Monthly Archives: February 2015

More Advice

My children were born nearly five years apart. This has been both very helpful and very unhelpful—usually for the exact same reasons. It was very helpful not to have two children in diapers at once, just as it was very helpful not to have two of them discovering the joys of disagreeing with everything at the same time. And if they had both discovered how the shower worked at once? I fear the water table would have never recovered.

But at the same time it would have been nice to only go through some of those things once, even if it meant things got twice as intense. And it would have been nicer still to have kept the same naivete I had the first time around—it would be nice, the second time, to believe that whatever unpleasantness we were going through would only last a few weeks, or at the most, months—instead of knowing, as I do now, that what lay ahead could easily take years.

Take, for instance, the issue of homework. The sheer, horrible, brutality of homework. Yeah, I’m not a fan. I didn’t like it when they were in elementary school, and I don’t like it now, in middle and high school. In fact, I have been known to simply scrawl a big “NO” across the front of a word find and send it back in with my initials—word finds and “find the hidden objects” striking some sort of ancient hatred deep in my heart. But I acknowledge that sometimes homework is necessary, especially when it comes to classes like math, music and language. These are classes where learning new concepts is only half the battle: you must internalize the new concept to really make any progress. So, yeah, while I will gladly subvert any homework assignment that seems like it is just there to take up time and space, I will be your biggest supporter when it comes to conjugating verbs, practicing scales and solving equations. Which explains the battle to get Clyde to do his math homework. Every. Single. Night.

It’s not even that much homework—usually just one page a night. One short page. It takes him, at the most, ten minutes to complete it. And yet, the procrastination and negotiation phase of the homework can sometimes take hours. It’s exhausting. Infuriating. And worst of all, takes valuable time away from my drinking. And so, when it comes to fighting the nightly math homework battle, I finally broke down and did what any other mature adult would do when they were fighting with a child—I enlisted another child for help.

To be fair, Clementine is not a child anymore. But at eighteen she’s close enough that she can still remember well enough how the enemy thinks. What’s more, since she eventually managed to move past the “homework denier” phase herself (after years of fighting), I thought that she would be my best chance of talking some sense into Clyde. And so I asked (okay, paid) her to talk to him about the importance of doing his homework. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly, considering the twenty bucks involved), she agreed.

Curious as what my Andrew Jackson had bought me, I couldn’t help but listen in on the conversation that followed. Would she tell him it was all worth it once you opened up the acceptance letter to your top choice college? Would she explain that everything made more sense once you understood the basic concepts? Or would she give him the “just do it” speech? Turns out it was none of the above. Instead she leaned in his doorway and simply said, “Dude. Do you your homework. Because Mom? She never stops. Trust me.”

Hmm. Not the sage advice I was expecting, but whatever. At this point, I’ll take what I can get.

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The other day I was reading yet another article detailing all of the ways in which we are, collectively, raising our children wrong. This one was about pushing children into achievement for achievement’s sake: in other words, encouraging children to collect one meaningless achievement after another all in the hopes of getting into a good college, rather then letting them simply follow their passions and see where that leads them.

I could go on at length about how naïve it is to think that you will get into a good college without some sort of “achievement” under your belt, but I’m going to ignore that part of the article and instead focus on what I see as the much more dangerous part. The part about encouraging children to follow their “passions.”

On the surface this sounds like great advice. “Follow your dreams.” “Do what you love.” The problem, however, is that children, using their unique ability to twist any advice we give them into something terrible, have taken that advice as “If you don’t actually have a dream, right at this very moment, then you might as well give up now.” They take “Do what you love” and twist it into, “If you don’t really love anything all that much, don’t do anything.” I’ve actually had them tell me, “I’m not really passionate about anything, so what’s the point of going to college? It’d just be a waste of money.” That’s when I tell them what I consider to be one of adulthood’s best kept secrets: some people don’t have a passion.

And that’s okay. Really, it’s better than okay. It’s normal. For every person who is up at the crack of dawn training for their next triathalon, or staying up all night in their parent’s basement inventing a new kind of prosthetic arm, there are a hundred—no, a thousand, a hundred thousand—who are content to go for a three mile jog a couple of times a week, or who only stay up all night to binge watch the last season of Game of Thrones. In other words, most people are normal.

You’d think that this would be obvious, but somehow the population that needs to hear this the most believes it the least. In other words, I have met an entire generation of children who think that because they haven’t discovered their “passion” by the time they are twelve, there is no point in pursuing anything beyond the bare minimum.

Maybe its our fault, as adults, for moaning so much about paying off our student loans. Maybe we spent too much time emphasizing how college should help you find a well-paying job, and too little emphasizing how it will also help you find a lifelong set of road trip buddies and fifty different recipes that only use ramen and condiments. Maybe we left out the part about how things are supposed to be fun.

I think, in its own way, that’s what the article was trying to say: that sometimes kids should be encouraged to try things just because those things might turn out to be fun, and not just because they will look good on a college application. Which is very true. However, it’s also true that most colleges aren’t going to be too impressed that you skipped the chance to perform community service in favor of trying every single flavor of ice cream at the local Baskin Robbins. Unless you can write a killer essay about it. And then you’re golden.

Well, except for the fact that your “freshman fifteen” will probably be more like a “freshman fifty,” and happen well before your freshman year. But who knows? Maybe then you can at least pretend that fitness is your new “passion.”

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The first time my son, Clyde, saw a “personal pan pizza,” he was confused. It wasn’t that he didn’t understand the concept of getting a pizza and not sharing it—it was that he didn’t understand that some people ever did anything else. To him, the whole thing was somewhat redundant, because, weren’t all pizzas personal pizzas? One pizza equals one serving, right? Except of course when it’s more than just a snack, and then one pizza equals one half of a serving. Or, after a particularly hard day, maybe even one third of a serving.

I’d like to think that this is just another effect of Clyde’s entry into the teenage years, but the truth is that he has been like this his whole life. This is, after all, the boy who reluctantly gave up breastfeeding only because it was too hard to do that and eat a pork chop at the same time. (Not that he didn’t try.) If you don’t believe me then just ask some of the local restaurants in town—the ones we go to the most often don’t even bat an eye at Clyde’s orders: four sides of tortillas at Martanne’s and double orders of double burgers at Mama Burger don’t even faze them anymore. In fact, my family has been taking Clyde to Fratellis downtown for so many years that they have learned the difference between me taking a breath between pizza orders and me actually finishing.

I suppose it’s just lucky for my wallet that his sister is the complete opposite: while Clyde can hoover through an entire family sized lasagna on his own for an after school snack, she is content with half an orange every other day or so. The only way for me to break even at buffets is to bring them both.

Of course, bringing just Clyde means that I more than break even: it means that I win. Which is one of the reasons I am so very much looking forward to taking Clyde on a cruise next month for spring break. Sure it costs about three times as much as our normal spring break vacation. Sure it’s slightly cheesy (despite the fact that it’s a music cruise headlining Flogging Molly, and that there will probably be as many Doc Martens on board as bathing suits, still, a cruise is a cruise). All this pales, however, next to the thought of being relieved of the responsibility of procuring enough food for Clyde for three whole days.

Of course, I am a little bit worried about what might happen if they run out of food—I dread the thought of being trapped anywhere with Clyde when he is not able to feed. I’m sure the preponderance of zombie stories around the world arose out of situations involving teenage boys and food shortages (keeping in mind that “shortage” is a relative term—in Clyde’s case it means anything less than five pizzas). Still, the boat will be stopping at at least one island—worse case scenario is that we just have to fill up again in port.

I’ll admit that I’m also worried about being trapped in a tiny cabin with someone who cleans out the seafood buffet on the reg—although clearly not as worried as Clementine, who took one look at our stateroom specs and just said “no.” (Finding the cheapest cabin possible meant giving up certain luxuries, like windows. Or portholes. Or whatever they’re called. Anyway, it meant giving up fresh air. For Clementine, who regularly shares a bathroom with Clyde when there is both a window and no access to 24 hour a day “all you can eat” oysters, that was the final straw. She’ll be meeting us back in Miami when the cruise is through.)

I should probably tell her to be waiting with a pizza. Just in case.

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Nobody Cares

There are a lot of “truths” I would like my children to learn before they make their way out into the world, but one of the most important ones is this: nobody cares. In fact, I would make that truth the number one truth they learn: nobody cares. And I would follow it closely with truth number two: no, really, nobody cares.

Does that sound harsh? Cynical? It’s not meant to be. I just want to make sure that they understand that while people (strangers and friends alike) might, in fact, perform wonderfully kind and caring actions on their behalf, they are not in any way under any obligation to do so, and when they do perform a particular act of kindness it should be seen as an exception, and not a rule. And also that when and if it happens they should be immediately and humbly grateful for it.

Perhaps a more accurate version of rule number one would be: “nobody has to care, and yet, somehow, sometimes they still do.” More accurate, maybe, but the writer in me will always lean towards the briefer version.

Which is why, when my kids complain about how unfair it is that their teacher won’t accept an assignment two months late, or why the person driving them to school won’t drive ten miles out of their way to pick up the backpack they left at a friend’s house I always give them the abbreviated version. Which is, you guessed it: “that’s because nobody cares.”

Hopefully I have already given my kids a head start in learning this harsh, yet necessary life lesson, simply by virtue of the fact that I have given them the greatest advantage possible when it comes to learning about human interaction: I have given them each a sibling. Because nobody can teach you about the cruelty and pettiness of the world as well as a sibling can.

Maybe it’s biological. Maybe the creature part of us is born knowing that this other person in our nest decreases the amount of care we get by half. Or maybe we just have a knee jerk reaction to people who are at once so like us, and yet so different. Anyway, there is no one quite like a sibling for showing you that the world can be a cold, unforgiving place.

And sometimes, a kind and wonderful place.

I was reminded of this the other night when I watched my kids dance in the kitchen. Clyde, who is taking ballroom, was dying to teach someone the box step, and Clementine, for once, was amenable to being taught. I could see that she had no real interest in learning to waltz, at least not from her little brother, but I could also see that, this time at least, she was willing to go along with it to make him happy. Who knows? Maybe it was payback (ten years later) for all the times he let her dress him up in her tutus when he was a toddler. Or maybe it was just her being nice.

I hope he knows that it was probably the latter, and that when he wants to teach her the tango and she is not feeling so nice it will not be a rejection but rather a return to the natural order. You know, the one where nobody cares, especially not your sister.

If he can learn this now he will be years ahead of the game when it comes to social interaction. If he can learn now that every dance they agree to dance with you is not your right, but rather a gift, then he will be so far ahead by the time he’s thirty that he will be able to give the rest of us lessons.

Probably in much more than just the box step.

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