Category Archives: childhood

Guilty as a Hedgehog

The hedgehog is an animal that looks really cute in pictures, but from which I would probably run screaming in real life. When the Twin Brothers and I were little, our mother used to read to us from Lithuanian picture books, and hedgehogs always featured prominently. There was one story in particular, about a pair of hedgehogs who accidentally burn down their forest, which the Twin Brothers simply could not get enough of.

It was an early indicator of their future as pyromaniacs. I thought it was the most petrifying story I’d ever heard in my life and couldn’t stand to hear it. It was an early indicator of my intense fear of fire and likely the reason why I did not know how to strike a match when it was my turn to light the Advent wreath during freshman year religion class.

Lately I’ve been drawing hedgehogs as a way to work through my issues with fire.

Ha, that’s not really true. I just like drawing hedgehogs and making rubber stamps.

Doesn’t he just look guilty? Like he recently started a forest fire?

Actually, the squirrel looks like he’s up to something, too. Or maybe he’s afraid of the hedgehog.

Does anyone remember the name of the hedgehog forest fire story and if so, where I could get a copy? I have a feeling my son would love it.

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“Dear Rita, It’s Too Bad You Live in Lithuania . . .”

Here is a letter I wrote (and obviously never sent) to my poor pen pal in Soviet occupied Lithuania at the age of eight.

“Dear Rita,

I bet you love picking amber by the shores of the Baltic Sea, but also sad because you are not allowed to pray or attend Holy Mass. I have a Lithuanian national costume and am getting ready for February 16th. I go to Lithuanian (school) and have not forgotten how to speak Lithuanian yet. When I come home from school I usually wash my hands and have a snack. Then I go watch some TV. My favorite game is “Barbie Dolls.” You see, they are little dolls that have very-“

And I just left it at that. Now that I’m re-reading it, I’m glad I never sent it out. There are a lot of things wrong with this letter, like the fact that I’m talking about celebrating Lithuania’s Independence Day in my national costume when it’s a fact that Rita herself cannot (maybe I meant to re-assure her that we Lithuanians in America were still holding up the fort). Or that I’m compelled to mention I haven’t forgotten how to speak Lithuanian yet – I’m willing to bet Rita wasn’t losing any sleep over that. And the Barbies. What was I trying to do, send her into a jealous rage?

We used to always have to write letters to the Poor Children of Lithuania Who Could Not Attend Holy Mass, even though we secretly thought they were pretty darn lucky on that count. It was hard not to sound all gloaty, like we had it all (TV, afternoon snacks, Barbies, soap) when we were always being told that the Children of Lithuania had to do without.

When I wrote this letter, I didn’t honestly believe that Rita (whoever she is) would ever live in a free Lithuania. I hope she’s having a lovely life.

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What It Was Like to Watch TV in the Dark Ages

This post was brought to you by this old photo I recently came across, of the family room in the house where I grew up.

When I was growing up, the Twin Brothers Rama and I were allowed to watch one hour of TV on school nights. Ours was not a household where the TV was always running in the background; you had to ask permission to turn it on and you had to have a program in mind that you were going to watch, be it the Cosby Show, Knight Ryder, Dukes of Hazzard, or Family Ties.

The way you knew if there was a program you wanted to watch was by consulting the TV Guide, which came with the Sunday paper and had programs listed in it on rudimentary charts where times and dates intersected to tell you what was going to be on.

When it was time for the program to start, you would sit down on the couch like a human being and direct your full attention at the screen for the duration. Which is to say you would watch one show straight through from start to finish, commercials and all. If you were lucky, you got some hot buttered popcorn straight from the wok and if not, you just ate nuts which you cracked open yourself. If you wanted to change the channel, you had to stand up, walk over to the TV set, and turn the knob like a monkey in the zoo.

Every couple of minutes, your dad would run over to the TV set and start fiddling with the rabbit ears and your mom would tell him to sit down.

“Just leave it alone! You’re making it worse.”

But your Dad would never leave it alone. Not right away, anyway.

“As long as someone stands here with one finger on the antenna and one foot on the floor, we’re good,” is what he would say.

When he was done fiddling, the reception would be perfect for the three seconds it took him to run back to his spot on the couch.

If you wanted to watch a movie, you would go down to the Video Store with your entire family on Saturday afternoon to rent one plus a VCR, which weighed forty pounds and took up half of the space in the trunk of your Buick Regal.

As the hour drew nearer for movie night to start, you would start angling for a good seat on the couch, on the edge by the end table. You would do anything to avoid getting stuck in the middle between the Twin Brothers Rama – mouth breathers both – even if that meant staking out the spot three hours ahead of time and acting surprised when you looked up from your book to find that it was time for movie night already.

God help you if a love scene came on once the movie started, because guess what – your parents were watching, too. You’d have to sit perfectly still and act completely disinterested while in fact you were taking copious mental notes.

Your mother would say to your father, “Why does Hollywood have to ruin every perfectly good movie with gratuitous sex? It’s disgusting!” And you would be simultaneously embarrassed and irritated because you felt that your parents should not be allowed to watch – or comment – on that sort of thing.

The next morning your Dad would pack the VCR up and take it back to the Video Store before the stroke of noon.

And you know something? Those were good times.

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Pants on Fire

When you start talkin’ up Santa Claus to your newborn, what you don’t realize is that you’re setting yourself up for a sordid life of deceit. Keeping the magic alive involves a lot of work, and before you know it, you’re sneaking around buying gifts, speed wrapping them in a closet like some kind of Japanese game show contestant, and hiding them in places you yourself have no ability to recall come Christmas Eve night.

Because you had no foresight when you started the tradition, every year you have to buy yourself a gift from Santa or remind your husband to do it himself.

You have to make sure he wraps the gift in the specially designated “Santa” paper and labels it with a black Sharpie marker using Santa Script.

You have to remind him to dot his “i”s with a puffy heart and write his lower case “a”s in Times New Roman Sans Serif and then your husband is like, “Why don’t you just wrap and label this frikkin’ gift yourself?”

You spend so much time tracking him on NORAD and making up intricate explanations for Santa’s omniscience and magical powers of bilocation, that by the time Christmas Eve rolls around, you half believe that he’s really coming over.

You hope the reindeer find organic parsnips acceptable in lieu of carrots and debate whether they should be left on the cookie plate or the front steps.

You wonder whether it would be more believable if the reindeer left no trace of parsnip in their wake, or just the ends intact.

In the end, you break the parsnips in half and ask your husband to gnaw them down to the nubbin with his teeth.

You can’t even catch a break on Christmas morning because you have to remember which gifts came from Santa and which gifts came from you.

You have to shoot daggers with your eyes at relatives and friends who say point blank in front of your kid, “Where did you buy him that drum set?” And when they keep talking about it despite the fact that you are convulsing on the living room floor trying to pantomime, “STOP TALKING HE BELIEVES IN SANTA CLAUS OMG,” you have no choice but to tackle that person to the ground.

Despite all of this, you don’t much regret perpetrating the myth. Because you were a skeptical child who strong armed your parents into telling you the truth when you were but four years old, and now you wish you had believed for just a little while longer.

Because it is so much fun. And because as long as Santa is real, the world is a benign place where anything can happen, all of it good.


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