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Let's Panic: The Book!

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How to Endure and Possibly Triumph Over the Adorable Tyrant
who Will Ruin Your Body, Destroy Your Life, Liquefy Your Brain,
and Finally Turn You
into a Worthwhile
Human Being.

Written by Alice Bradley and Eden Kennedy

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Sleep Is
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Let's Panic

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At LET'S PANIC ABOUT BABIES, Eden Kennedy and I share our hard-won wisdom and tell you exactly what to think and feel and do, whether you're about to have a baby or already did and don't know what to do with it.

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« Dear city: I chose you over the suburbs, and this is what I get? | Main | Everything is true except for the part about the mustache. »
Sunday
Jul242005

Ah, the unique horror of the awkward confrontation.

We have returned from a Weekend With My Family! And we’re still alive. Join us in our rejoicing, won’t you?

My father was kind enough to pick us up, because we are carless and also saddled with a dog, who apparently is not allowed on the train because the MTA hates us. Once I recovered from the guilt of making my dad drive in just for us, I was quite pleased to luxuriate in air-conditioned comfort. Henry felt differently.

The problem, according to him, is that the car was “stinky.” There was an odor, you see. That he found disagreeable. Now, I have known stinky cars in the past—the great-uncle’s Cadillac that reeked of Pall Malls and hair tonic; the wet-dog stench of the hippy friend’s beat-up Chevy Nova –and I am here to say that my parents’ car is Olfactory Nirvana compared to those experiences. But try telling this to Henry! Go ahead, he won’t listen.

So. The car was stinky, he told us, repeatedly, without tiring of it. (This from a person who has no problem marinating in a pile of his own feculence for extended periods of time. But whatever.) “Turn the stink button off,” he commanded. I’m not sure who gave him this idea, about the stink button. Probably it was me. “Turn it off!” We complied, of course, and clicked the radio button on and off. “Okay, the stink button is off, Henry! No more stink!” And then he breathed deeply and let out an exasperated, “But it’s still stinky!”

In the midst of all this, I attempted to have a conversation with my dad about my and my siblings’ childhoods. Because when you have a child, a recurrent thought is, Holy Christ, was I like this? And my parents never left me on the side of the road? What were we like? I asked my father, and did we turn out like he expected us to? (“IT STILL STINKS!” the child in the back seat let us know. “STILL. IT STINKS. LET ME OUT OF HERE.”)

“Oh, well, your sister, she was always capable. Always. So smart and capable. And now I will go on at great length about your sister’s brilliance and innate ability to deal with anything life throws her way. “

(“I DON’T LIKE THIS CAR IT IS TOO STINKY.”)

Okay, so you know I’m paraphrasing. This is the usual line about my sister. How smart and independent she was! How she climbed out of the crib each morning and made my mother breakfast. I don’t know how my family has all convinced themselves of the truthfulness of this, but my son is pretty damn capable and he doesn’t have the coordination to pour himself cereal without drowning. So no, this isn’t true. But continue, father! Distract me from the child!

“And your brother, he was always consumed with one interest or another. Blah blah blah, he was so brilliant and complicated and perhaps difficult but mostly brilliant!”

You don’t believe me, that he said that? Really I’m not far off the mark.

(“GET ME OUT OF THIS STINKY CAR!”)

So, what about me?

“Well. You were the youngest.”

(“GAAAAAAAH! STINKY! SO STINKY!”)

And…?

“Well, you cried a lot. Always bursting into tears.”

(“ARE YOU PEOPLE LISTENING? WHEN I TOLD YOU ABOUT THIS SMELL THAT ONLY I AM SMELLING, HITHERTO REFERRED TO AS THE STINK?”)

And that, my friends, was the end of the conversation! I’m not sure why—maybe because Henry was distracting us with his stink-talk, or because we were nearing home, or maybe my dad didn’t feel like talking. But probably it was because my dad has nothing else to say about me, so great is his disappointment in his youngest child! That’s what I thought at the time, anyway! Whee!

Let’s fast-forward to the next day, when I finally told my dad how much this statement bothered me. Which I never would have done except I had already confided to my mother, who, traitor that she is, then told my dad I had “something to say,” and a person can’t very well not say something at that point. So I spit it out, and then cried all over my pizza.

My dad made some self-deprecating jokes and then looked stricken and attempted to right things as I continued to bawl and I thought what am I doing, confronting my poor recently ailing father who might drop dead on his salad right now and it would be my fault? . Eventually we cleared things up and it turns out he has other thoughts about me that are unrelated to the frequency of my tears! Hey!

All of which is to say that staying with my parents for any length of time seems to cause me to devolve into the Big Fat Crybaby of yore. I don't like it, but all I can do is ride it out.

And I hope when Henry’s an adult he'll have something meatier to bitch about than nonexistent car-stink.

Reader Comments (31)

Dude. Your dad totally messed up his lines. "You were always the sensitive one" is the way he was supposed to phrase it. None of this "bursting into tears" business. (I was always a sensitive child myself.)
July 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterOrange
All I hear from MY parents is how glad they are that I grew out of [insert horrible selfish teenage behavior here] and moved out. Oh, how they love me.
July 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterEulallia
He should've said, "You were always sensitive and I could tell even then that you'd be a great writer and tell interesting stories."

Hmm, maybe I should ask my parents about all of us. My mom thinks I'm moody and that the boys (I have three older brothers) were easier. She also wasn't overly thrilled when I wrote my 100 Things and said that I experimented with drugs at 17. Okay, 17 and 11 months. And it was a very brief experiment, well, you know, for most of those drugs.

So, what was the car stink? We once got an old Cadillac from my Uncle Al that reeked of cigar smoke. Expose Henry to that and he'll be thrilled with whatever stink was in that car. Of course, Uncle Al died several years ago and now when I smell a gross stinky cigar, I have fond Uncle Al thoughts. Life is weird.
July 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterFlippy
Okay, your AdSense ads that go with this entry are priceless. Please tell me that Henry wasn't smelling "Fishy Vaginal Odor" or "Urine Odor".
July 24, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterFlippy
geeez, suck it up. kidding! kidding! I am still a waterworks, with and without provocation.

My mom still likes to talk about my propensity to eat bugs when I was a child.

Also, my neighborhood nickname was 'Face,' apparently because my variety of expression when tormented was so entertaining.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterjilbur
LOL!

Oh man, thats it, kill your dad over supper. Our fathers can expound on the awesome qualities of our siblings, cousins twice removed and check out girls. But when it comes down to revealing somthing "sensitive" they hit a brick wall.

Its the "Y" chromosome. Its missing the important "sensitivity & cleaning" arm that would complete the "X".
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
No one can make me cry like my dad. Maybe it is just that for you as well.

Also, Henry continues to be so very funny. I heart him.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterEm
what is it with the kiddos and scents? my 4 year old constantly asks "what does it smell like" - i.e., she'll come downstairs while we are cooking bacon for breakfast (no, she's not mastered breakfast in bed for us either) and sniff the air and ask "what does it smell like". It works the same way for obvious and less obvious smells. And unfortunately she's figured out that her daddy will laugh if she asks that just after he tooted.

So that never gets old. *sigh*
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersusannah
I think that your son might be my vary favorite toddler... how does he come up with this stuff, stink button. It has brought me to tears, and i never cry.

I am an only child, so i get compared to myself at various stages. Currently, my mother thinks that my best years were from 8-10... before that it was 3-5. I guess it has been a long time since I have been fun for her, but by the time that I am 60, she might look back fondly on my 20s.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commentert'pon
It was the air conditioning. AC is stinky! Especially if you aren't used to having it blasted at you in a confined space. I used to hate the smell and swore I would never have a car with air because why would I want air when I had these perfectly fine windows!? Yeah, that was then. Although I still think AC is stinky, so, I'm with Henry.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBeth
Oh man, the kids, they'll do it to you every time. But no, my car is more stinky--I had sick kids :)
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterRunning2Ks
Sounds like he was right - you proceeded to burst into tears about you bursting into tears. (JUST KIDDING). My parents always tell me that, as the first-borne, I was the one they practiced on. They did better on the later two.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBob
heh heh hehi have to tell youthat my sonwho is now almost sixHATED the smell of air conditioningOR heatin cars...if you can imagine...it never failed...and in the summer at least it could bealleviated with opening the windowsbut in the winter?go without heat?or listen to unbearable child moaningin backseat?

we just got a louder cd playerheh. heh.:)

(oh..and i was also a major crier...to the point that my grade one teacherwrote "may need psychological help" inmy report card" heh heh)
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergkgirl
What IS it about kids and stinky cars? I drove my husband's car all weekend and my five year old daughter declared it "stinky" as well! And I might add that it's WAY cleaner than my ride!
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPharmgirl
Well... tell us what he said! I'm so curious now.

My three year old is now noticing all kinds of smells. It's like all of a sudden her sense of smell works, and it never did before. She goes around sniffing the air like a dog and then complaining "What's that smell? Do you smell that?" with a cross look on her face. So funny, the things that they complain about!
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLassa
Ha, let me tell you the smell thing goes on and on. We are in a new place and trying to find repalcents for our usual shopping stops. My 12 year old thinks they all "smell weird" here at the new place.

I was also the "sensitive one" in my family. Always easily brought to tears, and pretty much cried my way through puberty. They will never let me forget and anytime I do something grown-up like my parents are all still oh so surprised. Hello? I'm 40!
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterclickmom
hmmmmmmmmmm... hell hath no fury like a child with the need for a stink button....I think we all turn into 14 yr olds going through emotional puberty around our parents... SUCKS
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermojavi
Maybe Henry just has a really good sniffer. I am always complaining about smells no one else can smell. And many a/c's in cars do drip, causing mold to grow in the carpet, which I can always smell, even if no one else can. Sometimes when I was a kid it actually made me sick.

Things that help: orange and peppermint scents. And fresh air, even a cracked window. Of course, if it's only your dad's car that bothers him, he'll survive.

The good part is, he will always be able to tell when food's gone off before he eats it. My husband always asks me to check suspicious looking foods in the fridge. And I can usually tell when baked goods are pefectly done by the smell.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteremjaybee
Please tell me that Henry also believes the subways to be stinky. Please? If you've ever taken him to Canal Street in the hot, hot summer and he had no problem with that stench then, Alice, I hate to tell you, something is odd about your child. Then again, the subways stink was the only stink I could never really get used to, so maybe Henry is just a natural born city-dweller....By the by, as the youngest (and only) girl in my family, the only information I can get on my childhood is, "Well, I'd always wanted a girl but you were such a tomboy..."
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterkim
If I ever (mistakenly) try to take my kids to an estate sale they walk through the whole house progressively getting louder as they complain about the smell. The houses always do have that old person, dead skin cell smell, that I try to ignore as I search for a poorly priced heirloom that will make me wealthy!!! People glare at me, but I know we are all noticing the smell....
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterme mommy
Do we perhaps have the same father?? Mine always knows how to turn on my waterworks, and he is the KING of guilt trips.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBerkanna
In my family, my parents used to introduce us thusly,

"This is Natalie, our eldest. She's the brains in the family!"

"This is Melisa, our middle child. She's quite the athlete!"

"This is alia, our youngest."

Full stop, period. When they were feeling particularly loquacious, they would add, "She's a little...different."

Thaaaanks Dad.

My other favorite conversation with my parents was when i was going through my first career conflict. I told my dad i thought i wanted to be a writer. His response?

"Your sister would be a wonderful children's book writer!"

*headdesk*
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenteralianora
My kids have a whole different concept of cars stinking. Mine stinks precisely because it DOESN'T have air conditioning. *Insert whiny voice here* "Why don't weeee have air in the caaarr like theeeey dooo? Do you haaaaate us?"

Yes. Yes, I do.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterrose
Okay, I remember vividly everything about first child. She was my first and experiencing everything with her was like life going from black and white to technicolor. My next three children have done things just as amazing, but I don't think of them as easily. I think the first time things were more easily burned into my memory. My youngest daughter will say "Tell me something funny I did." And I have to ponder and ponder. Sometimes I make something up. However, I know I love her with all my being and worship the ground she walks on. I just don't remember the first time she said "fuck" or tried to drown the cat like I did with her sister. By the way my oldest is 13 and my youngest is 3. Just think how much my memory will suck in 30 years.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterLisa V
well you were silly to ask your dad anyway. dads don't know. they can tell you how many children they have and whether they are boys or girls. he can tell you their relative but not specific ages and he can tell you if they work or don't work, live at home or don't live at home. but the details are mom's job. ask your mom. she'll have the good stories.

and even if you were a little good for nothing as a child it would only be because you were saving up to be brilliant now. what are your brother and sister doing these days? i bet they peaked and are now nothing to brag about. that's what i bet.
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterhonestyrain

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