Most of the problems I see in the world are caused by one thing – believing your own shit.
Think of the people you know of whose worlds have collapsed – Lindsay Lohan, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Saddam Hussein, Richard Nixon are a few famous ones. I know of many others among my friends and acquaintances — they shall remain nameless, of course. They have, each and every one of them, believed their own shit.
Ordinary people who become elevated above the general throng — through celebrity, political success, acquisition of wealth, for example — find themselves surrounded by people whose primary objective is to reinforce their elevation.
“Ms. Lopez must have only white things in her dressing room.”
“The doctor cannot be disturbed.”
If they’re lucky, life gives them a mate or best friend early on who is not impressed by success. That mate or friend does not hesitate to call them out. If the successful one is smart enough to keep that friend close at hand and listen to them, they may avoid calamity.
“You still put your pants on one leg at a time.”
No matter how inflated the public praise becomes, you still see your plain old self in the mirror. Your public persona and your private one can stay synchronized, but they are NOT the same thing.
If they do merge, you’re going to start believing that you are larger than life, and that will be your downfall. Poor Lindsay Lohan doesn’t have a chance as long as Mama Dina is there, propping her up and telling her she’s not subject to the same rules as everyone else. Who else would go to court with “fuck you” painted on her fingernails?
Richard Nixon believed that he could do anything he wanted and penalties would not apply. Michael Jackson could indulge his fantasies with little boys and not worry about the impacts on the boys or his public image. Seldom have I seen such pain as I saw on Pat Nixon’s face when “Tricky Dick” gave his resignation speech. What impact will Michael’s children suffer when they find out about their dad?
An acquaintance of mine, head of his religious congregation, was disparaging of other faiths – his was inarguably superior. Publicly, he was a professional success, with a devoted wife and children and quite convinced of his superiority. Publicity surrounding his accidental death revealed his sexual deviance and destroyed the lives of his family. He believed himself insulated by his success and wealth against societal judgment. Problem was that his family had to pay the price.
Bottom line – don’t start believing your own hype. You may be the best criminal defense lawyer in your district or the valedictorian of your graduating class, or more. Enjoy your success; pat yourself on the back for your hard work. Just don’t start believing your own publicity. You’ll regret it. Or your family will.
 I generally disapprove of profanity (see my comments on my daughter’s blog) – it is a sign of laziness and limited vocabulary. However, this is an exception – I know no better or more succinct way of expressing this sentiment.
I’ve given you a few of my children’s most embarrassing moments from their early years.
They will be the ones to choose my retirement home, so I won’t divulge many of their later gaffes – teenagers are amusing but not always G-rated.
Now I’ll give you a few of mine.
When I was around 4 years old, my mother was taking me to a party. She dressed me in my best; in 1956, that meant an enormous gathered skirt with a large, starched petticoat underneath. Being a bit of a tomboy, I was not known for tidiness. She placed me in the center of my bed and said sternly, “Just sit there and don’t move while I get dressed.” Well, that’s hard for a four-year-old of any stripe, and particularly for a kid like me. So I’m sitting there fidgeting in the middle of the bed, and what do I see but my father’s stapler — a big black stapler that I’ve never been allowed to touch. So I carefully spread out my enormous skirt on the bed and stapled it meticulously every inch or so to the bed. I was proudly observing my handiwork when my mother called me to leave. I jumped up. The bottom 4 inches of my skirt ripped off along with the center of the bedspread. Openmouthed, my mother said, “How in God’s name did you do THAT?”
I was raised as a Southern Methodist. My parents were pillars of our church, holding many offices in the church hierarchy – president of the Ladies Church Circle, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, etc. They both put a great deal of store in being proper — “behaving” as Mother put it. I could probably have robbed a bank as long as I wore my gloves and said, “Please give me all your money.”
I was not a very good Methodist.
The first time I was kicked out of Sunday school I was about four (again – it was a big year for me). This Sunday morning, my mother allowed me to dress myself. Again, the ginormously skirted dress, etc., little white socks with lace, black patent mary-janes. I did such a good job that Mother just took a look at me and put me in the car to go to church. She dropped me off at my Sunday school class and went off to hers. About ten minutes later, someone showed up at her classroom to say that I had to be taken home. “Why?” says Mother. “Jane was down on the floor playing with the blocks, and when she leaned over, we realized she doesn’t have any underwear on.” I flashed my Sunday school class. Repeatedly.
My next door neighbors had a big black tomcat named Moe. Moe was very sneaky; he pretended to be very sweet and full of purrs. He’d roll over on his back, look all relaxed and friendly and let you pet his tummy for a minute. Then, quick as a flash, he’d sink all his claws into your arm. I fell for that over and over.
One dark summer evening, I was walking back from the neighbors’ house to mine. This was before central air conditioning.
I know, it’s hard to imagine, but I’m old.
When all the windows were open, sound carried very far.
Moe was playing “Leopard in the Jungle” in the top of a plum tree. When I came sauntering along in the dark, looking remarkably water buffalo-like, Moe attacked from above, landing on my head with all four paws. I screamed, staggering about the backyard in the dark. Moe held on for dear life.
Fathers from houses everywhere poured into the backyard with flashlights, looking for the attacker. Moe does the disappearing ninja black cat thing.
I’m left standing in the glare of the lights looking disheveled but whole. Moe never misbehaved in front of grownups, so my story didn’t hold water. The dads gave my father a dirty look and left.
the coffee bean
Once upon a time, when Meredith was about nine years old, she was at the grocery store with her father. Wondering what it would smell like, she picked up a whole coffee bean and sniffed, very hard. The bean went up her nostril. When she tried to pull it out, it went up farther and got very, very stuck. Her dad tried to get it out, her sister tried to get it out. The harder they tried, the stucker it got. They ended up in the emergency room. The doctor had to use very, very long tweezers to get out the coffee bean. Meredith really, REALLY hates this story to this very day, and I am in a lot of trouble for telling it.
Once upon a time, when Zachary Jacob was about five years old, we were having a spaghetti dinner. Jacob Zachary was not known for chewing his food very well at that time. He was taking a drink of milk when Kate said something that tickled his funny bone. He laughed so hard, trying not to spit out his milk, that a piece of spaghetti about five inches long came out his nose. We all stared at it, lying there on the plate, and then broke up laughing. I’m surprised there weren’t more pieces of spaghetti produced! For some reason, this continues to be a very funny story for us – we laugh hysterically at just the memory. Oh well, we are easily amused.
kate the crooner
When she was two years old, Kate decided that she would not take naps anymore. This was not a good decision from her parents’ perspective — arsenic hour was born. So her mother instituted “rest hour” – she had to stay in her bed “resting” for one hour. In the beginning, her mother spent a lot of time putting her back into bed, and finally, holding the bedroom door shut. Once Kate realized this was not going to end, she began entertaining herself by singing. Very loudly and with great verve (think Ethel Merman crossed with Edith Piaf). She would croon her favorites: I’ve Been Working on the Railroad and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Only problem was, she had no Rs, so it was “I’ve Been Wookin’ on the WailWoad” and “Wudolf the Wed-Nosed Reindeewuh.” Very, very hard to ignore; she became indignant if anyone laughed.
Once upon a time, when Meredith was about three years old, her mother was in the bathtub, trying to take a long, relaxing bath. Her father was in his study, working on an article. Meredith decided she wanted to get dressed all by herself. She picked out a pink and green striped tee shirt with yellow and red polka-dot shorts. She struggled and struggled, but got them on right side out and with all body parts through the correct holes. She came into the bathroom to show off to her mother, who said, “Sweetie, you need either the top or the bottom to be solid; otherwise you won’t match.” Meredith sighed and marched back to her room. Next, she tried a navy blue and green plaid shirt and purple and green striped shorts. When she showed her father, he said, “Mimi, you need to have either the top or the bottom to be solid, or you won’t match.” Meredith sighed even harder and went back to her closet. This time, she got a red and white checked shirt and a pair of orange paisley shorts. Back in the bathroom, her mother repeated her earlier comment, “Sweetie, I’m very proud of you, but you still need either the top or the bottom to be solid to match.” At the end of her rope, Meredith bellowed pitifully, “What color is solid??????”
Kate went to a very progressive preschool, staffed mainly by PhD students in early childhood education and child psychology, where the clinical terms for behavior and learning assessment were the norm. Thus, the gymnasium was called the “Gross Motor Room,” etc. Kate’s arms and legs between ages two and three were disproportionately short for her torso (not to mention her enormously large head). This meant that her weakest area of performance was in Gross Motor Skills, otherwise known as climbing and riding a tricycle. When she climbed the stairs, she went up on her hands and knees, afraid that she would lose her balance if she walked. She insisted that her mother follow her up the stairs, saying “Mama, Mama, hind me be! Hind me be!”
Kate’s other weak area at preschool was table manners — she couldn’t grasp the reason for a fork, when her hand was right there, ready to dive in. She would complain to her mother that the preschool staff was starving her, not allowing her to have seconds. In fact, they drew the line at fourths.
Jacob Zachary’s Kindergarten teacher was a lovely veteran of 22 years of five-year-olds. She had a great sense of humor, and she appreciated the same in others. The “Draw a Man” test is (was) a common tool for measuring intellectual development in small children. The child is asked to draw a man with as much detail as possible. The more body parts (e.g., neck, fingers, round body rather than a stick figure) that are included, the higher the level of development is measured. When his teacher was reviewing Jacob Zachary’s test with him, she noted that it was a very nice drawing, but that the man had all his fingers and toes, but no ears. Jacob Zachary, without missing a beat, said, “I know, isn’t it sad? He was born that way.”
Meredith’s note: For the record, the coffee bean story is the ONLY childhood story that still mortifies me and the only story I forbade my mother from telling. In the spirit of not censoring her, I’ve left it in, but she’s in very big trouble. Also? My brother’s wit and table manners remain the same, and while my sister’s head is still ginormous, her table manners have gotten much, much better.