A Radical Idea

Now I’m not about to pontificate like some hippy guru coming down from her cabin in the Vermont mountains, but please, take a look at the picture below. That’s our universe. It’s where we live. See how small we are?  See how absolutely minuscule our existence is in the grand scheme of things? We’re pretty much a drop in the bucket and that’s being generous.

I don’t mean to say this to be depressing. Quite the opposite, truth be told. It’s supposed to be a reminder that before we get livid over political differences, religious beliefs, or even just the people who cut in front of us in traffic, we should remember that we’re really sort of insignificant in this vast web of gases and atoms.

Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be involved in what’s going on in our world today, especially politically speaking (goodness knows, we have to be now, more than ever), or that we should give up on our faith to placate someone else… what I am saying however, is that when it comes to arguing with strangers online or with Uncle John at the next family dinner — neither of whom will be listening anyway, because they’re so entrenched in their own mindset — maybe rethink your participation in an argument that will only serve to create stress and anxiety for you and will likely end up being more of a name-calling contest than a civil debate anyway.

Instead of getting enraged, how about we just focus on being nice to each other? That’s it — just be nice. Pretty simple, right?  I just think that as we rotate around our gargantuan sun that in itself is part of an unimaginably vast galaxy within an inconceivable array of other galaxies (with the potential of other dimensions that could be just as large), let’s just try to make the ride a little more pleasant for each other.

And let’s not include just humans in that concept – include animals, too.  Be nice to other living creatures.  I mean, really, how hard is that?  When you sit down and think about it, it just seems like the most logical thing to do.

However, I know it will never happen on a large scale because we’re human after all, and something as simple as “being nice” would just never work for our species as a whole. It’s beyond us, which is sad, really. But imagine what we could accomplish if we could pull off this amazing yet simplistic feat!  The issues that could be settled and the problems that could be resolved are boundless.

So maybe we start small.  Maybe smile at that neighbor who is always grumpy or hold the elevator for that person who is obviously late.  Perhaps throw some food to the stray you usually shoo away.  Or give some change to the homeless person you always try to ignore as you make your way to work.  Maybe realize that your kids can have a bad day too so you ignore the half-made bed that would normally spawn a lecture, and instead pull out a family board game.  It should all be so easy, really.

And the craziest part of this hare-brained idea is that the world, which is already so overwhelmed with stress and worry, would actually become a better place, allowing for less and less stuff to be stressed and worried about.  I know….ironic, right?

Winter is Coming

Friends, danger is upon us. We are approaching that time of year when brother will turn against brother, sister will deceive sister, and strangers will come to fisticuffs over dwindling supplies of cherished treasure. There’s only one thing that can bring the madness in our society to such a fever pitch. Yes, my friends, I’m talking about holiday shopping.

Get those elbows ready for pushing people out of the way (I hear a sale on elbow pads starts today!) and start brushing up on your bob-and-weave coordination, it all kicks off today, Black Friday, and soon it will be followed by an all-out Christmas merchandise assault. I don’t know what it is about good deals, but it truly unleashes the beast in some people. Maybe it’s mob mentality that comes from being in large, billowing crowds of shoppers. It overtakes rational thought about how to treat your fellow Man and turns them into your worst adversary. Maybe it’s the pressure of finally get the perfect gift for someone you love. Maybe it’s knowing your friends will all be jealous of the fancy new TV/microwave/laptop you have without being any the wiser that you got it at 50% off, or maybe having the ability to pat oneself on the back over such an awesome deal is in fact part of it. Maybe it’s a mix of all these.

All I know is that people who are out and about doing holiday shopping will get downright mean if their mission is slowed down in any way, even by their own kids. On many an occasion I’ve seen seemingly normal parents threaten their children with the promise that Santa will skip over their house Christmas morning if they even think about throwing a hissy-fit in the middle of the store. If I could relive my kids’ childhood, I personally would’ve used the Krampus threat a lot more than I did…that’s the kind of thing that gets kids to sit up and listen.

I’m not sure who I feel for more when I see these parental showdowns in the middle of a jam-packed store…the exasperated parent driven to Santa-related threats, or the kids for throwing the fit in the first place (or at least those kids where you can tell it’s due to stress and being seriously over-tired). Okay, well, that’s actually an easy one…I feel for the strangers having to deal with both of them when all they want is to make it through the crowds to get their paper towels and toilet paper in peace.

Thank goodness I’m not a child (at least not age-wise anyway). I’ve lost my shit MANY times at the mall and would be a permanent name on Santa’s blacklist if the “no visit for you” rules applied to me. Don’t roll your eyes at me. I may be on the no-fly list for Santa’s sleigh, but it’s for entirely different reasons.

In fact, kids have it pretty good, don’t they? They can get away with a fairly good amount before they face any real consequences. But if one of us so-called “adults” yells and screams and stomps our feet in the middle of a store (maybe even knock over a display or two), all of a sudden here comes security to take us to grown-up timeout, which trust me, doesn’t involve cookies and milk afterwards.

I guess that’s what really separates adults from children. We ALL want to bitch and moan, but adults have learned how to keep all of that inside for the sake of appearances, ulcers and migraines notwithstanding.  Most of the time at least. If there’s ever a time when the rage might be too much to control, it’s in these next couple months. So, please, be careful out there. Winter is coming.

 

What’s for Dinner?

I came across a parenting article recently and even though my kids are older, with diapers and daily tantrums over “tie” vs “velcro” shoes a thing of the past, I was curious, so I took the time to check it out.  Actually, I found this particular piece of child-rearing commentary on the same mom advice blog that I’ve brought up before, the one that decries “mommy shaming” yet mom-shames religiously.

This new wave of helpful hints was about dealing with “picky eaters.” The writer’s solution? Let the kids choose. Sounds simple, right? Turns out it is simple. Basically, as the mother (or I guess, father…this article happened to be directed at moms), you fix whatever dinner you want and if the kids don’t want to eat it, fine. In fact, you start out the meal with the announcement that “eat or it not, it’s up to you.” Having no punishment for abstaining from any of the foods presented is the key here. Further, rejecting the main meal does not preclude being given dessert. Dessert is a given.

Now, this is all fine and good for kids who might eat “something.” But what about kids who won’t eat anything? My daughter is just that kind of kid. Not so much now that she’s older, but when she was little? Oh boy.  She took picky eating to a whole new level. There could have been a buffet in front of her – a veritable feast – and she would decide for whatever reason that she liked none of it and simply would not eat. No, that tastes funny. That’s brown or green or yellow. That’s slimy. It’s got onions in it. I don’t like gravy. Or my all-time favorite, a simplistic “Ewww.”

Or what about the kid who will eat dessert (since that can’t be withheld) and nothing else?  I can easily envision my kids, when they were young, having dessert every night for dinner – if it were available.  Hell, I would too if I had those rules. Come on! Who wouldn’t?

Force feeding kids by making them sit at the table until they eat something doesn’t work either. Been there, done that. On both sides of the table. I remember sitting at the table in an ever-escalating series of “battles of wills” with my mother over some vegetable or another. I recall a particularly long evening spent at the table brought about by Brussels sprouts. It wasn’t fun for me and I can’t imagine that it was a great time for my mother either. I’m sure she had better things to do than deal with my mulish dinner habits. Sorry, Mom. My kids inherited that same stubborn behavior willpower.

My son took it even further. I mean, of course he did. Why wouldn’t he? The curse my mother flung at me all those years ago worked. Like gangbusters it worked. I now have kids who act just like I acted. In case I haven’t said it lately, thanks for that, Mom. When my handsome, intelligent, ever-so-charming son was about five or so, he threatened that if I insisted he “eat those stupid peas already,” he would throw them back up. And. He. Did. Ahhh…memories. Hey, he gave fair warning. He still won’t eat peas and the boy is 24 years old.

I suppose we could just live by the old adage “oh, they’ll eat when they’re hungry” as they forego their mid-day and evening meals night after night. Indeed, that’s what this suggested routine seems to be, just done in a nicer way. I imagine the success of such a campaign all depends on the temperament of the child and just how hungry they’re willing to be to prove a point.

The thing is, you can’t force kids to eat. You can’t force them to sleep. It’s the two things really, besides bathroom habits, that they ultimately do have control over. Unless you’re a monster who literally force feeds your kids as they’re tied to a chair. But if you’re a normal human being, you can lead them to the table, but you can’t make them eat.  Threaten, cajole, humor, and beg…but you can’t really MAKE them. They choose to give in, or not. Same with sleep – you can put them to bed and order them to sleep, but only they can really make that happen.

I guess I was never overly finicky about what we had for dinner…I didn’t care if my kids ate hotdogs with mac and cheese while I ate the eggplant parm that I liked. I didn’t mind if we had home-made chicken nuggets (à la Chick-Fi-La, but my own recipe, which is healthier) three times a week. That tuna casserole they both love? Sure! Why not?

It’s different now that I’ve cut out the majority of meat for myself, but hey, the kids are old enough to feed themselves now, so I don’t really care…they’re on their own. But when they were little, I decided after a while that dinner time was simply not a battle I particularly felt like fighting. Of course, this decision might’ve taken place right after the “peas fiasco of 1997,” but it’s a solid decision nonetheless.

I also knew my kids were stubborn assholes strong-willed individuals who would go without food long enough that eventually social services would be called. So, dinner often had a kid-friendly menu in our house. Why deliberately put food on the table that you know someone won’t eat while hoping for the best? I didn’t really see this as catering to them – and still don’t – I view it as a way of enjoying the time we had together at the table. Instead of arguing or long, sullen silences, we had rousing talks about everything under the sun, jokes, and laughter, and joy. And everyone ate. I still make their favorites when we’re all together for a visit. But then, food has always been a big deal in our house, a way of bringing the family together. Meals are meant to be enjoyed, not fought over.

I figured – and rightly so – that they would branch out from hot dogs, mac and cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and French fries prior to getting to college. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. With the exception of very specific things like peas (go figure), mushrooms, onions, and sushi (can’t blame them there), they eat quite a variety of foodstuffs these days. Truth be told, they’re a lot more adventurous in trying new foods than me, I must say.

I suppose the idea presented in the article would work for some families…I mean hey, it worked for the writer, right? But if it were MY house? I would have had two children with amazingly high blood sugar from all the dessert they were stuffing themselves with and tons of uneaten leftovers cluttering up the fridge.

Meeting Place

When I was growing up, our house was the one where all the kids in the neighborhood would congregate. It was a meeting place, a drop off spot for bikes, a checkpoint for organizing the next set of adventures, and a lounge for just relaxing. If my mother ever had a problem with the steady stream of scraped-kneed kids filing in and out of the front and back doors, she never said anything. Or if she did, it was never loud enough for us to hear at any rate. We just lived in a time and place where you could literally yell out the window for someone to come over and they’d be skipping up to the porch 30 seconds later.

Not quite the case when my kids were growing up. Their friends weren’t always in shouting distance. Sometimes a car was necessary to get them where they needed to go. But they did have a few neighborhood friends in walking distance, and for those few, I kept the same policy as my mother. They were always welcome in the house and could always return there after their daily shenanigans through our unsuspecting neighborhood were done.

It was important to me to let them know their friends were always welcome. I mean, so long as their friends weren’t mini drug-dealers-in-training or something…which they weren’t as far as I know.

I will say that there were ulterior motives to letting my house be a meeting spot. I could eavesdrop on the latest juicy gossip. Not only is gossip just fun to listen to, but it also gave me important insights in to my kids’ lives that they might not be comfortable sharing with me directly. Then, I could use these slivers of information to better my parenting. I could support them in ways where I might otherwise be lacking. There are so many pros here and very few cons. It wasn’t always cost-effective having an extra mouth or two or three to feed, but hey, the local dollar store always had cheap snacks and these were passed around to the crew while they were visiting so that everyone had a little something to keep them from starving.  It’s not like they needed a full buffet or 7-course lunch platter.

Not everyone shares this parenting outlook. I recently found an article written by a mother who is simply tired-tired-tired of having her kid’s friend over every day in the summer. Apparently, she feels taken advantage of for the “free babysitting.” Now I’m assuming this kid is not a toddler, I mean, he shows up at her house on his own in the middle of the day, which means he has to be old enough to navigate the neighborhood on his own – so I’m not really sure how much “drop everything I’m doing and watch the kids like a hawk” kind of babysitting this mom is really forced into doing. Oh sure, the kid may be taking up space in her house, but is he really taking up that much more of her undivided time?

When the doorbell rings, this put-upon mom claims her son looks at her funny because his friend is there yet again. I could be wrong, but I don’t think the deer-in-the-headlights look from her son is because he knows his friend was just there and shouldn’t be there again today – I think it’s because he knows his mother is irritated because it’s likely she doesn’t hide her irritation well.  If you ask me, she’s the one feeding that energy, not the neighbor kid.  Or at least, that’s just my opinion (without knowing any of these people…just a wild guess, mind you).

And as the mother states herself, she wouldn’t even think of sending her kid to his friend’s house. My question is, why the hell not? I mean, flitting around the neighborhood, hitting up friends to see who is home, and hanging out is what summer vacation is all about. Plus, when he’s out of the house she would get a little time for R & R (which she so obviously needs if you ask me). Maybe when the friend comes over, she can say, hey, how about you guys go to YOUR house today? I bet they’d love that (so long as he’s not actually trying to escape his own house for some very real, very sad cause…in which case, all the more reason he should be allowed to hang out).

These kinds of spontaneous friendships are special. Instead of trying to squash them, we should be encouraging them.

 

Under the Big Top…or Not

I don’t think my mother gets nearly enough credit for her superhero powers of persuasion. She’s like Kayla Silverfox (aka Silver Fox) from X-Men (Wolverine – Origins) with a southern accent. I mean, to hear her tell it, she – my mother that is, not Silver Fox — single-handedly kept my father from selling my brother and me to the travelling circus for years…years, people! And apparently my father listened to her (I mean, here I am after all, with no trapeze skills or fire-breathing expertise to speak of, sooo…).  He could’ve made a pretty penny too, or so I was told growing up. A. Pretty. Penny.

Construction Ahead

I want to say Happy Father’s Day to my Dad. And I’m sure my children would like to take this time to thank him for the inside joke that I constantly throw out, even though they weren’t even born when the joke originated, and it’s one they don’t really “get,” but they laugh along with me anyway. Of course, their laughter is likely just a way to placate their eccentric mother since we’re always in the car with me driving at the time of said joke, and they do have their safety and well-being to consider.

I’ll share a bit of nostalgia with you and let you in on the inside joke – there are actually two. And which joke gets repeated on which outing depends entirely on which road construction sign I happen to see at the time.  I know, I know, make jokes about construction signs, you say? Who on earth can come up with jokes about road construction signs?  Well, my Dad can. And little did he know they would drive off into the future at full speed to infect his grandchildren.

I have no idea if these happened all on the same long family trip, though I think they did. I think my Dad just happened to be on a “roll” during this one lengthy excursion with a Great-Aunt in tow – honestly, it all happened so long ago that I can’t remember exactly.  There are a great many parts of my childhood that I remember only in fragments, not getting the whole picture, but rather just fractured bits. I believe on this particular occasion, we were taking my Great Aunt Bunny to West Virginia with us, and both the long drive and the looming visit itself would have made her an anxiety ridden nervous wreck, such things always did. Which would make sense – IF that’s the trip I’m remembering – because my Dad would have been doing what he could, in his own silly way, to ease my Aunt’s nerves. The jokes I’m going to tell you about, however, those stand out in my mind.

The trip to West Virginia from our house back in those days took a solid 8 hours, and more often than not, there was road construction along the way. Going through an area of construction, with all of its delays and issues, during an already 8-hour trip – with two pains in the ass children, can never be an easy thing, but on this particular trip in question, my Dad decided to take his comic show on the road, as it were, and lighten the mood.

Coming upon a section of road construction that required rerouting of the lanes, there was a safety sign duly posted informing all and sundry of a “flag man ahead.” Now most people would slow down, follow the “flag man’s” direction and just move on, right? Not my Dad. He stopped, rolled down his window (this was in a time when you really did roll down a window) and cheerily greeted the guy: “Hi, Mr. Man!”  After we drove on, and I suppose due to the looks of confusion from all of his passengers – except my mother, I don’t even what to know what look she was giving him – he says, “Well, I don’t know him well enough to call him Flag!”  Rolling eyes and groaning laughter ensued. And the joke has lived on into infamy. Although, my version keeps the window tightly closed, with me just shouting through the glass, but in a good way, not like when there is an errant jaywalker or a driver who has apparently never heard of a turn signal.

The next sign that encouraged my Dad to act was a bit more hearty and enthusiastic, or rather, his reaction was at any rate. For seemingly no reason whatsoever, and certainly with no warning, my Dad threw out his hand and grabbed my mother by the top of her head. I wish, for the life of me, that I could remember the look on my mother’s face at that instant, but what I conjure (based on personal experience with the woman), it would’ve been a hoot, and not exactly a look of adoration towards my father either. In his defense, he pointed to the “Stop Ahead,” sign we were passing…I mean, he was only following directions, right?

My kids are 25 and 18, and I kid you not, they know exactly what is going to happen when we pass construction or road work that has one of these signs posted. Oh, they may forget in the moment as they text or watch videos on the phone, but whoever is in the front passenger seat is sure to have their head accosted, or to be startled into thinking we’ve seen someone we know, each and every time…and when they search the surrounding area for the sign and find it, they smile a pacifying smile and then go back to their business.

It makes no difference to me if my kids don’t share in my joke. I think it’s hilarious and sometimes, dammit, I just do things because they amuse ME, not necessarily those around me. And more than being amusing, it reminds me of family, of times gone by, and while I can’t grasp the full memory of that road trip from so many years ago – only bits and pieces remain, what does stick in my head is the fact that my Dad was on a comedic roll for the entire drive. Who knew his Dad jokes would get passed down through the generations? I guarantee you that while they may not repeat the jokes themselves, till their dying day, my kids will never be able to pass road construction without at least going over those wisecracks in their head. And maybe, just maybe, when they have kids, this bit of Dad-silliness will live on.

So, thank you Dad…it’s not enough that you’ve had my back since I was born or that you constantly watch out for me. Your casually tossed out pieces of comedic genius have stayed with me over the years and have been the source of great joy, in so many ways. Here’s to family road trips from back in the day. Here’s to lasting memories. Happy Father’s Day! I love you.

dad in his element