The olden days and all kinds of families

By Mir
January 23, 2013

Hippie School is working on some sort of family history/family tree/civil rights mashup project right now—at least, I think they are. Monkey tends to be a little obtuse when it comes to telling me about what’s actually happening at school. Somewhere in his brain, the fact that I oversee his HOME homeschool days gives him carte blanche to tell me only select snippets about what happens when he’s over at Hippie School. As a result, if I am to believe his version of events, on a regular day at Hippie School all that happens is: He plays D&D with a couple of his buddies, someone does something wrong which Monkey then feels the need to correct (and he either does so with self-righteous gusto OR he proudly restrains himself but has to vent to me about how hard that was), he forgets to eat his lunch, and someone builds something fantastic out of found objects. So, uh, I always assume I’m missing some pieces of the story.

[Sidebar: I do not mind the whole “What did you do today?” “Nothing much,” interaction, actually. It’s so developmentally appropriate! Hooray! And I do have my ways of finding out what’s actually happening there, and I feel confident it’s not all Lord of the Flies and they really are doing work, so whatever.]

In general, Hippie School doesn’t include homework. But this past week, it did. And I could’ve told you ahead of time that this was going to be entertaining.

Granted, I do not yet understand how the various facets of this particular project are going to fit together, but Monkey had two things to work on at home. First, he was tasked with interviewing a grandparent or “other old person” (HAAAAAAAAAA) with some specific questions about what life was like when they were young. I asked Monkey who he’d picked to interview, and without hesitation he told me he wanted to talk to my dad. This makes sense, because while Monkey has a multitude of grandparental units, there’s only one grandfather still with us, and plus, my dad is pretty silly and so that was likely to be the most fun.

Arrangements were made. At the designated time, Monkey sat down with his notes at the kitchen table and the phone and told my father, “Well, I have some questions to ask you.”

Naturally, I eavesdropped from the safety of my office. It started out reasonably enough; Monkey would ask a question, there would be a pause as my dad answered, and then Monkey would ask him to spell something as he scribbled down the responses. It went this way for quite a while.

Then Monkey got to the money question: “So, Grandpa, how were things different for girls when you were young?” There was a pause as my father replied. I didn’t know (at the time) what he was saying. But after a few moments, Monkey said, “Well… is Grandma home?” Another pause, then, “Well, Grandma is a girl. Is she home?”

When the interview was over, Monkey gave me the phone, and I asked Dad what had happened there.

“He asked me how things were different for girls when I was young, and I said I didn’t know because I’d never been a girl.” Funny, right? But also… what? I may have suggested (and by “suggest” I mean I prefaced my statement with “OH MY GOD, DAD”) that perhaps he had OBSERVED some differences simply by, I don’t know, being a member of the human race?

“I don’t think there really were many differences,” said my 73-year-old father. There was a moment wherein I tried to decide if he was going senile or if he really and truly just always believes the best about everyone. I concluded it must be senility. I pointed out that when he was Monkey’s age, girls weren’t allowed to wear pants to school, for starters. First he argued that surely they were allowed to. Eventually he conceded that maybe I was right. And then I told him I was worried it was time to push him into the lagoon. (We have a deal, me and my dad. Should he ever truly lose his mind, that’s how he wants to go. I’ve agreed, but what he doesn’t know is that I don’t think I’ll have the heart to push him. I’ll just put a box of JuJuBees on a fishing line and cast it out there and point and assume he can take his own damn self out to drown.) (Also: PANTS. Truly the biggest issue of his day for women. Or, y’know, NOT.)

Anyway, this afforded me the opportunity to talk to my son about how various ridiculous sexist and racist foibles of our past are so unthinkable by today’s standards that Grandpa has chosen to block them out entirely, isn’t that NEAT? Fun!

The other thing Monkey had to do is my most hated school exercise ever, which is that he was tasked with drawing a family tree. There are a lot of things I hate about family trees, but the main one is that our modern notion of family cannot, I think, be accurately represented with this kind of old-school construct. People divorce and remarry. Some people are adopted. Some people who aren’t related to us by either blood or adoption or even marriage are family by every other definition. It just feels… limiting… to me, I guess.

Nonetheless, Mr. Logical had soldiered onward with this exercise, and by the time he brought his rough draft home, he’d done a really excellent job of including everyone and finding ways to visually represent the connections between various folks. Still, there was a single high point in his drawing.

I should’ve taken a picture. It didn’t occur to me until he’d already left for school this morning, so you’ll have to trust my artist’s rendition of this particular facet of his family tree. It looked like this (but more adorable, and written in messy pencil):

“Uh, Monkey?” I said, trying to stifle giggles, once I saw this. “Did you mean to make this look like Otto and I had a child together, and that child is Licorice?” (This felt like a safer question than the issue of his drawing making it look like I’m practicing polyamory.)

“Of course!” he said. “You always say that Licorice is your baby. AND YOU ADOPTED HER.”

He had me, there. And I guess we don’t need to worry too much about Monkey ever being constrained by any particular box, now, do we? Surely not. Monkey will break free of racism, sexism, and speciesism. POWER TO ALL THE PEOPLE SENTIENT CREATURES!


  1. mandy

    Awesome tree!

  2. Rita Arens

    Pants! The answer to everything! I love it.

  3. Kelly

    This made me smile! Your kids rock.

  4. Jenne

    Pants . . . puppies . . . . and polyamory.

    Replacing the three R’s ;)

  5. LizD

    Two thumbs up!

  6. deva at deva by definition

    I love this! and Pants ARE THE ANSWER to most question. “I am cold” put on pants! I am hungry = wear tighter pants or looser pants and eat more. I am hot TAKE OFF YOUR PANTS.

    it’s a pantstravaganza all up in here!

  7. Andrea

    Love this! Monkey has a heart that can love everyone/thing! My Superman was naming all of our family the other day, and concluded with, “And I guess Pumpkin (our new puppy) is my sister. But she looks like a little pig.”

  8. Kim

    Oddly, I find your dad’s selective memory endearing. And that family tree is EXCELLENT!

  9. Liza

    Go, you! And Monkey. Did you ask your dad if he got the President’s Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall reference? ;)

  10. Jen

    The agreement with my parents involves a good bottle of whiskey and a snow bank.

  11. mamalang

    My parents divorced when I was quite young, and so it was just my mom and I for many years. I had to do a family tree in Kindergarten, and it had three leaves. My mom, myself, and babies. My mom looks at the tree and has a small heart attack. Being a single, unattached woman who already knew she didn’t want any more children, she wasn’t quite sure what babies I was referring to.

    My babydolls. Those were the babies I was referring to. Not my grandparents that we practically lived with. Inanimate objects.

    Family trees are stupid :)

  12. Brooke

    Your “deal” with your dad brought to mind this episode of the TV show Dinosaurs (91-94).

    It’s called Hurling Day and this is the description:

    It is a dinosaur custom that when they turn 72, they are to be hurled off a cliff into a tar pit. Ethyl’s time is coming near, and Earl (as the ceremonial son-in-law) is looking forward to tossing her… until Robbie realizes Ethyl still has a lot to live for.

    My mother cackled about this one for YEARS! :)

  13. Megan

    Heh. Bits of my family were mormon pilygamists. THAT made for an interesting shape to the old family tree!

  14. Brenda

    Love the family tree! Although I’m shaking my head at your dad’s lack of remembering. Do you at least have a lagoon already picked out? If not, might be time to start scouting. ;)

  15. suburbancorrespondent

    My elderly friends always joke about it’s being time for them to be set loose on an ice floe. I guess that is how the Eskimos used to take care of their too-old parents? Who knows.

    Also, genealogists do indeed have a way of drawing divorce and remarriage into the family tree. I know this, because my sister-in-law is an amateur genealogist. I love and adore her, but this is pretty much all I have learned on this subject from her; I tend to nod off pretty quickly when people start talking about their ancestors.

    Which reminds me of Woody Allen’s line in “Annie Hall”: “Your Grammy made you that? My grandmother was too busy running from the Cossacks to make me anything.” Or something like that. I think of it every time my SIL brings out her genealogical charts.

  16. suburbancorrespondent


    when my kids ask me how we managed without cellphones, I can’t remember. So it doesn’t seem too farfetched to me that your father doesn’t remember what the girls wore to high school when he was young. Especially since guys don’t really notice clothes. Myself, I remember every single outfit my babies wore and I point them out when we look at pictures of them. “Remember? My mother gave us that onesie!” But Larry doesn’t have a clue.

  17. Bob

    I’m with your dad on this one.

    I live in the 21st century like you do, but yet I cannot REALLY tell you about what life was like for women, or black people, or asian, or latino, or any one other than myself back when I was a kid. My memories of that time were recorded by a child, seen through a child’s eyes and were colored by the morays and sensibilities of a child. In other words, I would no more presuppose to tell a child of today what life was like for black people back then than I would attempt to speak for you about what life is like today for women. I – like many other people – studied the highlights of the civil rights movement of the 60’s, the equal rights movement of the 70;s, but all I could really tell you about life for black people or women back then would be my hazy memories of living in the rural south in the 70’s. I couldn’t tell you what it was really like for them.

    Monkey was right. He should have been able to ask his grandma about it. The real story of what life was like for women when your dad was a kid should come from woman of that age.

    I mean – what little boy is really conscious of what life is like for anyone other than a little boy?

    Now, if the question was: “what do you think life was like for women when you were a kid?” then I would agree with you – your dad should have attempted an answer.

  18. addy

    I do not like family tree exercises for the same reasons. Dude we look like some weird-ass floks on those things. And yes, Licorice is a member fo the family and should be included as such. Love The BATMAN!

  19. addy


  20. Arnebya

    I truly believe that a reference to being pushed into the lagoon is going to take over many aspects of my life. I’m so tired I feel like I’ve been pushed into the lagoon. Life is too hard. Push me into the lagoon (OK, I’m PMS-y, so never mind that one. (But it’s still how I feel.))

  21. jenni in ks

    Yeah, family trees are special. I remember helping my step-daughter make one to include her dad & i, her mom & her other ex and their two kids AND her mom’s current boyfriend.

  22. Rocky Mountain Woman

    I was the rabble rouser that started the revolution that ended up with girls being able to wear pants in school. I’m pretty proud of that! And yes, I am actually that old…

  23. dad

    I had a particular lagoon in mind.
    I just can’t seem to remember where it was.

    And don’t ask me what I had for breakfast this morning

    Also, cut me some slack.
    It was my first time being interviewed as “the old guy.”

  24. Jeanie

    Way to make me feel old, Mir! I remember when we weren’t able to wear pants to work. I love Monkey’s family tree. Everyone knows our pets are part of our family.

  25. laura

    A++ on the family tree. All family members represented. Well done.

  26. The Other Dawn

    That boy. So loveable! And so wise.

  27. Heather

    Hee, my dad would totally do the same thing. For many of the reasons listed above, but also because he came to this country as a poor (albeit white and male) war refugee and he and his siblings all pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to a very comfortable middle class existence. He’s pretty sure the civil rights movement was 100% successful and it wasn’t really that bad to start with. We don’t talk politics very often.

    As for the family tree, I would really like to see them replaced with genomes. Room for everyone there.

  28. Jen B

    I love Monkey! LOL

  29. Bek

    Learning history one miscellaneous “old person” at a time. LOL!

  30. Brigitte

    At least one thing about family trees that’s improved, is now it’s COOL if you had (say) a fur-trapper great-grandfather living in the woods with his native american woman, who never even met his own grandkids, or (perhaps) a prostitute great-aunt. Not namin’ any names! ;-)

    Whereas in the old days, that stuff would have been all hush-hush.

    As for the prejudices of the old days, I’ve run into that with the 8 year old daughter when reading Tintins together, because some are not too politically correct. Or Disney’s Peter Pan.

    My daughter has a 16 year old kitty “brother”, so Monkey’s not alone!

  31. Nancy

    Pants! I crack my kids up when I tell them I was in the 4th grade when the pricipal called an all school meeting to tell us girls could wear pants (all school = all 8 rooms). I remember one girl asking if it was still OK to wear necklaces (? to this day) but I think she just couldn’t think of something else to say and wanted to hear herself ask the pricipal something in front of the whole school. Now why do I remember that, and can’t remember what olives are called upon occasion?

  32. Chickadee

    Wait, wait. I can wear PANTS!?!?!?

  33. Brooke W

    Siri will tell you where to bury a body.

    Not kidding.

  34. nicole

    when I was in 6th or 7th grade I was tasked with making a family tree. I drew a Venn diagram with my brother and I in the middle and our various step families in the other blocks. I thought it was genius but it made my mom sad for some reason.

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