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Life with children
by: ©2008 JOSH HORWITZ, Judith and Milton Viorst had a long visit with son Alexander’s family, and a book was born.

Judith Viorst has lived a charmed life, and it's not necessarily by accident.

She was hot when she was young, she lived in Greenwich Village when it mattered, and she's lived in the same huge house in Washington, D.C., for decades. She also has a passel of kids who still phone home and even visit.

Viorst is the author of many family self-help books with a psychotherapeutic bent. 'Grown-up Marriage' is one, 'Necessary Losses' another. Viorst speaks on marriage and parenting in Portland this Friday and Saturday at the invitation of the Oregon Psychoanalytic Center.

But she's probably best known as the author of 'Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day,' a 2 million-copy-selling book that remains evergreen despite its 1970s illustrations.

The Alexander on whom the book was based was one of her three sons, and he's now grown up with kids of his own. In 'Alexander and the Wonderful, Marvelous, Excellent, Terrific Ninety Days: An Almost Completely Honest Account of What Happened to Our Family When Our Youngest Son, His Wife, Their Baby, Their Toddler, and Their Five-Year-Old Came to Live With Us for Three Months' - a work of multigenerational kidsploitation I can only aspire to - she recounts how her grandkids are darling but she doesn't like them messing up velvet furnishings.

'Raising kids is much harder today,' Viorst said by phone recently. 'I saw how tricky it is, not just the career and family juggling act, but how much more parents ask of themselves.' She added, 'I don't understand how they're raising babies without playpens.'

She also notes what a 20-minute ordeal it is now getting kids into a car: 'We used to just throw them in.'

As for answering every question and reasoning with kids, 'I suppose I was more fascistic, but there are times when you have to say, 'Do it because I said so,' and it's not going to ruin your child's life and make them hate you.'

Viorst, 76, graduated from the Washington Psychoanalytic Institute in 1981 and saw patients, under supervision, for a couple of years. But she found being a therapist is harder than writing.

Is psychotherapy still relevant to parenting?

'Yes. When your back's up against a wall and you run out of ideas, a sane voice can help.'

Any child-rearing regrets?

'Me and my husband agree that we should have spent more individual time with them,' she said, meaning away from their siblings. 'That way, the child feels the rhythm of their time, and the focus is theirs.'

She does this now every Sunday with her grandson Isaac, and he doesn't need telling twice to get ready.

Tact is all when being a grandparent.

'The big issue as a grandparent for me is the great yearning to share all of my wisdom and incredibly helpful advice with my (adult) children, and the dawning realization that it's best to keep your mouth shut. Our parents had no such hesitation!'

•••

The other day when I was taking the 6 a.m. shift (the kids were still on Florida time after our winter break), my daughter, Helena, broke off abruptly from our game of strangle the baby, saying she was thirsty.

After a few strides toward the bathroom, she leaned forward and sprayed the floor with three waves of vomit. I don't get to smell other people's puke very often these days, but I recognized the violently sour tang of last night's pizza with some pride before shepherding her down the hall.

I should have anticipated what would happen next. The pitter-patter of tiny feet followed us across the Pergo, interrupted by a sudden silence and the clunk of boy-skull on the floor.

Liam, not being one to hang around in an empty room, had tottered after us, only to slip and fall flat on his back. My wife has trained me not to laugh at times like this, because it sends the wrong message, but he did look a sight, lying naked except for his diaper in a pile of someone else's sick, roaring. I can only wish for the boy that next time he's found lying in a pool of vomit, it's his own.

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This column appears weekly in the Portland Tribune and covers the many challenges and joys of modern parenting.

It is written in rotation by Audrey Van Buskirk, Joseph Gallivan and Eric Bartels.


Judith Viorst

What: Grown-up Marriage

When: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 25

What: Parenting Our Children from Newborn to Thirty-Year-Old and Beyond

When: 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday Jan. 26

Where: Catlin Gabel School, Cabell Center Theater, 8825 S.W. Barnes Road, 503-229-0175

Cost: $25 each talk; $40 for both