IT TAKES at least eighteen years to civilize a kid. Twenty, if you’re lucky.

Babies, for example, are oh-so-precious. But the first time Mama and Dada’s little bundle of joy goes on an inconsolable crying jag, screaming at decibels that make their parents’ teeth and their curtain rods rattle, new parents get a golden opportunity to become virtuous. For patience is a virtue, and it takes a plethora of patience to survive an infant’s crying jag with both your sanity and your baby intact. (Always good goals.)

Wow, that’s so awesome, I hear you say. I – even I – can become virtuous! But wait, it gets better.

Following that familiar adage, “Practice makes perfect,” new mamas and papas can get daily, even hourly opportunities to practice being virtuous. That’s a bit much, I hear you comment. No it isn’t. Because a crying jag or two (or three, or four, or seventeen), is nature’s way of welcoming us all into that highly-prized paternity, the parenting club. It’s Mother Nature’s hazing ritual, if you will.

Hey there, you passed! Welcome to the club! Only nineteen years, ten months, and twenty-three more days till your kid turns twenty and we pronounce you completely virtuous and him-or-her civilized! (Maybe.)

Actually, it depends upon the circumstances. Cuz sometimes there can be “extenuating circumstances ,” ya know?

When he was only eight, Thomas Edison set fire to his dad’s barn, just so he could study the nature of fire (or so he said). Now, that would be an extenuating circumstance. (And just imagine the amount of patience his dad got to practice. Wow!) I also heard that Muhammad Ali’s fist connected with his mother’s face when he was a mere lad of three, and he actually broke his mother’s jaw. Another extenuating circumstance. It’s complicated.

Consider if you will, the developmental stages every child goes through:  The terrible two’s. (”No! Me do it!”) The disorganized sevens. (“Mom, have you seen my backpack?“) The wild nines. (“Look out, below!”) The hyper-sensitive twelves. (”But everybody’s looking at me!”) The fierce fifteens. (“But everybody’s doing it.”) The lost-in-wonderland seventeens.  (“I don’t know. How should I know?”)  And the cash-strapped twenties. (“Dad, can I borrow twenty bucks till payday?”) And so, I rest my case.

Like I said, if your kid is fully civilized by the time he-or-she turns twenty, you’re one of the lucky ones. Cuz truth-be-told, the most civilizing act we can all undergo is – you guessed it – to become a parent. That’s when most of us finally get it that we’re not the center of the universe.  🙂  And then the never-ending cycle begins again. Ironic, ain’t it?


  1. Mary,
    It was a delight to meet you, discover your books, and enjoy a brief chat with you yesterday at LA Times Festival of Books. I have enjoyed reading “Mary, Mary Quite” and brought it to work today to share with my co-workers – the READ/Orange County team…each of us with comparable experiences. We are the READ/Orange County team and READ/OC is the adult literacy services of the Orange County Public Libraries. The Fountain Valley Library is a branch of OCPL…and I live nearby in Costa Mesa. Please “check us out.” We help OC adults who need help w/basic reading & writing skills throughout OC. Like libraries, READ/OC has a “Friends of READ/OC” (FROC) who also supports our efforts in many ways. On the way home from USC yesterday, as I ready through your book, I immediately thought you would be such a wonderful addition to our FROC board! I realize you must be extremely busy, but if you have any interest in the issue of adult literacy and helping other moms strengthen their reading and learning skills so they will have literacy as a “power” tool in their life…please give me a call or drop me a line. I would love share more and encourage you to consider the “power tool” of literacy and lifelong learning and how necessary it is for raising readers, surviving work, and as you aptly put it, “other mind-altering substances” of life! Barbara Neder (READ/Orange County, 714-566-3070).

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