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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Yearning for learning

April 16, 2014 | Posted in Education, Family, Parenting, School, University, Writing | By

College lecture hall

I miss school. The learning part mostly, but the thermos of lemonade and Wagon Wheels were pretty cool too.

I’ve missed it for a while, but I knew things were serious when I started reading my daughter’s high school Geography textbook and bribed her into a “chat” about igneous rock formations and soil erosion. I was halfway through making a set of flash cards for conjugating my son’s grade four level French verbs when the kids staged an intervention and told me enough was enough. They’re smart kids and for the most part they get things on their own. As it is they rarely need my help with homework and my absconding with their textbooks is one of the only ways I can get my hands on “real” school materials.

More university  courses would be lovely, and I could go back to take a course for kicks, but it’s too expensive a hobby for now. I’ve tried book clubs for literary discussion, but almost no one wants to make flow charts about overlapping Gothic themes in contemporary literature and my “Come dressed like your favourite ‘Satanic Verses’ character” idea was shot down in flames, almost literally.

I just want to know more stuff! Knowing stuff is all I have! I love knowing stuff because stuff is super interesting and you never know when you’re going to need stuff. I am an information hoarder, where instead of cat fur and empty tuna cans, I want to know what comprised the basis of an ancient Roman’s diet and why does every episode of Frasier resemble a Shakespearean comedy and how the feudal system literally changed the landscape and what the hell does HTML stand for? These are some of the questions that run on loop in my head almost constantly, and as soon as one question is answered another takes its place. Reading is great and I do a lot of that, but there’s something very appealing – intimate even – that comes from listening to someone lecture on a topic they’re passionate about. One of my favourite classes in University was  “Rural Sociology” seminar. I took it because it fulfilled a requirement and honestly I had no idea what the syllabus would include. It turned out to be far and away one of the more fascinating courses I took because although at first glance the learning material looked dry – forestry, fishing, and farming practices in Canada – the Professor was so passionate about the material that when I scanned the room at the bored teenage faces listening, I wanted to tie all of their shoelaces together.

Apparently there are some intriguing and informative University lectures available on iTunes and through mail-order catalogs and I’ve also been thinking of doing a “Documentary a Day” self-challenge. This morning I caught the tail end of one on motorcycle gang culture in Winnipeg and it was giddy-with-the-learnin’-bug-goosebumps awesome. If you’ve seen a good documentary or read an interesting non-fiction book lately – no matter how obscure – I’d love to hear about it.

(Fires up the popcorn machine.)

*image courtesy of WikiCommons

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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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Unpaid Internships and Work for “Exposure” are the New Barrel Suit

April 8, 2014 | Posted in Education, Family, Irritation Level: High, Parenting, School, University, Writing | By

girl in a barrel

I am looking for work. When I am looking for work, looking for work is my work. I send the kids to school, fire up the computer, and then I go online in search of employment suitable for my experience and educational background. I don’t have high expectations. I would like a short commute or a work-from-home position; I expect a reasonable amount of courtesy in communication; and I would like to be challenged and given room to expand my skill-set. Oh, and I would like to be paid.

It is this last point – the “paid” part – where I generally run into trouble. I am a recent University graduate from a well-respected school and I have a decent portfolio and references who will tell you you’re a fool not to hire me. I am professional, I work hard, and frankly, I am a fucking joy to be around. I usually find several jobs per day for which I could apply. So why don’t I? Because they are unpaid. Zip. Zilch. Zero. Yep; they are “Thanks for everything; here’s your nothing” jobs. Great! I’ll use my non-existent pay cheque  to buy invisible kids shoes and some ghost groceries.

I can’t count all the ways these types of job postings state they are “sadly, unpaid at this time.” It’s actually funny in a lot of cases, because the responsibilities and qualifications are laid out and described exactly like a paying job – sometimes even resembling pretty intense, high-level responsibility jobs. The slam comes below the fold, after you’re hooked because this one sounds like the one, you guys! I’m not against internships of all stripes. I think internships can be a great way to learn about an industry, and time spent interning can be a great addition to a resume which also includes paid experience, and appropriate educational background. Networking and showcasing your talent is a good thing, but hey, why not pay people something for it? Even a pittance. Something.

If unpaid internships are offered as part of an educational program – say, a University degree, or college diploma program they are useful and often act as a springboard for a career in that field. Auto mechanics, welders, and other tradespeople often work between bouts of schooling, and they are almost always paid for their labour. Their wages may not be commensurate with their responsibilities at that particular point in their career evolution, but they can look forward to fair wages (hopefully) once they receive a trade ticket. If a company is willing to pay an intern “at some point in the future” for the same work they are doing now “provided they meet our (subjective?) standard” then PAY THEM NOW, JERK.

Summer internships and those specifically for students are sometimes unpaid. Okay; if they’re not full time then a student can generally work also, or perhaps they are also receiving student loans, etc. Because I am a writer, I have been searching the editorial/creative field for work and I am shocked – SHOCKED I TELL YOU – at the amount of work  I’ve seen which is to be compensated solely in “experience” and “exposure.” This no-pay structure comes through internships or because those seeking the material or content do not wish to pay anything. I was married to a business owner. I know how difficult and costly it can be to get a business up and running. I know that business owners often do not take a salary themselves until a profit has been turned. But I also know that not one single utility company, fuel provider, tax accountant, restaurant, cleaning person, maintenance company, delivery service, dog walker or liquor store will provide you with services and/or products free of charge for promise of “giving them a platform upon which their work will be exposed to hundreds of people.” If that were the case, I’d be chugging Chilean Merlot in a strip mall parking lot and yelling into car windows how this stuff is the best goddamn wine I’ve ever tasted so Shop at Bob’s Liq-R-Mart!

By comparison, I am “old” in a vast sea of debt-riddled new graduates. But the young ones can’t afford to work for free either. In fact, it may be worse for them because life hasn’t yet sanded smooth the edges of their hopefulness and they are still sickeningly full of optimism.  I have some equity and it is likely I won’t starve to death if I cannot find full-time work soon. Job-searching is soul-crushing at the best of times and I honestly don’t know how young graduates – kids! – pay their rent. I understand why so many have to move back in with parents and I really hope the climate changes by the time my kids graduate, although my daughter is headed for a science/math degree and no one wants an unpaid engineer building their bridges so she’ll likely find work. I don’t want to regret my English/History degree because it shaped my thinking and I call upon the analytical skills it enforced every single day. But when I am being brutally honest with myself I admit I’m tempted to visit every University Fair within a 50 mile radius and tell all prospective Liberal Arts students to “RUN FOR YOUR FUCKING LIVES!”

I am a decent writer. I have even been told that I am sometimes a pretty good one, and I believe it. That’s not hubris. There are a lot of things I don’t do well and that list is much longer than the one of things I can do. I would never apply to nursing school. I would never try to get a job as a school bus driver, or a server in a bar, because I wouldn’t do those things well and my exit would likely be marked by lots of flames and probably a lawsuit. I write, I edit, I social media-lize. I don’t posture myself as a Nora Ephron, or an Anne Lamott. I am Jeni Marinucci, and I would like to be paid.

___________________________________________________________________________________

*Disclaimer: I do have some recurrent writing jobs, so please, no panicked email from family members. I would also like to say that any work I post links to (or otherwise promote, be it through buttons on my blog, etc.)  I have been paid for or otherwise compensated fairly. I continue to be grateful to all those who give me a platform, and a pay cheque. I have – in the past, on occasion – provided second-run and re-print article free to various websites.

**Photo courtesy of WikiCommons

 

 

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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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