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Talking With Your Mouth Full

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Welcome once again to “You’re Asking Me?” – the column that answers all kinds of questions, depending on how loosely you define the word “answer.” Whereas other so-called advice columns are interested in providing you with well-researched advice, my concern is more to get you to stop asking me questions, by whatever means necessary.

This week, we’re going to start with a parenting question, which we advice columns tend to get a lot of, because it’s not like kids are born with little instruction manuals. Sure, there are manuals you can BUY (sold separately), such as Your Baby’s First Year and Your Baby’s Second Year, but then the manuals just sort of stop. There’s no book called Your Baby’s Ninth Year, even though I definitely need one of those at this point. Aren’t they just supposed to have moved out of the house by now?

But this column isn’t really about my important parenting questions. It’s about your important parenting questions, such as this first one from E.G., who has a question about Parent-Teacher Conferences:

 

Dear Mordechai,

I recently attended parent-teacher conferences for my son, who’s in high school, and the good news is that there was cake. So my question is this: Why is the cake at these things always stale?

E.G., Monsey  

Dear E,

The simple answer, no offense, is that “otherwise you’ll eat it all.”

No one’s really coming for the cake. It’s not like parents are rushing out of the house, going, “We have to get there on time or they’ll be out of cake!” No, you’re there to talk about your son, who keeps telling you how boring school is, and how it’s all basically speeches, all day, every day, on topics he knows nothing about. And technically he’s right, but this is a problem.

The cake, for the most part, is there for two reasons:

1. Decoration. The tables themselves are not much to look at, and often contain not-so-cheerful words carefully carved into them. So the school tries to cover them with tablecloths, and once there’s a tablecloth, there might as well be food.

2. Because the parents have driven in from who-knows-where during suppertime, and the faculty doesn’t want them to say, “This is why we came in? There wasn’t even cake!”

So there’s cake. But the last thing they want is to run out of cake. So they don’t put out good cake or else people wouldn’t stop eating it. Parents would be coming up to teachers, their mouths full, bits of cake crumbling out: “What do you mean, ‘I’m not your son’s teacher’?” So they want each person to have maybe one piece, and that’s it.

I think this is also why the soda is always warm. Even if it’s freezing outside.

But the magical thing about stale cake is that even if everyone around you tastes the cake and says, “Whoa! That’s stale!” you’re still going to, for some reason, feel the need to taste it yourself. No one knows why. It’s like wet paint.

And no, I don’t know why the cake itself sometimes tastes like wet paint.

 

Dear Mordechai,

My child refuses to take any medication orally. We’ve even offered rewards and she’s turned them down. Any suggestions?

L.E.R., Facebook Dear L.,

I have the same problem with my kids. Kids are predispositioned not to like anything that their parents say is good for them. And what do you say when you give them medicine?

So why on earth would they want to take it?

Sure, the manufacturers try coming up with flavors they think kids will actually try, but the truth is they really have no idea what kids do and don’t like. These are the same people who put cartoon characters on band-aids, like the kids wouldn’t wear them otherwise. Yeah, band-aids are where the problem is. How about inventing a medicine that tastes good? “Sure, we’ve got a really bad artificial cherry, and popsicle sticks with no popsicles on them, and a bubble gum that you drink!”

But it turns out they do this on purpose. They’re faced with a dilemma: Do we make the medicine good enough that the kids will take it without a fight? But then the kids will sneak into the medicine cabinets when their parents aren’t looking. So we have to make it bad enough that they won’t do that.

So, using the stale-cake logic, they hit upon a flavor balance that’s neither good nor bad, where you’ll sometimes buy store-brand soda and throw it out because it tastes like medicine.

 

Dear Mordechai,

I’ve been called upon to speak in public, but I’m very nervous about it. Can you give me some tips?

M.S., Teaneck  

Dear M.,

Be yourself. If you don’t want to speak, and you’re somehow speaking anyway, there’s a pretty good chance it’s because other people want to hear you speak. In that case, they already like you, and you have nothing to worry about. If you volunteered to speak, that’s where you have to worry. But people who volunteer never do.

I actually have this issue too. I’ve always been nervous about speaking in public, which is why I became a writer. I figured that all my communication could be done in writing, and I’d never have to talk to anybody. But now things are going in a direction, unfortunately, where people keep booking me to do stand-up comedy, so I’m kind of learning on the job. I find it works to stick in jokes.

Of course, it also depends on the event. Sometimes you’re at an event where no one really wants to hear a speech AND you don’t want to give one. What do you do then?

The main thing is to try to figure out why you’re nervous. Obviously, you’re nervous that you’re going to mess up, and it’s all anyone is going to remember for the rest of their lives, especially if someone had the bright idea of videotaping your performance.

The key, then, is to make sure that no one’s paying attention, and of course to disable the video camera. I find that what most people do is try to be as boring as they possibly can. You want the sound of snoring to drown out your microphone. And if you do this, no one will ask you to speak ever again. So everyone wins.

But if you don’t want to be that boring and you still don’t want people to notice your every mistake, you should definitely put out cake. No one will give you his full attention if there’s cake. This is why there’s cake at bar mitzvahs. Because really, what does turning 13 have to do with cake?

Anyway, that’s it for now. Feel free to send in any questions or comments, but don’t expect me to get to them right away, because there’s cake.

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