monkey in the middle

(Naughty Betty, by Stephanie Klein, #2 Pencil on paper)

In second grade, I wasn’t permitted to use adult scissors, so I improvised with a pair of safety scissors, the small sort with padded grips and a rounded wide tip stored beside my construction paper and rubber cement.  I gathered a tight handful of all her bangs and began to clip away.  I couldn’t accomplish the task in one swift motion as I’d thought.  So I hacked away, standing on my tippy-toes, putting some elbow grease into it, a furled tongue and a stitched brow. 

"There," I said quite pleased that I’d made it all the way through.  And we both stared at her reflection in the mirror, then back down at the wad of hair in the palm of my hand, each of us nodding silently.  Job well done.  This was Janene Jaeger, the neighbor whose bangs I cut off, so close to her skull that the remaining hair looked like a mustache for her forehead.

Earlier that week we were playing Monkey in The Middle with my mother.  I guess we didn’t have a third child to join us at that age. The object of the game, everyone knew, was to keep whatever object you happened to have away from the clutches of the designated "monkey."  We were cliche and used a ball.  Who’s really going to fight you for a ball?  A kickball at that.  And we wouldn’t even be kicking it.  It would be an underhanded toss, the kind where you crouch down low, as if you’re bowling with two hands, then use your upward momentum to fling it high into the air, watching it brush the leaves of an old Maple tree.  It was as if we were playing SPUD.

My mother and Janene tossed the ball using both hands outstretched above their heads.  After watching for a while, I lunged forward, stepping in front of Janene at the last moment, snatching the ball away. 

"Your turn!" I cheered, happy I was no longer stuck in the middle. After several rounds of a breezy game of catch with my mother, Janene stormed off, taking large deliberate steps, huffing, her hands balled into fists.  My mother and I stood for a moment, wondering if that’d just happened.  Did she just leave? Who does that?

"What a sore loser," my mother said.  It was the first time I’d heard the term, and it didn’t need further explanation.  I knew exactly what she meant.  Janene was a sore loser, which I later learned was synonymous with a spoilsport.  A word I loved to repeat while running around the house and crawling beneath the dining room table. 

"Stephanie, it’s time for dinner," my mother would call out. 


"No, we’re having shrimp."

"Don’t be such a SORE LOSER!"  I’d shout, getting close to my mother’s face, reenacting our afternoon.  "You big SPOILSPORT!"  I was delighted with my new words.  And I kind of like the fact that my mother felt completely at ease calling my friends names behind their backs.  It’s kind of awesome in a "you’re not setting a good example" way.  And those are my favorite memories, the ones where my mother was just being herself.  Where she didn’t concern herself with following rules.  I love that I didn’t have an uptight neurotic mother who did everything just so.  I’m totally going to do a handful of things "wrong," and I can’t wait, even if it makes monkeys out of my kids once they reach middle school, or middle age. I just hope they skip the whole mustache forehead look.



  1. Stephanie, you rock!
    Were you trying to revenge the sore loser by making her a forehead mustache? LOL!

  2. I think some of the BEST memories of my parents are from moments of when they were NOT following rules. I love that they were so real in those moments. I think your little Beans will also appreciate the moments where you were least like a mom… in some ways at least.

  3. I just want you to hand your kids your blog when they're nine… let them share it with their friends. "Chloe! This is my favorite one… read it. It's all about Mommy mas-tur-bating"

    In other news, I think you're a phenomenal writer, and I'm only such a b*tch because a) you're pretty obnoxious, but mostly b) you are a phenomenal writer.

    I bought your book. I read it. I don't think I'd like you (at all) in real life. Good thing I don't live in Texas.

  4. "I'm totally going to do a handful of things "wrong," and I can't wait, even if it makes monkeys out of my kids once they reach middle school, or middle age."

    Hey now, that's a FATHER's job!

  5. Christy,

    I couldn't agree with you more. But NYC is full of the JAPPY type and obnoxious they are. I love the way Stephanie once wrote about how all her friends are beautiful and she "chooses" to be around fabulous, gorgeous people to enhance her own being (or something to that effect).

    Give it a year but the WASPY sweater set of "friends" she glommed onto in NY to supress (or diguise) her own JAPPYness will have fallen by the wayside (by THEIR OWN CHOICE) that I can hear them collectivley wiping their brows in a profound sense of relief. ("Whew! No more Stephanie to deal with!")

    It's time for another set of "friends" to take on the heavy burden (and price) of befriending Ms. Klein. Texas, GOOD LUCK!!!!

    I agree. Great writer. Love the shiite!!!!

  6. Actually, i think Christy's post was refreshingly honest compared to all the ass-kissing that usually goes on on this blog. Don't get me wrong, i enjoy reading SKs blog, but some ppl who post here act strangly close to the stranger that SK really is to them, i.e. see her blog entry before this one. Reality v. entertainment, albeit, there are a few ppl on this blog that seem to be acutal friends of SK, but mostly not so much…a.k.a. "fans, readers, haters, etc.". Just my 2 cents…

  7. I think that's what makes the best moms… just being REAL. You're gonna be great! Sounds like your mom was a terrific example.

  8. Christy-

    I have had the same thoughts. What will Abigail think of Mom's blog/book when she has friends who can read it and comment/tease about it? And Lucas, too, for that matter? Stephanie, have you considered these issues? They worry me and I am secretly happy that most of my past will remain secret forever. Don't get me wrong, I am not judging you, just curious about how you will handle a potential situation. I have no doubt you are a fabulous mother now and will continue to be in the future.


    FROM STEPHANIE: Kids get grief over everything. If your mother is fat, there will be kids who say, "I don't want to play with you. You have a fat ugly mom." It's strange but true. Kids get picked on for being short, or tall, or poor, or for anything that makes them different. "Your dad is a weirdo." Whatever. We all survive and sometimes grow to love the things about which we were ridiculed. And if my children are teased because of something I wrote, I'll simply explain to them that yeah, that sucks. And sometimes people are nasty. But I wrote what I did because I was being true to myself, was being my most authentic self, and I'll encourage them to live the exact same way… at any cost. "You have a problem with me? Well that's your problem isn't it? Because I'm just fine with me."

  9. I don't know about this one. It's given me food for thought. I remember when I was married, I was all about perfection – but it was only surface perfection – the perfect house, the ironed shirts, the home-cooked dinners…but all masking the miserable self that I was.

    Now – the striving for perfection is a whole different game. I guess when the kids are out of the house, they'll remember a mom who gets take-out more often than not – the house always being in a state of semi-wrecked – the car looking like a bomb went off in it…but overall, a happy, loving, supportive and pretty cool mom. That's perfect, isn't it?

  10. I think this is one of those moments you realize your mother is just like you. She's a person with a opinions. She was more of a friend than a mother at this point. It feels good to realize this.

    Likewise, your mother has done some of the same things as you and made some of the same mistakes. I find it reassuring.

  11. "Stitched brow" sounds really awkward and wrong. I would have used "furrowed". Or something else.

    FROM STEPHANIE:"Furrowed" is overused for my taste. I'd considered using "knit," but I use that phrase in Moose and didn't want to repeat it.

  12. I think some blog readers' inability to understand the boundaries between reader and author is more about the readers themselves and less about the author's authenticity, bold honesty, whatever you want to call it.

    SK's material is her day to day life, and whether it strikes you as moving, shallow, brave, indulgent, humorous, authentic, or trite (I've had all these reactions and more) she's just a writer addressing her audience. That's it.

    A reader from a few posts ago was downright creepy — giddily describing caring for SK's daughter and being her BFF? Lordy.

  13. Lucy, where are you referring to creepy?

    I liked this one. Though the first part about you leaving what appeared to be a moustache on her head really wasnt relevant to the story, it was still funny.
    My mom had her moments where she stepped out of character so to speak. I'll never forget one time when I scared the living shit out of her (I was 12, maybe 13) by jumping out from a corner and yelling, "Boo!"
    She ended up slooshing her entire Diet Coke she was holding all over the wall, where new wallpaper had been put up not even a week before.

    She yelled, "YOU…FUCKING ASSHOLE!"

    I had never heard my mom cuss like that and I took off to my room where I laughed and laughed.

  14. When i was about 12 or so, there was this kid who was the son of my mama's friend…he was a total dork, and i recall not wanting to share something i was eating, popcicle i think, with him. Anyway, my mama got SO mad…and since she wasn't really a spanker (she was a yeller) she yelled, and i just looked at her and didn't do a thing…to get her point across…she proceeded to pour a FULL can of Tab she had in her hand, onto my head. THAT was funny…and to make it worse, all i said was "Thanks Mommie Dearest"…which i used to say at the best times to best piss her off, because she HATED that ref. to the JC movie. Ha ha ha… My poor mama…she fully admits that she should have never been a mother, and up until my late teens, i agreed. Now, at 35, and pregnant with, yup, you guessed it, a little GIRL, i look back and realize my mama did the best she could, and I turned out ok…considering. So, the point: love, life, childrearing, there are NO guarantees…just do the best you can, and go with the flow, and one day, hoepfully, we look back, share our stories, and laugh and cry with equal abundance…

  15. Judy Blume had adolescent children (she's a grandma now) during her most prolific "young adult novel" years. I vaguely recall an interview with her or essay by her wherein she addressed the issue of her kids being told "your mom writes dirty books." Her response was along the lines of "tough titty; that's how mommy makes a living."

    Having said that, I have 3 bound journals from my teenage through young adult years. I have one daughter who is 18 years old. I keep those 3 volumes in deep, deep hiding, and I can't see ever sharing them with her. But that's me. If I were Judy Blume or Stephanie Klein, perhaps I'd feel differently.

    FROM STEPHANIE: AND THE THING IS, if that's the worst of the teasing they get, then we're doing just fine. Mama can work on a handful of comebacks for them starting now. Perhaps that will be a blog exercise.

  16. NYCNikki? The stereotypes you're mindlessly reciting happen to be fairly offensive. Seriously. Use your goddamn head. Look- criticism on this blog is fine, refreshing- god knows I've been a critic on this forum. But what the hell are you actually saying up there? Stephanie is a Jewish-American Princess, she is (and should be) insecure about it and wants to change herself (but can't), JAPs suck, WASPs are better, etc etc etc??? Are Jews cheap, too? Do they tend to have large noses? For christ's sake, enough with that crap. I would say: if you have something intelligent to say, positive or negative, say it; otherwise, go peddle your stupid generalizations elsewhere.

    Thus endeth my rant.

  17. Do other people in your life get angry at you for your honesty on the blog? Do the wrong people ever think you are writing about them?

    FROM STEPHANIE: No one in my life gets angry about anything I write. Do the wrong people ever think I'm writing about them? Yes, once. I wrote a general statement in a post once that had nothing to do with–we'll call him J–and he thought I was saying derogatory things about him, when I was not. He went off on me, but once I cleared it up, that it wasn't at all about him (and admitted that I saw how he could have taken it that way), all was forgiven.

  18. I remember the first time my mom cussed. She almost pulled out in front of another car and she said "Oh Fuck". I was young, but we both laughed.

  19. I'm slightly confused. Was your chopping off her bangs payback for the earlier incident wherein she was a poor sport?

    FROM STEPHANIE: Not really no. This is why it's a blog and not a book. I write sometimes as the memories come to me. And I don't control what I remember, only what I choose to post, and I thought it was funny. I like remembering things like that, cutting a neighbor's hair. I love remembering that age, almost as much as you love to hate this blog.

  20. I don't know Stephanie personally. I really enjoy her writing. I don't agree with every single thing she says, including the fact that there are very personal details about her out there that her children will have to learn and deal with.

    However – just because I don't like everything she says doesn't mean I have to bitch about it and make nasty personal digs at her. I take what I like, I consider and usually discard that which doesn't impact me. You don't like it: let it go. That's what grownups do. I save my energy for more important things, like, oh I don't know, REAL LIFE. Oh that everyone did.

    If this is ass-kissing, then mwah.

    My opinion: People respond to Stephanie in such an intimate way because she writes intimately about the way her mind works. People connect with someone who puts words to their own unspoken thoughts. It creates a sense of intimacy – a false sense in this case. Anyone in the world will respond positively to someone who they believe really understands the way they think.

    So many negative people on here anymore. Grow the hell up.

  21. noisette- um, I'm pretty sure Stephanie has used the term JAP before. In fact, it's right in her "favorite posts" Did you find her use of those words offensive? Because if we are playing the keeper of all that is politically correct you should probably flip out on Stephanie too.

  22. I don't "love to hate your blog" – what an odd statement. I just don't gush. Firstly, it just isn't me. Secondly, the idea of a published author wanting constant patting for writing exercises is insane, so I assume you don't, so I don't.

    But don't construe from that that I hate your blog. Nor do I love it. Nor love to hate it nor hate to love it, etc. Those are really strong emotions, hate and love.

    I fall somewhere in the middle. With 0 being neutral and -10 being hate (+10 being love), I'm at a 2 or 3? Your blog is here onlione where I often find myself and it's free. Like the magazines in waiting rooms. I don't miss them when I'm not waiting somewhere and I don't subscribe to them, but that doesn't mean I hate them. I haven't bought your book, but I haven't been hiding it at Borders either. (I actually haven't seen it, but I wouldn't hide it if I did.)

    Anyway, thanks for clarifying the post. I wasn't sure if I was missing a causal connection between the two vignettes.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I'm sorry I wrote that. It was wrong of me. I somehow confused you with someone else, and I apologize.

  23. Well, true. I'd like to defend Stephanie by saying she meant "JAP" ironically, but I'm not sure that's the case. My point is still valid, though, and NYCNikki's "critique" was still pretty cringe-worthy. It's as though you said: "Clinton did it, so Bush can do it too." If that's the only defense for stupid behavior, perhaps you ought to reevaluate the behavior. I'm just saying.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I make it quite clear in that post I'm not speaking of anything having to do with "Jewish." That it's mostly regional and nothing to do with ethnicity. And while I do use a Yiddish quote, it's by no means meant as any form of attack on Jews.

  24. Oh Julie.. that made me laugh out loud.

    My mother wasn't a cusser, nor would she let her inner imperfect human come out much at all.

    The closest I could ever get my mother to cussing was when I would cuss at my brother; we figured out early that if we could beat the other to telling Mom we had said something nasty, she would just laugh it off whereas if we let the other tattle, we should get our asses kicked. Then she would try to repeat it to my dad without really saying it, which is nearly impossible when the insult in question was "stupid fucking cunt." "C-word? What C-word?" "Oh come on, honey.. you KNOW." "WHAT C-word? You mean, like.. crap?"

  25. i was reluctant to comment, but i think it's warrented.

    Re: JAP. many of my gay friends use fag, which wierds me out, because i was raised by my family that it is offensive, and it WAS offensive when hollered at my many gay pals growing up (i went to a very progressive HS). but these freinds of mine use it, and i really don't feel like i have the right to tell them that fag is off limits or somehow wrong, when i've never directly expereinced homophobia. but, one of my freinds was at at wedding, mingling, standing around the bar with a bunch of guys, including a friend of his who was gay, and they were talking with other fellows there, mostly straight, having a good time, nice folks, and my pal used the word fag, casually like it it was just him and his good pal in the room. and some of those guys, the straight ones, that he had been getting along with, started using fag too, like it was fine. he wasn't being hateful, he just substituted it for the word "gay" a bunch of times. but it really disturbed my freind, hearing straight men use that language, but also knowing that HE had normalized it. it made him aware about how often he hard heard it used by non-freindly straights, and how in nyc we can all forget how prevalent homophobia really is. he's considering not using fag again, even with his gay freinds.

    anti-semitism didn't end with our victory in WWII. it didn't. as a jew, one who makes goofy self referential jewish jokes (but does not use the word JAP), that just because i indentify as a jew doesn't mean that someone else should judge me based on my jewishness. that is anti semetic. judge me on my tacky outfit, my loudness, my terrible spelling, but don't say that you don't like me, or dismiss me as a person, with some boring, reductionist stereotype of jewish women.

    being upset by JAP doesn't mean you're some narrow pc blowhard, and that the issue of who should or should not use certian language, if it should be used at all, if there CAN even be hard and fast guidelines, is complicated. many of us that read this blog don't like the beauty ideal. we struggle with ideas of career success and motherhood and family. many of us would not want someone telling us what kind of mother we should be, or woman, what size we have to be. it is also unplesant to be told what depictions of jewish women i should like, and what i should be offended by. even if SK isn't offended by JAP, others may be, and they are not unjustified standing up to what they (and I) percieve as anti-semetic language.

    FROM STEPHANIE: To continue on this topic, which is really interesting, please post those comments under the J.A.P.S. post and not here. I'm struggling with something similar now that I'm writing Moose. How at fat camp, we called ourselves chubbs and fat bitches to take the sting out of it… it was a term of endearment, but only coming from one another. Not used by the thin. And in writing it, I struggle with not wanting to come off as insensitive, or mean, but also wanting to keep true to the private club of it all.

  26. Stephanie, you've been blogging for a long time. Do you see cycles of bitchiness of replies? Or is it summer and the children are hot and restless? It's fascinating to me to watch the brawling going on in the comments. Seems like sometimes it's a love-fest, sometimes a bitch-slap-fest.

    FROM STEPHANIE: I think someone around here said it best… it's as if we all get our periods at the same damn time just because we're reading the same blogs.

  27. My favorite part is "I'm totally going to do a handful of things 'wrong," and I can't wait[.]" I like what it says about your maturity.

  28. I actually think this has been the, how shall I put this, most well-behaved back and forth i've seen on this blog.

    I also don't get the complete adulation I see from some posters. My best friend of 15 years annoys the shit out of me sometimes. I disagree with her on many things and I tell her, so all the agreeing and applauding and complete adulation I see from some is astounding to me and reeks of fake.

    On the other hand, to have posters who say they don't get smething, didn't particular like something, or generally ask a question that isn't "oh my god when can I next bow down to the great one" and not be told to shove off you skanky bitch, is refreshing.

    I find the blog interesting. I cringe, I feel, I laugh, I get angry, I get indifferent, I get it and I don't get it.

    For me personally, in the end I would hope to be interesting to one person, than to be blindly loved by lots.

    Interestingly enough, I don't have a URL. All hate mail should be sent to my e-mail address…That was a joke, please, no hate mail. I'm actually very sensitive:)

  29. My parents were always very open with me, my Mom kept her journals from childhood through adulthood out on the same shelves as her books, and she'd let me read her ones from middle school when I was in middle school.
    I always thought it was so cool, and I could share the stories with my friends and we could laugh and see how similar or not it was to us. There were also the more graphic stories they would tell, that involved much more sex, drugs and rock and roll and sharing those stories made me cooler in some ways. "Listen to what my Dad did!"
    To me, the complete exposure of many of Stephanie's sex, drug and rock and roll stories makes for great story telling and a heightened coolness factor, to the people that matter anyway. No matter what your parents do and don't share you'll get made fun of, so why not be the example of living to the fullest and being proud of all the mess that comes with it.

  30. i like it that you write because it's you, and not because it's for others!

  31. SK-
    I have a fantastic relationship with my mom and being the oldest, I look to her for guidance all of the time. However, sometimes I can't relate and I feel like she can't relate to me. I wish that I could look at things that she had written in her mid twenties…about her struggle to find herself through bad relationships, different cities, both lost and new friendships, etc. I would love to see images that inspired her and how she learned to overcome.

    There will come a time when these posts become things that both Abigail and Lucas will treasure. It will give them a connection to you at different ages and different times and the stories will be written just as they need to hear them.

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