Dear 19th Century Physician: “The Parenting Edition” By Matthew Vollmer



This is not a depiction of twerking

by Matthew Vollmer


Dear 19th Century Physician, 

How do you feel about parkour? Do you think I should let my child take parkour classes at the new parkour gym in Brooklyn?

As I’m sure you would agree, dear mother, a child’s energy should be conserved whenever possible, so that, when the time comes, such get-up-and-go can be put to profitable use, which means that activities such as baseball, dancing, cricket, croquet, and bicycling should be regulated or—in some cases—altogether prohibited. The human body was designed to work, to tend and harvest the fruits and vegetables of our fields or—in this modern age—to shovel coal into blast furnaces in pig iron factories. Remember, the survival of our race depends first and foremost on progress. This running around willy-nilly, leaping over this and twirling over that, wastes precious vitality that could otherwise be harnessed in contributing to the good of society. Furthermore, such activities disrespect the noble purposes of our urban architecture’s designers, while attracting the attention of our impressionable young ladies, who, mistaking these flamboyant gymnasts for men of health and vigor, are then susceptible to their charms. Our contemporary society offers more than enough to incite a young lady’s animal passions without these rogue simians flinging themselves about! Heavens above and below! If it’s activity your child seeks, hand him a scythe, and bring him hastily to my estate. I have acres upon acres of hay to cut, and a cast of insubordinate underlings who refuse to move at a speed faster than sloth.


Dear 19th Century Physician, 

My children desperately want a dog but I am not ready for the care that a dog would entail. Can you recommend an alternative?  

Admitting one’s shortcomings is good for one’s constitution (as is, by the way, chewing each bite of one’s food one hundred and one times), and for that, I commend thee. That said, your worries are sustained. Dogs, those slobbery brutes, are perpetual shedders of hair, indiscriminately consuming of all manner of rot and refuse (as the study of their vomitus will surely reveal). As such, they are filthy creatures, as capable (if not moreso) of spreading disease as our dreaded adversary the rat. In that light, might you allow me to suggest a more portable and affable fellow, one that has gained favor with my own unruly brood? Behold: the flying squirrel! True, if agitated, his bite will leave quite a mark—my youngest nearly lost a finger last fall after he refused to stop pestering Mr. Squeaky Cheeks—but if you can snatch one from a nest before his eyes pop open, or nurse a fallen fledgling back to health with an eyedropper and basin of fresh milk, frequently placating him with an apple slice or a touch of honeybee larvae, you’ll have a friend for life. A line of cotton thread tied snugly around one of this youngster’s hind legs and—assuming one’s line is long enough—you’ve got a living kite. Watch that your line doesn’t get tangled, and for goodness sake do not, as an acquaintance of mine once did, tie the poor chap around his neck. Unless, that is, you have a taste for squirrel stew, which, if you’ve got butter beans and bacon grease, fare thee well!


Dear 19th Century Physician, 

When my child says he is doing homework on his school iPad and then instead plays a game called “Butterfly Farm,” should he be punished? If so, how? 

Let me be clear: aside from tea, sugar, mustard, vinegar, tobacco, alcohol, and butter, there is no surefire way to atrophy a young brain than by indolence. What a fine and enterprising young gentleman yours appears to be then! The children I know—many of whom reside under my own roof–while away their precious time with brainless games of “cup and ball” or “shuttlecock”; one dreads to think of the congealing processes taking place just beneath their parietal. Meanwhile, your budding Lepidopterist has taken the initiative to manage his own insect colony! Bravo! And, it must be said: shame on you, for it appears, dear mother, for neglecting to adequately praise your little man’s industriousness. Therefore, where the punishment of your little darling is concerned, I shan’t prescribe any, unless it is you, dear lady, who wishes to right her wrongs. In that case, I would prescribe thirty lashes—to be administered by your spouse and witnessed by each of your children—and that you yourself first find and cut a serviceable birch branch.


Dear 19th Century Physician, 

My tween came home and asked me what “twerking” is. I said never mind. How would you have responded? 

The same, dear mother. The same.


Matthew Vollmer is the author of two story collections–FUTURE MISSIONARIES OF AMERICA and the forthcoming GATEWAY TO PARADISE–as well as a collection of essays–INSCRIPTIONS FOR HEADSTONES. He is co-editor of FAKES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF PSEUDO-INTERVIEWS, FAUX-LECTURES, QUASI-LETTERS, “FOUND” TEXTS, AND OTHER FRAUDULENT ARTIFACTS and is an editor for the University of Michigan Press’ 21st Century Prose series. He is an Assistant Professor at Virginia Tech, where he directs the undergraduate creative writing program.