Monthly Archives: March 2012

Spy Games

You know that scene in spy thrillers where the hero is trying to lose his “tail” and so he takes the craziest, most random routes possible? If he’s driving he goes down one-way alleys and circles the block three or four times. And if he’s on foot he ducks inside strange, obscure little shops (Ray’s Exotic Dancewear! Jeff’s Custom Luthiers! Ted’s House of Glue!) and then runs out again through the back door, clutching some odd purchase. It’s all so crazy, right? So wacky. So utterly random. And also, so very, very much like a typical day in my current life.

Except, in my case, there’s no international spy ring I’m trying to avoid, no hero (or heroine) I’m trying to rescue, no world to be saved from a fiendish madman. No, there’s just two children with very, very different interests and activities and a mountain of errands that need to be run in between them. Some days one will need styrofoam balls and red duct tape for a biology project on the octopus while the other will need black pants and a bow tie for a school play. Or one will need bass rosin and a new “E” string while the other will need potting soil and quinoa seeds.

Usually, since I am not informed of these needs (which are always desperate and immediate) until I am on the other side of town from where these objects are being sold, this necessitates a mad, cross-town dash to get to the store I need before it closes. (I know, I know: supposedly there are 24-hour “super” stores that carry absolutely everything; however, it is my experience that by the time I have located all of the disparate items I need within these cavernous places—or rather, the empty shelves where the items should be—I might as well have driven to the stores I knew for sure had what I needed in the first place).

And even supposing there was such a thing as a well-stocked Rosin/Quinoa/Octopus/Bow Tie Superstore, that still wouldn’t solve the problem of having not just to pick up simple objects, which can usually be found in several places, but rather picking up children, which tend to be found in only one specific place. (Specific children, that is: if you’re not picky about what child you bring home—and I must confess that sometimes the idea seems quite appealing—then you can pick up a child just about anywhere. If, however, you want to bring home the same child you dropped off, then you really have no choice but to go back to the place you left them.)

And the places my children need to be picked up from are even more diverse than quinoa seeds and bow ties. One might be at a soccer game, while the other is at band practice. Or one might be rollerskating, while the other is at ballet. Wherever they are, you can be assured that there will be at least twenty minutes of traffic in between them—both ways.

I confess that I am a little bit in awe of the parents who do it with either more children than my family has, or with less parents—or both. It makes me understand those families where everyone—whether boy or girl, seventeen or seven, athletic or bookish—is signed up for the same activities. And it also makes me understand those families where no one gets signed up for anything, ever.

Understand, perhaps, but still not quite agree with. After all, unless our kids are going to be moving to a small island when they turn eighteen, it’s almost guaranteed that their adult lives will have a similar degree of “spy game”-like craziness to them as well. And just like finances and nutrition, some lessons are best learned young.

Especially those lessons involving bow ties and quinoa seeds.

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Hipster Mama

When I had my first child, there were certain things I knew I would have to give up. Impromptu trips to Vegas (at least the seedy, AKA “fun” parts of Vegas). Strip Monopoly. Late nights at the bar listening to a new band. And while this may sound like a lament, to be honest I actually wasn’t too bummed about giving up things like that, because I knew that in exchange I would be gaining something priceless and irreplaceable. No, I’m not talking about all of those “magical” moments with my kids, although, I suppose, I did get those, too. (Some of them.) What I’m talking about gaining is the knowledge that finally, at long last, I would be free of the guy who—while you’re trying to appreciate the cool new band that is playing at that late night at the bar in the seedy part of Vegas—leans over and breathes his PBR breath into your face to say, “Yeah, I was into these guys like five years ago. They used to be so much better when they only sang in Swedish.”

To be honest, this was a joy that I anticipated from the very beginning: even though I knew I would soon be up to my armpits in dirty diapers, I also knew that at least I would no longer also be up to my armpits in American Spirits and Soy Chai Lattes. Even though I knew I would soon be pushing around a stroller the size of a Hummer, at least I also knew I would no longer have to hear someone rave about their new 75 pound “fixie” bike. And even though I knew I would soon be hearing all about disposable versus cloth, at least I also knew I wouldn’t have to listen to the pros and cons of Carhartts versus Dickies anymore. In other words, at least I would be spared hipsters.

Or so I thought. As it turns out, in my anticipatory glee I had failed to reckon on the most annoying form of Hipster life known to man; I had failed to reckon on the phenomenon known as the Hipster parent. Yes, you read that right: there are also Hipster Parents.

A Hipster Parent is even worse than a regular Hipster because, typically, when you encounter a regular Hipster you are at the bar, which means that there is a good chance you will have a drink in your hand. A Hipster Parent, on the other hand, is usually encountered outside of the elementary school, a place where drinking is highly frowned upon—trust me on this. (Although, believe me, there have been times when I have seriously considered it—frowns and all.) This is especially true when I know I’m about to hear, yet again, about how your kid has never watched TV, eaten meat, or been within twenty feet of a can of soda because you are raising them according to this new theory of child-raising you heard about five years ago. You could tell me the name, but it probably wouldn’t mean anything to me, because it’s really obscure, and, besides, until recently it was only available in Swedish. In fact, it only got translated into English about fifteen minutes ago, which is really too bad, because now everyone is going to do it—or at least try. Of course, they’ll probably end up leaving out some of the important parts—like only wearing primary colored organic cotton clothes—and the whole effect will be ruined.


Turns out that the worst thing about Hipster Parents is the same as the worst thing about Hipsters in general: they have no idea that they’re hipsters. As far as they are concerned, they are just very, very serious about music/parenting. Just like you. Or rather, just like you would be.

If only you cared enough to learn Swedish.

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Social Experiment

When I was younger, I used to have a friend who would get more and more unpleasant as the month wore on (I know what you’re thinking, but you’re wrong—it was a guy.) Anyway, every month would follow the same predictable pattern: as the month progressed he would slowly but surely alienate all of his friends one by one, until by the end of the month there was no one left for him to hang out with. After a few days of his own company (and, I assume, some honest introspection), he would morph back into a charming guy, his friends would return, and all would be well.

Until the end of the next month, when it would happen all over again—to a degree. In the years that I knew him his periods of unpleasantness got progressively—albeit infinitesimally—smaller. In fact, after twenty or so years you could hardly tell the difference between his two “sides” anymore—which was a blessing for everyone.

And, yet, even during the worst of it, to the best of my knowledge no one ever once took him aside and pointed this pattern out to him, nor did they ever put into words why one week they were willing to tolerate his company, and the next week they weren’t. It just seemed like it was understood: when you’re a jerk, no one wants to hang out with you; when you’re a nice guy, everyone will come back. Simple. And effective. And also, in today’s world, totally unrealistic—at least at the grade school level.

This is because there seems to be a disturbing trend among some parents of elementary age children to subvert what I like to think of as the natural social order (where nice kids have friends and mean kids don’t) by mandating inclusivity at all costs. I don’t know how many times I have heard a parent ordering their child to “play” with another kid, even though there is obviously some sort of personality conflict at work.

To be clear: I’m not talking about genuine instances of bullying here—those nasty situations where kids belittle each other in a bid to gain more social power—I’m talking about when kids simply don’t want to hang out with another kid because that kid is unpleasant. I’m talking about making kids play with the kid who always breaks the crayons or pushes his way to the front of the line. I’m talking about stepping in, as a sort of parental deus ex machina, and reworking the natural social order so that the kid who exhibits the most antisocial behavior actually get rewarded for it instead of punished.

Sometimes I think that adults are worried that, if left on their own, even for a twenty minute recess, kids will devolve into a “Lord of the Flies” state—that the only thing that is stopping them from fashioning spears and hunting each other across the playground is adult supervision. The truth, I think, is that most kids are more apt to react with decency, compassion, and yes, censure then we give them credit for. Most kids, if left on their own, will do the right thing—and sometimes, believe it or not, the right thing means being not so accommodating. Take the above example of my old friend: what, I wonder, would he have been like if every time he descended into nastiness we had all been “forced” to hang out with him?

Would he have ever seen the error of his ways? Would he have changed (even as slowly as he did) if it hadn’t been for the shunning? I doubt it.

Some lessons can only be learned the hard way, and unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps), the Golden Rule seems to be one of them. Even on the playground—scratch that: especially on the playground.

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Dream King

You know those people who say that they can never remember their dreams? Well, I wish I knew more of them; in fact, I wish every single person I knew was like that, because, believe me, I do NOT want to hear about the dream you had last night. Even if I was in it. Even if I was in it and I looked really, really, good. Even if I was in it and I had superpowers and you and I flew around the world fighting evil and eating chocolate (because, as it turns out, flying happens to burn way more calories than anything else—even Pilates). I don’t even want to hear about your dream if I was in it, flying, eating chocolate, fighting evil (all while looking really, really good) and I stopped in the middle of the dream to tell you, “Listen, tomorrow, after we both wake up, if I say I don’t want to hear about this dream then kill me right then and there, because that means I am an imposter, and must die.” Wait a minute—maybe I do want to hear about that dream. Nah, scratch that: I’d rather die.

Now don’t get me wrong: it isn’t that I don’t want to hear about your dreams because they are so boring (although they kind of are, to tell you the truth), and it isn’t that I don’t want to hear about your dreams because you try to tell them to me all the time (although, actually, you kind of do). No, the real reason I don’t want to hear about your dreams is because I am currently living with the Dream King, and I am full up to here with hearing about other peoples’ dreams.

By “Dream King,” of course I don’t mean the actual Dream King: Morpheus. That would be cool. No, what I mean is that I live with my son, Clyde, a boy who not only quite literally leaps out of bed every morning (to the great consternation of the cat who sleeps with him), but also has complete and total recall of the six million dreams he had the night before. Complete and total recall and a desperate need to tell someone about them. Unfortunately, that someone usually ends up being me.

I know. I know: one day he will be living halfway around the world and I will give anything to have him sit on my bed and say, “I had the best dream last night…” but in the here and now it is a little bit much to have to hear in excruciating detail about how he got to level 17 in the “dream” version of Skyrim—all before I have even had my coffee. Actually, it’s a bit much after I’ve had my coffee, too. In fact, I think it’s a bit much to ask me to listen to a description of the “real” version of Skyrim, as well, but that’s a whole other column.

The truth is, though, that I probably shouldn’t be too surprised that Clyde is so willing to “share” the details of his subconscious; after all, this is the same boy who is loathe to flush the toilet in the morning, just in case someone wants to take a look at his latest “creation.” (The fact that no one—ever—wants to look at it has not dissuaded him from this in the least.) Because, really, it’s not like there’s that much difference between what we leave in the toilet each morning and what out subconscious deposits in our dreams. They both come from a place deep inside of us. They both tend to be highly personal. And, as far as I’m concerned, at least, they should both only appear in conversations with the appropriate health care professional.

Well, that’s my dream, at least.

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Laundry Limbo

Recently, one of my children asked me what was actually a very good, albeit annoying, question: why wasn’t I any fun? At first I thought about denying it (“What? I’m so much fun!”), but then I realized that the better route would be to tell them the truth: the whole truth. And so, today, I’m going to do just that.

I used to be fun.

Ask anyone: I was always up for a good time, ready to go out on a moment’s notice—or better yet, ready to stay in and mix up a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies. Breakfast for dinner! Movie night! Picnic at the creek! But then, somewhere along the way, all that fun was traded in for something else, something that was so the epitome of not fun that it wasn’t like the fun simply disappeared, it was more like it was physically sucked out of me. That thing? That soul-sucking, fun-killing thing that changed it all? Your laundry.

Notice I didn’t say the laundry. This is because, as someone who can still remember scrounging around for enough quarters to schlep my clothes down to the laundry mat on a bicycle, I am still very cognizant of what a pleasure it is to be able to do laundry in the comfort of my own home. So much so that I really don’t mind being the one who usually does the laundry for the whole house.

And it’s not the fact that you two seem to generate five times as much dirty laundry as the rest of the house: I accept the fact that, while I may have given up on the whole concept of fashion and have settled down into a Steve Jobseian-like existence of basically wearing the same outfit every single day, you two still believe that what you wear makes a difference, and therefore have to change clothes as often as ten times a day before finally hitting upon the right combination of concert t-shirt and ripped up jeans.

No, what has finally done it to me—what has sucked the last little vestigial bit of fun out of the very marrow of my bones—is the fact that so much of the laundry you generate is not, in fact laundry at all, but rather pieces of clean clothing that have simply lost their way. True, they are not exactly clean, these articles of clothing that have been untimely ripp’d from their drawers and then thrown on the floor to be trampled, but they’re not really dirty, either. They’re in a sort of “laundry limbo;” they are the unbaptized infant souls of laundry—neither dirty nor clean, sinners nor saints. And, as such, they are killing me.

Look, I know that mountains of laundry just come with the territory. I knew, going into this gig, that the laundry that accompanies children is, by it’s very nature, both a Sisyphean and a Herculean task. (Imagine Herculean cleaning out the Aegean stables every single week, and you’ll begin to understand what it’s like doing laundry in a typical American household.) What I didn’t realize was that it would also be a Promethean task, one which, instead of my liver being eaten by an eagle over and over again for all eternity, it would be my soul that was eaten by washing a shirt three times before I noticed it still had the tags on it.

Washing (and folding and putting away) clothes that have never even been worn takes away the one redeeming aspect of doing laundry: the sense of accomplishment. And it was that sense of accomplishment that gave me the energy (and the desire) at the end of the day to have some well-deserved “fun.”

Does that answer your question? Good, because if you’ll excuse me I have to go wash that Dora bathrobe you haven’t worn in seven years—again.

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