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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
For The Weak

Chicago Review Press

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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.

Lets-Panic.com → 

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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)

My Mother is still in denial about my Brother. She claims he was "Curious". "Um, Mom? He set the forest beside Grandma's house on FIRE....twice!".
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered Commentercdl
If you ask my mother what kind of child my brother was, angels start singing and she stares off into space with a glint in her eye and a small smile on her face.

(someday I'll show all the pictures my parents have of me looking cross. I was a very cross child, now I'm a really angry grown up!)
July 25, 2005 | Unregistered CommentermelissaS
oh the joy of having parents who love you! I have the kind of parents who can be confronted, criticised, and argued with (now that we’re all adults) and believe it or not- they love me anyway!
July 26, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterangel
I try not to ask my mom much about me as a child. Since I was the moodiest person ever. Next time your dad says you were crying all the time, tell him he could have had me. I had a total spaz fit and threw a vacuum cleaner at my mom.

Many years later, we are now aware that I have a chemical imbalance. Puberty and chemical imbalances do not go well together. But now all I need is happy pills and I'm just fine. Or vitamins, if you listen to Tom Cruise.
July 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDM
Just a quick note to say, I think I love your dad. I mean, I've been fond of you and yours for some time now, but in recent weeks I've grown to just love your dad. In a totally non-threatenting, my-own-beloved-father-died-unexpectedly-recently-and-I-miss-him-terribly-and-identify-strongly-with-fatherly-goodness kind of way. Tell him that he's admired for his Dad-ness by an Arkansas woman roughly the age of his children. May you treasure him yet for a long time to come...and pass that message along to everyone else who still has their father with them on this earth.
July 27, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterBelinda
I am the middle child, the most sensitive, and I'm still a crybaby. I think that, like your father, my father shares the same disappointment in havin a wussy of a daughter. Especially when I have a sister getting her Ph.D. at Stanford to compete with for approval. I feel your pain.
August 2, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

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