From the Blog

Be Careful What You Tell Your Dumb Kids

I don’t remember what age I was, but I was young. I had a playmate down the street, and I rode my bike a quarter of a mile to her house. I didn’t know this girl from school. She wasn’t a “good” friend. I think I just knew her because she lived on my street.

I don’t remember much about this girl, but I hung out with her a lot one summer. She had a brook running behind her house and some swampy woods that had interesting swampy plants, with seed pods that burst in your hands. I spent a lot of time at her house. She was really into watching the musical Annie, and we spent a lot of time singing those songs and acting out scenes from the movie.

I don’t remember this girl being unpleasant or devious. But my mom remarked one day that she thought this girl was a bad influence on me. I was just a dumb kid and barely knew what that meant. But my mom said she was going to keep me from hanging out with her. Maybe I was getting mouthy, or maybe my mom didn’t like me belting out “Hard Knock Life.”

I was upset. I didn’t know what “bad influence” meant. And as a dumb kid, I had a fundamental lack of perspective. No more summer playmate. It was the end of everything in my little world. This girl was not my best friend, but not being allowed to play with her was about the same as ripping off my arms and feeding them to lions.

The next day, I don’t know how or why, perhaps it was sheer routine, but I was able to get on my bike and ride over to my friend’s house, just like I always did. And when I got there, I told her I wouldn’t be able to come play with her anymore. For some reason, her mom was around and I sadly told them both, “My mom says you’re a bad influence on me.”

Maybe they would be as upset as I was. Maybe her mom might lobby on my behalf, and try to convince my mom that her daughter wasn’t a “bad influence on me.” Whatever that meant.

My friend’s mom told me maybe it was best I went home. And that seemed like the end. The end of my summer. The end of my whole world. I was like little orphan Annie, without a friend in the world. I wondered if my mom was even my real mom. I slowly rode my bike back home and lamented my existence.

When I came home, my mom was howling. My former friend’s mom had called her. “Why did you tell them I said she was a bad influence? Why did you tell her that?”

Duh, I don’t know. “It’s what you said, right? I wasn’t lying? You said it.” I only had a slight inkling what “influence” meant, and what it probably meant when combined with “bad.”

I was baffled. If my mom was mad about this girl being a bad influence, now she was really mad. “You don’t say stuff like that to people.”

I was never, ever able to play with the girl from down the street again.

And I wondered if my real family was out there, somewhere.


  1. My uncle Ricky decided to share some pearls of wisdom with me, about love, when I was 8 or 9 years old. He said, ( in a brash, boozy, confidential sort of way) “kid, if you think you’ve found your true love, the person you wanna spend the rest of your life with, get married to… If you wanna know for sure if they are the one, picture the guy with his pants around his hairy ankles, sittin’ on the John, takin’ a huge dump. If you can still stand the sight of them after that… Marry him!”
    And god help me, it is advice I have never managed to erase from my brain.

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