Monthly Archives: September 2009

No Fear II

The other day, during my daily quality time with Dear Abby, I came across a piece of advice concerning how to keep our children safer. The essence of it was this: every day, before leaving the house, parents should whip out their cell phones and take a picture of their children. Not so we can have a visual record of the last time that day our children were clean. And not so we can alibi them later for the cops. (“You see, Jr. was at home like a good boy when those mail boxes were knocked down. Yes, I know that the time stamp says eight am, and that the boxes were knocked down around midnight, but this is a Nokia—it tells you what time it is in Finland.”)

No, according to experts, the reason parents should take a picture of their children every day is so that the police will have a current photo (including the correct clothes) to work from when you file the missing person’s report. (And make sure you don’t forget to get the latest iPhone app—the iDentist. Now you can have up-to-date dental records to go along with that daily mug shot.)

Welcome to the 21st century—the era of fear-based parenting. Remember how it was when we were growing up? Remember how our parents didn’t tell us to “be home by dark,” but rather, “and don’t come back home until it’s dark”? Or maybe that was just my neighborhood, where all the moms drank their coffee black, could hook up a horse trailer on the first try and chopped up rattlesnakes with hoes without once dropping their cigarettes. When one of those moms turned to you and said, “If you’re that bored I can find you something to do,” you took off running. In fact, it’s hard to imagine one of those moms ever taking your picture with their cell phone; it’s much easier to imagine them using that same phone Russell Crowe/Naomi Campbell-style to chase you out the door.

And yes, I know what you’re going to say. “But things are different now. Sure, when we were kids we ran all over the place. We played unsupervised in the woods (desert, fields, vacant lots) all the time, and nothing ever happened to us—but it was a different world back then.” And the funny part is: you’re right. It was a different world back then.

It was more dangerous.

Here’s the thing. Violent crime in this country peaked in the 1970s and ’80s. By the time 1990 rolled around it was starting on a downturn that has continued to this day. Who knows exactly why this happened—everybody likes to take credit for it—but the fact is, a child growing up today is statistically safer than a child of the ’70s. That means that our kids are safer playing outside then we ever were.

Or, at least that means they’re safer from violence. At the same time that the average American child’s environment has been getting safer and safer, the average American child themselves has been getting fatter and fatter—probably from sitting on nice “safe” couches and being driven to nice “safe” play dates. (And don’t forget “snack time.”) Sure, we sucked down plenty of “suicide slurpees” back in our day—but we had to ride our bikes to the 7-11to get them. In twenty years we have gone from “stranger danger” to “manger danger.”

I even read somewhere that laundry detergent manufacturers have had to change their formulas to keep pace with their changing customer base: where they used to formulate their products to remove grass and blood stains, they now formulate them to remove ketchup and grease.

I sure hope they make those cell phone cameras with wide angle lenses.

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Sometimes, when I feel an excess of self-confidence coming on, I go stand in the self-help section of the local bookstore and read parenting books. Lately, one of the trends I’ve been noticing in a lot of the books is the suggestion that mothers run their families like businesses, with mothers in the position of CEO. The idea is that, if run properly, instead of producing widgets (or some other kind of manufactured good), your family will produce happy, well-adjusted children.

It is an interesting idea. Unfortunately, I know even less about widgets than I do about
happy families. In fact, the only business model I am even remotely familiar with is that of a restaurant—or maybe a bar.

So what would it look like if I ran my family like a bar? Well, obviously, the first thing I would need to do is hire a bouncer. That would be great: with a bouncer, not only could I stop unwelcome people from getting into my house (that would be pretty much everyone), but I would also finally have some control over what people carry in and out. You know how a bouncer will stop you from carrying your open beer outside by saying, “Hey pal—this ain’t Vegas”? That’s what I need at my house, only instead of Vegas, and beer, they would stop my daughter Clementine from leaving the house with a mug of tea in her hand by saying, “Hey kid, this ain’t”—hmm, come to think of it, where do people treat ceramic mugs as disposable? Oh yeah: nowhere. Except, of course, at my house.

Let me just put it this way: it’s a good thing there are a lot of evictions in my neighborhood,
because otherwise, I don’t know what we would do for dishes. For me, curbside pickup is better than Target. Okay, so some people (alright, most people) are appalled when they find out that I get the majority of my dishes this way. “You mean you got this plate out of the garbage?” they’ll say, looking up from their lasagna is horror. To which I’ll reply: “Don’t be ridiculous; the garbage
can was way full—I got this plate out of the gutter.”

What other choice do I have? As I mentioned before, my kids seem to think that any dish
small enough to be carried (which means every dish) qualifies as a “To Go” option. That’s why all of my silverware ends up in the garbage can in the school cafeteria, all of my bowls end up as “bug habitats” in the yard, and all of my mugs end up somewhere between my house and school. (Wherever
Clementine happens to be when she finishes her morning tea.)

Of course, keeping things in the house is not the only reason for having a bouncer—there’s
also the little matter of keeping things out. Things like fundraising flyers for school. A good bouncer
would go through my kids’ backpacks as soon as they walked in the house and not only pull out things
that I needed to see (and sign), but also get rid of the things I really don’t need to see. Things like the
biweekly fundraisers for cookie dough by the bucketful (“Is it good?” “I don’t know, but look
how much of it there is.”), and $13 tubes of wrapping paper that come with just enough paper to wrap a
deck of cards.

And then, finally, a bouncer would come in very handy for the usual reason—muscle. With a bouncer on hand, hopefully I will no longer have to deal with issues like one customer casually spitting on another on their way to the bathroom. In fact, with an bouncer around, I could probably even post (and enforce) my favorite sign from Joe’s Place (Flagstaff’s best bar ever—RIP): Be Good, or Be Gone.

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Recently, while studying Roman mythology, my daughter Clementine came across the story of Saturn–you know, the guy who eats his own children.

“Gross,” she said.

“What?” I replied. “The poor guy was probably just trying to clean up some leftovers and the kids got in the way.”

I can picture the whole thing–in fact, I can probably tell you exactly where they were when it happened: a restaurant. An expensive one.

For some reason, as the price for a meal increases a child’s appetite will decrease (of course, this is only true after they have ordered, and you are obligated to pay for it all). And no, it’s not because the more expensive the food is the more exotic (and therefore less child-friendly) it becomes. I mean, I could understand them turning their noses up at Black Squid Ink Pasta in a Chanterelle Cream Sauce, but that’s not the case: they turn their noses up at plain old spaghetti with butter (but served at Squid Ink and Chanterelle prices).

It’s even worse at a buffet. There the same kid that can eat their own weight in chicken nuggets back home suddenly becomes “full” after two of them at the $16.95 all-you-can-eat buffet. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to encourage gluttony. In fact, I think the ability to stop eating when you are full (even if the food tastes delicious) is a wonderful skill, one that I wish I had myself. No, my problem is that, invariably, after having picked their way through an expensive meal like an anorexic on a first date, the first thing they say after we’ve gotten back into the car and buckled up is, “I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”

“That was dinner,” I’ll reply through clenched teeth. “Didn’t you see me handing that man an enormous stack of money?”

“No.” (Looks out the window in boredom.) “So—can we stop and get something to eat?”

Meanwhile, I’m completely stuffed, probably because I just ate both of our dinners. (This because I don’t want to “waste money”–although how it saves me money to have to buy a larger wardrobe every year, I’m not quite sure.)

Which brings us back to Saturn. Although in all of the pictures I’ve seen of him he looks pretty fit (especially for an old guy), I can’t help but believe that eating his own children was just a mistake he made while over-enthusiastically cleaning up after them at a really expensive Roman buffet. It was no big deal.

And besides, it wasn’t like the kids didn’t get their revenge—gruesomely. (In the PG version the kids just cut their way out of Saturn’s stomach. In the Quentin Tarantino edition, after they cut their way out they turn around and cut off Saturn’s—well, let’s just put it this way: getting smacked below the belt with an errant T-ball is not the worst thing that can happen to a dad. Not by a long shot.)

I explained this theory to Clementine, but instead of being awed by my new interpretation of a classic myth, she just rolled her eyes and said, “Whatevs. I guess it’s never the parent’s fault, is it?”

Okay, so she may have a point. After all, the whole “Saturn eating his kids thing” probably was about a bit more than making sure he got his money’s worth at the $24.95 seafood brunch. After all, he was known for having a few issues with parenting.

Although, when you think about it, doesn’t all of mythology (Roman and otherwise), come down to (mostly bad) parenting? I’m not sure if that’s comforting or disturbing, but either way, one thing is sure: it’s nice to know that five thousand years ago people were still saying, “I am so going to kill that kid!”

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There is a reason that I have never had a girlfriend: it’s because they’re crazy. Yes, boyfriends can be crazy, too, but when it comes to pure unadulterated wack-jobiness, nothing beats a girlfriend. Add in the fact that if girlfriends are crazy, then ex-girlfriends are even more so, and you can see that having a girlfriend is just a recipe for disaster. Still don’t believe me? Okay, how’s this: I just googled “psycho ex-girlfriend” and got 481,000 hits. “Psycho ex-boyfriend,” on the other hand, only generated 275,000. That’s nearly two to one. You can doubt me, but you can’t doubt Google.

So anyway, yeah, girlfriends=crazy. Which is why I’ve never had one. Except that now, I kind of do.

Here’s the thing: living with a teenage girl is like having a psycho ex-girlfriend you can never break up with. Think of the worst girlfriend you (or one of your friends) ever had. The one who slashed your tires. . .or your mother’s tires. . .or your boss’s tires. The one who one minute weepily declared her never-ending love for you, and the next calmly described how she would soon be rejoicing upon hearing the news that you were dead. The one who was needy and distant and clingy and wild and timid and desperate and powerful and controlling and the best and the worst—all in the space of five minutes.

Now imagine what it would be like to have to live with that person for years.

You can’t put this girlfriend’s clothes in a Hefty and leave them on the front porch. You can’t hide out at your buddy’s house while one of your friends goes over and explains to her that, since her name is not on the lease, she has to leave. You can’t even call up her mom and tell her that it’s time she had a talk with her daughter who—by the way—is totally out of control. Because, guess what: you are her mom.

Sometimes I have trouble understanding why I, of all people, am in this situation. After all, haven’t I always done my best to lead a drama-free existence?. True, this has been a matter of self-preservation as much as anything else (having two actors in my immediate family has always meant that there’s been plenty of drama to go around), but still. I have always been the one who tried for the sanguine as opposed to the hot-blooded, the phlegmatic as opposed to the bilious. Unfortunately, once I had a daughter (and allowed her to become a teenager), I went just about as far away from a drama-free life as it’s possible to go and not be featured on reality TV.

Although sometimes I suspect that I actually am being featured on reality TV. How else would you explain the fact that certain innocuous statements on my part (such as “please put your cereal bowl in the–”) are met with such explosive, drama-filled retorts as: “Get off my case! Why do you have to make such a big deal out of everything?” “Why are you freaking out about a bowl? Just chillax,” and, “Why are you so uptight?” (all before I can get out the word “sink”). And then there’s the fact that these explosions are usually followed two seconds later by, “Ugh. Why do we have to live in such a dump?” I mean, there must be hidden cameras, right? And I must have inadvertently said the secret word.

Which, by the way, is apparently “crazy.” I learned this the hard way when I suggested to the teenage girl that she might not be operating at her optimal sanity level, and she, um, went nuts.

Something that, I’m sure, is no surprise to those of you with psycho ex-girlfriend experience—but was definitely news to me.

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