The Help Desk: Up is down, nerds are bullies, nothing makes sense anymore

Every Friday, Cienna Madrid offers solutions to life’s most vexing literary problems. Do you need a book recommendation to send your worst cousin on her birthday? Is it okay to read erotica on public transit? Cienna can help. Send your questions to

Dear Cienna,

I wanted my son to be a nerd. I introduced him to A Wrinkle in Time and the Narnia series probably way too early, and I’m happy to report that it stuck: when it comes to books, he loves everything nerdy. He reads fantasy and science fiction, thereby making him a perfect compromise of a human being between my wife and I. (She detests fantasy; I’m not much of a sci-fi guy.)

Problem is, though we have successfully molded our son into a nerd, he’s still a bully. He’s good at sports, and he’s been caught a few times shaming and ridiculing other kids. Last week, he even beat a weaker kid up; which is my personal nightmare as a parent, speaking as someone who was always the weaker kid in school.

I’m not asking you for parenting advice, Cienna. he’s our kid and we’ve got to be responsible for him. We’ve got him with a good therapist and we’re working through it. I’m sure he’s going to be okay.

But I’m honestly a little surprised by how surprised I am about the failure of these nerdy books to mold our son into a compassionate human being. When I was growing up, the gentle kids always read sci-fi and fantasy, and the assholes always liked sports. I guess I thought correlation was causation—that nerdy books created more compassionate nerdy people. My son has blown up that belief. Is he an exception to the rule? Or is my entire life a lie?

Edgar, Totem Lake

Dear Edgar,

Lots of compassionate human beings start out as shitheads and honestly, some kids are practically begging to be bullied – and the quickest way for a kid to learn compassion for others is to be picked on, so in a way your son is performing a valuable community service. Let’s not make assumptions about your son until we conduct a simple test. The next time you’re eating dinner together as a family, casually ask your son this question:

If you came upon a wrecked ice cream truck, would you help yourself to a cone before checking on the driver?

If he answers yes, ask him:

How many cones would you help yourself to before calling emergency services?

If his answer is one, he’s fine and will likely grow up to have a successful career in law enforcement. If it’s two, you should consider sending him to Aunt Cienna’s Summer Kamp for Kids. If it’s three or above, your son is a pre-diabetic psychopath that no amount of wrinkles in time can fix.

About Aunt Cienna’s Summer Kamp for Kids: Located in a basement in beautiful southern Idaho, Aunt Cienna’s Summer Camp for Kids offers 300 square feet of spider-packed excitement and exposed wires, a.k.a “live learning opportunities.” For the low price of a box of wine a week, your young delinquent will learn compassion for other children, a.k.a prey, while developing a healthy respect for authority.

You see, when your delinquent exhibits delinquent behavior, he will have the option of attending a spider comedy routine about euthanasia OR spending an hour with Aunt Cienna writing limericks that poke fun at his physical and emotional flaws. (We call this “learning through preying.” It’s a Christian thing.)

When your delinquent is good, he will have access to all the books he can read, as well as a pit filled with squirrels and stray cats that children fondly refer to as the “petting pit.” What is a petting pit, you ask? It is like a petting zoo but in pit form.

Empirical data shows that three weeks spent at Aunt Cienna’s Summer Kamp for Kids is enough to turn the most calloused bully back into a sensitive child that desperately craves the affection of his parents and approval of his peers.