Dear VK

Welcome to the first-ever “Dear VK” advice column. What qualifies me to give people advice, you ask? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. That’s the beauty of it — no self-esteem coddling, no professional responsibility, no ethics or other boring constraints. Just telling it like it is (for free!) — that’s what this column’s about. So, without further ado, let’s see what the mail bag contains this week.

Dear VK,

I have a five year old who, while smart as a whip, totally balks at doing the “memorization” part of his homework. Oh, yeah, he can read and count and all that good stuff, but getting him to, say, learn his address or phone number by rote…well, it’s a major undertaking. I know you have a kid about the same age; do you have any suggestions for helping a young one memorize boring (but important) stuff?

Maternally Memorable

Dear Memorable,

Isn’t it strange how kids can remember a long list of gifts they want for their birthday, the time and channel their favorite cartoons are on, and just about every cuss word that escapes their parents’ lips during fits of pique… but they forget essential things like addresses and phone numbers? Maybe kids that age don’t consider addresses and phone numbers essential, since they can’t conceive of being away from Mom or Dad and needing to call home. Unfortunately, kindergarten teachers evaluate a child’s intelligence by whether they can recite such things. So, unless we want our kids riding to school on the small bus, we’ve got to find ways to help them remember such mundane details.

One way is to make the memorization non-negotiable. That means you could spend every night brow-beating your little darling, or you can be more devious. So devious, in fact, that he doesn’t realize you’re forcing him to learn something. For us, that involved changing my son’s computer password to our street address and, once that was memorized, to our phone number. Since he loves to play computer games, he suddenly had a reason to memorize the information. It worked like a charm, too. (Of course, now I can’t get him off the computer, but that’s another matter.)

Keep in mind that kids this age tend to soak up all sorts of information from their surroundings. Take advantage of this. It’s hard sneaking vegetables into a kid’s meal, but quite simpe to sneak some learning in there without him noticing. Buy some of those cheap laminated placemats designed for kids — look for ones that are blank on the back — and use a grease pencil to write your address or phone number, then serve his meals and snacks on it.

Some studies on memory and learning indicate that the best time to memorize data is right before falling asleep. With my kid, there’s a window of opportunity in that half-hour between when I put him in bed and when he stops trying to resist falling asleep. If yours is at all like this, turn that into learning time by hanging a poster with your address and phone number on the wall of your son’s bedroom so it faces his bed. He’ll wind up staring at it, and sooner or later the information will sink in.

Meanwhile, don’t fret. Einstein is said to have never learned his own phone number, and he still turned out all right… aside from that awful hair.


Dear VK,

I accidentally clipped a homeless guy driving back from a bar at the beach last weekend. I’m pretty sure he’s dead because his head hit the bumper like a Gallagher melon. No one saw this, and I cleaned the car up real, real good. I feel bad now, but not bad enough to risk prison time. Should I just try to get over this, or do you recommend therapy? If I don’t pay my therapist, can they tell the cops?

Signed, Guilty in Guilford

Dear Guilty,

It is just me, or does it seem like homeless people ought to stay under bridges and in soup kitchens where they belong? I guess I’m trying to understand why you feel bad now, when you clearly didn’t at the time. If it’s for the homeless guy’s sake, don’t bother — he’s not feeling a thing, and wherever he is it’s either a damn sight warmer or nicer than the box he’d previously called home. So why waste the money on therapy when you could be spending it on something far more productive, like buying me a drink.

Besides, the real question here is: how’s your car?


Dear VK,

First, allow me to congratulate you on your new venture. Hopefully, you can also help.

I love my mom. I really do. She is normally a very intelligent person — a nurse — and not a dim lightbulb. Unfortunately, she is clueless when it comes to giving gifts. Even though she gave birth to me, it’s like she doesn’t know the slightest thing about what I like. I dread the holidays or my birthday (I’m turning 40 this year!) when I have to act enthusiastic and grateful over whatever horrid thing she’s decided to give me this year.

Example: One year she gave me a sweater, in her size, which at the time was 3 sizes larger than my size. Then she borrowed it about a month later. The last time she borrowed it, I didn’t get it back, and I have not asked for it back. It’s that horrid.

I know this sounds ungrateful and all, she’s doing the same thing with the gifts she gives my daughter and nieces. This Christmas, my daughter received a Disney denim jacket. My daughter is 7 years old. The jacket was a ladies size large. My nieces are 4 years old. They each received a pair of Disney Princess pajamas that were a girls size 10…almost six sizes too large. And my daughter really liked the denim jacket and doesn’t understand what happened to it. (Mom took it back home, and it doesn’t come in a children’s size).

I have given up giving her a list for my daughter, even though she asks for one, of sizes or what my daughter has asked for. She either ignores it, or loses it, or I just don’t know. I have adjusted to my mothers gifts, but it is difficult to explain to my daughter that Grandma just doesn’t get it sometimes. Can you help me deal with this?

Your loyal reader,
Anxious in Ohio

Dear Anxious,

Thanks for the kind words!

As to your mom, you have my sympathies. Remember the children’s book, Harold and the Purple Crayon? When I was 4, I told my mom how much I liked that book. From then on, every Christmas or birthday present she gave me was something purple. I hate purple. Always have. I simply liked the book. How’d I solve this? I said nothing. For 27 years. Twenty-seven long years of crappy, purple presents. When I finally told her, she was hurt and offended, but rather than getting the point she simply started giving me pieces of a Mikasa china set I’d admired when I was 17 but which, in my 30’s, I didn’t particularly like. (Which reminds me: anyone want to buy a set of used Mikasa china, service for 12?)

Gifts given without regard to the recipients tastes or clothing sizes are, ultimately, given by people just going through the motions of giving. They’re the kind of folks who believe “it’s the thought that counts,” and don’t understand that a thoughtful gift makes the recipient feel cherished. Unfortunately, these folks tend to also be the ones to get their panties in a wad when the recipient doesn’t go ape-shit over their present.

You’ve already said you’ve tried giving her a list but she ignores it, and I’m already assuming you’ve tried telling Mom that your daughter and nieces get disappointed when they can’t use the presents she gives them. In that case, you’re really down to choosing between two options.

You can decide to fight fire with fire, or you can decide to put up with it. Either way involves accepting the gift, but if you’re really trying to make the point to Mom that her presents suck, there’s a simple way to do just that. Throw a garage sale and drag out each and every crappy present she’s given you and your daughter, then price them outrageously low and invite Mom over. When she asks why you’re selling all those gifts she’s given you, point out that (a) they’re not your taste; or (b) they aren’t your size and therefore they’re just useless clutter sitting around your house. She’ll get the point… although you might not get any more gifts in the future. If that’s not to your liking, then suck it up and say nothing. But remember, there’s no reason you can’t quietly sell those gifts on eBay and use the proceeds to buy something you really enjoy.

As for your daughter, I understand her disappointment but maybe it’s best for her to learn at this young age that Grandma gives crappy presents and always will, rather than figuring it out, say, when she’s getting ready to turn 40.


Dear VK,

Why don’t people use turn signals? I keep getting cut off by other drivers on my way to work, and it really pisses me off. So, ok, I’m usually on the phone with my boyfriend when this happens (which means the cops would blame ME even though it’s not my fault). If it wouldn’t mess up my car, I’d rear-end somebody to teach them a lesson, but I can’t afford the repairs. What do I do about these jerks?

Signed, Pissed in St. Louis

Dear Pissed,

I feel your pain. Don’t people realize we aren’t mind-readers? I mean, if you could read other drivers’ thoughts you wouldn’t have to use your cell phone to talk to your boyfriend: you could just channel the conversation in your head, right? I guess we’ll have to wait for the Japanese to invent that gadget, too. Until then, I’d suggest driving much, much faster. That way nobody can cut in front of you.

Oh, and stay out of Guilford.

Putting a whole new meaning on the phrase “Wiz…bang!”,

When not doling out pithy — but often practical — advice, Venomous Kate can be found at Electric Venom. Got a question for Kate? Send it!

Sentencing angels to life on the head of a pin
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