Monthly Archives: December 2014

Parent Practice

Sometimes people ask me how I knew that I was ready to have children, which I think is kind of like asking someone trapped beneath a building how they knew they were ready to settle down. The answer, at least, is the same: do I really look ready for anything right now? But I get that what they are really asking is how do they know that they are ready to have children, and for that question I actually have an answer. Well, at least I have a test.

Pay someone to hide your shoes.

Every morning. Or rather, every night, before you go to bed. I’m not saying that children will take your shoes away from you (except for those fifteen minutes between growth spurts when your son is wearing the same size shoe as you, or on those rare—very rare—occasions when the shoes you buy happen to be considered “cute” enough for your daughter to steal); no, what I’m saying is that when you are a parent there will be valuable time spent every single morning searching for somebody’s shoes, and it would be better to find out now whether or not you can handle it.

Although “handle it” might be sugar-coating it, because no one is capable of “handling it” every morning. That’s because for every morning that you approach the daily shoe hunt from your happy place—beatific (or heavily medicated—your choice) smile firmly in place—there will be another morning when you stand in the middle of the living room doing your best Mommy Dearest impression, eyes flashing and teeth gnashing as you vow to bring down all the wrath of heaven and hell upon the next person who dares to place their shoes anywhere but the pre-appointed spot. (Yeah, my kids still do an impression of me from that one time—one time, I swear—that I totally lost it over a pair of shoes.)

Still, you might be wondering why I am advising you to hire someone to hide your own shoes from you, and not just hide a random pair of stranger’s shoes in your house instead. Well, for one, that’s kind of creepy, and for another, even though you might think you can replicate these feelings by having a pretend hunt, trust me, you can’t. Although, in the end, when you are already running late it really doesn’t matter whose shoes you are tearing a part the house looking for, because the end result is the same: chaos and despair.

Sometimes, when I explain this parenting test to people, their reaction is, “Well, that won’t be the case in my house, because I’m going to make sure my children know how to be organized.” My reply is always—well, usually—a demure, “I hope that works out for you.” At least out loud. Inside, I’m too busy chortling for much else. That, and trying to hold back from saying, “Gee, why didn’t I think of that?”

We all start out with plans for being organized. We buy the tubs, and the bins, and drawers, and we label them “ballet shoes,” “soccer cleats,” “dress shoes,” etc., and we feel calm and prepared for the upcoming season. And then the perfect storm of dance recital followed by ra eception followed by an early morning game the next day happens, and suddenly you’re back in the shoe hunt game once more—with a vengeance.

Perhaps one day they’ll come up with some kind of shoe security device that lets you locate a pair of shoes the same way car alarms help you find your car in the parking lot. Of course, with the sheer number of shoes most families lose a day, most neighborhoods would sound like the aftermath of an earthquake every morning.

Although that would be an improvement over the screams of frustrated parents.

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Too Tall

Last year my daughter, Clementine, went away for four months to study abroad. When she came back her little brother Clyde was so happy she was home (really) that he dashed out of the house to greet her, at which point Clementine screamed and ran away. It wasn’t that she wasn’t happy to see him, too—it was just that while she was gone he had grown about four inches, and it was just past midnight, and from her perspective all she knew was that this big, strange guy had just run up out of nowhere and tried to grab her.

I thought it was funny.

I also thought it was funny the next morning, when Clyde stood next to her in the kitchen and smirked down at her to say, “Hi, Shorty.” And I thought it was funny when I got to draw the new lines on the door frame growth chart and Clyde’s new line was so much higher than Clementine’s. In fact, I thought it was absolutely hysterical right up until the point where Clyde grew another few inches seemingly over night, and suddenly he was taller than me. And then it wasn’t so damn funny anymore.

Logically I knew it was bound to happen, which is why my head reacted to the whole situation so calmly. However, my heart only knows about logic from a distance, and therefore my heart still reacted to it all by standing around screaming Holy !@#$. (Figuratively, obviously.) So yeah: as “normal” as I know all this is, the fact that Clyde is now taller than me is moderately freaking me out.

Not that it really matters in the grand scheme of things: it has been well over a decade since I could settle any arguments with him simply by picking him up and carrying him to his room. Still, it was nice to know that for a while there at least I still had the option. (Although, I suppose technically I still do—there’s always the fireman’s carry.) And, hey, at least this way I’m closer all the time to having someone around who can see all the dust on the top of the cabinets (oh, wait: that’s not a good thing).

Clementine, of course, after her initial freak out, is now handling the whole thing better than I am. I’d like to think it’s because she’s had more time to adjust, but the real reason is probably that she’s just that much cleverer. Within a week of returning home and seeing the new lay of the land (or perhaps height of the land would be more apt) she had reassessed the situation and come up with a solid plan for her continued sibling world domination: for every inch Clyde grows, Clementine adds another chapter to her magnum opus, How to Destroy Little Brothers for Fun and Profit. (That might not actually be the name of her book—it’s just what I call it in my head.)

This means that even though Clyde has now started to tower over her physically, she still stands head and shoulders above him when it comes to psychological torment. He might be able to pick her up now (literally), but with just a few well chosen words she can just as easily knock him down. It’s a sister thing, one that is fueled, no doubt, by the fact that they go to the same school, and so she therefore has about eight more hours of material a day to work with. And work with it she does: she uses the material she gathers at home to keep him in his place at school, and the material she gathers at school to torment him at home. It’s merciless. It’s cruel. It’s diabolical. And, ultimately, it works.

Now if only she would share her tricks with me.

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Not So Scary

Can someone please explain to me how it is that I came to be the least scary person in my children’s lives? I don’t understand it: I’m the one who yells at them, who threatens them, who takes away all the things they hold dear (and the controllers to those things), and all of this for “absolutely no reason whatsoever.” I’m the one who is “crazy,” “pathetic,” a “control freak,” “anal retentive,” and “clueless.” (And those are just the PG ones.) I’m the one who, “seriously, just needs to chill out.” And yet, when it comes to asking for favors, I am somehow still the least threatening person on the planet.

I’m less threatening than the girl behind the counter, apparently. Somehow the fear of coming back to me empty-handed shrinks away into nothing when compared to the fear of asking a cheerful counter girl for a to go box. And I’m less scary than some random guy on the sidewalk: it’s better to come back to me and straight up lie about whether or not someone was in possession of a timepiece than it is to simply ask a stranger if they have the time.

It’s also less scary to call me up late at night and ask for a ride than it is to accept the ride your friend’s parent offered you, as it is less scary to ask me to drive all the way back across town to retrieve your homework than it is to call up your friend and ask them to bring it with them to school tomorrow.

Of course, I’m not the only thing that is less scary then some of these (apparently) terrifying scenarios. For some reason it is also less scary to watch a scary movie or play a violent video game then it is to ask a teacher to accept a late assignment. Even though I’m pretty sure most teachers don’t react to those types of questions with the kind of murderous rage that can be found in said movies and games—I mean, it’s not like the teacher is going to pull out an enormous axe so that they can chop you up and/or then set you on fire. (Something the characters in these games and movies do with surprising frequency. It’s a bit of overkill, if you ask me—from the way most movie killers work it can be assumed that they are used to being paid by the hour. No one on salary would ever work so inefficiently.) To me, that’s scary. And yet, to my children, all that pales in comparison to asking where the bathroom is.

Of course, maybe that is the real question. Not why it is that huge, inefficient axe murderers (and angry mothers) aren’t scary enough, but rather why someone sitting behind an information desk is. Or better yet, since there are some questions (especially those concerning the teenage psyche) we will probably never know the answer to, perhaps the best question of all is: how do I make these phobias work for me?

If I was a movie maker the answer would be obvious: forget having the creepy little girl hiding under the bed, and instead replace her with a cute boy you have to ask to borrow a pencil from. But it gets more complicated on my end: there’s probably something illegal (and more than a little creepy) about asking the “terrifying” hostess at the local pizza joint to come over and tell your kids it’s time to start studying for their math final. And there’s no way you’re going to get the scary “man with no watch” to come ask them when they ever plan on getting around to cleaning their rooms.

But the giant axe guy just might have an opening for the holidays.

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Fork in the Road

First off, let me make one thing clear: I am not one of those people who insist on eating their pizza with a fork. Nor do I use a fork to eat french fries, or nachos, or snickers bars: these foods are called “finger foods” for a reason. So don’t go thinking that my insistence on the presence of cutlery means that I have some weird obsession with not touching my food. I don’t. It’s just that, no matter how deeply you embrace food truck culture, no matter how many servings of cheesecake-on-a-stick you end up consuming, there are still some foods that require the use of a fork. So much so that I sometimes suspect the fork was invented just for them. Foods like salad.

Salad needs a fork. Sometimes, depending on how lazy the person who was preparing the salad was, a knife and a fork, but always, at the bare minimum, a fork. Which explains why I was in my son Clyde’s room at four o’clock this morning with a flashlight and a bad attitude.

“What are you doing?” he asked blearily.

“Trying to eat a !@#$ salad!” I replied, shoving a pile of dirty towels off a dresser. The towels landed with an disturbingly un-towel-like sounding crash.

“What?” he asked again, still confused.

I didn’t take the time to enlighten him, because at that moment I spotted a fork sticking out of the towel disaster on the floor. “You’re cleaning this up today,” I said on my way out.

That woke him up. “But you’re the one who made the mess!”

“Hardly,” I replied. And then, wishing for an autoclave but settling for scalding hot water and soap, I cleaned my hard won fork and ate my salad. (Sometimes I like to eat salad for breakfast. And I like to eat breakfast very early. Don’t judge.)

In general I’m pretty lax about the state my children keep their rooms in; as long as they aren’t structurally damaging the house I’m content to let them stew in their own filth, knowing that one day their sense of self preservation will kick in and they’ll at least get the knives off of the floor (or not—either way one day they’ll be living on their own, and if nothing else I can always get them chainmail socks for Christmas).

The point at which I draw the line, however, is when their rooms get so bad that they become miniature black holes, slowly and inexorably pulling everything in their reach into their maw. Things like forks. And towels. (Or, in the weird mutation that seemed to be happening in Clyde’s room, some sort of towel/fork transporter failure nightmare.)

Part of me

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