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”.