Monthly Archives: October 2008


Lately, there’s been a lot of stuff written about the ever-widening “technology gap” between older and younger generations–about how, for instance, if you’re over thirty and you’ve never texted, you probably never will. (Back in my day the example was about how the older generation couldn’t program a VCR; try making this reference nowadays, though, and all you’ll get out of most kids is “Program a what?”).

For the most part, these jokes about techno-savvy children and techno-dumb parents go way over the top; in fact, judging from the current sitcom crop, you’d think that the average parent-child relationship is the intellectual equivalent of a meeting between Stephen Hawking and Sasquatch. Still, it’s hard to deny that some of the stereotypes do contain within them a grain of truth–albeit truth with a twist. For example: while it may be true that I need Clementine’s help to use a cell phone (she keeps sneeringly asking me when I’m going to get my “Jitterbug” phone), I do, however, still have some advantages over her in the technology department: for one thing, at least I know how to use a broom.

True, a broom cannot really be considered the height of technology (it is rare to see a store advertising their “new and improved” brooms; like stairs, brooms are one of those items that were perfected a few millennia back and have rested on their laurels ever since), but it is, nonetheless, a tool. A tool that, for reasons I have yet to comprehend, is completely unfathomable to Clementine.

“Could you sweep the kitchen for me?” I’ll ask, thinking that that might not be too much to hope for in the way of household help as I put away the groceries, fold another load of clothes and gather up the fifteen-thousandth balled-up crusty sock from beneath the couch. The next thing I know she is poking the broom–bristles first–around the kitchen, wielding it so tentatively that it seems like she must be under the mistaken impression that what she holds in her hands is not so much a broom, but rather a deflated–yet still dangerous– porcupine on a stick. This “sweeping” method of hers makes it absolutely certain that nothing smaller or firmer than a Twinkie will be in any danger of ever actually getting picked up. When I point out the spots that she has missed using this questionable method (and the fact that she is using the broom backwards), she will sigh once before reversing the broom so that she is now dragging it along behind her like she is a demoralized hockey player and it is her stick. When I point out again all the stuff that this new method causes her to miss, she will roll her eyes and say, “You can’t expect me to get everything,” at which point I will concede that, no, I cannot–although it would be nice if she was at least able to sweep up some things, like maybe that half of a piece of toast on the floor by her feet, or perhaps the three inch dust bunny that the broom’s errant bristles have managed to pull out into the middle of the room.

Eventually, of course, her sighing and poking will get to me, and I’ll take the broom away from her to “demonstrate” yet again how to sweep the kitchen properly. At this point her eyes will widen and a sarcastic “oh” will pop out of her mouth, and I will begin to feel once again like I have just “demonstrated” how to whitewash a fence to Tom Sawyer.

Which is probably why I still make Clementine punch in the numbers every time I use a borrowed cell phone. And why, to her chagrin, I refuse to buy one for myself (and, by extension, for her). After all, Tom Sawyer’s friends ended up getting their revenge, too.

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Great Debaters

They say you can’t win an argument with a liar, but I disagree: I say you can’t win an argument with a debater. Which is why I’ve never been a big fan of debating. I’m all for arguing: if I think I’m right (and I usually do), I can argue for hours. But debating–the bloodless back and forth between two people who don’t even really believe in what they’re saying (they’re not trying to be right, they’re trying to win) has always seemed to me rather cold when compared to a full scale argument. I mean, in a traditional debate you don’t even get to choose which side you’re going to be on–they tell you what your position is. To me, that just seems plain contrary–which is what makes it the perfect occupation for children.

So perfect, is it, in fact, that I don’t know why they wait until the later grades to offer debate clubs; no one is better at arguing a point they do not believe in–just to win “points”–than a child. Consider, if you will, just a few of the “debates” I have gotten into with my elementary-aged children:

Jackets don’t keep you warm.

Food doesn’t satisfy hunger.

Rain won’t make you wet.

Now, as I mentioned before: I love to argue. I understand completely the unwillingness to concede even the smallest, most insignificant point if that point might make it possible for you to hold on to a position long after it has been proven untenable, but even I must bow down before the masters who can insist, as they stand dripping on the carpet, that taking an umbrella to school would not have changed the outcome because “It’s not the rain falling down that gets people wet, but rather the puddles splashing up (thereby rendering umbrellas nothing more than quaint little affectations).

Or consider what happened the other day, when my daughter, Clementine, managed to burn through $75 of Bookman’s credit in one trip the store, and yet had nothing of any real value to show for it. Although I conceded that the credit, having arisen from the blessed removal of all things Junie B. Jones-ish and Magic Treehouse-ridden from her shelves, was entirely hers to spend, I lamented the fact that the majority of it had been spent on movies so bad that were we to rent them from Netflix they probably would have come with a note that said “Please flush after viewing.” I’m talking about movies like Anacondas. (Not, Anaconda, a movie dreadful enough in its own right, but rather its sequel, Anacondas, a movie so bad that even Ice-T wouldn’t agree to be seen in it.)

Now, I know that taste is an entirely subjective matter–I realize that the world is somehow big enough to encompass both Fratelli’s and Dominos’ pizza (okay, that one’s still a little hard to wrap my head around)–but the thing is, not even Clementine liked these movies. They were simply the first objects to touch her hands once the spending lust took her–which is what really annoyed me about the purchase.

“Money just burns a hole in your pocket, doesn’t it?” I sighed when she came back with her stack of F+ movies.

“No,” she shot back. “I like these movies.”

And there it was: just like she had reached her hand into the bag and pulled out “Resolved: Anacondas does not suck,” she was ready to debate. Forget the fact that those movies would be sitting unopened next to the TV for the next month (“I’ll watch those later; America’s Funniest Home Videos is on again”); right here, right now, she was ready to debate her position with the cool certainty of the captain of the forensics team. And all the credibility of someone who doesn’t have enough sense to come in out of the rain.

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Not too long ago, we camped out for the weekend at the local bluegrass festival. Although we were only camping 7 miles from our house, and only for two nights, if someone had had to guess both our destination and the length of our absence by state of my living room and kitchen upon our return, they would have thought that instead of listening to songs about Sherman’s march through Georgia, we had actually been fleeing the march itself. The morning after our return, as the washing machine toiled over its fourth dusty load, the dishwasher plowed through its second batch of bacon grease encrusted cooking gear, and I worked on my fifth or sixth cup of coffee, I contemplated the scene of destruction surrounding me and tried to decide whether or not it had been worth it.

Sure, it had been fun–so much so that at the height of the festivities I found myself agreeing to “next year: Telluride!”–but at what cost to my tenuous sanity? As I gazed upon the piles of yet-to-be-sorted camping gear, the gulf between the fun we had and the mess we made stretched wider and wider, until, recalling my promise of next year’s trip to Colorado I found myself doing something I had sworn I would never do: surfing the “Telluride condo” web sites. Worse yet, I found myself thinking that $300 a night sounded pretty good. $300 a night. What was wrong with me? I’ve traveled in places where I didn’t spend $300 a month on lodging; I once spent 2 months in Thailand with only two changes of clothes; I spent another two months with all my camping gear crammed onto a bike, and now here I was seriously contemplating $300 a night to go to a bluegrass festival? What happened to me?

Shall we say it all together? Children.

I first realized that things were going to be different camping with children when we took Clementine to Locket Meadow the October she turned one. Like some mountain trapper of old, she refused to take off her one-piece union suit the whole time, despite “accidents,” tumbles into (cold) fire pits, and ill-considered encounters with hot, sticky, marshmallows. By the end of the first night she looked like a living troll doll; by the end of the second, as she danced around the campfire shouting and waving her “favorite” stick, she looked like something out of Lord of the Flies. I knew it was bad when a bunch of hippies started to set up camp next door to us, and then thought better of it–even their skinny dogs stayed away.

Since that time, even though we’ve gotten more and more camping gear, we’ve actually camped less and less. We bought a bigger tent, a better stove–even cushier chairs–all to no avail: at some point, camping became such a logistical nightmare–what with all the different food we needed to pack (you trying making a one-pot meal that will satisfy both a dedicated carnivore and a vegetarian who doesn’t eat vegetables); all the changes of clothes we’d need (including approximately 700 pairs of socks); and, of course, the obligatory fresh bag of marshmallows (always purchased at the last minute, lest it be discovered and eaten beforehand)–that it just became more trouble than it was worth. In other words; in this, too, we became our parents. Which, I suppose, is the whole point of becoming parents in the first place.

Not that our parents would have ever considered 300 bucks a night to go to a bluegrass festival to be reasonable. Which means that even when we think we are turning into our parents, what we are actually turning into is our parents with bigger credit limits and less good sense.


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Hockey Mom

Of all the frightening things the Republican party has done over the course of my lifetime, perhaps nothing had been quite as scary as the nomination of Sarah Palin for Vice President. Forget the fact that her light bulb doesn’t seem to be all that bright (after all, the Republican’s 1988 pick, Dan Quayle, famously bombed a grade school spelling bee over the word “potato(e)”); forget that her politics are just slightly to the right of Ghengis Khan’s; forget even, that her foreign policy experience consists of living in a state where “Darn it, I can see Russia from my house.” No, the scariest part of her nomination for me lies in her own description of herself: Hockey Mom.

Hockey moms are, to put it mildly, scary. In fact, when it comes to the scariest sports parents of all time, they hold all top three spots; although the first thing that usually comes to mind when you think of over-the-top parenting might be the stereotypical Little League father berating the volunteer umpire, trust me: that figure pales when it comes to the teeth-bared, no-holds-barred approach of a hockey mom. I ought to know: for three long months, I tried to become one of them.

At first it seemed like a natural fit; after all, my son Clyde loved to skate, and he loved any sport that was overtly physical (his only complaint about soccer was that there was “not enough wrestling”). It would have been a perfect match, if not for one thing: his mom just wasn’t cut out to be a hockey mom.

I should have known it was going to be a fiasco when I got his pile of gear, a bewildering array of pads and clothing that looked like it had been designed to protect Shiva. I remember thinking: I’m supposed to put all this on one child? Clyde wasn’t any help, either: as soon as he got his athletic cup on he could not be distracted from running up to everyone he knew (and plenty of people he didn’t) and trying to convince them to play “knock-knock” jokes on his crotch.

Once I had somehow gotten him into his gear (with a few pieces left over), though, and got him onto the ice, it was even worse. Because then it was just me and the other hockey moms.

The first thing I noticed was that nobody was complaining; nobody, that is, except me. I was cold (“It’s like a freezer in here!”), the bleachers were uncomfortable, and would it kill Late for the Train, I thought, to open up a satellite store in the lobby? Not the other moms, though; while I was content to huddle in a little ball at the top of the bleachers (isn’t heat supposed to rise?), they were pacing the floor next to the ice, pausing occasionally to bang on the plexiglass and shout unintelligible directions at their offspring in a tone reminiscent of the one someone might use on, say, a moose eating the flowers out of their front yard. Right before they went and got their gun.

Now, I’m not saying that soccer moms (or Little League moms, or gymnastics moms, or even Science Fair project moms) are any less vocal than hockey moms–how often have I found myself yelling “The goal is that way” or “You call that a hypothesis?”–but I have to say that there was a tenor to the hockey moms’ yelling that was truly frightening: it was as if they genuinely believed that whatever they were yelling through the plexiglass made any difference whatsoever to the child on the ice. As if they were listening. And this, finally, is why McCain’s pick of Sarah Palin–a self-described “hockey mom”–is so very scary: on top of everything else, we now have to add delusional.

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Fair Play

A few weeks ago, my family made our annual trek to the County Fair. Now, while our trips to the fair have always been wallet-draining experiences, this occasion was even more so; I don’t know, maybe it’s the economy (funnel cake inflation?), or maybe it’s just that this is an election year (and what’s more American than price-gouging?), but all of a sudden it felt like I was shopping with dollars in a euro world.

It started before we even got in, with ten dollars for the “premium” parking a few steps closer to the gate. I pass on this option, not so much because I’m cheap (I am), but because I know that I’ll need to park the car in Phoenix to run off that deep-fried cookie dough I’m planning on having anyway. Also, resisting this first temptation will give me the moral ammunition I’ll to need to say “no” when the requests start coming in from the shorter members of the family.

“Can I go in the bounce house?”

I have always been leery of bounce houses, ever since I bounced out of one myself at a young age (ok, I was in college), and landed head first onto an asphalt parking lot, but I could have been Vice President of the International Bounce House Booster Society and I still would have balked at the price I saw on the one at the fair.

“Six dollars? Are you bouncing in it, or buying stock in it? I don’t think so.”

Next comes the food venue, with its seven dollar ice creams, four dollar ears of corn (I don’t think we can blame this one on ethanol) and six dollar fries, the last being the most important, since over the course of the fair Clementine will be eating no less than four servings of cheese fries. (I could have attempted to hide from her the fact that two of her favorite foods–french fries and nacho cheese–were together at last, but it would have been pointless; no matter where we have traveled in the world, no matter how far off the beaten track, Clementine has always been able to sniff out the local fry stands (or chip shop, or frites stall, or vlammes haus–whatever the local option is called). In fact, she is so accomplished at “fry” detection that I have no doubt that if we were someday to travel up the Amazon and discover an unknown tribe, ten minutes out of the boat Clementine would be standing in line for the local version of “fries.”

Here at the fair, though, her quest for fries led her not to a new tribe, but only to the Commercial Building (a place which, judging by all the hard-selling take place within it, should probably be named the Infomercial Building). Fortunately, due to a bit of misdirection on my part, I am able to steer us away (“Look kids, it’s a root beer garden–oh, my mistake, it’s just regular beer. Well, as long as we’re here…), but unfortunately, this now puts us in sight of the fair’s biggest big spender temptation: the Carnival.

I’m sure that most people could easily spend their entire lives without once thinking to themselves: Gee, if I only had a giant inflatable hammer…, but yet, let them step two feet inside a carnival and suddenly–even at $5 a pop– it becomes a “must have.” Same thing with the shoddily-made stuffed animal knock-offs from another era (George Jetson? The Roadrunner? Nemo?), as well as the ever popular fish-in-a-bag. (What kind of karma do you have to have to come back as one of those?)

The end result was that by the end of the day everyone very full, a little nauseous, and flat broke. Again, I blame it on this being an election year: after all, what could be more American than that?

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