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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Questionable moments in parenting

After posting about how laid back we've become about parenting since making aliyah, I got the sense from a few of you that we may have taken the whole Israeli 'Yehieh B'seder' (It'll be OK) thing a bit too far.

Let me assure you that Zahava is still very much a concerned, hands-on parent in the best American tradition.  I, on the other hand... well... suffice it to say that what follows will probably confirm your worst assumptions about my judgment as a parent (remember when I accidentally ordered Ariella a doll that had body piercings, tattoos, realistic body hair and a pocketbook stuffed with wacky tobaccy?) .

A few months ago I went over to a friend's house to drop something off, and our 12 year old son, Gilad, tagged along.  My friend had just been ordered to clean out a few of his closets by his wife, and during the excavations he'd come across a book that he thought Gilad might enjoy.  It was entitled "211 Things a Bright Boy Can Do" by Tom Cutler.

Cover

At first glance it seemed like a perfectly innocent collection of wholesome skills, parlor tricks and distractions for pre-teen boys... so I nodded to Gilad and he accepted the gift with thanks.

It wasn't until later that day that I realized that everything might not be as it seemed since Gilad hadn't put the book down.  In fact, Gilad - who is normally a reluctant reader (at best) - seemed oddly absorbed in the book.

I didn't want to make a big deal about it since I was genuinely pleased to see him reading.  So I went on-line and checked to see what Amazon had to say about it in their book reviews.  Here's what I found:

Synopsis:

"211 Things a Bright Boy Can Do" is the essential life-skills handbook for bright boys of every age [emphasis mine], featuring all the subjects they don't teach you at school or Scouts. If you reached adulthood without learning the exact rules of conkers, or how to take off your underpants without removing your trousers, or how to put a ship into a bottle, this is the book for you. Divided into handy sections, this fascinating volume contains easy-to-follow tutorials and priceless tips on: how to Be A Real Man - including how to mow the perfect lawn and how to fight a bull - with elegance; Weird Science and Sideshow Physics - spoon-bending, teach yourself mindreading, and how to lie on a bed of nails; Bracing Outdoor Activities - cowboy ropecraft, how to punt without looking a fool, how to head a ball, and how to make a boomerang come back; Militant Cookery - how to make your own pickled eggs, how to spit-roast and dress a suckling pig, how to make a proper pork pie; Parlour diversions - shadow puppets, easy tunes for the glass harmonica, and how to make a pinhole camera.

It also feaures tips on: The Human Body - how to make your hair stand on end, how to dissect a man [I admit I didn't notice this one], sumo wrestling for the beginner; Those Useful Subjects Not Taught at School - how to interrogate an uncooperative suspect, how to win money in a casino [this one slipped by unnoticed too], and how to blag your way in philosophy, science, art, and psychology; Gags, cons and practical jokes - classic old and boggling new tricks, juggling, and unusual party pieces for the classroom, pub and restaurant table, plus much, much more. This volume won't improve your morals or make you smell nice, but it will entertain and inform. So if you've always wanted to know how to tear a phone book in half, how to identify airline insignia, or the essential moves of Morris Dancing, this is the book you've been waiting for.

Clearly I didn't read all the way to the end, because I'm kinda sure I would have noticed a section on dissecting a human body.  Suffice it to say that I left him alone with his new book and didn't give it another thought until much later when I found it sitting on the couch.

I picked it up and started skimming through the table of contents:

Here is a scan of the complete contents, along with some notes I've added (you may have to click to embiggen) :

Contents - Page One

211_contents_2 

Contents - Page Two

211_contents_2_2

Contents - Page Three

211_contents_3

Contents - Page Four

211_contents_4

Contents - Page Five

211_contents_5

Contents - Page Six

211_contents_6

I have to admit that the overwhelming majority of the '211 things' that author Tom Cutler has laid out for 'boys' who might read this book are not only quite wholesome 'Boy Scout' type diversions... but are just the sort of thing I would want my kids to do in their spare time instead of watching TV.

But when you take into account the half dozen (or so) 'questionable' topics, the the only way one could reasonably consider this a collection of 'Boy Scout-type diversions' would be if the Jamboree was being held with a 'Lord of the Flies' theme and without the benefit of adult supervision.

Taking the book away from him at this point would be a classic case of closing the barn door after the horses have run away.  After all, he has memorized entire sections of the book and has guessed - correctly, I might add - the bra size of one of the women in the household ( and yes, he was cut down to size over that one).

Clearly some damage control is in order... and there isn't much question of who needs to do it.  After all, since I'm the one who OK'd the book, it makes sense that I'm the one who needs to sit him down for a chat.  But once Gilad understands that not all the topics in the book are appropriate for public discussion (or demonstration) I'm totally going to ask him if I can borrow it!

Note:  If you want your own copy... go here (or pick up a used copy on one of the discount sites like abebooks)

Posted by David Bogner on June 3, 2008 | Permalink

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Ha ha! Funny!

BTW, duuuh, I just commented on one of your old posts (about the hippie doll...), went to the link and forgot that it wasn't your new post... oh well. What happened in the end?

Posted by: miss worldwide | Jun 3, 2008 12:43:27 PM

David - All I can say is, this is one of those few times (perhaps only?) that maybe, I'm just a teensy bit happy my older boys' English isn't good enough to bother reading this book.

:-)

Can I borrow it next?

Posted by: Jameel @ The Muqata | Jun 3, 2008 1:02:13 PM

I learned something new from your post - the verb "blag". My only exposure to it previously was from this XKCD comic:

http://xkcd.com/148/

and his "blag":

http://blag.xkcd.com/

but from here:

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=blag

I can see it can mean, "To convince by rhetoric; to gain acceptance or approval through persuasive banter or conversation; trickery; keenly persuasive; to scrounge by means of conversation" or "1) To lie 2) Make up a false excuse 3) To make up as you go along"

Although the more I think about it, many bloggers are actually blaggers (present company excluded..)

Posted by: Dave (Balashon) | Jun 3, 2008 1:07:28 PM

Obviously these are life long skills that your son will find invaluable. Your job is just to teach him to use them for good, and not for evil.

As I read the list a flash came to me of a man making a mouse out of a handkerchief and the thing actually crawling up his arm (page 228). It is a memory from the deep, deep past that just came back. I don't remember the man, but I remember wondering how he did that.

He probably read the book.

Posted by: Baila | Jun 3, 2008 1:56:15 PM

LOL, Keep reminding yourself that he willingly read a book! He's smart enough to know which parts to keep to himself (or share only with you). That being said, I think I'd let Etan read it if it meant he'd happily read a whole book : )

Posted by: Rachel | Jun 3, 2008 1:56:28 PM

Ok, David, is there a version for girls? I bet it doesn't have a chapter on guessing the size of men's special undergarments....

Posted by: westbankmama | Jun 3, 2008 2:21:10 PM

Believe me, David, it could've been far worse. At least there's not a chapter on how to comport yourself in a House of Ill Repute.

And at least I didn't write the book.

Posted by: Elisson | Jun 3, 2008 2:48:06 PM

David, it looks like you stumbled upon a real gem! My boys have enjoyed the modern version of Gilad's book http://www.amazon.com/Dangerous-Book-Boys-Conn-Iggulden/dp/0061243582/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1212494679&sr=8-1 - and yes, Westbankmama, there is a similar book for girls http://www.amazon.com/Daring-Book-Girls-Andrea-Buchanan/dp/0061472573/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1212494679&sr=8-2 I think that in some ways, these books are a substitute for of all the incidental learning that used to take place outside of school, which no longer happens because kids are either too busy with programmed activities, or only interacting with their peers electronically. Good luck to you when you get your hands on the book - it looks as if there are a few subjects which you would still like to learn about!

Posted by: Debbie | Jun 3, 2008 3:13:07 PM

I think this book is fantastic. Much better than, ahem, a certain, ahem, doll I recently received.
I must say that judging bra size is instinct above a certain age. My personal favorites are:
"How to pour beer in a chap's trousers" and it's most important companion, "How to make trousers from pub beer towels".

Posted by: quietusleo | Jun 3, 2008 3:33:17 PM

razor blade or box cutter handy? perhaps a quiet moment and a bit of the old game of "Operation" on the book might come in handy. ;o/

Then again, Gilad is probably old enough to absorb the whole public/private discussion rules fairly accurately, eh?

And, as you noted -- it beats TV all to heck.

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 3, 2008 4:34:32 PM

Dwile flonking - an old drinking game, involving two teams, a bucket of ale, sticks,cloth and a chamber pot!

Posted by: Ken | Jun 3, 2008 5:48:50 PM

The real question is whether he has passed the tests at the end of every chapter. Some of these are critical skills that one must have.

Posted by: Jack | Jun 3, 2008 6:25:53 PM

About the only thing that intrigues me (and predictably so) is the bra-size guessing tips. If you could scan that and send it to me I would be most grateful.

[Although I do believe that I already have enough expertise in that subject to get from A to B. Anything beyond that, and it's all much of a muchness. Both literally and otherwise.]


I applaud Gilad's ability to memorize whole passages. Sharpening that ability is a very good thing. I have a suspicion that after he discovers certain publications not normally available to the young, he will develop a photographic memory. Not that I want to encourage you to encourage that, but if it happens, I feel confident that, while he only sees the cake, you will see the icing on the cake.

Posted by: The Back of the Hill | Jun 3, 2008 8:47:49 PM

This is similar to something I recently read on MSN.com called "75 Skills Every Man Should Master." (They linked it from Esquire)

My personal favorite:

"Describe a wine in one sentence without using the terms nutty, fruity, oakey, finish, or kick."

Posted by: dfb1968 | Jun 3, 2008 10:15:04 PM

Honestly, this could be a great teaching moment for him to be use to knowing something and judging if it's suitable to share.

I agree with the poster who said it's something like the little things kids use to learn, and I'd like to add that this may make him realize there are NEAT things to read, too. I was classified as illiterate until they let me read things with a storyline....

Posted by: Foxfier | Jun 3, 2008 10:22:24 PM

Holy Cow, that is the most fantastic table of contents I have ever seen. I love it. I kid you not. I am ordering it immediately.
Whether I share it with my twelve year old is debatable.
Phineas J. Whoopie, you're the greatest.....

Posted by: Larry | Jun 3, 2008 10:34:58 PM

LOL ... What a great find. The book will probably stick in his memory for life.

In chapter 3 - How to drink a yard of ale without drowning -

I can totally relate to that one. The first time I drank out of one, I almost had a panic attack. It felt like a river rushing right towards you.

Posted by: jaime | Jun 3, 2008 11:10:19 PM

Yes; as Larry notes just above, all we who yearn to be authors can only hope to write a book with a table of contents as gripping as this one.

I've got to get to work on it!

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 3, 2008 11:44:04 PM

miss worldwide... No problem... I normally respond to comments on old posts with an email. Hope you got it. As you might have surmised from QuitusLeo's comment (he is also known as The Sandman), I awarded Feral Cheryl as part of a contest here on treppenwitz. My daughter enjoyed using her to shock friends for a while, but once I saw she was no longer in favor I asked (and received) permission to send her to a new family.

Jameel @ The Muqata ... Get in line (or get your own copy!). :-)

Dave (Balashon)... Since the author is a Brit and uses a lot of UK slang/jargon in the book I have had to do a lot of googling to keep up.

Baila ... Yes, that the old saying 'If I knew then what I know now...' came to mind. This is like giving Gilad the key to a lot of knowledge it took me a lifetime to compile. :-)

Rachel... Absolutely! I am pleased as punch. Let him think he is being subversive so long as he keeps reading.

westbankmama ... Yes, the girl's version is called 'Cosmo' and it comes out monthly. :-)

Elisson... If you had written it I'm sure it would have had such a chapter. ;-)

Debbie... that never occurred to me, but you are probably right. We had a lot of unsupervised time as kids to work out the secrets of life on our own. :-)

quietusleo... I suspect a lot of this book was inspired by or as a result of alcohol consumption. :-)

Wry Mouth... Anything beats the heck out of TV.

Ken... Colour me impressed! :-)

Jack... Oh no... a test would be the kiss of death to any interest he might have. :-)

The Back of the Hill... Oh, be a sport and buy yourself a copy. At the abebooks link I offered it can be had for one American dollar!

dfb1968... I've always found the way wine is described to be unhelpful and pretentious. I prefer 'It tasted great, went well with the food and didn't give me a blinding headache the following day'.

Foxfier... I think I'll go slow with the whole 'teaching' thing. Better he thinks I don't fully approve so he'll keep reading. :-)

Larry... Somehow I thought this might appeal to you. ;-)

jaime... I used to have a couple of half-yards in my apartment (in my single days) but a cat I adopted batted them off the shelf and that was that.

Wry Mouth... He does set the bar pretty high, doesn't he? :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jun 4, 2008 12:28:48 PM

I want to levitate *my* balls.

Posted by: Isaac B2 | Jun 4, 2008 6:19:42 PM

Sweet! I'm so buying this. This is nothing like the Dangerous Book For Boys (which is very good, but much more serious, and involves things like history lessons).

Also, (1) as a long-time bartender, I've never seen anyone drown while doing a yard, but I've seen a lot of people get very wet. (2) There's a German restaurant in Mpls where they bring you snuff after dinner. A prior lesson would have helped, but the waitress told us how to do it. (3) DIY funeral would be for pets, I assume.

Posted by: Tanya | Jun 4, 2008 7:09:50 PM

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