Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Raising Twins the Ethnomethodological Way

We already had our daughter, Missus the First and I, and were increasingly at one another’s throats, so the last thing we had in mind was to have two more children, but apparently one of my spermatozoons found one of her eggs in the wake of our last-ever lovemaking, and nine months later we welcomed the twins Moishe and Brandon to our household, in which we agreed to maintain an atmosphere of civility, if not mutual admiration, at least until they were college-age.

My favorite course in college was Dr. Harold Garfinkel’s ethnomethodology, one of the most provocative precepts of which was that much can be learned interesting things about the way we interact with one another using what he called such “cuckoo” techniques as responding in conversations according to a predetermined schedule of affirmation and denial. For instance, we were encouraged, over dinner, to be gracious twice in a row, and then obnoxious, regardless of what had actually been said to us. It was with Dr. Garfinkel in mind that I laid plans for the twins’ upbringing. Beginning at age three, I would be cruelly hypercritical to one for six months, and unflaggingly supportive of the other. Then, for the next six months, I’d treat each as I’d treated his brother.

This idea quickly went out the window, though. From the first week we got them home, Brandon was the more aggressive, the more typically masculine. If he didn’t like the temperature of his formula, he would fling it at one of our heads, and snatch Moishe’s away. He had a good arm, and I dared hope he might be the quarterback I’d never been, the alpha male. Mush, as we called Moishe, promised to become a bully magnet. I decided for once in my life to bet on the front-runner. At the sight of Brandon, I would whoop, "There’s my strong, brave, handsome, little man"! I would pretend not to notice Mush.

By third grade, Brandon was already the captain of his school’s touch football team, having beaten out two sixth-graders for the starting position, and Mush wasn’t yet speaking. He still sucked his thumb, though I coated it in ant poison each day before he left for school, and had bitten his nails down to the quick. He was commonly beaten senseless on the playground. At MTF’s insistence, I asked Brandon to look after his brother, but winked as I did so. I didn’t want him to take a chance of injuring his throwing arm.

Mush finally began speaking — with a stammer that made the bullies’ ears perk up — in seventh grade. We’d done a lot of research on line and realized he was probably autistic. The high school into which students at the boy’ middle school were promoted after completing ninth grade negotiated with the middle school to enroll Brandon immediately. They needed a quarterback. Between beatings, Mush became an accomplished short story writer, and won the school’s creative writing contest two years running. His prize was a $50 Borders gift certificate one year, and a $25 gift certificate the next, after the recession forced across-the-board budget cutbacks. Brandon, meanwhile, was given a new Subaru Forester, just to ensure he didn’t miss practice in case the bus drivers went on strike or there was a blizzard. The Forester had all-wheel drive.

When Brandon got the cheerleading captain, Kristi Dugan, pregnant, a bunch of parents chipped in to enable her to exercise her legal reproductive freedom. She overdosed on her dad’s antidepressants the night before her…procedure was scheduled, but it was kept from Brandon for fear of an adverse effect on his performance in the big game against Smidgenville. It wasn’t Kristi’s overdose that slowed him down — he’d already moved on to homecoming princess Krystelle Brisbin — but that he tore his anterior cruciate ligament. Smidgenville went on to beat “us” for the first time since 1997, and Brandon, who’d thrown two interceptions and no touchdowns before his injury, was advised that even if he regained the ability to walk, he’d better think twice about doing so on Maine Street, or even Vermont or New Hampshire Streets, in daylight for a decade or two. We take our high school football seriously here.

Mush went on to write a succession of often macabre psychological thrillers, most having to do in one way or another with the psychological abuse of children. All but the first made the New York Times bestseller list, and the third and fifth were made into very popular, even critically acclaimed movies. He bought himself an estate overlooking the Hudson, married Kristi Dugan — who acknowledged that some would surely find the idea creepy, but pointed out that there weren’t two more dissimilar twins anywhere in the world than her former boyfriend and new husband — and was elected to Congress on the new Asperger’s ticket.

I like to imagine that I made a substantial contribution to his success.

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