The Pursuit of Fun is Ruining Our Children

April 17, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, cooking, Family, humor, I'm a horrible person, Irritation Level: High, MamaPop, Parenting, Writing | By

Should children have chores

You’d think that  technology or social media or violent video games or predators were the biggest threat to our children. It’s worse, folks. The biggest risk to our children’s well-being is much more insidious and it hides in the skin of a hungry and vicious wolf. It is “fun,” and fun will eat your children. Because fun? Fun is really, really bad for kids.

If something isn’t “fun,” kids don’t want to do it (mine included). Unfortunately, a large majority of things that need to be done aren’t fun. Society’s relentless pursuit of fun aka Let’s Make Life A Giant Carnival Cream Puff Bouncy Castle is hindering my ability to effectively parent my children while imparting any sense of reality about the world. This “fun” shit? I don’t like it. Not everything is meant to be fun. Like “work” for example. If – as a consequence of its nature – your job happens to be fun, that’s great! You’re one of the lucky ones. I’m happy for you; really. Now piss off and get back to the candy-tester factory. My point is that not everything is fun, or should be fun. When we try to fool our kids into thinking it is, we’re setting them up for some serious disappointment when they leave our homes for the real world.

The other day I told my kids we were going out for dinner. Their response should have been something along the lines of “Thanks, Mom! It certainly is kind of you to take us for a dinner out. What a rare and unexpected treat! We love you best!” Instead, I endured a 20-minute conversation about restaurant selection based on the most important criteria of all: which establishment offered the best treasure box after the meal. The food could have been fabulous, the service impeccable, but if my kids weren’t walking away with coloring books and crayons after, it was all for naught. This is not the type of discerning diner or future dater I wish to raise.

Some things are not meant to be fun; like a trip to the dentist for instance. I should have realized dental care was becoming too much fun years ago, because whenever I announced a check-up appointment my children would high-five each other. At our dental office after each successful cleaning appointment, children are taken to the “Prize Table.” The prize table is huge and covered with all sorts of crap that will soon be living in my vacuum canister in a dusty heap with errant Cheerios, Lego pieces, and my hopes and dreams. Sitting in the dental chair for an hour twice a year now earns you a Sponge Bob pencil and a Gooey Eyeball. That Gooey Eyeball was in my son’s pocket for less than an hour before it found a permanent home on my bedroom ceiling, where it is now stares at me with a lint-covered cloudy pupil when I’m getting dressed. Thanks, Dr. Brown! You make me long for the good old days when dentists hated children.

I don’t have a complete aversion to fun. Fun is important, and when I see it forming organically, I don’t shut it down. If my kids find a way to make taking the garbage to the curb enjoyable, or cutting the lawn bearable, I let them roll with it. That’s self-created fun, and it’s an excellent coping skill for the future. Kids need to learn that sometimes (most of the time) the result is the reward. Work hard and enjoy the benefits which arise from that effort. Maybe the outcome will be fun, and maybe it won’t. Maybe the only consequence of a dogged effort will be knowing you did your best and that will have to suffice. I’ll throw you a party on your birthday and for your graduation, but don’t expect a festival because you earned a new belt in Jiu Jitsu. You won’t get a bubble machine or a cake, but you can break a jerk’s arm in six different and painful ways, and really, is there anything better than that?

My daughter complains constantly that her chores are not fun. I take this with a grain of salt because she is 15 years old and nothing is fun except going to the mall or making Vine videos of opening a grilled cheese sandwich. I am fully aware that emptying the dishwasher and dusting bookshelves are not fun; I’ve been doing these things for over 35 years. They’re not fun. They never were, and they never will be. I hate doing them, and that’s why I make her do it. It’s the circle of life and I’ve assured her that one day she may be lucky enough to have children to do her chores as well. I’m pretty sure it’s all that keeps her going. It’s also furnishing her with pragmatic expectations for the future. My kids aren’t perfect. (Seriously; I have stories). But they work hard most of the time and they know: I don’t pay for grades, I don’t turn mind-numbing chores into scavenger hunts, and I don’t give rewards when they acquiesce to vaccinations. You want a gift for sitting still for your tetanus shot? Okay! Here’s some “Not Getting Lock-Jaw” for you!

It’s time to take artificially constructed fun out of childhood, because we are creating a gratification-seeking populace who won’t do anything unless there’s the promise of a chocolate milkshake afterwards. I can reasonably assert that our kid’s future middle-management supervisors are not going to offer them a trip to a treasure box for cardboard crowns when they close the Anderson file.

If we tell kids to pretend they’re scullery maids in a King’s kitchen when they’re scrubbing pots and pans, we are removing their chance to create their own fantasies. Doing dishes can be a time to sing show tunes or imagine ways to run away, or to just do the dishes. By making every chore and job fun we prohibit a child’s ability to seek joy on their own terms. If someone tells you what to pretend, is that pretending at all? That’s imagination restriction, and that blows. If kids make fun on their own while working, that’s awesome! But parent’s constant pursuit of fun for their children is a misguided attempt to bring joy to kid’s lives and while it’s admirable, it’s very harmful. It’s like Charlie Sheen continuing to make sitcoms; we may understand the motivation behind the endeavor, but ultimately it’s better if no one is exposed to that shit.

*image courtesy of Flickr and Creative Commons

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It’s his neighbourhood; we just live in it

April 14, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, Family, humor, Parenting, Writing | By

King of the Castle

My last post was about the state of my backyard after the long and crappy winter 2013. This post, to shake things up a bit, will be about my front yard. (I am all about variety here at highly irritable.) But I’m throwing in a bit of parenting theory for good measure. Because what good is personal parenting theory if it’s not spread around so everyone who does things differently can be made to feel they’re actually doing it wrong? That’s sort of why blogs were invented.

It’s been established that my backyard and garden are a nightmare. I am anxious for the weather to finally turn the corner here so I can get out and do something about it. I love having friends over in the summer and despite having some fairly brave friends no one would venture back there as it is unarmed or un-drunk or both. The raccoons who live under the hot tub aren’t going to be very happy with their eviction notice and neither is the nice Amish family I saw raising a barn next to the wheat field that somehow germinated there.

Because of the conditions behind the house, my son plays out front. It’s still a good sized area and we’re set back from the road far enough that he can play freely without worry, but he’s…well, he’s a curious child whose brain asks two questions: 1. What’s for supper? and 2. What will happen if I __________ ?

It’s his attempts to answer the second question that has left me with a maple tree wrapped with bright orange string, an old bath towel flying in the breeze at the top of a 30 foot pine tree, and assorted fallen tree limbs twisted into intricate and (probably) symbolic structures. Just in case, I’m staying on his good side lest he request sage and a lighter and suddenly wants to know which way is due North. But for now, I let him have at it. I’m not sure my neighbours appreciate his creativity with building materials, but as long as I keep the grass cut and the noxious weeds at a minimum I can’t be reprimanded legally, right? Are hockey sticks poking out of the eavestroughs okay now that local play-offs are over? Where do we stand on buckets of rocks dangling from a makeshift winch and pulley over the outside light fixture?

I know it’s not the most neighbour-friendly look, and I do make him tidy each project us when he moves on to the next. I don’t particularly enjoy seeing my old linens stuffed and woven around the fencepost, but I’d rather see that than a glassy-eyed child who plays video games until muscle atrophy sets in. I’d rather have him pee outside because it’s too much fun to come in than have him saving 2-litre soda bottles to avoid toilet urination because DUDE I made it to LEVEL 47, Call-of-Kill-All-The-Duty-Ops-Shoot-Em-Up-Game.

He is the King of the castle with a Kingdom spanning the whole of the front yard, and I am happy to let him have it. Because the rest of us here on the street? We are mere plebes here.

P.S. He spent a great deal of time making these these with an industrial roll of duct tape this winter. They were crafted with care so to be durable for what will hopefully be a long and warm “outside” season. Should I be afraid?

Making a shirt from duct tape

 Duct tape gloves

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Spring Melt

April 12, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, Family, Home Renovation, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, Writing | By

20140412-144025.jpg

This was my backyard about a month ago. We had an ice storm here in Ontario just before Christmas and along with losing power for a few days over the holidays, we also lost a lot of tree branches. My property isn’t huge – although a big lot by “suburb” standards – but we have several large maple trees over 50 years old. Nature pruned them for us courtesy of sleet and ice and the upshot is my son has a hell of a lot of fort building material and we won’t want for camping firewood for years to come.

It was a strangely gothic albeit pretty scene during the winter. Bare grey branches stuck up out of the soft snow like bony fingers through a blanket. But because it snowed almost constantly for the last few months we never realized the extent of the damage until the melt, which only just finished.

Now my lawn looks decidedly less mystical and actually quite horrific. The grass needed a good cut in late October but it never happened because the snow came swift and early. Now it’s long and matted and flopped over like a bad comb-over. The garden hose is looped around old scooters and a camp chair and rakes and snow shovels are still propped against the house. Dead leaves that blew in from under the fence are soaking wet and likely sheltering new forms of aquatic life in the newly formed sludge hole at the back of the yard where the ground is naturally lower. I tried to get to the shed today at the rear of my lawn, but lacking a dorsal fin made the journey difficult and I gave up.

It’s bad back there; a real shithole, as it were. Because it’s finally warm today I thought to assess the damage and see what I’d have to do to get this place in shape for spring. I can see now that “matches” will feature high on the list.

Maybe we’ll just move.

20140412-150747.jpg

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Puppy Days

April 11, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, Dog, Family, Harlow, humor, Infographics, Writing | By

We are just into our second month of dog ownership here and by all accounts it’s going better than I had expected. Harlow is sleeping through the night – a feat my 10 year-old son has not yet achieved – and my worries about leaving the dog in a crate for an hour have been mostly unfounded. I work from home, but there are times I need to run out quickly when she can’t come with me. I already have two kids so I know it’s okay to leave something in a cage for a few minutes while you go to the movies, but what about longer than a hour or two? Would she begin to hate me and view her crate as a prison? Would she shit defiantly on my bedroom floor in retaliation? Would she report me to the authorities? The answers to these questions seem to be “no,” “yes,” and “it remains to be seen but there some unexplained charges on the phone bill this month.”

Harlow (can I interject here for a second to say how freeing it is to use someone’s real name here on my blog? I am “Jeni,” yes, but I don’t use my kids names to prevent them from having a huge Google footprint before their time. That’s a shame really, because my kids names are pretty awesome and suit their personalities perfectly). Where was I? Yes. Harlow. One thing Harlow hates is to be away from home. She got away from me last week during a walk by yanking hard on her leash when it wasn’t right on my wrist because she’s eight pounds and who the hell knew something that small could run so goddamn fast? I stepped on her paw in the melee and she ran as though someone had fired a starting gun and first prize was a mountain of dirty socks. I couldn’t catch her and started to visualize what it was going to be like telling my kids the dog they had for two glorious weeks was now gone, and probably for good because seriously so fast at the running. I finally made it home – even running full tilt it took me a few minutes to get there – and there was Harlow, sitting on the front porch and looking at me like I was the asshole. Oh, and she eats everything and then apologizes by shitting on it. We love her despite this, because:

Puppy_Beds

So, if you are considering a puppy for your family, I made a few handy charts to help you decide if a dog might fit into your family:

Are you ready for a puppy

housetraining_your_puppy

So there you have it. You’re pretty much screwed either way, because if you don’t get a dog, you’ll be hearing about it for years, and if you do get one and it’s a jerk, you’re gonna love it anyway.

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Wherein I Solve 94% of Your Baby Related Problems

April 7, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, Family, humor, I'm a horrible person, Irritation Level: High, MamaPop, Parenting, Writing | By

Baby Cry Analyzer

Babies cry. Sometimes they cry a lot, and sometimes for seemingly no reason. You’d think that most people would understand this, but even I wasn’t aware until I had my second baby. Because Baby Number 1?  She didn’t cry. Like ever. One time, she made a sound that I thought was a cry, but no. It was a squeaky toy. That baby was awesome and glorious and so easy! But she was a curse, also, because being spoiled by her temperament was a huge slap in the face come time for Baby Number 2 – or, as we called him affectionately- “Scream in a Diaper.”

This boy cried long and loud and the noise didn’t stop until the minute he turned 85 (this is a projected date). When he cried, we did what we could, which was comfort him however he wanted, because my ex and I aren’t assholes. But some people don’t pick their babies up when they cry and if you don’t believe that, come with me to Walmart on a Saturday morning. We can hang out in the yogurt aisle where it is apparently more important to choose between Vanilla Greek Non-Fat and Lime Coconut Sugar-Free.

I understand that you can’t always get to your baby immediately and there’s nothing wrong with seeing if whatever the problem is will work itself out for a few minutes. But when it escalates to ear-splitting levels, do something. DO SOMETHING NOW. Because if there’s anything worse than the sound of my own baby crying, it’s the sound of your baby crying.

People don’t always know what the crying is about, but since 1998 – and the meteoric rise of the internet – Western civilization needs to know the answer for everything. Nothing is off-limits to scientists or savvy entrepreneurs, who’ve invented everything from battery operated marshmallow roasting sticks to diapers that analyze a baby’s urine. Some parents will buy anything in the pursuit of “better” parenting, and people know this, because not only can you now analyze your child’s waste, you can also interpret their cry. I’m picturing a magic 8-ball of sorts here, but it’s actually much more complicated. CTV News says of the process:

“The system operates in two phases. During the first phase, the analyzer separates recorded cries into 12.5 millisecond frames. Each frame is analyzed for several parameters, including frequency characteristics, voicing, and acoustic volume. The second phase uses data from the first to give a broader view of the cry and reduces the number of parameters to those that are most useful. The frames are put back together and characterized either as an utterance – a single ‘wah’ – or silence, the pause between utterances. Longer utterances are separated from shorter ones and the time between utterances is recorded. Pitch, including the contour of pitch over time, and other variables can then be averaged across each utterance. In the end, the system evaluates for 80 different parameters, each of which could hold clues about a baby’s health.”

Yeah. Dumb. I don’t think we need this, and here’s why: it sounds complicated and stupid and almost entirety pointless, as well as expensive. The resulting analysis won’t be converted to actual words, like “I ‘m being stabbed by a diaper pin, moron!” so even in medical applications I don’t see a lot of value in something that researchers just say “could hold clues.”

I’m going to save science a whole lot of money here, and supply you with your own printable list of why your baby is probably crying. I call it:

Why Youse So Sad, Baybeez?

Step-by-Step Checklist

Step One : This is the most important step, and the one that will end 67% of all crying – PICK THE BABY UP. Do not rock his car seat with your foot, do not say “shhhh…shhhh” while shaking his stroller, do not ignore baby while everyone else in the canned foods aisle plots your death, do not ignore the baby. Babies cry because they can’t talk and if they could they’d be saying “Pick me up, you lazy bastard!” Picking up the baby will automatically alert you as to whether or not the baby feels too warm, or too cool, or if their tiny arm was stuck inside their onesie in a twisted configuration. It also enables you to look closely for teething issues or other discomforts. Attend to discomfort accordingly.

Step Two:  Baby still crying? We’ve got this! Take a deep breath and check diaper for uncomfortable levels of stuff often found in diapers. Rectify.

Step Three: Still crying? It’s okay; it happens. Try offering baby food of some sort. A boob, a bottle, a Philly Cheese Steak if that’s what they’re into. Whatever. Give nourishment. Continue rocking movement while administering food and love.

Step Four: Secure baby in approved car seat and get in the fucking car. Drive around for a bit. If after a hundred miles the baby is still crying, re-route GPS to a.) your Mom’s house; or b.) the doctor.

So there you have it. Call me a Luddite if you will, but I think that science sometimes makes life more complicated with it’s crazy inventions and “progress.” (Except for blenders; if you think I’m smashing my ice for a frozen blueberry vodka lemonade manually, you’re sniffing glue.) If scientists insist on putting time and resources into machinery which will help to explain the great mysteries of parenting, I would ask them to consider creating a machine which would actually serve some purpose. How about a special pair of glasses that can decipher why my teenager rolls her eyes?

 

*photo courtesy of WikiCommons

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What fresh hell is this?

April 6, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, Dog, Family, Harlow, humor, Parenting, Weekly Round-up, Writing | By

dog in raincoat

She’s already throwing some serious shade, so yeah; I think she’s gonna fit in here just fine.

[Other stuff: I'm doing a bit of a blog re-vamp here at highly-irritable. I'm changing stuff up - a spring cleaning of sorts - and I've also changed my comment section to DISQUS because it's easier for non-WordPress users to log into. I think it's working, but if you'd like to leave me a comment to test it out, that'd be great. The only downside so far is that it seems to have eaten all of my previous comments and I have no idea where the hell they've gone. I can still access them on the back-end (heehee...back-end) but all the lovely things you've said to me through the years no longer appear on the posts themselves. So, that sucks hard, but whatcha gonna do? Some people don't have arms, Jeni, Stop crying about lost comments.

I'm also now writing a column at YummyMummyClub.ca called The Panic Button Years, where I talk about teenagers and how they drive us batshit crazy but also how they're awesome at the same time. If you've had a teen or have one now or just want to know what lies ahead in the acne and AXE years, come by and join the fun (and sobbing).]

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Hell just froze over

March 21, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, Dog, Family, humor, I'm a horrible person, Parenting, Writing | By

kids and puppies

It seems hell just froze over.

In other news, we are getting a dog.

(To be fair there was no “first” news posted here which would indicate what is to follow actually counts as “other” news, but you’ve probably got a lot going on in your life which makes anything I say count as “other” news. It also means I couldn’t think of a good lede.)

I’m not sure if it’s due to a momentary lapse in reason, or a half-forgotten promise after a few glasses of wine, or guilt, or an undiagnosed head injury, but the end result is that by Saturday afternoon of this week I will be standing in the frozen tundra nursing a headache caused by attempting to make a small puppy pee using only my (admittedly limited) mental powers.

She’s a cutie, I’ll give you that, but I’ve made it clear to my children that she is a shared responsibility. (I am fully aware this will probably happen.) The 15 year-old jaded teenager in this house cried when we told her she was finally – FINALLY – getting a dog, although she’ll deny that and tell you it was hairspray in her eyes. She’s wanted a dog since she was old enough to know what a dog was, and my 9 year-old son loves anything covered in fur.

She is unnamed as of yet, a 13 week-old 3/4 pug 1/4 French Bulldog who still lives with both of her parents and one brother. The guilt at taking her from her mom and dad is affecting me more than I care to admit, which is surprising considering I am generally a terrible person.

Pug puppy

Pug Puppy

She should be a good match for us, because according to first-person owner accounts and stacks of puppy literature both pugs and bulldogs are good house pets for mellow families who aren’t very active. If this dog likes cheese-based foods and Will Ferrell movies, it’s gonna be a love match.

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How Not To Be A Terrible Parent

January 21, 2014 | Posted in Childhood, cooking, Education, Family, Health, humor, MamaPop, Parenting, School, Writing | By

Raising Happy Kids

Parenting is hard, and as I am finding out fifteen years in, it only gets harder the longer you do it. If you’re the parent of a newborn baby, may I first say “Congratulations!” But then this:  I am sorry to tell you that the days of being up all night for feedings and rocking will soon seem like a day at Super-Duper Supremeo Fun World Extravaganza Good Time Park compared to teenager problems. I’ll give it to you straight – you will love that baby always, but you won’t always like them. But that’s parenting – and why these tips may be useful – because doing the right thing for someone you may not even like is good form when you have kids. So hahaha, sucker;  it’s not about you anymore, and it will almost never be 100% about you ever again.

I make no claims to be an expert in the parenting field, and although my children are good, responsible people, I cannot take all the credit for this. There is something to be said for nature/nurture, and sometimes nature wins. I’ve spent 98.3% of my time thinking about my kids in one way or another since I found out they were coming, because they permeate every decision I make in some way. I’ve made mistakes; some big ones. I’ve even made “Walmart-underwear-aisle-blow-out-screaming-match-hope-the-video-camera-didn’t-catch-that” ones, but I’m also bold enough to say I’ve done what I think is a fairly good job ensuring my kids won’t be communicating with loved ones through a phone attached to safety glass any time soon. There are other”rules” too – like allowing time for active play, showing an interest in their schooling, and others, but the suggestions here are my basic, beginner-level ones, because if there’s anything I do exceptionally well, it’s meeting bare minimum standards.

Throw Them A Goddamn Birthday Party, You Lazy Ass

Kids deserve to be honored for one day a year. I don’t care if you hate all kids besides your own, chances are your child doesn’t. So haul your ass down to the bakery or mix some sugar and eggs together and make sure there’s a cake. WITH ICING. Hang some streamers, get yourself some ear plugs and go forth to Chuck E. Cheese or a bowling alley for two hours. Two hours. You can’t do that? You make me sick. If nothing else, it’ll be good blog fodder.

Teach Them To Cook So They’re Not Doomed To Life In A Take-Out Jungle

Knowing all the fast-food window staff by name isn’t cute at age 3, and it’s not any cuter at 40. You don’t need to enroll at Cordon Bleu or take a class at the local rec center, either. Open a cookbook. Watch the Food Network. Just make sure that by the time your bird leaves the nest they know a lime reamer isn’t for “adult play” and that a garlic press does more than make awesome Play-Doh hair. A couple of basic dishes will do it: a roast chicken, a pasta dish, eggs any way, and something on the grill. Bonus points for a traditional  native dish. Keep your culture alive, ya jerk.

Put Them To Bed Early. Like “Yesterday” Early

Children today are chronically sleep-deprived. Tired kids are cranky and irritable and not much fun to be around, so fix it. Take whatever time you think your child should be going to bed, and then knock it back a half hour or more. Sure, we all have good intentions of 8:30 bedtimes, but once you factor in teeth brushing, the seventh glass of water and all the existential questions sleepy kids ask, you’re looking at 10pm, minimum. Because kids aren’t stupid. They’re trying to wear you down so they can stay up later. They think all sorts of fun shit is going on after they’re in bed. It’s balloon animals and cotton candy spinning clowns as far as they’re concerned. They have no idea we’re just watching Big Rich Texas and dodging sexual promises we made earlier in ill-conceived “If you do the dishes, I’ll…” schemes. Pro-tip: Change the clocks. Knock ‘em back a half hour, and then make it a “no media” night. Then you can say, “Would you just LOOK  at the time!” and not be the bad guy. I do this all the time. My kids think today is October 17, 1976 – I’m that good at it.

Make Sure They’re Disappointed (This Won’t Be Hard)

Don’t fix everything for your kids. They need to handle some bad stuff if they’re going to develop coping skills. Let them feel disappointment and responsibility occasionally. You’re going to have to try very hard to not crumble yourself when this happens, because they’re going to cry and it will be tough. It’s hard to watch guilt tears because they are the very worst kind of all the tears your child will shed. My only tip to you here is make sure your bedroom has a box of tissues. Also, vodka.

Let Them Believe In Stupid Stuff Even If Hipster Friends Taunt You

Let them have fantasies and magic in their life, even if you think the things are stupid or pointless, like the Tooth Fairy or a poster of fluffy kittens in a basket. “Real life” is waiting on the other side of your front door, and it’s going to chew your kids up and spit them out. Then Life will use its own dental bridge to pick its last remaining rotten tooth – because Real Life is a fucking asshole. 

Keep Your House Clean aka Don’t Be Disgusting

I’m not saying you can’t raise lovely, well-rounded, confident children in a disgusting dirty house. Wait; I am. It’s pretty simple actually. Your house need not be pristine, or “Go ahead and lick the doorknobs” sterile, just pick up your shit and maybe don’t make them pee into plastic bags because they can’t get into the bathroom what for the dog hair collection you’re saving in there for “sentimental” reasons. No one wants a slovenly partner in life and if you’re setting the bar somewhere between “Hobo shanty town” and “Tonight on a very special episode of Hoarders,” you’re not doing your kids any favors. Respect.

Make Them Spend Time Alone, But Maybe Not In A Locked Closet

I don’t suggest locking them in a closet under the stairs, but make sure your kids spend some downtime by themselves. If you never let your kids be alone or with their friends without you, you are in for a huge nightmare when you’re just trying to get some work don…Get, out! I’m writing an essay, can’t yo…Sorry, where was I? Oh, right. Time alone. Yes, you need to mak…I SAID ASK YOUR SISTER! Sorry. If you don’t let your kid get use…Oh, for Christ’s sake! I’ll be back in a minute.

Show Them Someone Cares About Their Health Before It’s Too Late

I don’t care if you’re into natural remedies, traditional Chinese medicine, homeopathy, or witch doctors. Maybe you prefer every modern interventionist technique available, whatever. Just take your kids to a health professional regularly. Get their teeth cleaned. Have a garage sale for a braces fund if they need the tracks. Go to the eye doctor, so they can see properly. Make your kid’s health a priority because no one else will ever care as much about them as you do, and if you don’t care, they’re fucked right out of the gate. Feed them the best food you can reasonably afford, prepare it the best way time will allow, and sit down to eat together as often as possible. Look, I’m realistic. My son once ate directly out of the crock pot while we we’re in the car. Life is busy, and health care is expensive, and taking kids to get dental fillings is horrible, but you do it anyway because you’re not an asshole, right?

 

So there you have it. Follow these suggestions as closely as you are able and at the very least you will raise caring, functional members of society who both seek and offer moments of joy to others. Maybe. Sometimes. Or not. Because that’s the thing about parenting – just when you think you’re doing everything right, -everything the way you’ve been told to and maybe even read a book or two with a friendly looking lady in a doctor’s coat on the cover – even then your kid will come to you and ask for money for a Creed concert.

 

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Pitch Not-Quite-Perfect

December 24, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Family, humor, Parenting, Writing | By

Singing lessons

Singing is something I have done forever. I’d rather sing it than say it, so everyone please take a moment to thank the universe that I don’t have a video blog. I am a decent singer, and while I wouldn’t win American Idol there’s a good chance I’d get far enough through the process to meet Simon Cowell in all his tight black t-shirted glory. So, to recap: No William Hung, but no record deals in my future, either. Oh, wait; Hung got one, didn’t he? So maybe.

A recent conversation between my two children went something like this:

“It’s too bad Mommy is so old because she could be on American Idol.”

“She still could! Remember that one time they had that really really old lady on? She even won!”

But this isn’t a story so much about what I can do. It’s more about how being told you can’t do something often shuts you down for a long fucking time. I’m very big on honesty and I work hard to make my children understand that what you like to do and what you’re good at aren’t always the same thing. When the two overlap in the Ultimate Venn Diagram of Talent and Desire, well, that’s when angels sound the trumpets and the cheque comes when they say it will and the diner cooks your bacon so perfectly you could just cry from the distilled pinpoint of joy it brings and life is good. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen. I was once told by someone close to me that I couldn’t sing, because “my family couldn’t sing.” But this person hadn’t heard me utter a note, and in fairness I hadn’t heard any of my family sing before, so the combination of my tender age and lack of critical thinking skills made me believe them. I won’t say I never sang again, but the words stuck with me. Years later I heard several of my aunts sing together and they were good.

So I sang anyway. I sang at school in plays and in the choir and in cars with boys who were more interested in what was under my Led Zeppelin t-shirt than hearing me sing Led Zeppelin. I sang to my children and I am singing in my head right now as I write this. But I was afraid to get better because what was the point? I was not “a singer.”

Well, today I am going to my very first professional voice lesson. I am excited and terrified. I am worried that without hearing the pitch or timbre of my voice – without being privy to one utterance – this teacher will declare me unable to sing because 40 year old women who try new things are just “bored.” I have no illusions about singing professionally and that’s not what I want anyway. I just want to learn how to hit some higher notes (I have a low speaking and singing voice) and I’d like to not run out of breath halfway through A Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet with my daughter. (Guess who’s part I sing?)

I am not “bored.” I have too much shit to do to be bored. I am ready to blow-up sensitive electronics in a soundproof room while having fun and celebrating something I do well. And I’m thankful to the man who gifted me with these lessons; the man who tells me I have a  lovely voice and I shouldn’t be afraid to use it. The man who, instead of shushing me and telling me to be quiet, says, “Hey Jeni? Can you sing that one again?”

Note: I went to the lesson. It was completely awesome and I can’t say enough about how I loved it. I did scales my teacher said my range was better than I told her I thought it was and we talked and I cried even and then the teacher heard me sing Fleetwood Mac’s “Second Hand News”  and she turned to me and said, “Oh, yeah. We’re gonna have some fun.”

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Sock it to me

December 5, 2013 | Posted in Childhood, Family, humor, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, Writing | By

 Socks without holes

I have two children. They’re…well, they’re many things but the point of my post today is my son. He’s nine and has a name with letters in it and the word means something in Greek or Italian or Latin I’m not sure which but boy did we pick the right one for him. Other suitable name choices would have been “JustGiveMeFiveMinutesPLEASE,” “OhferChrist’sSake” or “IAmBeggingYouAtThisPointToGoToBed!” Anything in that family. He is a conventionally beautiful child. This is meant to trick you.  He will have you with his pretty hair and his pretty eyes and his full lips and he will hug you with his lean, dry arms and he will squeeze every goddamn ounce of your energy and then he will make you thank him for the honour.

Today he needed socks. He needs socks every day because for some reason he puts holes into every piece of clothing his body touches. New winter coat? BAM! Sleeves ripped in a week. Fresh shirt? KAZAM! Caught it on a chain-link fence. Clean socks, right from the dryer? PRESTO! His feet shoot laser beam points of concentrated light, firing holes into the deep pocket of the formerly snuggly toe compartment.

Why can’t he find socks today? All the laundry is done. Every single piece of his clothing not currently on his back is washed, pressed (haha; just shitting you; I “press” nothing but my luck) and are  tidily folded squares in his drawers and look like the small colourful flags on the front page of an atlas. His sock drawer right this very minute contains no less than 12 pairs of sweet-smelling boy socks. They are tiny and dwarfed next to even my lady socks. But all of these socks in his drawer are new, because as I said, he goes through socks like Charlie Sheen does girlfriends on a weekend bender.

“I don’t have any socks,” he reports methodically. I know this tone.

“You have many socks. They are all in your drawer.”

“But these are all new. I can’t wear these.”

“Then wear the ones you already have on,” I reply, pointing to his already swathed foot.

There’s a hole in the toe (OF COURSE THERE IS) but Jeni? Jeni no give a shit anymore. I keep his hair tidy, his teeth clean, his belly full of food, I provide social experiences and homework help and pleasurable outings and gifts and extra-curricular opportunities and a soft place to fall and a bosom to cry into and a lap on which to cuddle and hands to hold and I am tired. Hole-y socks no longer register on my parenting-rage meter. They don’t even move the needle past “Meh.” I. Simply. Do. Not. Give. A. Shit. If you ever see my ragged-footed son and think “What of his parents?” know this: I am a good mother but I have my limits.

But uh, oh. So does he, and these horrible, too-new socks are it.

“I can’t wear these ones because my toe pokes out too far. You threw away all the perfect holed socks and the rest in here are brand new!” So, too holey socks aren’t any good, nor are good new socks. He explains all of this in a voice normally reserved for those in the drunk tank or the alarmingly obtuse (Of which I am currently neither.) He says that “new” socks feel weird because they are too new and don’t sit right. The heel isn’t broken in and the toes are too tight and the cuff is stringy and there’s a weird thing in the bottom and…

I listen. I understand and I am sympathetic. I’m sensitive about some things and we all have our quirks, but after having one child who would wear, do, eat, say, or participate in anything I merely gestured at, it is with great surprise that I find myself – at 40 years 10 months and 20 days old – standing over a washing machine in an attempt  to “break in” a load of tiny striped sweat socks for a pint-sized oligarch.

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