Monthly Archives: March 2014


They say that the worst adult/child combination is that of teenage girl and middle-aged woman. There’s just something about one female learning to deal with PMS while another deals with menopause that has been compared to two hurricanes meeting each other across some poor, unfortunate isthmus. There will be plenty of salt water, lots of screaming, and the few wretched, traumatized survivors huddling together in the wreckage. And I guess I can see how that would be fairly awful. For the other people, I mean.

But as far as I’m concerned the very worst adult/child combination is that of preteen boy and elderly man—or at least it is as far as my ears are concerned. I don’t know which is worse: someone who shouts out the punchlines to their own jokes because they are hard of hearing or someone who shouts out the punchlines because they actually think they sound funnier that way, but the end result is the same—there’s a lot of (not very funny) shouting going on.

Look, I never claimed to be an expert on humor, but I do know this: if you have to tell someone your joke is funny, then it probably isn’t. And if you have to shout at someone that your joke is funny, then it definitely isn’t. This means that if your joke didn’t get the reaction you were hoping for the first time you told it, telling it again at a higher volume is not going to make it any funnier. Yes, there are comedians who use shouting in their stand-up routines, but trust me: you’re not one of them. You’re not one of them at all.

Although, then again, what do I know? Twelve-year-old boys are definitely not my target audience, so maybe I am completely wrong about the “louder not being funnier” thing. Maybe, on the twelve-year-old stand-up comedy circuit, louder is way funnier. Judging from the volume they crank each other up to when they are left to their own devices, this certainly seems to be the case. But here’s the thing: I don’t want to attend a show on the twelve-year-old stand-up comedy circuit.

That’s a show I would not only not pay to see, but would actually pay not to see.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t seem to have a choice, since the fact is that twelve-year-old boys tend to hang out with other twelve-year-old boys, and therefore my twelve-year-old attracts other twelve-year-olds to his side like—well, I would say “like moths to a flame,” but considering the subject matter I’m going to go with “like flies to a dunghill.” In other words, there are a lot of twelve-year-old boys hanging around my house. Which means that the volume of shouted “jokes” coming out of the living room can reach levels unprecedented among a group of non-beer-drinking, game-watching males.

In fact, the only time I have ever seen anything even approaching that volume is when I see elderly men trying to to get you to laugh at the punchline of one of their jokes involving either Obama or Hillary—oftentimes both. That’s one of the only ways you can tell an old man’s joke from a young man’s joke, by the way: the political content. That, and the fact that the twelve-year-old’s doesn’t end in a hacking smoker’s cough. Hopefully. Because you certainly can’t tell them apart based on the volume at which they are told. The only thing that could possibly be louder is a jet engine wielding a leaf blower.

Or maybe the sound of those two hurricanes meeting up in the kitchen to argue over who sent who the most condescending text. Yeah, I’ll admit, that was kind of a loud one.

Suddenly I’m beginning to understand why my husband likes to spend so much time in the bathroom.

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If a Homework Tree Falls in a Forest…

My son, Clyde, recently took a month’s staycation. He wasn’t trying to save money, he wasn’t trying to get some big project done—no, he just sat in his room and, apparently, did nothing for a whole month. Which sounds incredibly relaxing, and very empowering, and was probably a great exercise in learning all of the super awesome benefits of self care. There was one small problem, however: he’s in seventh grade.

It took me a month to realize Clyde had gone on staycation because he still went to school everyday—it was only at home that he went off duty. Apparently, it was only when it came time to do homework that the Gone Fishin’ sign made an appearance in his head. This was a situation I was finally made aware of when I went to check his grades online and saw that there were so many zeros I thought I was looking at binary code. I immediately called Clyde into the kitchen to explain himself.

“So, uh, how’s everything going at school?” I asked.

“Great,” he replied.

Hmm, I bet I thought. What I said, though, was “What’s up with all the zeros?” Clyde gave me a shrug in reply, as if that answered everything. I thought about it for a second, and then said,“Ah,” in return, because, in fact, it kind of did: Clyde had simply stopped trying. And that was something that I could understand all too well.

Everyone has that moment. That moment where you ask yourself, “What if I just stopped trying? Would anyone notice? Is anyone even paying attention to what I do in the first place?” In Clyde’s case that moment manifested as a case of existential angst, expressed as “If a homework assignment fails to be turned in in the forest, and no one is there hear it, does the zero actually make any sound?”

It’s a valid philosophical question. One that many of us pose in our own heads over the years, with many different trees and many different forests. Sometimes the tree is work, sometimes it is a relationship, and sometimes it is something that we used to do for fun and is now a chore. But regardless of the species of tree, the question is always the same: does anything I do make any difference to anyone at all?

In Clyde’s case, the answer was “yes.” It made a difference to me. And, obviously, it made a difference to his grades. A big difference. Luckily for him he is still in seventh grade, which is well before the time when, in the immortal words of the Violent Femmes, “this will go down on your permanent records,” so he still has plenty of time to recover from this year’s existential crisis and come out the other side relatively unscathed.

Also, luckily for him, he has lots of seventh grade friends who are in the same boat (woods?), as well as having an older sister who went through the same thing four years ago, and so I know that this isn’t a reflection of his moral fortitude (or lack thereof), but rather just another one of those moments when you find yourself needing to see if gravity still works.

Gravity, in this case, being me, and my insistence that homework is almost always done. I say “almost” because there are some homework assignments I cannot even pretend to agree with, and I think “This gives my mom a headache” is a perfectly valid reason to skip out on those assignments.

Because if there is one thing I know for sure, it is that when a wordfind falls in the forest, nobody notices anything at all.

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No Fault

Have you ever noticed that the more prepared someone is to compromise their way out of a disagreement—the more willing they are to say, “Alright, alright: we’re both wrong,”—the more likely it is that, in all actuality, all of the fault lies with them? Or maybe it just seems that way because I’m living with a teenager.

In many ways living with a teenager is like living with an insurance adjuster: there is no tragedy that can befall you that is not, somehow, just a tiny bit your own fault. (Or, as is more likely, 51% your own fault.) Just like my mother once had an insurance adjuster tell her that she was ten percent at fault for being rear-ended, since the accident “would have never occurred if she hadn’t been driving at the time,” a teenager can never quite accept the idea that, sometimes, there are things that are entirely one person’s fault.

Well, no, that’s not quite true: they can easily accept that sometimes things are entirely your fault: the tricky part is getting them to accept that things are sometimes entirely their fault as well. Oh, sure, they’ll admit that something was a little bit their fault. They’ll take a fraction of the blame—just as long as you are there to willingly pick up your “share” as well. The other day my son called me from school to ask me if I could come pick him up, which I thought was a little odd, since his sister was supposed to give him a ride both to and from school that day. He assured me, however, that neither her nor her car were anywhere to be found. Confused and a little worried, I called her to find out what was going on—remarkably, it only took three phone calls and two texts for her to answer her phone and explain the situation to me.

She was on a field trip.

“Oh”, I said. “That certainly would have been a useful piece of information for me.”

“I told you last week I was going on a field trip,” she replied.

“Did you tell me what day? And that it meant you couldn’t give your brother a ride home from school?”

“Well, no, but you should have known. I mean, this is partially your fault, too, you know.”

No, actually, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how “failure to develop, hone, and implement psychic powers in a timely fashion,” was even a category of fault. But I did understood a little better how the person who is denied full compensation on their homeowner’s insurance because, “After all, you did build your house under a meteor shower” felt. Or the woman who was denied treatments for breast cancer because “Having breasts is considered a pre-existing condition.”

Still, I suppose I should consider this progress, of a sort. At least she is now willing to consider giving me a mea culpa, even if it is more of a mea (a little bit) culpa. That’s better then before, when she could have stood over a corpse with a bloody knife in her hand and said, “What? It’s not my fault.” Or worse yet, pointed to the body and said, “He did it.” Now at least she might admit, “I may have played a small role in this,” before tossing the knife aside.

Of course, she would probably still add: “But I wouldn’t have been able to stab them if they hadn’t been here for me to stab,” or some such variation on the theme.

Oh well. To paraphrase Ted Knight’s immortal line from Caddyshack: “The world needs insurance adjusters, too.”

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The other day I had an epiphany at the grocery store. Well, actually I had two. Three, to be exact. Yeah, I know that’s a lot of epiphanies for one day, but let’s just say that, for me, ghetto Bashas’ is a place of magic and wonder—even without saviour faces appearing on the tortillas.

My first epiphany was that it is now okay for me to go to the grocery store with my children. Well, no, actually, it’s still bad, but it’s bad in a different way from when they were little. At least nowadays they don’t beg me to buy them expensive junk food. Okay, they do still do that, but they don’t whine while they do it. It’s more like evil manipulation than actual whining, and I’m okay with that. Whining is an annoying irritation, but manipulation is an important skill. You know, for when they become politicians and stuff. Hey, don’t look at me like that: technically either one of them could still grow up to be President (juvenile records are sealed, right?) and therefore the manipulation could just be considered practice. Good practice. After all, how are they ever going to get votes out of Iowans if they can’t even wheedle a frozen pizza out of me?

So, okay, epiphany number one: my kids don’t embarrass me at the grocery store anymore. At least not with their whining. Which actually leads me to epiphany number two, and, no surprise, this involves the new way my kids have found to embarrass me at the grocery store: their dancing. Or at least what they consider to be dancing. Because the sad truth is that my kids have absolutely no ability to dance to 80s music. None. And their attempts to try are downright embarrassing.

Look, all I wanted was a moment in the bread aisle when the three of us could dance like Axl Rose when “Sweet Child O’ Mine” started playing. That’s it. It’s not like I was asking them to Moondance or break out some Paula Abdul style moves. Just a little Axl shimmy. But clearly it was not going to happen.

They were terrible. Like they’d never even seen a Gun’n’Roses video terrible. Or maybe like they’d never even seen dancing. Seriously, I’m sure that my daughter, Clementine, knows that there is such a thing as “dance”, and that when people engage in what is known as “dancing’ they tend to do it rhythmically, but you would never know it from the moves she was busting out. She looked more like someone trying to put out a trash fire then someone getting their groove on. And Clyde, the boy who has had dance lessons for the last four years—well, he was dancing, but he wasn’t Axl Rose dancing. He looked like he would have been more at home auditioning for a Michael Buble video than a Guns’n’Roses one.

But at least he was having fun. Which is more than I can say about the totally grumpy guy who was not only not trying to dance the Axl Rose shimmy in the bread aisle along with us, but actually seemed aggrieved that we were blocking his path to the 12-grain. (I assume he was going for the 12-grain. If not, then he should have been: dude clearly needed more fiber in his diet.) Which brings me to epiphany number three.

Yes my kids still beg for junk food. No they wouldn’t know who Slash was if he bit them in the, um, Axl. But by gosh at least they still know when it is time to have fun. And that time is always when your mom suggests an impromptu dance off in the bread aisle. Even if she does have to promise you frozen pizza to get you to do it.

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