Monthly Archives: August 2012

Unfollowed Advice

The argument began while we were still walking through the parking lot.

“Do you have my ticket?”

“Of course.”

“Can I hold it?”



“Because you’ll lose it.”

“No, I won’t.”

“Yes, you will.”

The argument continued—with slight variations—until we got to the gate, at which point I pulled the ticket out of my bag, flashed it at the attendant, and then put it back into my bag once more. Once past the gate, though, it began again—and again I refused to part with the ticket. It was only after we got to our seats that I agreed to relinquish the ticket long enough for her to go to the bathroom, and even then only after I had made sure to repeat at least three times, like a mantra, “Do NOT lose your ticket.”

Twenty minutes later, just when I was beginning to wonder how the bathroom line could already be so long, I got the phone call. “I lost my ticket.”

Of course you did.

Luckily, the attendant checking tickets in our section had experience dealing with this sort of thing before, or maybe he was just happy to see that my all-too-palpable wrath was being directed at someone other than him, because he let us both go back to our seats with only one ticket between us. One ticket, and about forty “I-told-you-so’s” and “I’m sorry’s”.

Sigh. I knew she was sorry. That wasn’t the point. The point was that why, just this one time, couldn’t she have believed that maybe my crazy nagging had a purpose—that, maybe, just maybe, I knew what I was talking about. Because maybe I’d been there before.

There’s a line in a Dylan song where he says, “An’ here I sit so patiently/Waiting to find out what price/You have to pay to get out of/Going through all these things twice,” and I am convinced that he is singing about parenting. Because the frustrating thing isn’t so much that they won’t take our good advice, but that they insist on ignoring the same good advice that we also ignored when we were their age, thereby giving us the chance to relive all of our own mistakes over and over again.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want to relive my mistakes all over again. And I shouldn’t have to—I learned my lesson the first time (well, okay, maybe the fifth time), but the point is that I learned it. I learned how miserable it is to stand outside the concert all your friends are at because you lost your ticket, and how awful it is to watch your grade plummet because you left your Very Important Paper on the bus. I learned all of those lessons really, really well; unfortunately, what I didn’t seem to learn is a convincing way of communicating that knowledge to someone else.

Which means, I guess, that she’ll end up learning her lessons the same way I did: the hard way. And it also means that there’s nothing I can do about it. Which, maybe, is the lesson that I need to learn right now.

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Miracle Worker

I always knew that having children was going to mean bringing lots and lots of dissent into my house: since a child’s primary goal is to have a good time, and a parent’s primary goal is to keep their children alive, it kind of goes without saying that the two groups are destined to disagree. A lot. We disagree about how much soda is acceptable for breakfast (um…none?), how many people are allowed to be in one car at one time (one per seatbelt, unless they are wearing red noses, rainbow afros, and the car in question is a VW Bug), and how many nights it is okay to stay away from home without calling to let someone know where you are (again: none). But as I said, these were the types of disagreements I expected to be having—what I didn’t expect, however, were the ones that involve not so much a difference of opinion as a differences of fact. For example, I didn’t expect to be having disagreements about whether or not something is wet. I didn’t expect that disagreement at all.

Here’s the scenario: like most people, we only have one clothes dryer in our house. This means that if you want to wash and then dry your “favorite” shirt, all by itself—even though you have been asked repeatedly not to do this because even on the smallest setting it still wastes an incredible amount of water and energy, and what happened to the kid who cried about baby seals when I didn’t cut up the plastic six-pack holders, even though we are 800 miles from the nearest ocean and a baby seal in Flagstaff would have bigger issues to deal with than a plastic six-pack holder?—even if after all that you still want to wash and then dry that one shirt, then you will just have to wait until the clothes that are already in the dryer are actually dry before you pull them out and dump them into a sopping heap on the floor to make room for your one shirt. Even if you absolutely, positively have to have that shirt. And even if the bus is coming down the street right this minute. The clothes must be dry. And by “dry” I mean “not wet.” At all.

This is where the disagreement I failed to anticipate comes in. The disagreement over what is wet and what is dry.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a hypothetical disagreement. This isn’t a Schrodinger’s Cat type of argument, where until you open the dryer the clothes can be both wet and dry. I’m talking about when they are in a dripping pile on the floor.

“Who took these wet clothes out of the dryer?” I’ll ask, and inevitably the culprit, when found, will respond by saying, “I did—but they aren’t wet, they’re dry.” I’ll hold up the article in question and squeeze a little water out onto the floor to prove my point, and yet, instead of responding with, “Oh, I guess I was wrong,” they will continue to insist that the clothes, are in fact, dry.

At this point I am usually left somewhat speechless. Is it possible that they really think that what is wet is actually dry? Is there such a thing as “tactile dysfunction,” and do they suffer from it? I mean, come on, even Helen Keller could tell the difference between “wet” and “dry”—Annie Sullivan had her first breakthrough with her while they were getting water from the well.

Maybe that’s what I need here: the Miracle Worker. She could push the wet clothes into their hands over and over again and repeat “water” until they finally understand.

Or, at the very least, she could put the clothes back in the dryer for me.

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Born Losers

I know that this is a subject I have written about many times before, but since it is also something that keeps coming up over and over again I kind of feel entitled to keep on writing about it. I am referring, of course, to the subject of losers, and how I am surrounded by a whole house full of them.

The people in my house lose everything. Library books, cell phones, homework assignments, swim suits, car keys (theirs and my own), application forms, cell phones, game dice, hair ties, bicycles, ipods, important phone numbers, cell phones, jars of peanut butter, backpacks, shoes, pillows, pens and pencils, video games, lap tops, cell phones, sleeping bags, medication, eyeglasses, hats, jewelry—and did I mention cell phones? My god, they lose the hell out of their cell phones. If I was an environmentalist I would be more concerned about the cadmium pollution from cellphones falling out of teenager’s pockets than I would ever be about the stuff that ends up in landfills from the ones they throw away.

I used to think that they would stop losing things once they got older and started paying for stuff themselves, but, so far at least, that hasn’t been the case—if anything, they lose the stuff they have paid for even more often, possibly because they think I won’t complain about lost stuff I if I wasn’t the one who paid for it. (Not true). What’s worse is that not only do they lose the stuff they have paid for themselves more frequently, but their reaction to the loss is also so much more severe. Where once they were blasé (“Oh, by the way: I lost that iPhone you bought me for Christmas—oh well, I’m sure it will turn up”) now they are frantic, full of blame and accusations. (“What have you done with my iPhone? I left it right here! Tell me where you put it!”).

Another problem with the loser also being the payer is that their personal investment makes them feel entitled to ransack and pillage anything that qualifies as a potential “hiding place;”; this includes, but is not limited to, such places as other people’s underwear drawers, sealed boxes of christmas ornaments in the back of the attic, and their little brother’s toy chest. (And yes, like most ransackers and pillagers, they feel no compulsion to put things back after they are through with the ransacking and pillaging.)

I used to try and help them stem the tide of losing and searching, but to no avail: I put a bowl by the front door to drop keys in, a shelf in the kitchen to charge cellphones and ipods, and dressers in their rooms for clothes, but it didn’t matter: those things weren’t used, and whatever they were intended to safeguard still got lost. And then the frantic whole house search would begin once again.

And this doesn’t just mean that the whole house is searched: this means that the whole house must be involved in the searching—on the one hand to avoid the the twisted accusations of thievery (a fifteen year old girl accusing a forty-four year old man of “stealing” her favorite pink bra is just wrong), and on the other to avoid being run over in the frantic whirlwind of book-tossing and clothes-flinging that passes for “looking” in the teenage world. Or at least passes until you can’t take the destruction anymore and finally get up to look for (and find) the missing object yourself.

Which, come to think about it, is probably the wrong thing to do, because maybe the secret to no longer losing something is not in the paying for it, or even in the looking for it, but rather in the searching for and finding of it.

At least, that’s what I hope.

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When Gravity Fails

Sometimes I drop things.

No, I don’t mean that symbolically. I don’t mean that I “drop” relationships, responsibilities or grudges. What I mean is that sometimes I literally drop things: physical objects simply fall out of my hands. And when I drop something, invariably, unless I catch it again, it hits the ground. Every single time.

When this happens to me I sometimes blame other people (“You bumped me!”), I sometimes blame a cold and uncaring Universe (“Why? Oh, why?”), and I sometimes even blame myself. What I don’t blame, however, is a temporary malfunction in the law of gravity: not once have I accused gravity of being a fickle rule, something that, while it might work just fine for other folk, is too simple for a complex person such as myself. At no point have I ever said, “Well, sure, other people might use this gravity thing, and I suppose for them it works just fine, but as for me it all seems like a bunch of rubbish: a bad idea from the start.”

In this, of course, I am quite different from my children.

It’s not that they have a specific problem with gravity, per se (although, from the number of dishes that have failed to make that short trip from the dishwasher to the cabinet unscathed, it would sometimes seems as if they do), it’s just that it seems like whenever something goes wrong n their lives they are likely to blame the unlikeliest of sources. Sources I would never even have considered blaming. For instance, in the case of the many, many broken dishes, gravity.

Here’s another example. Let’s say that they are assembling something that came from a country where it is very cold and everyone is very blond. The pieces of this unassembled thing have been delivered in a whole bunch of big, flat boxes, with the instructions printed in the same kind of pictographs the very cold, very blond people probably decorated their caves with a few thousand years ago. Since my children are neither cold, nor blond, it is not too surprising when they begin to have trouble putting this thing together. However, what is surprising is that instead of blaming their troubles on the fact that they are neither cold nor blond, they blame them instead on some poor nameless factory worker (who, in all honesty, is probably not cold or blond either) who maliciously left out some vital piece, therefore making the whole endeavor “impossible.” (At least impossible for them—for some reason, when the next person comes along and tries to build it, the part is mysteriously present, making the nameless factory worker not only malevolent, but magical. The Voldemort of Ikea, as it were.)

The same is true with recipes (“It was written wrong,”) cars (“It doesn’t have third gear,”) and washing machines (“I know I put the soap in; the machine must have taken it.”)

I suppose that this attitude is better than its opposite—the feeling that everything is always your fault—but I can’t help but think that there must be some kind of happy medium out there. There must be some place where—when your Ikea dresser won’t fit together—you are neither convinced of your own stupidity or Ikea’s cupidity, and instead opt to go out to the driveway to look for the screws that might’ve fallen out when you were carrying in the box.

I’m hoping that place is called “adulthood,” but from the number of “adults” out there who are willing to blame the hypothetical gay marriage of people they’ve never even met for their own marital troubles, I’m not so sure. I guess that, for some people at least, gravity is destined to fail them their entire lives.

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Common Sense

It has been said that there is nothing more uncommon than common sense, and as my children get older I find this to be truer all of the time: I am constantly and consistently amazed at the number of things they are simply clueless about. I’m not talking about the things that, while obvious in retrospect, still take most people years to figure out (if they ever do). Things like eventually understanding that, in the long run, it’s cheaper to pay your car insurance than it is to pay the fine, or finally realizing that it’s highly unlikely that a Nigerian prince would ever even have your email address in the first place. No, I’m talking about things such as knowing that leaving a wet towel in the corner will cause it to grow mold and attract bugs every single time (the first lesson is free—all those thereafter can rightly be chalked up to stupidity), and that milk will have a short and unhappy life (but a long and vengeful afterlife) if it is left somewhere other than in the fridge for an extended period of time (like in a glass beneath your bed for a month).

But then, even in the midst of picking up the various bug farms and blue cheese experiments, (muttering all the time under my breath about “colossal ignorance” and “criminal neglect,”) I sometimes find myself thinking back to those fuzzy cans of frozen orange juice that I left (and forgot) under the beds of my youth, not to mention the leftover cow’s eye from science class that I stashed in my underwear drawer (“But Mom! They were going to throw it away!”), and I remember how at one time I, too, was “colossally ignorant” and “criminally neglectful,” and that, since I no longer keep bovine body parts in my dresser or store OJ with the dust bunnies, chances are good that one day my children will stop doing such things as well. The question, of course, is when? And that’s when I really start to ask myself the all important question: what did I know, and when did I know it?

What I mean is: at what age did I finally understood that every action has a consequence, and that in all likelihood the only person who was going to suffer that consequence was me? This is a question that is very important to me as I pull the half-eaten jar of Alfredo sauce from the back of the cupboard where it has languished for who knows how long. And, as I toss the sauce into the trash (where it nestles up next to the milk left out on the counter overnight and the six pieces of toast which were made but never eaten), I find myself desperately trying to remember at what point I understood that there was a direct correlation between not reading the part of the label that says “refrigerate after opening” and spending the next 24 hours next to a toilet?

At what point did I stop making fun of instructions such as “do not use hedge trimmers while swimming,” and start wishing that everything came with them? (Warnings such as “Do not lose homework after finishing,” that appeared magically on math assignments would be particularly welcome.) At what point did I change from someone who bemoaned the nanny state that gave us warning bells when you didn’t put on your seat belt, and start saying that they should take it one step further and make cars that won’t even start without everyone being buckled in? And, more importantly, at what point will I change back?

I’m thinking it will be in a couple of decades or so. Right around the time common sense starts to become a little more common in our house again.

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