Attention, parents. Are you like Anthony Brandt?
"I was your run-of-the-mill modern skeptic," he writes in the December Parenting, who long ago "stopped going to church, thought most religious doctrine absurd, and was resolved to live without the illusions of belief."
Then he had children. "To keep peace in the family," he agreed to have them baptized. But he still balked at the hypocrisy of taking them to Sunday school. Then he got to thinking about all of this.
And changed his mind: "To raise a child in a culture without at least exposing him to its religious traditions, even if you yourself have abandoned the beliefs on which they are based, may be doing him a disservice."
And now believes this much: "To believe is to be connected, and those of us who don't believe cannot help but miss the feelings that come with belonging to something larger than ourselves."
Brandt is ubiquitous in magazines as a professional soul-searcher, but those who haven't overdosed on his public confessions and secular pieties should find this an engaging treatment of a difficult question.
More straightforward advice on much the same topic can be found in the December Parents. In "Where Does God Live?" Tolbert McCarroll offers tips for moms and dads troubled by the theological questions their children ask: "Avoid dogmatic responses ... Do not use God as a tool for child management ... Stretch your child's concept of life ... Encourage a tolerance for uncertainty ... Look for God among people."
In this context, the dilemma explored by Barbara Kantrowitz in the December Working Mother takes on cosmic dimensions. "Should parents spill the beans about Santa?" the headline asks. Well, yes and no. Just remember: Avoid dogmatic responses. Do not use Santa as a tool for child management. Encourage a tolerance for uncertainty.
Toddlers of 'Glasnost'
For an eye-opening illustration of what glasnost has wrought, take a look at "The Soviets Abroad," by a world-wise Russian named Leonid Pochivalov. These personal impressions first appeared in the newspaper of the Soviet Writers' Union, Literaturnaya Gazeta, and are reprinted in the December issue of World Press Review.
"We never really took the trouble to study the outside world in earnest, but often judged it by the stereotypes we ourselves created," Pochivalov writes, and Soviet citizens are themselves stereotyped in return. "Even a semi-literate, dishonest little shopkeeper in Tangier or Singapore looks down on 'the Russians' as have-nots." The reason could well be that they really are. "Shortages give rise to loutish behavior," he writes.
Pochivalov seems irritated in equal measure by the condescension of foreigners and the complacency of his compatriots: "What is happening in our country is under close scrutiny from the whole world. Some people even encouragingly slap us on the back as if we were slow-witted toddlers who have finally heeded the instructions of their elders: 'Okay, Russians! We're glad you've come to your senses!' " Yet, he continues, "We would not have had to restructure ourselves now if at some stages our construction had not gone astray ... So why should we boast to others about the fact that we are making corrections so late?"
The Warhol Collection
The house where Andy Warhol lived for the last 12 years of his life, on East 66th Street in New York, was his private preserve. The friend who decorated it for him says that Warhol "had a routine. He'd walk through the house every morning before he left, open the door of each room with a key, peer in, then relock it." When he got home at night, he repeated the ritual.
This and much else about Warhol's domestic habits is recounted by Steven M.L. Aronson in the December House & Garden. The house, reflecting its owner, had two coexisting personalities. One was expressed in the tasteful and expensive furnishings -- a symphony of neoclassical, art deco and Victorian styles -- selected by the decorator friend (Warhol was more interested in appearances than he let on).
The other, primal side was expressed in whatever Warhol brought home and dumped on the Sheraton dining room table: "cigarette cases, tortoise-shell calling-card cases, antique wristwatches, Fiesta ware, cookie jars, baskets, American folk art, Indian jewelry ... and the hotel and airline china he habitually pinched."
The full list, like the photographs here, is astonishing. "Once Andy bought something," the decorator friend recalls, "he was on to the next thing -- his buying was a conquest, not an adoption."
The Heartbreak of Gaposis
When government regulation of advertising put an end to most bogus remedies, the advertising industry invented "bogus ailments with real cures." Ross K. Baker remembers them -- do you? -- in a delightful piece for the December American Demographics: "gaposis," "undie odor," "pink toothbrush," "tired blood," "girdle rub," "denture breath," "infectious dandruff," and today's ever-popular "tartar." The best antitartar campaign, Baker writes, ought to win its advertising agency a plaque.