Friday, February 1, 2013

The Ballad of the Giant Trampoline

One of the great pleasures of being a parent to young children is playing the Stall Game.  You know the game: Your child asks for some ridiculous thing that you’ll never get them in a million years - due to cost, danger, or plain laziness – and you respond with a chicken-shit, “We’ll think about it” answer.  Of course, you aren’t going to “think about it” any further than it took to get the words out of your mouth.  It just buys you another two months before the subject is brought up again.  And this means you are two months closer to the point where your child might outgrow the item they desire.  In football-speak, it’s a classic example of running out the clock (i.e. running the ball straight up the middle on 3rd and 7 with a minute to go but the other team doesn’t have any time outs).

The Stall Game:  You leave the kid with some vague, ill-defined hope that they might actually get what they want while cleverly avoiding being the Bad Guy or destroying dreams and bringing on tears and an argument when all you wanted to do was go to Wendy’s for a Frosty.  Eventually, enough time passes and the desire for the item dissipates either quickly and painlessly or a scarring psychological burn that’ll manifest itself decades later in your choice of old age home.

I’ve been employing the Stall Game quite a bit over the last three years for my daughter’s persistent wish: a giant trampoline.  She asks about one regularly starting at the age of 9 through a few weeks ago, age 11.  Now, there is no way in Hell I am buying one of those Ankle Breakers for my house.  I have plenty of reasons:

(1)    They kill the lawn underneath.
(2)    They are ON the lawn and who wants to look at that out the back window?
(3)    The neighbor kids will want to jump on it and why would I want them over here?  I don’t even want to look at them across the street in their own yards.
(4)    Medical costs.  Someone will break something…eventually.
(5)    I will be sued when the neighbor kid breaks his femur.
(6)    They are clearly a “bait” product for wheelchair companies.
(7)  Not interested in hosting a "killing field" for neighborhood friends as they lie moaning in a circumference around the crater trampoline.
(8)    What the hell do you do with it once the kids outgrow it?

Sure, it looks fun.  But you and I both know that no good can come of a giant trampoline.  That’s a very adult way to look at it and, for some reason, kids struggle with the complexity of this logic.  I think they tend to focus more on the fun and frivolity and exuberant joy brought by each bounce skyward rather than medical insurance deductibles and lawsuits.

It’s better that the kids go to YOUR yard and bounce on YOUR giant trampoline.  That way, it’s not in my yard.  Oh, and I get to sue YOU when the tibia splinters into a dozen pieces and a summer is lost to a cast.  See?  Adult logic.

Of course, I could sit my daughter down and explain this thinking with detailed examples including a pie chart of how a rise in medical costs causes a direct shrinking in American Girl purchases and how there will be no Jackie O present to scramble over the side of the trampoline to retrieve a broken piece of tibia fragment.  Once the tibia shard goes over the edge, it’s lost forever (or mulched by the lawn mower).   I could face the issue head on…deal with it in a mature and reasoned way to teach my daughter a lesson in rational thinking that she’ll use effectively later in life.  Or, I could just run out the clock and avoid the conflict.  C’mon, which would you do?

But there is a point at which the Stall Game stops working.  After several postponements and vague promises to consider the purchase at a future date, your child may grow to the point where they realize what you are doing.  Apparently, that age is 11.  Maturity, time, and a decrease in American Girl interest have all converged and my daughter is no longer easily deferred when the inevitable “Can we get a trampoline?” question arises.  Fortunately, this convergent point is usually quite near the endgame: outgrowth of desired item.  It’s the last gasp, the final desperate plea before their disappointment gets logged permanently in psychological, future pull-the-plug-defining dormant rage. 

You better have a Plan B.  When “We’ll think about it” no longer works – and you’ve used it several times over multiple years – you can’t then launch into Reasoned Discussion.  It’s too late.  But you still are too cowardly to say No outright.  Goddamn, I just want a Frosty. 

There’s really only one thing left to do. 

“Can we get a giant trampoline for the yard?  And don’t say ‘we’ll think about it’ because you always say that.”

“Well, it’s fine with me.  It’s up to your Mom though.”

It’s 4th and 5 but the clock is ticking away…time to punt to Mom.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

No Assembly Required

There may be no finer trio of words to appear on a Christmas present for one of your kids than No Assembly Required. 

No Assembly Required!?!  You mean I don’t have to sit down on the floor with a screwdriver, hammer, glue gun, drill and seething, bubbling-over inner rage to put together a push toy!?!  I don’t have to ponder the corporate decision-making tree that led to the instruction manual written by tool-illiterate suit monkeys in one office while the suit-adverse engineers pieced together the product in another office?  And forget about Packaging.  They always just throw a mishmash of parts in the box regardless of the quantity – or type - required for assembly.  I once got a small vial of plutonium that was, apparently, supposed to help build my daughter’s Barbie house.

I’m lucky.  My kids have grown and don’t want “toys” now.  They desire “electronics”.  And, of course, we know that electronics come in smaller packages but the price is inverse to size.  I used to be able to populate an entire Christmas tree skirt for $200 worth of Fisher Price’s finest.  Now, $200 doesn’t even get me a gift the size of my wallet holding my maxed out credit card.  But this is, quite literally, the price you pay for the kids growing up.

So you must seek comfort where it can be found during the stressful holiday season.  In a bottle, of course.  But also in those three magical words:  No Assembly Required.  (There was a time when I thought the three most important words you could hear were “I love you”.  Nope.)  You don’t need to stumble downstairs with your bathrobe and suicidal thoughts Christmas morning and head directly to the garage to prepare for the day’s festivities work.

Christmas morning came and went pretty quietly this past year:  coffee, unwrapping, kids quietly fiddling with electronics, video games, wine, serenity.  Peace on Earth and all that crap I hear about but assumed was a myth.  Nice, you know?

I even quietly said a prayer for those parents still in the thick of the Toddler Years.  SOME Assembly Required.  “Some”?  Ha!  Suckers!  “Some” means “Total” in toy company-ese.  “Some” means you are spending an entire morning putting together a plastic turtle that blinks lights when someone farts and sings a quickly irritating little diddy when his shell is pressed.  Only 28 screws, 14 triple checks to the instructions, and a half dozen calls to customer support will allow you to experience the magic of Loud Ass the Turtle That Never Shuts Up.  That’s if you remember to buy batteries, of course.  If not, you get Cry Baby the Kid That Never Stops Until You Find a 7-Eleven to Buy Batteries.

And don’t get me started on the Barbie dolls wrapped in their box by so much STITCHED plastic that you have to pry them out with wire cutters.  And if you can do that without pulling the hair out of Dream Date Barbie’s head, bully for you!  I just pulled, yanked, and twisted until Barbie came free.  I always thought Barbie looked better resembling Pink anyhow.  My daughter received nine Pink, the Barbies, for Christmas (as far as she knows) over the years.

“But why's most of her hair still in the box, Daddy?”

“That’s Pink’s wig and you want her to be comfortable being who she is, naturally, right Sweetie?”

But that’s all in the past for me now.  I won’t again have to face that lonely visage in the bathroom mirror of the nearly-broken, tear-stained Dad, with unkempt hair and tattered bathrobe, sucking on the end of the glue gun and wondering just how much damage hot glue can do.  We talking a glued shut mouth or complete system shut down?  It matters.  Hard to pour wine through a glued mouth.

I’m in the No Assembly Required years and it’s quite lovely here: tools are left in the garage, the TV seems a bit sharper than 1080p, the recliner feels like a feather enema.

At least it was until my daughter tossed her new laptop onto my groin, spilled my wine, and announced that it “REQUIRES SETUP”.


Friday, November 2, 2012

Kid's Got Swag

My 5 year old has some serious swag. At least I think it's called swag. That's what the kids these days are calling it. Now that I'm older, sometimes I'm not as "down with that" and I don't "pick up what they are putting down" like I used to. For this post, though, I'm going to be "with it".

I have never had swag. And by "swag", I mean "the confidence to go up and talk to a woman, buy her a drink, etc." 

I also didn't pick up signals very well, either. On the REMOTE chance that a woman would flirt with me, she would've been better off holding up a sign that said "I'm interested in you. Please ask me out on a date!" It would probably have to blink, too. 

I'm sure it amazed friends and family when I landed a wife. I'm pretty confident wagers were lost. 

My son, on the other hand, has more game than he knows what to do with. Girls flock to him. Flock. To. Him.
Ladies Man

Exhibit A: We were at a church picnic and my son was playing in the makeshift misters in the parking lot and, the next thing I know, some girl (about his age) is reciting her address to him.
That's right: my man got digits. Not a phone address.

Exhibit B:

When we were leaving the pool this summer, the little girl he was playing with jumped out of the pool and ran all the way to the exit just to say goodbye. Yep, lifeguard warnings be damned...she was going to say goodbye.

Like I said: Swag
Maybe it's the red hair. Maybe it's the ol' Raz charm. Maybe the girls dig it when he puts his hands down his pants when he sleeps or when he randomly starts yelling like some sort of Kung Fu master.

The way I see it, here's what he has going for him:
  • He's a redhead. He stands out above all of the non-gingers.
  • He has personality in spades. 
  • He has to get a laugh. Has to. 
  • He's kind.
  • He's polite.
  • He's respectful.
Here's the thing: I have those traits! What the heck? Oh, wait...he isn't sarcastic. Maybe that has something to do with it.

Regardless, parents pride themselves on their kids' accomplishments be it sports, academics, etc.

Me? I'm gonna pride myself on my kid's swag.

Yep, that's how this "sick" dad is going to roll. Yo.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Chairman of the Pitch

For every one of the kids’ soccer matches, we load up our purple and gray camp chairs and head to the pitch to watch the majesty of youth soccer unfold before our very eyes once again.  And again.  And again.  Seemingly, it never stops unfolding.  Every weekend, more origami.

Like all parents, we are passionate about our kids’ performance.   They don’t have to be the best…just don’t be the idiot spinning around in circles making airplane noises.  Leave that for the family with the socks pulled up to their knees bringing the kid wearing jean shorts* and a belt and the Optimus Prime t-shirt or Nebraska Cornhusker abomination.  Fortunately, my kids are older now, on club teams, and the jean short crowd has melted away.  But I remember those days…

There are three quintessential items to have as a soccer parent:  (1) a good camp chair, (2) a pair of sunglasses where no one can see your eyes, and  (3) a healthy dose of self control.

The chair is for sitting, obviously.  The sunglasses are so no one sees your eye rolls when their kid can’t command the ball to save their life.  The self control is so the ref is not assaulted.  It’s also to maintain a fake veneer of pleasant aloofness that’s masking the jubilance or seething rage swirling within.

I watch my kids play soccer like I’m watching an ice sculpting competition:  Emotionless detached interest.  At least, it appears that way on the outside for anyone eyeballing the guy in the purple camp chair and sunglasses.  I chat amiably with the other parents while, inside, my gut convulses with every near-miss goal.  I find folding the arms across the chest hides the near hyper-ventilation of my heaving chest.  My temporal vein throbs when Chatty Chuck's son –AGAIN! – misplays a fairly routine cross.  I ignore it, publicly.  Only the diligent observer notices the way my jaw tenses up and my fists form.  So how did your garage sale go, Chuck?  Implied:  No time to spend a few minutes teaching your kid a bit of aerial control, Chuck?

And then the refs.  The hallmark of youth sports is the terrible refing.  Unfortunately, these people are also typically your neighbors or teachers or folks you see sitting in the next booth at the local Chili’s.   You are supposed to appreciate their volunteering efforts while simultaneously ignoring their complete ignorance of the rules.   Tweet!  Red’s ball. (not in the game I’m watching.)  Tweet!  Offsides (sweet Jesus, it wasn’t if you knew the rule).  Tweet!  Holding.  (Wrong sport). 

The most you’ll get out of me is a tilt of the head like a dog quizzically wondering if he heard the word “walk” in that stream of babble you just barfed up.  I might raise my eyebrows in astonishment so that even Chatty Chuck can see them poking over the top of the sunglasses.  “Curious call.”  I’ll say. 

Meanwhile, I’m thinking about Braveheart and what they did to William Wallace.  Why don’t we eviscerate people anymore?  Admittedly, it sure would make that next trip to Chili’s a bit awkward.  I mean, I’d be fine with it but that's because I know what ‘offsides’ is and how to properly call it.  For the ref’s family, I can only imagine their look of horror as I nonchalantly gulped down my Chicken Crispers.  People are so sensitive about evisceration these days but, me, I can wash it away with a zesty honey mustard dip.

Let’s face it, goals – by YOUR kid (re: my kid) – are the best.  My daughter has been on a roll lately averaging 2-3 goals a game.  You wouldn’t know it by looking at the guy in the purple chair and sunglasses.  He claps amiably for each one and congratulates the PASSER – not his own daughter – while inside there’s a Basque dance taking place.

After the game, I gather my camp chairs and congratulate the other players and pleasantly wish a good afternoon to their parents.  Then, I yawn, stretch and head to the car with the purple chair slung over my shoulders.  My armpits are drenched in sweat.  My pulse is only just returning to normal.  I no longer wonder what the ref’s head would look like mounted on top of the corner flag, wobbling comically back and forth from the weight.

When I feel I can feign nonchalance again, I smile to the kid and say, “Good game.” 

It’s important to set a good example. 

* Or cargo pants, as Ian once did during a race.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Chutes and Ladders: The Devil's Game

I alluded to this in my last post here but I’m going to delve into it deeper today:  Chutes and Ladders is an evil game.  It was forged in the fires of hell and brought forth on Earth through the Devil’s burp.  It’s an elementary school kid’s Ouija board as far as I’m concerned.  Play it at risk of damnation.  Play it at risk of your sanity.

First, some background.  Chutes and Ladders was created in India and looked a bit different than the fun and frolicking children we see in the Americanized version.  It had snakes.  Lots of snakes.  And serious looking dudes on horses and flowing robes that probably came from the Temple of Doom.  Their version was intended as a morality lesson involving a journey through life complete with virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes).  See:

In England, it is called Snakes and Ladders.  What child doesn’t want to play a game which, if they do something wrong, involves them being eaten by a snake and sliding through its long and winding body – slowly digested, one assumes – and deposited on a lower square?  Fun!  Or nightmare fuel?

I like the American version better where our unfriendly snakes were turned into a “chute”.  I’m not sure how that is punishment exactly.  With snakes, it’s pretty clear that you don’t want to land on a snakes mouth and face the punishment.  But a chute or slide?  I’m pretty sure the only reason a child climbs a ladder is to go down the slide.  How is this punishment?  Shouldn’t there be pointed bamboo shoots at the end of that chute?  Otherwise, the kid just had a fun time and play continues.  WTF?  The ladder was the real punishment.  That’s a lot of work especially if you are making that tough square 28 to 84 climb.

Not only have the snakes been removed but gone are the robed Indiana Jones adversaries and the heavy moral overtones.  It’s all about fun loving kids with bowl cuts and look who rode his bike with no hands (square 64) tee hee.  Oh, fiddlesticks, he hurt his arm.

It seems like a fun, quick game to spend a few minutes playing with your child.  You would think that but you’d be wrong.  Anyone that has played the game knows that it is designed to never have a winner.  Or, at least, push you to the brink of insanity before showing mercy.  Instead of Chutes and Ladders, it should be called Inclined Planes and Sisyphus.  You spin that spinner – you push that boulder – and just as you reach near the top with the end in sight, the sad trombone plays and you’ve landed on square 84!  Weeeee, dooowwwn you go – down the boulder rolls – to square 24.  Your child gleefully laughs at you; you stare back with dead eyes.  And head to the fridge for a beer. Sisyphus needs a stiff one.

Play continues until someone gets to 100 on the nose.  But there are four chutes between 87 and 99 that make it almost impossible to get through.  It's a steeplechase from hell.  You continually slide back down.  Your child’s gleeful laugh morphs into a slow, dark, haunting cackle as his face gets blurry...and was that horns on his head?

Spin again.  Spin again.  Slide again.  And again.  Tick tock.  Tick tock.  Push the boulder, push the boulder.  It rolls back down.  Tick tock, spin again.

There’s no end.  Parliament.  Big Ben.  Your hair’s on end.  You feel like murdering something.  Why is your kid wearing the Scream mask and where is that persistent shrieking coming from????  Spin again, slide, spin again, you are almost to the top, slide, spin again.  At what point do you reach for the bath salts?  Is it okay to cannibalize your own child to end a game?

There’s a life lesson in the game somewhere. It could be about the benefit of virtue and the bane of vice.  It could be about sticking to a task until the job is complete.  It could be quality time with your child and his mocking laugh. 

But its probably about the portal from Hell that was opened on your kitchen table through square 87 and the swirling evil spirits that are jabbing you in the back of the eyeballs with a thousand amputated unicorn horns and merrily laughing as the Game.  Never.  Ends.

Until you slam your fist on the table, yell “F*CK THIS!”, and flip the board over jettisoning the spinner to the floor and spraying the happy blond haired kid with his fun, jubilant arms in the arm into a skid across the table.  The look of pure horror on your child's face is regrettable but, in time, he'll only remember the F word and very little of the violent outburst.  Totally worth it.

That’s the only way to close the square 87 gateway to hell and reclaim your very sanity.  

Play Chutes and Ladders at your risk.  Better yet, next time your kid wants to spend quality time with you over a board game why don’t you suggest he go play Grand Theft Auto on the Playstation instead.

Sisyphus out.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Think of the Kids


Uh, yeah, thanks Captain Obvious. I hated it when parents would tell me that when we were expecting our first kid. I knew it was going to change my life. Parenting is supposed to change your life. It changes everything.

Want to quit your job? Think about the kids.

Bad driver? Think about the kids.

Want to take a quick trip to Jamaica, Vegas, the grocery store? Think about the kids.

Want to go "all in" on a pair of aces? Well, hell...don't think about the kids. Go all in.

What's my point? I can't remember. I digress.

I will say this, though: I love my kids (5 and 8, since you asked). There's no better feeling than having one of them holding my hand to cross the street or the look of pure joy when they score their first goal.

But, my GOD they can piss me off.

They fight. They whine. They are the most dramatic creatures ever put on the face of this earth.

And this is coming from a person who teaches high schoolers.

So what am I going to do about it? I'm going to write. I'm going to snark. I'm going to commiserate with my fellow bloggers and readers.

And if I don't, I may just lose it. Next thing you know I was the "quiet neighbor who kept to himself." I'm thinking that, with my delicate features, prison wouldn't work for me. Well, maybe not that extreme, but you get my point.

Besides, I have to think of the kids.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Time Flies...

When we had our first son 9 years ago everyone told us that we should cherish every moment because the time would go by so fast and before we knew it he’d be off to college. After 2 years of cherishing every moment we had another baby boy and people told us the same LIES all over again. I wouldn’t exactly describe the last 7 years as fast. However, here is a heartily abridged list of adjectives that I might use; messy, tiring, fraught, long, poopy, expensive, and hectic.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of good times in there to be cherished but in my experience there’s also plenty of time to cherish them. I can’t wait until they leave for college and I can get some free time back. To be honest, I really hoped they’d have already left for college by now, though I’m not sure the younger one is going to college because I still can’t get him to remember to flush the toilet with any kind of regularity.

For those of you who don’t know me I’m Ian and I rely heavily on sarcasm because someone once told me it’s the crutch of a poor writer and I know my limitations. I’ll be striving for posts that leave you reeling on the floor with laughter and settling for a mild chortle and an ‘lol’ in the comments. My posts will be completely, 100% factual except when they contain things that you think require a call to CPS or an angry e-mail to me, those posts are just made up for the sake of humor. One day mental health professionals will no doubt comb through these posts to determine how I lost my sanity or what went wrong with my kids. It could go either way.

My wife and I spend our time driving our kids everywhere and in return they drive us to drink. Buckle up, it’s going to be a fun ride.