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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

LIES MY PARENTS TOLD ME

The first draft of my new book is due on Friday, which also happens to be my birthday. Just so you know, I am taking stun gun off the list of things I want. This is because I had to reach behind my tv the other day to unplug something, and I got a huge shock from the power strip. It zapped my whole arm. So for now, I do not want a stun gun.

But to all of you out there with spare Vespas and miniature ponies . . . they are still very much on the list.

The new book is going very well—at least in the sense that the first draft is going very well. There is much left to be done and it will be written several more times before it is done. I will tell you this much about the story . . . it takes place in New York, and it’s about a family that lives in a hotel. In making this hotel, I had to think about the rules that might govern life there, the things you might take for granted.

It made me think of the rules, and the lies, my parents imposed on me when I was just a tiny mj.

When I was growing up, if my parents suspected me of telling a lie, they would say to me, “Maureen, stick out your tongue.” I would do it. My mom or dad, whoever was doing the questioning, would lean down and examine it. If they doubted me, they’d say, “I see a black spot!” I would run to the mirror and look for the black spots. Sometimes I even thought I saw them.

I was a pretty truthful child, so if I thought I saw one of these spots on my tongue, I would sit and really question what I had said. Was I really telling the truth? Had I done something I was unaware of? This would send me into metaphysical spins for whole minutes at a time.

Eventually, I figured out that this was a trick. It took a while, but I got there.

What I didn’t figure out for a long time was that this is not a universal trick. I sort of assumed that everyone’s parents did this—that it was some kind of wacky old tradition that they’d picked up on.

Recently, someone told me something that sounded like a lie, and I said, “Liar. Stick out your tongue!” It was a bit of a throwback, I realized, like making reference to a really old commercial by accident. It just came out.

The person who I said this to just stared at me. I explained . . . lies, black spots, tongue. I did not see the shock of recognition. There was no, “Oh my God! Your parents did that too?”

I’m no dope, readers. I can put two and two together, and with a little effort, come up with a four—or a really low five. I called my dad and confronted him directly.

“The black spots,” I said. “On the tongue. Where did that come from?”

My dad laughed jovially.

“Oh that,” he said. “I have no idea. I just said it one day, and your mom heard it. She started laughing so hard that she had to leave the room. After that, we did it all the time. She did it more than me.”

I was not overly amused.

“Listen,” I said. “Do you realize that when you did that, I used to go and LOOK for the spots? Do you realize that sometimes I thought I SAW them, and then I would question my own grasp of truthfulness? Because of your little joke, your four year old daughter spent a lot of time wrestling with the full meaning of honesty and the state of her soul?”

My dad started laughing so hard that he had to set the phone down for a minute.



I chose to confront them, but they did not care.


I started thinking back a little more about things that were just considered “givens” in my house. Here was another one: I wasn’t allowed to say that I hated anyone. There was no human being, I was told, who deserved to be hated.

On the surface, this is a very good rule, and one I applaud. But, it had a weird rider, like one of those laws they try to get through Congress with a strange little sentence attached. I wasn’t allowed to say I hated anyone . . . except Hitler. It was perfectly acceptable to hate Hitler. So, if I was angry, I would often shout, “I HATE HITLER!”

Now, maybe this is something that would have been normal in, say, London, during 1941, at the height of the Blitz. And hating Hitler really is the little black dress of hatreds—you can’t go wrong taking a swing at him. Coming out of a small child in Philadelphia in the late 70s, though, it was a bit odd. I hated Hitler when my toys broke. I hated Hitler when I had to go to bed early. I was doing an awful lot of Hitler-hating.

Here’s another one: we couldn’t sing at the table. No explanation was ever given on this one. It was just a very big deal. If you even started to sing, which I sometimes did, it was stopped, immediately.

I don’t for a second think I am alone. I am certain your parents made up some rule or fake tradition just to mess with your head too. That is what parents are for. I invite you to share them.

In the meantime, I am getting back to work. My editor, Emma Lollipop, reads this blog. She will know I have been taking time off from the book . . . and obviously the black spot thing has ruined me in terms of lying to her about it.

Just two things before I go.

1. The book is also about a show, in particular, a very carnival-like production of Hamlet—so I want to pimp some of my friends who are currently doing great theater work.

If you have ever wondered how musicals are made, you should read this blog. My friend Andrew is an amazing composer who has written a first-class musical called Meet John Doe, which is being put on at the Ford Theater in Washington D.C. (Yes, the theater where President Lincoln was shot.) His blog will show you what it’s like to take a musical from casting to set design to rewriting to performance. Also, he includes many hot photos of model stages and hats.

Also, my friend “Broadway” Joey (my baseball coach for The Key to the Golden Firebird) is in the hit show The Drowsy Chaperone. If you are planning on coming up to get some Broadway action, this is the show for you.

2. I do not normally show pictures of underwear on this blog, but I have to make a special exception for these . . . which are also very much on my birthday wish list. Come on. How great are these?



Better than a stun gun? Just maybe.

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13 Comments:

Anonymous Colleen Cook said...

My parents told me if I stuck out my tongue, a little man with giant scissors would come in the middle of the night and cut it off.

*shiver*

PS - I can't read your blog anymore. It squashes my delusion that I might become a published writer someday.

Oh who am I kidding? I'll be back. Thanks!

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as the underwear isnt shown with you in them show as many as you'd like you have my blessing.
ARRRRRRRRR

3:11 AM  
Anonymous Cat said...

My Dad told me that if I did something really bad, he would unscrew my bellybutton and my head would fall off. This had two results:

1. I have always followed the rules because I happen to like my head.

2. He could always tell when I did something wrong because I would cover my stomach so he couldn't get to my belly button.

6:25 AM  
Anonymous Amy said...

My parents wouldn't let us sing at the meal table either! While at the meal table, there was to be no singing or dancing. There's not a whole lot of dancing you can do with your butt fused to a stool while you're bumped up close to the corner of the table because, as the youngest child, you don't get to sit at one of the comfortable spots between the table legs, but still: No dancing. I don't remember there being a specific punishment for doing either of those things, I just know we were made to stop doing it.

Another weird rule: No ears pierced until you're 16. For no reason except my dad didn't like pierced ears, from what I can garner.

The weirdest thing isn't that these two rules existed, but that I now impose them upon my younger sister myself, as my mum has gone completely soft. That's very wrong of me, isn't it? And yet, I can't help myself.

P.S. Those Wonder Woman undies are phenomenal.

12:29 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

My parents always said, "Sing at the table, cry before night." Even when I was young I suspected that the crying would be from being spanked or otherwise punished. I never tested it.

11:33 PM  
Blogger Maryrose said...

I was never allowed to wear the color red, because it could make me pregnant. Or something like that.

But dang, mj, you would look mad cute in that little Wonder Woman outfit! Happy birthday!
xoxoxo
m

4:41 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

Maureen

I really enjoy your blog. I especially love the wonder woman underwear.

HAPPY HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

A long lost friend.

Heather

6:39 PM  
Anonymous laura said...

My parents always used the "stick out your tongue so I can inspect for black spots" thing on me when I was little. I thought that was universal too. Well, maybe it's just us. Aren't we special? XD

And I was never allowed to tap my foot or jiggle my leg or do anything that my mom found annoying. Dancing around the house was generally frowned upon too (though that may be because I was liable to break things).

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Hop said...

I was forbidden to ever use the phrase "Oh my goodness gracious sakes alive!" lest the gargoyles that live in Castle Crags, California come and carry me away. Also living in Castle Crags: King Brian, the king of the leprechauns.

Also, my dad greatly enjoyed shaking my stability by claiming that he had been eaten by a shark back when he was working for the coast guard. Consequently, he had never married my mom, and never had me. And one day, I was going to wake up and realize that I had just been dreaming myself- and that I did not, in fact, actually exist. Now *that* is some sadistic parenting.

1:01 AM  
Anonymous Amy!!! said...

Well my parents didn't allow swearing, not that I felt like I wanted to at anytime because I thought it was stupid anyway. They said that if I did they would wash my mouth out with soap. I assumed if soap came in contact with my mouth it would get washed off, literally, I never used soap near my mouth, ever.

Also they told me babies grew like seeds, so I thought the seed just grew and when your older your stomach would explode and there would be a gigantic hole in your stomach and the docter would have to pick the baby up, who was unharmed and sitting in said hole.

Most things I didn't believe though such as when they said "I'll cut your tongue off!!" when I stuck my tongue out and "The wind will change" when I pulled a face.

7:12 AM  
Blogger Julia said...

It must be a Philly thing. My Dad was from Kennsington section and my Mom from outside Philly, so

They would tell me to stick out my tongue to check for lies, and we also weren't allowed to sing at the table.

Another one, were you told if you hit your mother your hand would stick up in the grave?

Great blog!

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Marlena said...

My mom told me the tongue thing, too! But she didn't use it as often as your parents did.

One weird thing my mom used to do was to pretend to be unconcious so that she could "see what I would do". Apparently traumatizing your child to find out how she handles emergency situations is okay?
It's weird, though, because I always thought she was sleeping and I'd just shake her a lot to try to wake her up, and then just sit next to her for a while until she gave up. I got really creeped out when I read Looking For Alaska, because it made me wonder if, should something have really happened to my mom when I was younger, I would have reacted like Alaska. Ugh...glad nothing did!

7:15 AM  
Anonymous williams45 said...

My parents did the tongue thing too!

2:44 AM  

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