Monthly Archives: October 2011

Don’t Dare

Lately I have been having a little bit of a problem with the lies we tell to our children—not all of the lies, mind you: just the bad ones. Don’t get me wrong: nine times out of ten I am all about lying to my children. For instance, I’ve told them that closet monsters prefer living in rooms with unmade beds, that I couldn’t possibly bring them back any candy from the grocery store because there was a worldwide candy shortage, and that the new Alvin and the Chipmunks movie was, unfortunately, never released in Flagstaff. (No, not even on DVD.) I’ve also told them that wearing hand me downs makes them look like cool hipsters, and that it was perfectly normal for mothers to pack their children a sack lunch consisting of a stale hot dog bun, an uncooked package of ramen noodles, and a ziploc baggie full of tap water—especially when the mother in question forgot all about their upcoming field trip until the last moment.

But even with all of those lies, there are still some things I don’t feel good lying to my kids about. Big Things. Things like sex, war, and poverty. Of all of the Big Things things, however, I think the lies we tell about drugs are the worst, if for no other reason than that we might be the only source of honest information our kids have on the subject. Because from what I’ve seen they certainly won’t be getting any straight answers from anywhere else.

Let me give you an example. Last year at my daughter’s school several college students spent an afternoon teaching a workshop on the perils of illegal drug use. It wasn’t the DARE program, but it was something similar. At one point, in what was obviously a test, one of her friends asked the college students to explain how big the bowl was when people said, “let’s go smoke a bowl.” The instructor, clearly unprepared for any such questions, held up her hands to form a bowl approximately the size and shape of a cereal bowl, and said, “About this big.”

As you can imagine, half the kids there fell about the place laughing. And the other half were clued in to the fact that these particular “drug counselors” not only knew next to nothing about drugs, but were willing to lie to cover up their ignorance. The saddest part of this story for me isn’t that all of the kids there lost all of their faith (whatever they may have had) in these two particular counselors, but rather that at least some of the kids there probably lost all of their faith in any drug counselors at all. Even the ones who have something really important and timely to say.

Look, I totally understand the urge and the desire to keep our kids away from illegal drugs. I can honestly say that I don’t know a single person for whom abusing drugs was or is the best part of their life. But I also know plenty of people for whom using drugs was most definitely not the worst part, either. The truth is, drug use, like anything else, is complicated. And things that are complicated tend to lead to complicated questions—with even more complicated answers to follow.

It’s funny that even Facebook acknowledges that things aren’t always as simple as “yes” or “no.” That’s why it gives you the option to choose “it’s complicated” for your relationship status. Because it is complicated, and we should acknowledge that—in everything, really, but most especially when our children ask us the Big Questions. It’s only when we acknowledge that something is complicated that we have the chance to do something that even Facebook doesn’t offer, but should: we can Explain.

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Not A Lawyer

So, the other day I was lucky enough to be treated to one of those fascinating lectures you usually need to spend all day in front of City Hall to get. That’s right: I got to hear all about the true facts concerning some of my lesser known civil rights. This particular lecture, however, included something a little bit more than what you usually get at your standard third party political rally: it also included a special bonus section on what to do if I ever decide to start my life over again as a dumbass.

Here’s a sample of some of the information I received: it is illegal for the police to shoot you if you are running away from a robbery. Also, it’s illegal for the police to try and stop you if you are driving very, very, quickly (not that they will even attempt it if you are also driving very, very, skillfully.). And finally, if for some reason both the running away and the driving very quickly (and skillfully) don’t work, then you can still get away with everything if you can manage to run inside your own house, get your pajamas on, and then jump into bed before the police break down the door. It seems that if enough circumstantial evidence points to the fact that you have been home sleeping all night (as opposed to leading them on high-speed car chases and running away from robberies), then the American criminal justice system will, quite simply, be flummoxed.

The best part about all of this information? It was free. And plentiful. And available to me in the comfort of my own car—all I had to do was turn down the music enough to hear the conversation that was happening in the back seat.

The back seat has always been a great source of information for me. Before this incident I had already learned several incorrect ways to to avoid pregnancy, infallible ways to cheat on a test (if you really, really want to get caught), and various household substances that are guaranteed to get you super high (or at least make you look super stupid—can I get another hit of that banana peel?). But, I suppose, with age comes maturity, and the mature teen no longer discusses the many uses of nutmeg, but rather how best to live life like an episode of Grand Theft Auto.

The most frightening thing about all of this was how very, very, sure they were that the BS they were spewing was absolutely, 100%, true. On this point there was not the least little bit of doubt; on the contrary, they believed it with the conviction of someone who has not only drank the Kool-Aid, but would gladly go back for a second cup if it wasn’t for all of those bodies piled around the punch bowl. The frustrating thing is that these are the same people who look at you like you’re trying to sell them a timeshare if you suggest that maybe the best way to pass that math test would be to study. Or like you’re asking them to come to your Flat Earth Society meeting every time you point out that the easiest way to find the t-shirt they have misplaced would be to pick all of the other t-shirts up off of the floor.

I wish I knew why they are so willing to believe that an obscure maritime law from two centuries ago will protect them from arrest (as long as at least one foot is in a naturally occurring body of water), and yet are completely unwilling to believe that gravity is enforced 24/7. Who can say? Maybe it’s just the eternal optimism of youth.

Or the freedom to be a dumbass. Which is, as it turns one, is actually one of our better known civil rights.

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You Tube

Way back in the 70s, Gil Scott-Heron said that the revolution will not be televised. Although a lot has changed since then, time has proven his statement to be both right and wrong: while the revolution has certainly not been televised (thanks for nothing, Fox News), it most certainly has been broadcast. A lot. And in case you’re wondering, I’m not just talking about the revolutions in the streets of Egypt and Libya, (or even our very own revolution here on Wall Street), but rather the revolutions that are occurring on a much smaller—and yet somehow much more critical—scale. I am speaking, of course, about all of the revolutions that are occurring in every backyard in every house containing at least one bored child. These revolutions are not about the right to vote (no chance of kids getting that any time soon), or even freedom from tyranny (ditto on that), but rather about the most simple, basic freedom there is: the freedom to do dumb stuff.

“Dumb stuff” in this case also being “dangerous stuff,” because, attention spans being what they are in childhood, it only stands to reason that the dumb stuff that has the best chance of being put up on YouTube is also the dumb stuff where somebody gets hurt.

A perfect example of this is going up on the roof; most parents have a rule against this. This is a good rule. A sound rule. A rule that I have both invoked as an adult and flouted as a child (the difference being not so much as increase in fear as common sense). In fact, the rule against going up on the roof is such a common one that whenever I invoke it I always take comfort in the knowledge that almost every parent, in every house, in the entire world (and probably beyond) has laid it down as the law at least once in their lifetime. Unfortunately, it is also such a fun rule to break that I’m willing to bet that almost every child, also in every house, also in the entire world (and beyond) has defiantly broken it just as soon as it was issued.

Of course, before the advent of YouTube this was just an untested hypothesis. Now, however, we have video proof. If you don’t believe me go to YouTube right now and type in “kid falls off a roof.” Instantly you’ll get over a thousand videos, thoughtfully segregated into subcategories like “Fat kid falls off a roof,” “emo kid falls off a roof,” “skater kid falls off a roof,” skinny kid falls off a roof,” and “chubby kid falls off a roof—hilarious!” (That the first and last categories are nearly identical, and yet completely different, makes complete sense to me. As a humor writer I can attest to the fact that “chubby” is a much funnier word than “fat.” Hence the extra “hilarious!”.) But, yes: there are over a thousand of these videos. And remember: these are only the ones where the kid actually falls off. Just imagine how many videos there are of kids not falling of the roof? (Probably none, actually. Who wants to see that? I couldn’t even bring myself to check for research purposes.)

So, what, exactly does that mean to us as parents? Not much, actually: even with the advantage of video proof, we’re never going to be able to stop our kids from acting like idiots. But it does mean that the next time we ask them “How did you ever manage to break that?” they can simply turn on the computer and say, “Watch this.” And it also means that, if their dumb stuff is spectacular enough, there is a very good chance that their little revolution, at least, very likely will be televised.

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Wall II

Robert Frost famously once said, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” He’s been dead for quite a few years now, but if he were still around I think I’d have to look him up just to tell him that I found out what it is that doesn’t love a wall: a teenage boy.

Here’s what I want to know: have teenage boys always punched walls, or has this fad just come about since the invention of drywall? Because it’s hard for me to believe that there was quite as much wall punching going on in the days of lathe and plaster, let alone in the days of stone and mortar. And if there was, then I don’t see how teenage boys kept enough use of their hands to be able to engage in that other thing they like to do with their fists so much.

But what do I know? Maybe they did. Maybe teenage cave boys punched the hell out of their cave rooms—punched right through their Death Metal (well, Death Stone) posters and into limestone. And maybe teenage boys on the prairie punched right through their rough hewn planks and into the dirt of their sod houses. Maybe, even, that’s the real origin of the Three Little Pigs story: it wasn’t a Big Bad Wolf that huffed, and puffed and blew the houses down; it was an Extremely Pissed Teenager who raged and fumed and finally put his fist through the wall (all except for the brick one, of course.)

It’s hard for me to say, since I have never actually been a teenage boy, but I find it difficult to believe that all of these angry teenagers aren’t secretly running a stud finder over potential walls in the middle of the night, and then, when they find the areas that are safe, making tiny little marks to show themselves, and others, exactly where to punch. Kind of like the marks hobos would leave on the doorsteps of homes it was safe to beg at.

However, even though I’ve never been a teenage boy, as luck would have it I am married to a former one, and he assures me that this is not the case: when you are in a “wall punching state of mind” your mind is not clear enough to look for the softest area to land your fist. You just need to punch. “You wouldn’t understand,” he tells me.

What? Oh, I understand the urge to punch—and bite, kick, scratch and gouge. What I don’t understand is the urge to do these things to someone (or something) that hasn’t annoyed me. Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of things that annoy me. A wall just doesn’t happen to be one of them.

Ceilings I can understand. Who wouldn’t want to punch a ceiling? I mean, just think about the way they are always producing cobwebs in the blink of an eye, hiding them in plain sight until that perfect moment when someone you want to impress walks into your (supposedly) clean house, whereupon they unspool them in long, dusty strings directly in that person’s line of sight.

And floors are just as bad. The way they lay there, encouraging both children and humans to pile things onto their invitingly flat surfaces. If they had a little more compassion they would repel clothes and toys like magnets with matching poles, instead of staring up at them seductively and saying, “Oh, go on. Just throw that down right here, honey. I’ll take care of it.”

But walls? I like walls: not only do they keep annoying people away from me, but unlike doors they aren’t wishy-washy about it—they keep them out all of the time. Which, come to think about it, might be why teenage boys don’t like them.

And why I do.

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