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"He's questioning the basis of our authority. We make him turn the lights out, but his position is that he shouldn't have to go to sleep until we turn our own lights out, because he's exactly the same as us. And, I swear to God, it is like clockwork, every fifteen minutes, I swear he's lying there staring at his alarm clock, every fifteen minutes he calls out, 'Still awake! I'm still awake!' In this tone of contempt, or sarcasm, it's weird. And I'm begging Walter not to take the bait, but, no, it's a quarter of midnight again, and Walter is standing in the dark in Joey's room and they're having another argument about the difference between adults and children, and whether a family is a democracy or a benevolent dictatorship, until finally it's me who's having the meltdown, you know, lying there in bed, whimpering, 'Please stop, please stop.'"

Merrie Paulsen wasn't entertained by Patty's storytelling. Late in the evening, loading dinner-party dishes into the dishwasher, she remarked to Seth that it was hardly surprising that Joey should be confused about the distinction between children and adults—his own mother seemed to suffer from some confusion about which of the two she was. Had Seth noticed how, in Patty's stories, the discipline always came from Walter, as if Patty were just some feckless bystander whose job was to be cute?

"I wonder if she's actually in love with Walter, or not," Seth mused optimistically, uncorking a final bottle. "Physically, I mean."

"The subtext is always 'My son is extraordinary,'" Merrie said. "She's always complaining about the length of his attention span."

"Well, to be fair," Seth said, "it's in the context of his stubbornness. His infinite patience in defying Walter's authority."

"Every word she says about him is some kind of backhanded brag."

"Don't you ever brag?" Seth teased.

"Probably," Merrie said, "but at least I have some minimal awareness of how I sound to other people. And my sense of self-worth is not bound up in how extraordinary our kids are."

"You are the perfect mom," Seth teased.

"No, that would be Patty," Merrie said, accepting more wine. "I'm merely very good."

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