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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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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Birthday Gift to Myself

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

40th Birthday

* This post was originally published last year on MamaPop, soon after my 40th birthday.  I just turned 41 on Valentine’s Day and I think I need a refresher. Maybe you do, too. 

I turned 40 recently, and it was everything I expected it to be. Which is to say it was horrible.

Friends and family asked if I wanted to celebrate this milestone event with a party, but “milestone” sounds too much like “headstone” and so I chose instead to spend the day laying on the floor crying over pictures of my children as infants and eating Nutella with my fingers. This is probably why I don’t get invited to many parties.

People told me not to worry; that this was a common reaction to turning 40 – an age which, when represented on fertility charts, marks the spot where my eggs jump off a cliff. I think they don’t jump at all but rather are pushed by the vibrant 30 year-old eggs in skinny jeans standing there with smoky eyes and sullen looks.

My attitude about turning 40 had nothing to do with a decline in my ability to procreate, or even the new crepe folds starting on my neck, or the inability to sometimes remember why I had entered a room. I already have two lovely children, and as long as they love me enough to help me not feel bad about why I put my car keys in the refrigerator, then I’m good. This was more about the fact that who I was at 40 was still too much like who I was at 35. And 25. And 16. And 10. While this was okay in some respects, it was not in others, and I wanted it rectified immediately.

I decided that this half of my life was going to be different. I was going to change the way I interacted with people on a daily basis in order to preserve my dignity and increase my happiness. The second half of my life was not going to be spent sitting down. And please don’t tell me that 40 isn’t nearing the halfway point; that my friends, is BULLSHIT. Even with advances in cryogenics, how many 120 year-olds do you know?

40 was going to mark the fork in the road. From now on, I wasn’t taking any more bullshit.

I wasn’t going to smile and nod when people said offensive or ignorant things and I wasn’t going to look the other way when the most important person in my life – me – was treated poorly. I refused to continue modelling this for my children, particularly my 14 year old daughter. I don’t want her stuck in a similar frozen state of placidity when it came to defending herself or standing up to people who treat her poorly. Our girls especially are taught to “be nice,” even when being nice means “take this here bullshit, and please smile while doing so.” Screw that. I was done.

For my 40th birthday, instead of an 80′s party or Botox, I gave myself the gift of taking no more bullshit, effective immediately, no return policy, no exchanges. So the next time someone on my co-ed softball team remarked that I hit “pretty good for a girl,” instead of smiling and biting my tongue I told him he was perpetuating a sexist stereotype (and then maybe I called him a patriarchal asshole). And when a semi-estranged family member told me life was “too short” for me to be hurt over a serious issue, I agreed. Life is too short to keep taking bullshit. Why is this so hard, especially for women? Even writing this, I feel like I should be editing it to make it  “softer” in stance, but then I’d sort of be giving myself bullshit and taking it, and I think that’s how wormholes are created.

So far, this is the best birthday gift I’ve received, and I once got a gorgeous gold painted macaroni necklace.

I already had a preset bullshit tolerance level, but I wasn’t honoring my limits. Sometimes I probably look like an asshole for sticking up for myself over things that don’t bother others. I try not to be rude or irrational about it because I’ve also discovered that a message delivered with a sincere and level voice is more effective than a screaming match. But if I do get passionate or start yelling? TOO FUCKING BAD. I’ve got a lot of years to make up for. I’m sick of being passed over for things I worked hard to earn. I’m tired of being complacent when an occasion calls for spirit, and no longer will I be idle when I should be throwing verbal scrotum-punches. I don’t know everything, but I do know some things, and if you’re wrong, I’m letting you know.

If people don’t like what I have to say, or get upset with me for speaking my mind, well, that is no longer my problem. Frankly, I don’t give a shit.  I refuse to be an emotional sponge, soaking up the hurt feelings of others around me. If you want to be treated better, start exhibiting behavior that deserves that. It’s simple really; bullshit isn’t necessarily about getting the wrong order in a restaurant, or being cut in front of in a line-up. I’d be exhausted if those were battles I chose to fight every day. I mean the big things; the things that keep you up at night and go against what you stand for. Things like sexism, racism, ageism, or getting the wrong muffin at Tim Hortons for the 458th time. Yep; I’m more interested in taking a stand against things that get me at my core and erase any joy my cold heart allowed in for a minute. Like witnessing someone berate a child, or people who don’t use placements at the dinner table. Because we are not barbarians.

This freedom – this essentially no longer giving a fuck – it’s glorious and it’s liberating and it is everything I want the rest of my life to be. There are few truly scarier things in the world than a 40 year old woman who’s realized she doesn’t need to take your bullshit sitting down. Because nothing good ever comes from sitting down. (Or bending over; but that’s another story for another day.)

Birthday cake for kids

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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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A Defense of Pessimism

December 16, 2013 | Posted in Family, humor, I'm a horrible person, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, Writing | By

Defense of Pessimism

I am not a positive thinker. Never have been, never will be. Some people call this line of thinking “defeatist,” or “nihilistic,”  but I don’t agree, because these people are  head-in-the-clouds dreamers who refuse to acknowledge that bad stuff happens all the time and that it’s not going to change ever no matter how hard you wish on a star. Being a pessimist from the day I was born has served me well the vast majority of the time; I am almost never disappointed because I don’t expect things to go as planned anyway. I am a pessimist; being prepared for the worst is what sort of I do.

It turns out I’m correct in touting the benefits of pessimism as a life ideology. In 2012,  German researchers conducted a study of elderly citizens and concluded that pessimists are often happier in the end. The study reveals that “understanding that although things are fine right now,  they might get worse” seems to have “a positive effect” on their quality of life. The study notes that pessimistic people can actually benefit from a this outlook.  The researching psychologists acknowledge that while the results “fly in the face of ‘positive psychology””  the results make sense because being pessimistic helps you prepare for bad things, even if they never come. I agree completely. Pessimism is at the heart of why we contribute to retirement plans, build well-stocked pantries, make us wear sunscreen. I dread the hard times, but dreading them makes me think about them and thinking about them makes me DO something. A dreamer – a true dreamer -doesn’t worry about these things too much, instead choosing to spend energy on other pursuits like making wildflower bouquets and starting mason jar Pinterest boards.

But don’t cry for me, optimists! While I will never be a member of your club, I may come to your annual picnic if I’m invited. I’ll be the one with a rain cover, bug spray, poison ivy cream, and extra water bottles. Who’s going to be okay when the skies open up and killer bees hunt you down on your nature walk? Me, that’s who! Because I knew these things were likely and I made provisions for them. I’ll be dry and bite-free while you’re trying to sooth your itchy, hungry children with songs about magical fairies who shit jelly beans.

Pessimists constantly have to defend their ideology. I’ve had the negative/positive ying/yang debate more times than I can count and because life is what is it (which is not not great sometimes,) I fell in love with a an wonderful, positive thinking idealist. This, I believe, is my punishment for my one day of positive thinking back in 1992. He’s a wonderful, caring, slightly-delusional dreamer of a man and I’ve explained to him several times that pessimism is often borne of a need to protect oneself. If nothing good is likely to happen, then nothing is lost in the process. When something good occurs (but it probably won’t) then that’s a bonus. I call this outlook “conversation without expectation,” and it hasn’t failed me yet. But I will be ready when it does. He sometimes lovingly calls me things like “dream-suck” and “spirit-killer,” which I’m currently having an optimist of a friends cross-stitch onto a pillow for me.

The horrible, inconvenient truth is that life sucks – it sucks hard, and it sucks hard a lot. Pessimists know this and there is no hiding from this cold-hard fact. But we are not all joyless, defeated suckholes. I have a great deal of joy in my life and every day holds good. I can laugh at almost everything and my very dark sense of humor is a  gift that I’ve found most pessimists have. I appreciate this immensely because life demands you tolerate a a lot of bullshit and if we couldn’t laugh at it we’d all be in a lot of trouble.

Being a pessimist is not for lazy hacks, either. This outlook isn’t chosen for ease or for the sake of just being able to simply dismiss notions of good, thereby ensuring a cocoon of “I told you so.” Pessimism requires effort and tenacity. It demands attention and it criticism. You can’t lay on the couch watching porn with a trough full of Cool-Ranch Doritos if you’re going to call yourself a true pessimist. Those nacho-munchers are poseurs; they’re pessimoseurs. True, authentic, unadulterated  pessimism requires and inspires action. Troops aren’t called into battle because “Eh, probably nothing bad will happen.” Armies are formed and trained under the possibility of worst case scenarios and this is how wars are won. Pessimists – to borrow a line from Tina Fey  – get shit done. While you optimists are seeing everything through rose-colored glasses and  building your dream house “vision board,” we’re laying figurative sandbags in preparation for the impending storm.

So lovers and dreamers, chill the fuck out and stop telling me to think positively. Instead, why don’t you come over to “the dark side” and join us on the pessimist bench? We’re wearing black t-shirts and talking about silicone window caulking, because it looks like a storm is coming.

 

 

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