What Garrison Keillor Needs to
Know About Children
October 1, 1997


Some of Keillor's previous writings on children:

Monologue Excerpt
"Our children are punishment for what we did to our parents." (March 4, 1995, Amherst, Massachusetts)

Easter
"Nothing you do for children is ever wasted." (From Leaving Home, Viking Penguin Inc.)

Mother's Poem
"Negligence in the name of love Is just what we should have more of." (From We Are Still Married, (Viking Penguin, 1989)


The Chat

Gkeillor: Hello, everybody. I am here, tan, rested, in my Lands End blue button-down shirt, with no vomit stains on the shoulder, owing to the fact that I have no infant children. No jelly on my trousers. My daughter is expecting in November, and after that, I'll get a refresher course on small children, but meanwhile, I'm here to learn. Glad you joined us.

Robert: Garrison, you ask if kids are more evil these days...I don't think so...but no less so either. I am a Lutheran preacher with 2 small children and have had to stop during my morning monologue to tell my daughter to quit talking! It worked well...and woke up the whole congregation too!

Gkeillor: What was she saying, Pastor?

Robert: She was trying to tell here mother the sermon was over!

Gkeillor: Not evil, in my book.

Gkeillor: Anybody online from home with children present??

Gkeillor: Anybody with insights to offer into child culture, that might be helpful to an older story teller?

Gkeillor: Let's invent a child, if you're game. Let's invent two. A boy and a girl. They are grandchildren of Clarence and Arlene Bunsen, they live in Minneapolis, and they're spending a weekend in Lake Wobegon.

Gkeillor: Their grandparents have not seen so much of them in recent years. One is nine, one is six.

Gkeillor: What is surprising or interesting about them to these older people?

Gkeillor: First of all, let's name them. A boy's name, a girl's.

Gkeillor: Nominations?

Booklady: Which child is which age?

Gkeillor: Girl is 9, boy is 6.

Guy: How about the way that a very young child is easily influenced. There is a couple living next to me that has a young girl that is sheltered a little. Well some of the other folks around here have taught her how to head butt in preperation for day care.

Gkeillor: Names?

Robert: They have every Burger King toy known to man tucked away neatly in a carry bag!

Gkeillor: Names?

Gkeillor: What are they naming children nowadays?

Robert: Emily and Tyler.

Gkeillor: These are not your children, are they?

Elyn: Nicole is popular for girls.

Gkeillor: Okay, I accept Emily and Tyler as the names of our theoretical children. Emily is 9, Tyler is 6. What about them astonishes their grandparents?

Helmack: They're going back to the old-fashioned names.

Gkeillor: What about Emily, 9, surprises her small-town grandparents?

Booklady: They can tell time by seeing what tv program is on.

Gkeillor: Language? Taste in food?

Gkeillor: Okay, so Emily and Tyler are addicted to TV shows? Which? Elyn: Grandparents are amazed at how comfortable the children are with technology

Gkeillor: Which technology?

Gkeillor: Remotes?

Guy: How about Tyler interested in space travel, and Emily wanting to be a corperate board member.

Gkeillor: We're not inventing the story yet, we're talking about background.

Robert: They love Dad's remote...and Arthur

Gkeillor: Arthur?

Gkeillor: Who he?

Gkeillor: You mean Author?

Robert: Arthur...on at noon....cartoon and very popular.

Helmack: Wishbone. (Arthur is a mouse character from PBS.)

Robert: Emily loves cottage cheese with paprika sprinkled on.

Texan: Certainly computers-but not just computers: modems, software.

Gkeillor: What other TV shows?

Gkeillor: What other foods?

Robert: Tool Time....Tyler's favorite.

Gkeillor: If you're more comfortable talking about real children than hypothetical ones, go ahead.

Booklady: They watch everything all day long.

Gkeillor: Tool Time? I'm not familiar with that. What is it?

Helmack: Emily watches The Babysitter's Club.

Gkeillor: They don't watch everything unless someone lets them. What happens when we turn off the TV?

Gkeillor: Are these children talkative? do they sit and jabber? are they zoned-out while watching TV?

Robert: The play store...real cash register and goods!

Helmack: They're bored when we turn off the TV. They bug for something to eat because they don't know what else to do.

Elyn: Ee turned the tv off once - first they fought for hours, then they slept, and finally they began to find things to do.

Booklady: You see a test pattern in their eyes and their faces are blank.

Gkeillor: Sounds as if the TV needs to be blown up.

Elyn: Yes!!

Gkeillor: Do these children not enjoy playing outdoors?

Robert: Kids aren't so interested in TV...but in imaginary games and .... cardboard boxes.

Booklady: Right. They should switch to radio.

Gkeillor: No editorializing, please. Brad: You read them a book. You take them fishing (but my children felt sorry for the fish, so we always let them go).

Mikeinbna: My 2-year-old screams when the TV is turned off, then begins playing and reading as a child should.

Robert: A big refrigerator box will entertain Em and Tyler for hours...as a house, garge, fort, etc

Gkeillor: What else is interesting about these children? Are they shockingly mature? Do they casually refer to things we didn't know children knew?

Booklady: Emily also knows all the words to:

Booklady: Our D I V O R C E becomes final today.......

Elyn: They refer to things that we knew about when we were children but which we knew we weren't supposed to know about. (Sex, for example)

Gkeillor: That's too old a song.

Brad: If there is an undercurrent of love, I don't think it's necessary to heavily censor what they say. They're just words, after all.

Gkeillor: Words are important. Says me.

Brad: I'm from the South. I'll be Daddy to my children until the day I pass on to be with my own Mama and Daddy.

Elyn: Mom & Dad still works, and Mr. & Mrs. from the friends

Gkeillor: So this has NOT changed?

Elyn: It wasn't just words when my godchild critiqued every move I made at a dinner party a few weeks ago.

Gkeillor: What happened, Elyn?

Gkeillor: What would you do, Brad, if suddenly your children called you Brad? Or Big Guy?

Saverett: Well yeah, words are important. I am an English major after all. But if you allow yourself to be injured by words as harmless as Mr. Chubby, well, then you're going to have a rough time in life...

Elyn: She watched how I cut my meat, how I chewed my food, how I drank my tea, and had a comment for each - and her parents, who were present, said nothing.

Gkeillor: I think children need to be taught to show respect. No?

Gkeillor: It's not respectful to call your uncle Mr. Chubby to his face.

Gkeillor: Elyn, you're the godmother of this little monster, you need to get busy.

Elyn: I was livid, and astonished that this behavior toward another adult was tolerated.

Gkeillor: Don't be livid. Be haughty.

Brad: If my kids called me Big Guy, I'd crack up--couldn't help it. If they called me Brad, I'd start calling them Sparky and Infantina.

Saverett: Respect is not as simple as using the proper titles...

Booklady: I agree about teaching respect. One of the best ways is by example--such as NOT letting them hear you call people by their defects...

Gkeillor: Titles are a good start.

Guy: Respect when the child matures and knows he's said or done something questionable. But there are times they say something that is repeated without knowing why they said it and times they just express themselves.

Gkeillor: I'm simply astonished that you let a child call you Mr. Chubby.

Robert: Mr. Keillor, it is hard not to laugh at what the children say these days!

Gkeillor: Such as?

Saverett: Well, it's not my primary name, and she very rarely uses it to my face. It's just a game they play, coming up with nicknames for everyone they know. My friend is Mr. Burrito-Head. Another friend is Mr. Batman.

Brad: I agree with Saverette. I find that when I'm polite to children, MOST often they are polite to me. If they're not, there's always THE VOICE: Don't you want to think about that and say it again in a better way, son?

Gkeillor: What do children say nowadays, Robert?

Robert: Everything...I ask Tyler to do something...brush teeth, and he responds, Oh, dad! And I bust up laughing

Gkeillor: Okay, Saverett, I'm making too big a thing about it.

Robert: Maybe I am just coming unglued, but the way they say things is so cute and innocent.

Gkeillor: Good luck, Robert.

Gkeillor: Let's hear more about food preferences.

Gkeillor: Someone mentioned cottage cheese with paprika.

Gkeillor: An old cafeteria classic. What else do children eat?

Robert: This is Emily's favorite...cottage cheese.

Robert: Noodles and butter.

Brad: Eggs, scrambled, with two drops of blue food coloring added, and a side of ham. Thank you, Dr. Seuss.

Gkeillor: Isn't that green eggs?

Gkeillor: Noodles and butter. You're making me hungry.

Helmack: Tyler likes anyting green.

Gkeillor: Green peppers? arugula?

Brad: Green eggs and ham, check. Actually, they're not bad.

Gkeillor: Are you kidding?

Helmack: Green beans, spinach...His mom makes his milk green.

Saverett: Noodles and butter...A college students daily bread...Literally... =)

Mikeinbna: My son's favorite snack is green olives.

Helmack: On St. Patricks' Day...Green food coloring...over Lucky Charms.

Gkeillor: Okay. Let's get down to business. Have there been Lake Wobegon monologues that concerned children that made you wince because they struck you as wildly off the mark?

Gkeillor: Did you grit your teeth and think, That man does not know what he's talking about'?

Gkeillor: Work with me here, folks. Be frank.

Robert: NO!

Booklady: No. I only wince when you are on the mark.

Gkeillor: Robert, you're a Lutheran pastor, you're supposed to be truthful.

Mikeinbna: Never, Mr Keillor.

Gkeillor: Lies, lies, lies.

Gkeillor: Are boys doing their hair now?

Helmack: The hair dryer is more like 12 for girls...and 14 for boys.

Gkeillor: This is a serious phenomenon, if true.

Elyn: The boys follow at about twelve - but they are much more secretive about it - by the time they are sixteen they too are into hair gel..

Gkeillor: The day boys get obsessed with hair in childhood is a turning point for America.

Robert: Boys...never!

Gkeillor: Eating habits----- more on that -----

Brad: Food rituals -- first they have to eat all the peas. Then they start on the potatoes. Next the carrots. Then the chicken. Serial eating.

Gkeillor: LOL

Gkeillor: I eat that way myself.

Elyn: If I want to upset my son all I have to do is threaten to touch his hair - and this a child with a blackbelt in karate...

Saverett: Children like little tiny utensils...

Robert: Three meals and three snack times a day are not enough for my son!

Gkeillor: How old is the son, Elyn?

Saverett: My brother used a toothpick sized fork until he was 17...It was embarassing...And we got tired of waiting for him to finish... =)

Elyn: Just turned sixteen in June.

Gkeillor: I'm interested in the blackbelt in karate.....is this a trend too?

Helmack: They like those little pickled corn on the cobs.

Brad: My daughter used to name each separate spoonful of food and say goodbye to it before consuming it.

Gkeillor: Infantina did that?

Gkeillor: That's truly anal retentive. Could we talk?

Vonni: My sons used to hid behind cereal boxes because my littlle daughter would look at them. They'd yell "Mom, she's looking at me!" Always made for trying mornings.

Helmack: Tyler has to have ketchup on everything. Even on Thanksgiving, there's ketchup on the table because he won't eat his turkey without it.

Elyn: He started when he was seven - we were encouraged to enroll him because it was good for self-discipline (right!) - well, I guess it was because I became very self-disciplined in empyting my wallet for it - but he did get the blackbelt at thirteen

Gkeillor: Okay, let's move along to school stuff. What's going on there?

Robert: Gymnastics is very popular with young girls in our mid-west Wisconsin town.

Gkeillor: Do children still address teachers as Mr and Mrs??

John: How about the games children play? They can lose the world around them as we (adults) know it.

Robert: My daughter says she hasn't got her name on the board yet, but many other have. That is good--I think?!

Vonni: Yes, they do here in Madison.

Ellen: My daughter is interested in the school plays.

Gkeillor: The name on the board? that's punishment?

Gkeillor: How about the scholastics? is everything dumbed down the way people say?

Brad: I just got back from helping my wife, a third-grade teacher, take her class to a play. She was Mrs. and I was Mr. to the kids. They were polite, but sometimes loud!

Robert: Yes, punishment.

Helmack: Kids these day have a hard time learning how to tell time because all clocks are digital.

Brad: Classrooms around here don't have blackboards any more. Dry-erase boards. Yuck.

Elyn: You can tell the liked teachers from the disliked teachers by how children will absolutely pick apart those teachers they dislike.

Paul: Mr. Keillor, in your quest to understand children, are you looking for information about small children or, say, teenagers?

Gkeillor: Children. Then teenagers.

Gkeillor: But go ahead. There's no structure here, as you can see.

Saverett: Teachers are still Mr. & Miss, unless they're married and then they're Mrs., or unless they're heavily educated and then they're Dr. or Prof.... =)

Gkeillor: What do they say about the disliked teachers, Elyn?

Gkeillor: What are the terms of insult?

Brad: This morning I tried to get a busload of children to sing. They did NOT know the words to "On Top of Old Smokey." They did know "Heartbreak Hotel."

Gkeillor: That's our fault, Brad.

Gkeillor: How about "Frankie and Johnny"? "Down In The Valley?"

Brad: That's ok. I do a great "Heartbreak Hotel."

Gkeillor: That's the problem here, Brad. A taste problem.

Saverett: When I was a child I had awful taste in music. I blame my parents.

Gkeillor: Terms of abuse used by children, please.

Brad: Insult terms? Boogerhead. Turkey. Butt-breath.

Gkeillor: Derogatory terms. Big mojo.

John: Words children use now ... Phat

Elyn: The worst thing they can call you is stupid - they spit it out like a curse.

Robert: Camp Snoopy and Minnesota State Fair were the highlights of their summer

Gkeillor: To be called stupid by a child is like being called ugly by a frog...

Brad: Kids worry about whether the world will still be here when they grow up. Events like Princess Diana's death disturb them deeply.

Gkeillor: How can they worry about that, Brad?

Paul: My 5-year-old says his farts interest him. He likes the way they smell. Gkeillor: Kids have always had morbid imaginations, but what's the threat to the world now?

Saverett: Kids can sense beauty and are fascinated by it. It's what they ask a lot of questions about. These questions would seem very profound if we weren't so dumbfounded...

Gkeillor: How interesting are his farts, Paul? on a scale of one to five?

Helmack: They worry about getting kidnapped.

Brad: TV. A report on greenhouse warming provokes the question, "Will there still be air when I grow up, Dad?"

Gkeillor: What beauty, Saverett?

Elyn: I have one who is up on all current events and the other who is lucky to know who is currently President....guess there is no accounting for taste.

Paul: He gives them a two.

Paul: Growing up threatens children. This is why the dislike their parents, because they force them to grow up.

Saverett: They see people in love and they want to understand it, I think. They can't fuly conceive of romantic love, but they have a rough idea...

Gkeillor: So kids are worried about environmental problems? Guess the environmentalists' hysteria has paid off.

Gkeillor: Good subject, Saverett. Romantic love.

Gkeillor: Are you referring to personal experience?

Saverett: One of the older subjects to be sure...

Gkeillor: Are kids precocious about romantic love?

Vonni: My little ones worry about death - and not being able to say goodbye.

Gkeillor: Not being able to say goodbye???

Saverett: Yes, and an article I read about a new, popular candy that makes kids smile and pucker and makes parents want to vomit...

Robert: Good thing there is heaven....no need to say goodbye!

Vonni: Grandpa died and their aunt's cat died - they have trouble with this

Gkeillor: I'd like to thank all of you for your insights and information. I learned a lot, was reminded of a lot. You were very helpful.

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