As the twig is bent, so grow the little Gurdons…

You didn’t think a little debate was going to keep us from America’s Worst Mother&#153 did you? Besides I didn’t see the debate, not that that will keep me from venturing an opinion based on other’s opinions like the fifty percent of Americans who don’t want to admit that they were actually watching Skinemax instead (not that I was watching Skinemax either since we are primitive heathens who don’t have HBO, Showtime, or Skinemax. But enough about me…)

This week we finally find out which of Meghan’s kids (that would be Humbert, Credenza, Philo, and Urethra Franklin) is going to turn out to be the one that goes bad (rebels, becomes a goth, listens to Nick Cave, shoplifts, and eventually marries a PromiseKeeper who sells Amway). It looks like it’s daughter Philo:

Outside it could not be a more perfect autumn afternoon: Sunshine, chrysanthemums, squirrels, the gratifying sounds of workmen scraping old paint off windowsills, etc. Inside, however, something has curdled.

“I want chocolate — “

“How do you — “

“Please may I have chocolate milk?”

“Certainly. Have some yogurt first. Then I will make chocolate milk.”

Phoebe pokes at her yogurt, and I brace for a round of renewed shelling. I don’t know whether all fourth children are as naturally lawless as she; I do know that none of her siblings ever even flirted with the use of banned weapons such as all-out screeching to get one’s way, biting the hand that feeds, or flinging oneself down and drumming furiously with one’s heels. Phoebe deploys this arsenal with fearsome abandon. It’s no fun for me, less fun for her father, and utterly outrages her brother’s and sisters’ sense of family law. Frankly, sometimes she acts like a three-year-old.

Now the mutineer dips a spoon into the yogurt, lifts it up, and deliberately lets the creamy stuff slide down past her open mouth, on to her chin, and then plop on to her navy blue dress. It’s like the scene in Salem’s Lot where the chocolate pudding drops out of the baby’s mouth, except the child in this case has not been bitten by a vampire and consequently has no excuse.

“Phoebe!” I reprove her sharply, “That is naughty bad!” This in our household is strong language. It works.

Phoebe’s face screws up, her cheeks flush scarlet, and out comes a mournful, pathetic, heartbreaking, “Waaaaah!”

“Oh, darling,” I sigh, reaching for her, “Why do you — ”

And then the cause of everything becomes clear. The dear little malefactor has a fever.

“So that’s why you’ve been so beastly.”

“I’m not beastly,” she cries, “I’m a fox who licks people, you know!”

And who amongst us wouldn’t be beastly if week after week we were trotted out for the amusement of the prigs who read NRO and made to sound like a secondary character in a Bulwer-Lytton novel.

After giving Philo a small tumbler of NyQuil&#174 she is bedded down to sleep off her “fever” just before the other Gurdlings show up and son Humbert reminds his mother that 9/11 changed everything:

Phoebe is still conked out when the other children arrive home from school. Molly disappears behind the house to replenish Twitchy’s supply of parsley, and Violet and Paris rush into the house to find paper, tape, and pens.

“It’s for Halloween,” Violet says earnestly, her hair in her eyes and paper spilling from her arms.

“But that’s not for three — “

“O.k., Violet, let’s roll!” Paris crows, and even in this context that phrase gives me a pang. It was just such a day as this…

Yes. Yes. Everyday is 9/11 in America if you want to get paid by the National Review for embarrassing your family. Whatever.

While the Philo’s breath becomes shallower and her pulse becomes weaker, and the middle two kids work on their Halloween projects, oldest daughter Urethra Franklin is out back, dumpster-diving looking for incriminating information on the neighbors in an effort to secure her Ashcroft Pioneer’s “Snitch” badge.

“Wow!” comes a thrilled cry, and Molly reappears carrying a huge silver tray. It is embossed with kingly men who look vaguely Assyrian, and big enough to serve a boar on.

“What’s that, the platter of Nebuchadnezzar?”

She is bubbling over with the thrill of acquisition. “The neighbors put it out with their garbage and I saw it and I quickly rang the doorbell and asked them if I could have it and they said I could — ” She breaks off to admire the enormous disc.

“Cool,” says Paris. “Violet, are you ready?”

“What do you think I should do with this? Boy, do you think it’s worth something?” Molly taps the vast platter with her knuckles. “What should I do with it?”

“I don’t know,” I say, guessing her thoughts.

Yes, daughter Urethra is going to work all weekend shining and polishing the enormous platter until it gleams like a mirror. Then she going to hide in the front-yard bushes and flash it in passing motorist’s eyes causing them to crash, and while they are stunned by the inflatable airbag she will run up and rifle through their purses for wallets and easily pawnable Blackberrys. I mean, that’s how she got the money for her iPod last fall. Let’s face it, all the kids are evil.

Here they plan an assault on the neighborhood kids:

Suddenly there’s a yelp from upstairs, and “ow!” and a out of the window just above the front door comes a fine spray of miscellaneous items: pens, pencils, hair bands, and a pair of red patent leather shoes.

“Hey!” I cry, running outside and looking up, “Cut that out!”

Paris’s face appears at the window, then Violet’s. “Sorry, but — “

“Wait a minute.” The ground is littered with objects. The air is warm and fragrant. Molly comes to stand beside me, looking up too, her giant serving platter hugged to her chest. I feel a grin spread across my face. “Is this part of the Halloween rehearsal?”

They grin back at me, and Paris nods. “We were pretending it was water pouring on to the heads of the trick-or-treaters!”

That’s right. Meghan and her devilspawn are planning on dumping water on little trick-or-treaters on Halloween night causing them to run shrieking and shivering to their horrified parents at the end of the driveway.

And the Gurdons wonder why their neighbors avoid them…and tear down their Bush/Cheney signs.

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Yeah. Like I would tell you....