nce upon a time, there lived a
happy family in a great wood: Mother and Father, Brother, Sister and
Baby. Father went off to work each day, and Mother planted seeds and
tended her garden and loved her children and taught them to read and
write. At night, when Father came home, the family sang songs and
laughed and played together.
One day while Father was away at work, a knock came at the door of
the family's home. Mother opened the door and found a stern man with
sharp teeth and a big nose standing on the doorstep.
"May I help you?" Mother asked.
"I am here," snarled the man, "to inspect your home and your
Mother was surprised. "Whatever for?" she asked.
"It has been reported," snapped Mr. Nosey, "that you do not
institutionalize your children, as is the norm. It has been reported
that you spend an abnormal amount of time with your children, and
you have been seen laughing with them, and they with you.
It has been reported that your teen child is not embarrassed to be
seen with you and that she smiles while working in your garden and
hanging laundry. I will have to inspect your house and ask you some
Mother invited Mr. Nosey in and offered him a cup of tea. Mr. Nosey
pulled a great pile of papers from his briefcase and began asking
important questions: "How many television sets do you own, how often
do you dine out, why do you have so many books, what do you have
against institutions, why do you grow your own food, do your
children know who Madonna is, how about Beavis and Butthead?"
Mother was very kind and reassuring: "We have one television set in
the closet," she told Mr. Nosey, "and we dine outside several times
a week in nice weather. We have so many books because we love to
read. We have no personal grudge against institutions -- we simply
choose not to institutionalize. We grow food to eat, and my children know who the Madonna is. I'm not sure what a beavis is,
and while butthead is a rather crude term, I have known a few."
Mr. Nosey seemed insulted by this last statement and jumped up in a
huff. "I must speak with your children," he announced.
Mother called Brother and Sister. Baby was too young to speak.
Brother was six years old and Sister was 13. Mr. Nosey asked
Brother, "Have you ever heard of Beavis and Butthead?"
"Yes," said Brother. "We have beavers in the creek, and Butthead is
my uncle's boss."
Sister giggled, but Mr. Nosey was not amused. He addressed Brother
again. "Do your parents ever yell at you?"
"You better believe it!" said Brother. "One time I climbed clear to
the top of a 30 foot tree, and Dad yelled and yelled at me to stay
up there till he could climb up, too. He doesn't get much time to
climb trees, and I think he yelled so much 'cause he was excited at
Mr. Nosey turned in disgust and asked Sister, "Wouldn't you like to
be institutionalized with other children your age?"
"Well, most of my friends are institutionalized," Sister told him.
"And I haven't been too impressed with it. They can hardly read
anything -- they don't even like Charles Dickens. And they all hate
history and math. I like playing jump rope with them in the evening,
but they talk about the most boring things, like clothes and make-up
and what's on TV, and... oh -- I know who Beavis and Butthead are.
Do you know who Mr. Pickwick is?"
"No," said Mr. Nosey curtly. "What sort of music do you listen to?"
"Oh, Beethoven is my favorite. Did you know he went deaf and just
kept on writing music?"
"No," said Mr. Nosey impatiently. "Why don't you listen to popular
Sister was surprised that a grown-up would ask such a question, but
she answered as politely as possible, "Because it sounds simply
"Wretched! Wretched!?" screeched Mr. Nosey. "That is not a seventh
grade word! Where did you learn it?"
Mother had been in the kitchen preparing a snack of homemade bread
and strawberry preserves. When she heard Mr. Nosey screech, she
rushed to the living room. "What's wretched?" she asked, a little
"This child," Mr. Nosey said indignantly, "correctly used the word
"Oh, I'm sure she wasn't referring to you," Mother said gently.
"Here, have some fresh bread and jam."
Mr. Nosey looked at the tray in Mother's hands suspiciously, then
cautiously took her offering. As he ate he began to relax a little.
"You made this yourself?" he asked.
"Oh, yes," said Mother.
"And I helped," chimed in Sister. Then she added, "I'm sorry for
upsetting you. I didn't know you had an aversion to that word, or I
would never have said it."
"Aversion?" Mr. Nosey sighed. He slumped in his chair and looked at
Mother. "How do you ever expect your children to fit into the world
if you don't institutionalize them, and you encourage them to
develop advanced vocabularies and you teach them self-sufficiency.
This does not coincide with the new way -- they must follow the new
Mother looked at Mr. Nosey thoughtfully. "I appreciate your apparent
concern, kind sir," she said, " but you see, I am not raising
children to follow standards -- I am raising them to set standards."
Mr. Nosey looked around in a musing way and murmured, "Yes, yes. I
can see that." He left with a bread recipe and an invitation to
visit again some time.