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May 5, 2011

We have this family joke.

It goes like this, “Mom is in Slytherin.”

It’s true.

Georgia has already self-identified as Ravenclaw, Graham as Gryffindor.

Chris, my husband who is perfect (it’s his flaw) is a Hufflepuff and, I might add, is as good-looking as Cedric Diggory.

That leaves me.

Yeah, that’s right. I don’t even try to deny it. Slytherins aren’t all bad, or else they’d have been driven out ages ago. Horace Slughorn could be exactly played by my older brother, my brother who will now stop speaking to me for a while, or else he will laugh hysterically and agree, especially the part about disguising himself as an armchair.

I’m trying to get my head around how I feel about being in the bad guy house. I have another friend whom I’d put in Slytherin with me — one of my favorite people, and amazingly successful. She, too, is married to a Hufflepuff.

I don’t scheme all the time. In fact, I don’t scheme most of the time. I scheme much less than people think I do. Most of the time, things work out my way even without any scheming. Or any deliberate scheming. I think it’s built into my nature. That, and ambition, which is a good servant but a bad master, and a strong point with me, so I readily admit that the sorting hat would stick me in Slytherin.

What’s with the sorting, anyway?

Chris says this: He says that there are two kinds of people, people who divide people into groups, and people who don’t. He also says there are three kinds of people in the world: people who can count and people who can’t. Actuary humor is a staple of my marriage.

We’re inclined to sort things into four anyway, at least in Western thought: Earth, Air, Fire, Water. Blood, Phlegm, Black Bile, and Yellow Bile. North, South, East, and West. If you look at the world in a Cartesian graph, you get four right angles. Reality divides into four — if you see the world through Western math.

In Chinese philosophy there are five elements: earth, water, metal, wood, and water, and they nourish and support each other; very different from the oppositional forces of the Hippocratic system. Perhaps at the Chinese school of Magic, somewhere in the Harry Potter universe, there are five houses, because four would be unlucky.

We sort things, and people, and we categorize them and taxonomize them because it makes it easier for us to think about them, because the whole mess of reality, of nature, of people, is too complex and just too many to think about without some system.

It’s been a rough one for my kids to get their heads around. They admit I’m a Slytherin, and we laugh about it, especially when I come up with a super-transparently manipulative scheme to get them to behave. But it works, and they DO behave, and in doing so, I teach them not only good behavior, but how to motivate other people to do what you want them to. They know Slytherin is chock full of bad guys, and yet I am patently not a bad guy. They are learning to see gray areas, at ages six and eight.

The family joke is teaching them to look beyond categories.

I’ll go with it.

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  1. Andrew permalink

    To a computer scientist, there are 10 kinds of people in this world, those that know binary and those that don’t.

  2. . . . chalk another one up for Ravenclaw.

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