctly. One of the little boys kindly brought her a chart showing the letters and the way to form them in big print, and she very slowly managed to get it. Of course, this is not to say that the problem is entirely fixed, because an issue like that takes a lot of practice to correct, but it was a lot of fun helping her work through her frustration and succeed, and I’m looking forward to continuing working with her on it in the future. I have every confidence that she’ll get over this mistake. Pippa, after all, used to write her name like it was a mirror image of itself (every letter was backwards and in reverse order), and she’s turned out just wonderfully.

Also, giving little kids high-fives and pound-it’s is a tremendous amount of fun, and I’m coming up with all sorts of new ways to say “good job,” so I don’t sound like a broken record each time they figure something out. My current favorite is “rock on!” which the kids seem to find particularly funny.

But perhaps the best part about working with those kids is that I feel like I get to fix the mistakes that I thought my elementary school teachers made with me. I really want to give kids tons of praise, convince them that it is good to make mistakes and take risks, and tell them that they are smart and capable at every turn. If I had been given more of that, those unhappy years could have been greatly improved.

By the end of the day, I could throughly understand why my mother comes home so exhausted each night. (There aren’t many jobs where you are at work from seven a.m. to six p.m.-ish and spending many hours doing massive amounts of work at home.) But for right now, I’m totally in love with the whole experience and rearing to go back.

Thankfully, I’m babysitting some of the world’s sweetest children on Sunday evening, and I get to see my young cousins tomorrow, so I won’t be totally without young children in my life for too long.

On another note, Cecelia came home today, and I got to spend several hours with her this evening. We ended up driving around, looking at the skyline, with all of the buildings lit up and the light pollution turning the sky over the city an odd shade of purple-red and the low-laying clouds, grey tinged with orange, watching Obama’s speech at the 2011 White House Press Correspondents Dinner (this was my eighth viewing), and a plethora of time-lapse videos. It was loads and loads of fun and exactly the sort of low-key activity I needed before being surrounded by massive amounts of family for close to 48 hours. Also, I have missed her terribly since I last saw her in October (check out In Which Ella Gets Caught in the Rain, Tells Stories from Middle School, and Visits Cecelia at Yale, if you’d like to hear about that adventure.).

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Stories About Joseph: Fairly Dangerous Adventures in the Garage and Car and Other Shenanigans

I continue to feel under the weather, but the fever is gone and with it my inability to do anything of consequence. I have laundry in both the washer and dryer, it’s a little past midnight, and I’m ready to get down to business.

Pippa called earlier to ask me to tell some stories about our adventures with Joseph, so I’m going to do exactly that.

I’ll begin with the garage of which there are three tales, though one is infinitely more disastrously than the rest.

Here’s story number one.

Like most young children, we loved make-believe, and one of our favorite games was called “car,” in which we would persuade some parent to let us into their car so that we could mess about and do things like pretend to go on road-trips and escape from “bad guys”. However, we were not known for our ability to not lock each other in the trunk, causing general pandemonium and arguments, and we tended to leave things a little messier than we found them. All that considered, it wasn’t a game that we were allowed to play often, so when we were, we milked it for all it was worth.

One of the times we had managed to beg our way into the cars, we decided that we were going to be a group of orphans escaping from an evil orphanage lady, à la Annie. It did not begin auspiciously. First, we loaded a ton of things into suitcases and stuffed them into the trunk, which inevitably would have been forgotten about and left there until some adult found them and wondered who decided to load up a duffel bag with CDs, bags of chips, and the contents of Lee’s shirt drawer. Then, we all piled in. I was in the passenger seat, hiding under a blanket, Lee and Pippa were hiding under more blankets in the back seat, and Joseph was pretending to drive. It was going pretty well. We had gotten out of sight of the orphanage and had just about shaken the “bad guys” off of our trail, when Joseph got the brilliant idea to actually start the car and take it out of park. Enough screaming ensued to break the eardrums of at least twenty adults, and we lurched forward, coming precariously close to slamming into the garage door. I believe that Joseph was grounded for the rest of the day, and our car privileges were revoked for several months. In a way, I suppose we did not end up escaping the evil orphanage after all.

Let’s move to number two, the potentially truly terrible one.

Following Hurricane Isabel, we were without power (and by extension, also school) for about a week, and after day four of not being allowed to hang out outside or able do any activity requiring electricity, we decided that we desperately needed to watch a movie. To solve this, we got Joseph’s new portable VHS player (It weighed over ten pounds, had a screen smaller than an iPad’s, and only worked when plugged into the car or the wall.), stole the car keys off of the key hook, and went into the garage from the door connected to the kitchen. We turned the car on, plugged in the VHS player, popped in a tape of Parent Trap, and Lee, Pippa, Joseph, and I all jammed ourselves into the back seat to watch.

About ten minutes into the movie, Joseph’s dad came running into the garage in a bit of a panic, opened up the big garage door,  turned off the engine, and made us all get out and stand outside. We were throughly confused as to why we couldn’t stay there and watch the movie—If anything, the grown-ups should have been glad to have us silently sitting in the garage and not bothering anyone! We had just gotten in trouble for playing on the stairs and making “witches brew” by putting the contents of the fridge into a giant pot and stirring it with wooden spoons and had been sent to “find something quiet to do.” Then, we all proceeded to learn that carbon-monoxide was very seriously B-A-D bad for you and that car batteries can run out of energy and that when they run out, it’s a problem.

And here’s number three:

(Pippa’s very fond of this next trick of Joseph’s.)

Now, Joseph’s family, unlike us, had an automatic garage door, and fairly early on, Joseph discovered that if he held onto the handle and someone pressed the button for it to open, he would be carried up along with the door. So he would have one of us stand next to the keypad, press the button so that he would go all the way up and be suspended many feet in the air, then drop to the ground, run to one end of the garage, have us press it again, and see how many times he could run in and out before being hit by the dropping door. We could usually only get away with about five minutes of quality garage door time before being asked to stop, but considering that we played this game whenever we wanted to get something out the garage, which was very often, it is incredibly surprising that the door did not break.

It was sort of like what happens when you give a present to a very young child—they only care for the wrapping paper and not for the carefully selected gift inside. We couldn’t care less about the countless toys in the garage, that door was where it was at, and we were going to have a blast with it until it was forcibly removed or we got distracted by something else.

Continuing in the theme of dangerous games, we were, as I mentioned earlier in Back Flips Off of the Sofa, Daredevil Stunts, and Childhood Dance Shows: The Story of Ella, the Gang, and the Merits of Free-Range Parenting, incredibly fond of a game we called “Gladiator.” Essentially, we would all grab a cushion from the couch, run full tilt at each other, and attack. If you fell over, you were “dead.” Once again, it’s a miracle no one cracked their head open or got seriously injured. This, unfortunately, was partially my brain child, the result of reading about Ancient Rome, but the attacking component was all Joseph’s.

I’ve always been very focused on strategy in games like Gladiator and discovered early on that if you planted your feet in a slight lunge and stayed slightly in the corner—thus preventing attacks from the rear—you could usually end up being the last one standing or have the most effective position from which to start barreling across the room, knocking over everything in your path. Pippa, however, didn’t have much of a battle plan and was typically our biggest pacifist, so it was a huge surprise when she went running towards Joseph who was sitting, crouched on the couch. He brought his feet up and kicked her squarely in the middle of her chest (which was thankfully covered by a pillow) with both of his feet, launching her into the air almost horizontally, before she slammed back down onto the mat, cushioned by her pillow. When I did some fact-checking on these stories with her this evening, she said that it felt like she was flying for a few seconds before the panic set in, and she landed hard on the ground.

Here’s the evening’s last story.

Joseph, if you haven’t already surmised, was prone to impulsivity and thus, bad decisions. We once walked into his house to discover him in his dining room, sitting on a chair with his foot stuck clear through a pane in the glass door as his dad propped his leg up with phonebooks and broke enough of the glass away so that they could remove his foot and take him to the hospital for stitches. No one has ever discovered the reason for why or how this happened, but at the time, it was just accepted as something completely normal and not a real cause for concern. It was just “you know, one of those things that Joseph does.” And if you’ve read In Which Ella Discovers A Cat Underneath the Deck (spoiler: it involves Joseph, his cat (named after himself), and a bathing experiment), you’ll probably understand that explanation even more.

So there you go, Pippa, you now have five different Joseph stories for your reading enjoyment. Any one else have story requests?

Tomorrow, depending on how well I feel, I’ll either do the day-in-my-life post I referenced in Back Flips Off of the Sofa, Daredevil Stunts, and Childhood Dance Shows: The Story of Ella, the Gang, and the Merits of Free-Range Parenting, finish writing about the book launch for Maureen Johnson’s In the Name of the Star I went to back in September (You can find earlier stories about that awesome day here: A Scintillating Story in Which Ella Nearly Loses a Boot, Takes a Train, and Eats Lunch and here: In Which Ella Has a Costume Change), or finally get around to writing about the time I went to the Laini Taylor signing in the beginning of October (a bit about that day can be found here: In Which Ella Refers to the Morning as Yesterday).

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

Mary Queen of Scots’ Beheading, The Commodores’ “Brick House,” and Other Odd Things My Parents Exposed Me To

Like most children, I was sometimes subject to offbeat parenting. And I’m not talking about anything “bad,” just the odd/abnormal things that my parents did with us.

I’ll begin with the less peculiar.

In kindergarden, while the other kids were bopping to The Backstreet Boys and N’Sync, I knew every single word to The Commodores’ “Brick House” (I had also been fooled into thinking that “brick house” meant fat and not voluptuous.) and could sing The Clash’s “London Calling” with a very mangled British accent. In fact, I knew a lot of songs that referenced things inappropriate for a five-year-old, but like the way that lyrics of “Frére Jacque” are a bunch of sounds to most non-French speakers, I didn’t understand that:

“The clothes she wears, the sexy ways, make an old man wish for younger days

She knows she’s built and knows how to please

Sure enough to knock a man to his knees”

actually meant anything. And it wasn’t until I thought about the lyrics while singing it, when I was approximately sixteen, that I finally understood that it wasn’t about a guy in love with a fat lady. It suddenly made sense why adults thought it was hilarious when I would walk around the neighborhood singing it.

Here’s where it actually gets weird:

I was also into royalty, but not into royalty the way most kids were. I didn’t want to be a pretty princess or be the queen of an empire filled with unicorns, fairies, and dashing knights. I liked real royalty, specifically the British royalty (I also hated Disney films and the whole concept of needing boys to save the day (for both related and unrelated reasons), but that is an entirely different story). In addition, I was incredibly fascinated by war, and it wasn’t that I thought violence or guns were “cool.” I was just absolutely fascinated by the causes, effects, and strategy.

For this, you can blame my father. While my mother read us the entire Little House on the Prairie series and all of the Harry Potter books as they came out, the kiddie stuff just didn’t do it for my dad.

Instead, he decided that Winston Churchill’s “History of the English Speaking Peoples” was appropriate bedtime story material. Surprisingly, we enjoyed it. (Well, I loved it, and Pippa was willing to put up with it to a point.)

Every night, he would read to us from the volumes in a very good Winston Churchill accent and offer additional commentary on the history. It was all going splendidly, until he decided to read us the section about the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots. I was thrilled, but Pippa was horrified and, frankly, rightly so.

This is how the execution went down: After spending about twenty years in imprisonment, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded, by the order of Queen Elizabeth I, for treason. First, it took two to three hacks of the ax to properly decapitate her. Then, when the executioner went to hold her head aloft by the hair, her head ended up falling to the floor with a huge, bloody thunk and rolled around because no one knew that she had been wearing a wig. To top it all off, her little dog ran out of her petticoats (which were red to hide the blood), where it had been hiding, covered in blood, and refused to leave the dead Queen’s side.

Pippa didn’t sleep for weeks, and we had to switch to the history of WWII (it ended up being mostly about battle strategy and not the Holocaust or death, in order to protect six-year-old Pippa from having more nightmares).

Another thing my father was very fond of doing was introducing us to comedy. When I was six, with his encouragement, I memorized the Monty Python sketch “The Fish License” and performed it in its entirety, playing both roles, for show and tell. My teacher was greatly amused, and my classmates just gave me confused, wide-eyed stares.

Just imagine a six-year-old performing this in front of her bewildered first-grade class. I took big hops from one side of the rug to the other to represent the other character.

I could go on for a while with more weird details about my parents’ parenting, but I won’t bore you. If you’d like, you can leave a funny story of your own in the comments. I’d love to read them.

On another note, it’s amazing the amount of things I can do to skive off blog post writing. I just caught myself watching hair tutorials on youtube for thirty minutes, which is something I never do unless I’m getting Pippa ready for a big event. Yesterday, I read about white supremacists on Wikipedia and got very angry for about an hour when I should have been blogging. I manage to build up writing posts to be this big, arduous task inside of my head, but then the moment I sign into WordPress and start typing, it all comes so easily. It’s just enormously fun. Unfortunately, I manage to forget this nearly every night and go into avoidance mode where I will do anything to put it off. Let’s see where tomorrow’s procrastination takes us. I’ve got my money on ironing.

For the month, you can find me updating my word count on NaNoWriMo here. (I need to do it more regularly so that it doesn’t become flat for a few days, only to receive an enormous spike, indicating that I somehow magically wrote about twelve thousand words in one day.)

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.