Monthly Archives: October 2014


Last night my son Clyde and I had one of those “come to Jesus” moments concerning his grades. As in, “your grades aren’t very good, and they need to be better.” Clyde spent the first half of the conversation in a state of confusion: why, he wondered, was he doing so badly? He went to every class, “mostly” paid attention, and participated in all of the activities. A quick check online solved that mystery. His bad grades were a result of the combination of not turning in his homework and then doing poorly on quizzes that contained material that has been covered in that same homework. The problem, I explained to him bluntly, was thus: he was getting poor grades because he was putting in a poor effort.

I let that sink in a bit before I continued. “If you want to do better, you have to be better. Right now you’re getting the grades you’ve earned. If you want them to be better (and you should want them to be better), you’ll have to work harder. Or, you know, at all.” He thought about it for a minute, and then I saw comprehension spread across his face. Of course! He understood the problem completely: I was crazy. And old. And out of the loop. Of course I would think that the only solution to getting better grades was to do better work—I didn’t even know what a subReddit was!

I would have been more discouraged by this response if it wasn’t for the fact that we had already gone through the same thing with his sister, Clementine, almost four years earlier. And she turned out okay. Mostly.

Of course, back when Clementine was younger and doing poorly I was more likely to blame the “everyone’s a winner” culture that children grow up with: when everyone gets the same trophy, or medal, or certificate just for showing up, there’s not much incentive to ever try any harder than anyone else does. With Clyde, however, I think I’m going to blame the gaming world, and the fact that there seems to be a “cheat” to get around almost every obstacle.

It makes sense in the gaming world: given the choice to go through the same three rooms and kill the same fifty Nazi zombies over and over again for hours upon hours, or look up a cheat code online, most sane people would choose the cheating option. (Actually, I think most sane people would rather read a book, but that’s a minority opinion in my house.) And that’s the probably the reason why most game manufacturers allow the cheat codes to exist in the first place: because they know that if they didn’t they’d end up with a bunch of disgruntled customers who could potentially end up quitting their games, unplugging their PlayStation, and picking up a book. (I can dream, can’t I?)

Here’s the thing, though: real life doesn’t need to give you cheat codes (or hand out trophies just for showing up), because real life knows that you can’t quit. It’s the only game in town. And so my struggle with Clyde (and previously, Clementine), has been simply to get them to accept the fact that there really will be no way for them to get around doing the actual work—that “Work Hard/Play Hard” is only a suitable life code if you fulfill the first part of the equation before moving on to the second. And that if there was any chance that they came from the sort of privileged background (life’s one and only “cheat code”) that allowed them to, say, get into Yale without earning it (cough!George Bush!cough!), I surely would have mentioned it by now.

Or at the very least have been using it to get around doing the hard work myself.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive

Drive By

We live right in the very middle of Flagstaff, so with the exception of the time when Clementine was taking horseback riding lessons, every after school activity my kids have ever signed up for has been less than a fifteen minute drive away. This is the complete opposite of how I grew up—we were so far from anything that planning a trip to town was like planning a military campaign: you damn well better have everything you needed for every activity before you went out the door, because the idea of “running back home” for a missing pair of ballet shoes or soccer cleats was laughable. (On the other hand, we never had to drive anywhere at all for riding lessons—out horses lived in the back pasture.)

Because of those childhood experiences, I have never complained too much about driving my kids back and forth to their activities. (You always need to complain a little bit, otherwise they’ll get complacent). That is, I never complained too much until this year. Which is ironic, because this year Clementine has her own car, and drives herself to all of her activities. That means that all of my driving angst falls squarely on Clyde.

On Clyde and his many activities, I should say.

He really doesn’t do that much. There’s boxing, dance, and violin. That’s just three things, right? Well, three categories of things. Because violin encompasses private lessons, group lessons, and fiddle lessons. And dancing involves three separate dance classes and five separate dance rehearsals. All, for the most part, spaced out over the course of the week so that the chances of one happening right next to the other is about 20%.

That means that there is an 80% chance that they don’t happen right next to each other. Oh, they come close. Very close. About thirty minutes close. That’s right, there’s about thirty minutes between them. Which, when you live fifteen minutes away is clearly not enough time to drive home and then back again.

Clearly, that is, to everyone except Clyde.

To Clyde, it is inconceivable that we aren’t willing to drive him home between some of these activities. Even though the one time we tried it we ended up driving back and forth across Cedar Hill four times in one afternoon. It got to the point where I felt like kicking my car every time I walked out to it, and, if my car had been capable of feelings, I’m sure it would have felt like kicking me, too.

The problem is, of course, isn’t that we live too far away from all of Clyde’s activities, but that we live too close. If we lived out in the boonies like we did when I was a kid then we would all have that “military campaign” attitude, and we would all be used to bringing a book (or an iPad, DS, or Kindle) to while away the downtime. But we don’t. We’re spoiled. So spoiled, in fact, that half of my family doesn’t even see the problem with driving home just to use the bathroom. (That would be the male half.)

The obvious solution, of course, would be to just to drop Clyde off for the first activity of the afternoon and only return after the last one has finished, leaving him to occupy the downtimes himself. Obvious, maybe, but also nervous making, as the lack of common sense and foresight that typically goes into a thirteen-year-old boy’s attempts to “occupy himself” are the very reasons we signed Clyde up for so many extracurricular activities in the first place.

Besides, I’m kind of scared to see how he could occupy himself with a pair of dance shoes, boxing gloves, and a violin. I don’t think the world is ready to see that yet. I know I’m sure not.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive

Photo Booth

There is a picture hanging on my refrigerator of my son, Clyde, that was taken in the third grade. It’s a school photo, which means that he looks like he has just burned down half the houses in our neighborhood and is only waiting to find a new lighter to burn down the other half. His eyes glint menacingly, he is not so much smiling as showing his teeth, and his skin looks like he has been chained up in a basement for the better part of the past year. In other words, it is a typical school photo.

I keep it on my fridge for two reasons. One, of course, is to make fun of Clyde. Because in our family, that’s just how it works: when something embarrassing—or even humiliating—happens to you, the rest of us tease you mercilessly about it forever and ever. No, we’re not trying to build moral character or teach the value of humility: we’re just mean like that. The second reason I still keep that photo on the fridge, though, is to remind myself why it is that I never, ever buy school photos.

I used to buy them every year. And every year I would open the envelope, look at the pictures, gasp in horror, and then stick those pictures in a drawer somewhere, where they will undoubtably remain until my children become so old that any photo of them taken before they are thirty is cherished simply as proof that they were once young.

Of course, just because I don’t buy the school photos doesn’t mean my kids don’t still have them taken. After all, they still need their pictures for yearbook, school IDs, nefarious government tracking purposes, and so on. And of course I’m still going to look at them, the same way I look at a wreck on the highway. And this year, when I looked at the results, I was kind of sorry I hadn’t bought a set.

They were that awful. Clyde’s weren’t really any worse than usual. He still had the serial arsonist look, but instead of looking like he had just burned down every house in the neighborhood he only looked like he had burned down one or two. For very select and obscure reasons. Like the color of the mailboxes. Clementine’s, on the other hand, were a whole new level of awful.

I’m not sure what happened. I think, maybe, that whoever was on hand with the “touch up” tool was feeling a little crazy. Or generous. Or just plain mean. Whatever the justification behind it was, the end result was that Clementine ended up with a nose worthy of La Streisand herself. It’s that big. And it’s not like it’s that big in real life, even on her worst day. Because, seriously, while it is entirely possible to have a “bad hair day,” no one, ever, has had to deal with a “bad nose day.” Until now.

My best guess is that they tried to “touch up” her various nose rings. And while the best way to get rid of a skin blemish might be to replace it with more (unblemished) skin, the best way to get rid of a nose ring is not to replace it with more nose.


Of course, like I said, I don’t know this for sure; since I didn’t actually buy the school photos it’s not like I have an 8 X 10 to work with or anything. No, there’s just the school ID. And maybe the enlarge function on a photocopier or two. Because, without something to hang on the refrigerator, how am I going to be able to tease her about it for years to come? After all, when it comes to prime family humiliation fodder, you know what they say: pictures or it didn’t happen.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive

This Sec?

I have never been a fan of catch phrases. Maybe it’s because I grew up a child of the seventies, where every TV show’s main character had a saying that was all their own. (Actually, that might be true for TV shows of any decade—it was only in the seventies that I watched so much TV I had the schedule memorized. Not that it was too hard to memorize four channels.) Still, if I’m going to blame my hatred of catch phrases on anything, I think that growing up hearing Mork saying “Nanoo Nanoo” and the Fonz saying “Ehhhhhh!” every week are certainly safe targets. Safe enough at least that I can probably put off my psychoanalysis session for another week.


Anyway, it’s at least a safe enough excuse that I don’t feel like my dislike for them is too strange. Which is good, because if I thought I hated catch phrases before, on television, I had no idea how much I’d grow to dislike them when I had to deal with them in person. And in my own house, no less. And, of course, coming from the mouths of my own dreadful children.

The catch phrase currently in play? “Right this sec?” As in a question that is directed at me whenever I ask them to do something. “Hey, since you finished your shower ten minutes ago, do you think you could come turn off the water?” (This is actually something I’ve had to say.) “Right this sec?” is usually the aggravated (and aggravating) reply, to which my reply is also usually the same, an equally aggravated (and I’m sure equally aggravating), “Yes!”

Actually, when I say children I’m not being quite honest: this catch phrase belongs to my son Clyde alone. It is his alone because the one used by his older sister, Clementine is: “In a sec.” It doesn’t matter how pressing the matter might be, how long I have been hanging off the edge of the cliff or standing on the stoop juggling an armful of groceries, almost every request is answered with “In a sec.” (I say “almost” because there are some occasions that merit immediate action. “Can you come get this twenty dollar bill?” for example.)

And yet, even though Clementine has been using her particular catch phrase for about ten years now, for some reason Clyde’s version is more irritating to me. Perhaps this is because “right this sec?” actually requires a response, and therefore my participation in the ongoing charade that my children 1) actually listen to my requests, and 2) have the slightest intention of ever acceding to them.

I think I understand enough about both human and child psychology (funny how we consider those to be two different things) to know that their refusal to jump right up and follow my demands is more about them learning to separate themselves from me than it is about actually being defiant. I also know that this is a completely normal step in their development (from child to human, apparently). And yet, I still need the water in the shower turned off sometime this week.

Maybe, to avoid hearing the catchphrase I should simple avoid speaking myself. Maybe I should have cards printed saying something like, “I realize that you are your own person, completely separate and autonomous from me, however, in this case, I’d really like you to go do the thing I asked you to do, immediately.” And in return they could have cards printed with their reply. I’m pretty sure that I could get a few dozen cards made fairly cheaply. At least, their cards would come fairly cheap.

After all, how much ink does it take to print three little words?

Leave a Comment

Filed under Articles Archive