Bein’ A Dad

Bein’ a dad isn’t so bad
Except that you’ve gotta feed ‘em!
You gotta shoe ’em and clothe ’em
And try not to loathe ’em
Bug ’em and hug ’em and heed ’em

Bein’ a dad can sure make you mad
Man it even can drive you crazy
Yeah, it’s as hard as it looks
You gotta read ’em dumb books
And you end up despising Walt Disney

Bein’ a dad starts to get radical
When they turn into teenagers
You gotta tighten the screws
Enforce the curfews
Confiscate weapons and pagers

But a daughter or son
Can be sort of fun
Just as long as they don’t defy you
They’ll treat you like a king
They’ll believe anything
They’re easy to frighten and lie to

Bein’ a dad
Bein’ a dad

Bein’ a dad can make you feel glad
When you get paperweights and aftershave lotions
Yeah, it feels pretty great
When they graduate
That’s when you’re choked with emotions

But bein’ a dad takes more than a tad
Of good luck and divine intervention
You need airtight alibis
Fullproof disguises
Desperation is the father of invention

So sometimes you take off
For a few rounds of golf
And you stay away for half of their lifetimes
The result of it all is
Is you’re captured
And hauled up
Before a tribunal for “dad crimes”

Bein’ a dad
Bein’ a dad

Bein’ a dad can make you feel sad
Like you’re the insignificant other
Yeah, right from the start,
They break your heart
In the end, every kid wants his mother

Bein’ a dad

–Loudon Wainwright III
(Link to song with goofy video.)

A Girl and her Dad

I started a tradition years ago of spending one day a year with The Boy where he got to call the shots. Whatever he wanted to do, we did. This usually involved going to the movies, Chuck E. Cheese’s, an arcade, a toy store, a gaming specialty shop, whatever. (These days, it involves going to the shooting range and knife store.)

I naturally carried it forward with The Flower (and will with The Barbarienne, when she’s old enough) and yesterday was her day. It’s a little different with a girl, I learned. First of all, for part of her day, she wants The Boy to come with her. She likes to go to the movies, but she wants to have grandpa along.

And when I’d take The Boy to a store, he’d pick out five or six action figures that were really cool, and then agonize over which he wanted. I’d never placed a limit on him, mind you. It was just his mindset to check prices and weigh his perceived value against them. I’d have to convince him it was okay to get two or three toys. (And sometimes, I couldn’t, if he felt something was priced too high.)

The Flower, meanwhile, would blithely hand me everything she liked from every store that caught her eye. She had found out, possibly through Disney-inspired necromancy, that there was a store called Build-A-Bear. Our first trip there cost us $20 for a bear, and $180 in accessories.

This year was a little different. The Flower loves to be treated, but she also worries that she’s being spoiled. I’ve tried to explain to her that you can’t really spoil someone by giving them things. (That’s a common misconception.) And in any event, you couldn’t really spoil The Flower without some serious effort: Generosity is in a prominent part of her nature.

We started out our day with breakfast at Denny’s. The Flower loves Denny’s. And I guess I shouldn’t complain, since it’s cheap. But it usually gives me a vaguely uneasy feeling: Not quite heartburn, but the sense that I’ve consumed something I really shouldn’t have. I’ve always figured they use some sort of Pam-like spray on butter substitute that disagreed with me. I’m off meat at the moment, though, and breakfast did not leave me with that feeling.

Then it was miniature golf. We tried doing that last year, but the place shut down because of a little sprinkle. But this year we got in a game, with our biggest problem being smacking the balls into the numerous water traps. The Flower was very good at fishing them out. (The Boy’s first–and only–game was hilarious: He had decided that it wasn’t so much the number of strokes that was important, but the speed at which you progressed through the holes. We literally had to run to keep up with him.)

Then off to the movies with The Boy and grandpa.

The Boy stayed with us for Chuck E. Cheese. The Rat is an interesting phenomenon. (Did you know it was the brain child of Nolan Bushnell, the man behind Pong and Atari?) Over the years, The Rat’s Place has gone from being filled with fun, but hard to clean and non-profit generating activities (no more ball pits, and few habitrails) to being largely pseudo-gambling games that encourage you to pump in tokens as fast as possible. Most of the games are designed to eliminate any skill, of course.

Meh. Skee-ball’s still one token and nine balls.

What’s sort of ironic is that while the pizza is definitely aimed to challenge the “no such thing as bad pizza crowd”, the salad bar is very fresh. I find that sort of amusing since the salad bar craze of the ‘80s has vanished so thoroughly that you can hardly find a good one, even in restaurants that used to be salad bar oriented.

Then it was off to the mall. Build-A-Bear is quite affordable, as long as you just get the bears. They advertise quite prominently that you can get a $10 bear. The accessories are, individually, inexpensive seeming: $3.50 for underwear (yeah, bear underwear) or a pair of glasses, $5 for a pair of pants. A complete outfit makes your $10 bear cost $40 or more, assuming you stick with the cheap stuff.

The Flower has come to realize that most of the accessories get quickly lost anyway, so she was more than happy when I told her she could get two, as long as she didn’t dress them. She got a bear (her fourth) and a unicorn, and we spent the same or less than anyone else in the store.

We went by the Disney store to get a few more things, including some gifts for her mother and baby sister. (The Barb shares a room with The Flower and is quite at a loss to understand that big sis has more stuff just because she’s been around longer, and the stuff is cooler because she’s older.)

Then a late dinner at Denny’s. The veggie burger was actually pretty good, surprisingly enough. The Flower ordered hot dogs, and then a big slice of cake. She didn’t eat much of either.

Finally home to share all our conquests with everyone.

All-in-all, a successful day. I wish I had more of them.

Flower Power

It’s spring and The Flower has begun her cyclical “sign me up for everything” phase. She starts out by signing up for everything at the local rec center that sounds interesting–which is just about everything–and then she gets overwhelmed and when classes are over, she just wants to sit and watch TV.

On Saturdays she has a baseball game–where she hits better than the boys–followed by tennis lessons and winding up with her dance troupe rehearsals.

She’s also preparing for her birthday party. Traditionally we’ve spent a lot of money on it. It started as a joint party for her and The Boy, but The Boy’s sort of outgrown the big party, or at least one that he’s comfortable sharing with a bunch of 8-year-old girls. This leaves The Flower to pick a theme.

But for various reasons we’re trying to cut down on the discretionary spending this year, so The Flower has opted for a “science party”. (Two years ago was pirates, then it was princesses, and last year it was fairies.) In this party, everyone will wear a lab coat and goggles and get to perform experiments. Baking soda and vinegar, Mentos and diet coke, and so on. She’s been testing all the experiments beforehand to make sure they work.

This is cute beyond belief.

She also beat The Boy at chess.

Moral of the story: Never underestimate the seven-year-old girl.

The lesson here?

Pookahs and other Supernatural Creatures

The Flower has found herself so abuzz with the happenings tomorrow that she has agitated herself into a couple of very late nights (midnight). Apparently, she loves Easter. Her favorite holiday, even, perhaps.

It’s the finding treasure aspect of it.

Also, the magical creature aspect. The Flower has an ongoing correspondence with the tooth faerie. I’m not even supposed to know about this top secret relationship.

Which, of course, leaves me free to act completely innocent when the time comes for sightings and otherworldly shenanigans. At the same time, I’m the usual resource when someone wants to know the nuts-and-bolts of any fantastic creatures.

I was probably worse with The Boy. Probably a lot worse. With him, it was monsters. No, monsters were his friends, so it was a good thing they were everywhere. And I was always seeing one run by, which would prompt 20 minutes of questions about what it looked like, what it was doing, where it was going.

When I went under the house to run the network cable, the voices of the monsters that lived there were quite audible, I was told when I came back up.

My expertise came in handy at one point, when The Boy developed a sudden (and completely inexplicable) fear of vampires. It was then I revealed my history as a vampire slayer to him.

I’m less good with the Pookahs, I admit. They are masters of time-and-space, after all.

Fortunately, I still have some connections with the monsters, and can deliver the occasional bit of news or wisdom.

Why It’s Great To Be A Toddler

“I like myself naked!”

The Barbarienne is a font of amusement when she’s not a font of terror. (Actually, sometimes the two overlap, like an Evil Dead movie.)

In particular, she likes being naked. As did all her siblings. I never thought it was a good idea to shame a kid out of being naked, and was sort of curious if that meant I’d be raising a bunch of nudists. Naturalists? Whatever they call themselves these days.

I’m not anti-nudist, exactly, but I do think clothes are an essential matter of politeness. I think it’s good that there has to be a context for nudity.

All bets are off if you’re three, though.

I’m not sure what the cut-off point is, exactly, but there’s nothing quite like the exuberance of a naked toddler. They’ve all gone through periods where running around naked was about the greatest thing they could imagine.

As it turns out, none of the kids have adopted nudism as a philosophy. Around six or seven, they all start to develop a sense of privacy about their bodies. Which I think is a good thing. (Though the rapidity with which they develop a sense of sovereignty over their bodies makes me not worried about “bad touches”: My kids all started at about 18 months with doling out the hugs and kisses on their own terms; you don’t want to be nearby when someone gives them an unsolicited pat on the head.)

I remember it being a problem for Calvin’s parents (Calvin & Hobbes) but, then, he was perpetually six-years-old.

Bill Whittle on Charity

I’m always impressed by people who admit to their own foolishness in the kind of gory detail Bill Whittle does here. You can argue that it’s self-serving, since he’s talking how he recovered from his youthful foolishness, but he doesn’t really talk about how wonderful he is. He just stops being a jackass (at least in this regard).

But there’s an underlying truth: Charity is the quickest way to get someone to hate you. Nobody hates the gol-durned government like people on welfare. If you ever helped someone a lot and then had them turn on you, you know what I’m talking about. (Or if you’ve ever been that person.)

No good deed goes unpunished, as they say.

Whether it’s because private charities have understood that in some fashion, or because they simply can’t afford to give out endless streams of cash, it’s been traditional for charities to require something back from those they help.

Parents run into this, too: Because kids want to help before they’re capable, the parents get used to refusing that help, and by the time they’re teens, the kids are so pissed they wouldn’t help put the house out if it’s on fire.

Not that this is going to change anything. But it would be nice to reverse this persistent equation that if you don’t want to pour endless money into a problem, you don’t care about that problem

Sonnets and Hosannas

As I grow old(er), I tend to be more convinced of the correctness of core traditional values, but equally so of the correctness of limited government. Hector and I have wrestled over religion before but for right now, I believe that the current Church is too enervated to roll back the tide of libertine-ism.

And, I should note, I’m not really anti-libertine-ism. I think there are probably some people who do the least damage they’re likely to do if left to pursue their own self-gratification.

It just seems to be lacking as a social survival strategy.

I was taken by the use of this sonnet in Adventureland. (Shakespeare’s sonnets are like the “Twilight Zone"s of poetry, they always have a twist ending.) You may recall that the main character sites this sonnet as the reason for his virginity; to wit, that he decided he’d rather forgo sex than have it with someone he didn’t want to be slave to her desires. (My favorite, by the way, has always been sonnet #130, which I take as a 16th century "FACE” to other poets.)

Now, it’s probably not a good idea to encourage kids to pattern their romantic lives after the poetry of 16th century courtiers, much less said courtiers’ actual lives. But it occurred to me that a possible secular solution to licentiousness might be self-esteem.

But wait, you cry! Schools focus on self-esteem! If this were to be true, wouldn’t our children already be experiencing the benefits?

At which suggestion, I point and laugh. And then feel a little bad for you that you don’t know what self-esteem really is, or that it can’t be given through trophies or awards, but must come from actual accomplishment.

Anyway, lacking a connection to their history, lacking any real knowledge or skills, young adults end up not valuing themselves. What’s more, without getting puritanical or priggish, they don’t seem to know from junk.

Now, again, I’m not particularly anti-junk. But I think a steady diet of junk food, junk art, junk accomplishments is naturally going to lead to junk sex, junk jobs and a complete bafflement as to what the hell happened–how one ended up with a junk life.

In Adventureland, the lead has a sense of not wanting his life to be junk. And it’s telling (and accurate, I think) that those around him particularly mock him for those things that he values. (You know, you can’t really be mocked for something you don’t care about, which if you think about it, puts a different spin on a lot of “comedy” today.)

Adventureland is cast in the mold of an ‘80s teen sex farce, which only gave a fleeting nod (at best) to anything not junk. (They were junk, after all.) But that atmosphere pervaded the ’70s, and into the mid-’80s, when AIDS put a damper on things.

Not just sex, either. If I were to try to capture that atmosphere, it would be a kind of nihilistic, materialistic, hedonistic world where good acts of individuals were overpowered by evil organizations. “If only,” the zeitgeist seemed to say, “there were no religions or corporations, we could all live in harmony and do what we wanted until we died, because that’s all there is or ever will be.”

It’s a seductive philosophy–I mean that in the way that a Twinkie is seductive or a $10 whore: That is, if you’re trained to simply take the quickest, easiest, fastest way to satisfy an urge–or worse, you don’t even have an inkling that there is another way, then the conclusion seems logical. Inevitable.

So, the extraordinary thing is how people immersed in this do end up valuing things that the pervasive social message says they should not. It wouldn’t surprise me to survey kids like that and find real accomplishments compared to their peers. (I don’t, by the way, mean to draw any kind of absolute there.) How does someone like James end up the way he does? And how is he able to stick to his guns? (I actually think the current system puts women at a serious disadvantage sexually, but that’s another topic for another day.)

It also wouldn’t surprise me to find that a strong education with an emphasis on historical traditions and an increasing emphasis on skills would reduce the amount of junk sex, and certainly the number of junk lives.

Which makes this one of those things that I write that seems stupidly obvious by the time I finish.

Proudly Putting Children Second!

New mom Freeman Hunt tweeted this referencing France’s coverage of plastic surgery after birth, presuming the “damage” done was caused by being pregnant or giving birth. But I just assume that they write these things to piss people off. It’s about getting the mother “back in the saddle” as quickly as possible after delivery.

Now, this seems like not a bad idea, exactly, if not entirely the correct focus. I think there’s a reason for women to have sex drive kicked down a notch after delivering. That is, they’re supposed to be focusing on the baby they already have.

I feel like this is the key graf, designed to inflame:

Whereas in England, childbirth is all about what is best for the child, in France there is much more emphasis on the mother. And by default, the father – or at least his carnal desires. Returning to a normal sex life is seen of paramount importance.

If we wanted to get brutally biological here, contrary to folk wisdom, nature does not protect the unborn baby over the mother. A fertile female is worth considerably more than the potential represented by a single child. This accounts for the huge percentages of miscarriages. The baby represents a huge gamble, survival-wise. (Indeed, one of the great parts of Defiance focuses on that.)

But I’ve never met a mother worthy of the title who wouldn’t sacrifice herself for her children.

As I read this article, it sounded increasingly like there was massive social pressure to neglect the baby.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it but the whole thing sounds like it comes from a country with a low reproduction rate.

The Problem With April Fools’ Day

…is that you don’t know if something like this is legit.

Look, I’m pretty lax in a lot of ways. In fact, one of my very first posts–back when I thought I wasn’t going to be writing about parenting much–was about how parents do need to evolve into friends to their children over time.

I give my kids a lot of responsibility, even to the point of too much. I’m eager to have them try to manage portions of their life, and if that means failure, well, no big deal, we’ll try again later.

But equality?

Children aren’t equal. They have many wonderful attributes and they are the most important work most of the population will ever do, but they’re not our equals. Hell, they’re not even equal to each other. You can’t give your 17, 12, 6 and 1 year old equality with each other, even! The one-year-old isn’t going to be driving the car. You can’t have the one-year-old watch the 17-year-old.

“Equality” is not meaningful in this context.

Democracy is almost fetishized these days, it seems. It has a limited usefulness; in a small group of adults it can work pretty well. When your kids are grown, for example, and you’re figuring out where to eat. (But notice in cultures with extended families, there often is a matriarch or patriarch whose word if final.)

A bigger group does better with a Republic-type format: Representation for matters the rest of the group doesn’t or can’t get involved with. On a family level, this is pretty good for older kids to young teens. You have to figure out what they want and fight for that.

But when you’re dealing with toddlers? Dictatorship. Iron fist. You can’t win a battle of wills with a two-year-old because a two-year-old is entirely will. The only thing you have is trickery and brute force. Really. (You’re not smarter than a two-year-old, either, you have to rely on cunning.)

Now, I’m all for soliciting agreement. Things are much better when everyone agrees to stuff. (Sometimes I think I’m raising lawyers, mind you.) I’m particularly adamant about extending respect and dignity to children. But sometimes this means, “Yes, I know that’s what you want and how important it is to you–and we’re still going to do it my way.”

I don’t use “because I said so” because it’s an unnecessary addition. You’re either the authority or you’re not. And in practice, my children will happily cripple any and all activity while appearing to cooperate, if they’re given room to maneuver. (And I was the same way.)

I think this is because all healthy kids try to control their environment–which for a younger kid is their parents–and a smart parent lets them do that from time-to-time, even if it’s something as silly as letting them move your hands around or “scaring” you. The parents I’ve seen who won’t give an inch there and are determined to micromanage usually do end up victims of a child who figures out exactly how to punch their buttons.

But the game of control-the-parents is the best game most really young chldren have. And you play it willingly or not, but play it you will. But your kids aren’t really interested in being equals. Even the most lackadaisical ones want to be running the show.

Somebody told me once that the problem with parents abnegating all the perks they might enjoy in favor of their children is that it robs the child of motivation to grow up. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s an interesting point: Why would you want to grow up if you can have all the fun and none of the grief? (And I wonder if we don’t have that in a lot of adults today.)

But I thought it was “settled science” that children needed boundaries.

Guns and Roses

The roses are for you guys who have been taking the time to make such good comments in the posts these past few weeks. Much appreciated. Feels a lot less like I’m talking to myself.

The guns are in reference to this post, “Not Until You’re 12, Son”, which details a recent trip to the shooting range. That line, by the way, is from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. (Mike Teevee complains that his dad won’t let him have a gun.)

ChickenLittle–who, for the record, I have never once heard claim the sky is falling–mentioned that shooting is a family tradition (though he didn’t get the gun obsession gene) and mentioned how firing a BB gun is illegal in his town, which put a stop to a fun hobby his boy was enjoying.

So, for the record, we go to a place called The Firing Line. Lane rental costs $20, gun rental costs about $10, a bag of about 50 bullets runs about $15. (A year family membership costs $250, less if you’re a cop or soldier, and covers the cost of the lane and the gun rental, so the trip price goes down to $30. So it takes nine trips to come out ahead, not six like I posted there.)

I’ve heard some vague criticisms about the place, particularly in the store where we purchase our non-firearm firearms (i.e., BB guns, knives, swords, etc.) but we’ve never had any troubles, and the people there are very polite, and reasonably indulgent of tyros like ourselves. (We took our basic training/safety class there.) The Boy has noted that the people who deal in weapons–both guns and knives–tend to be very polite.

One thing I want to make clear, though, is that this whole gun thing is not my idea. You have to go back to my great-grandmother to find a marksman–she used to shoot prairie chickens for dinner, and win county competitions–and I never even had a toy gun until I started to hang with a friend who had a bunch of them. (I had a lot of toy cars and slot cars, which indicated absolutely nothing about my adult interests.)

We used to have these spring-loaded guns that shot out quarter-sized plastic disks that would curve if you knew how to shoot them. These were great toys and fun for playing tag with, though they would hurt if you took one point-blank–something we did pretty regularly because, hey, at the time, we were teenage boys. (Also, at least early on, the toy guns did not have those orange “I’m a toy!” safety tips.)

My parents never expressed an opinion one way or another on the subject of guns. But growing up when I did, there was an atmosphere of “guns are bad”. If you had to use one–no matter how righteous the cause–you could expect to feel horrible about it and need lots of unhelpful counseling. (Remember “Hill Street Blues”?)

I never so much as held a gun until I was past 30. As weird as it may sound, I’d feel far more comfortable defending myself in hand-to-hand combat than using a gun. My dad just suggested going to a shooting range out of the blue. I agreed mostly for two reasons: My father kept saying that most people couldn’t hit anything past 15 feet with a handgun when they needed to; it seemed like an experience I should have.

Well, I found myself able to hit a human-sized target at 60 feet pretty easily first time out (no instruction), so that resolved that. Also, I had the experience. (On the subject of experience, it’s interesting to note that when firing a rifle later on, I began to see that the notion that Lee Harvey Oswald could’ve fired the three shots during the assassination was really not far-fetched at all. There’s no substitute for going out and experiencing something for yourself.) But, frankly, I had mixed feelings about the “gun thing:.

But that didn’t matter much, because there was The Boy. And The Boy, though quite young, was (and remains) fascinated with all things weapons. And when The Boy learned there were guns and shooting, the next thing he wanted to learn was when he could engage in shooting said guns.

Well, life goes on, and we actually didn’t get around to it until he was ten or eleven, or maybe just barely twelve. I’ve come, in the space of that time, to regard shooting as an important skill. That is, one should be comfortable and familiar with guns, so as not to fall prey to any ideas of their mystical power. (Turns out, e.g., they actually don’t kill people.) So, when we’re in the groove, we go about twice a month to the range.

I’ve told The Boy that if he adheres to this new program well, we’ll go to one of these Appleseed Rifle Camps. There’s one within driving range, and they’re not terribly expensive. Though we’ll have to actually bring some rifles. Buying guns with a Dem in the White House seems fiscally imprudent, but with luck, they won’t have passed any really price-hiking legislation by the time I get around to it.

As a parent, you often think you’re going to pass things down to your kid. (I’ve so far been unable to get one kid really interested in music.) But this is one of those things that the kid has really passed back up to me.