Friday, March 21, 2014

Remember Four and Three Quarters

We're having good days these days; some of them back-to-back.
It's a jinx to mention this, I know;
But a curse to forget

We've had self-control,
Backed away from the bitter brink,
Negotiated like neighborly nation states.

It's a sweet spot.
Even the dog is onto it.
The two sisters play for hours and days, with ponies and pirates;
push and pull and patch it up. They hardly need me.

They hug hard.
Hug Mom ten times before she goes to work.
Hug hundreds of times, as much as I can handle, crashing and climbing,
Hanging, cantilevering, daredevil upside-down hugs.
Collapsed, deadweight, sleep-sweat hugs.

They're long in my arms when I see us reflected in a window,
One a bag of pythons, the other a barrel of birds.

Half a year from big-kid school,
They're so small when they reach up.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Just in case you thought I was dead

Hi! I'm not dead! I've been really busy building stuff and doing kid stuff, and doing some writing, but not so much in this space. Life is full and rich and interesting and dizzying.

This just occurred to me: Kids, like grownups, are sometimes inconsistent in their thinking. For instance, the other day, after watching a movie, walking around a fun part of town, stopping for hot chocolate, getting a treat from Ye Olde Candye Shoppe, pizza from our favorite joint, receiving an unexpected boon of awesome toys from an almost-stranger, playing with said toys for hours on end, one of my kids announced, "This was the most boring day ever!"  I asked her what a good day would be, and she answered, "A good day is when there are no parents and we can do whatever we want."

Today--about an hour ago--that same kid was crying at preschool drop-off (which hasn't been problematic in over a year, until recently), and said, "I don't like going to school because I miss Mommy and Daddy all day." Go figure.

Look! I (micro) posted on the blog!  Read on for something I wrote in San Diego Uptown News.  Following that, there's a teaser and a link to something I wrote recently for the Atlantic that I thought was pretty funny and a lot of people didn't get. Whatevz.


 What a Clown Taught Me about Work-Life Balance

There aren’t very many things that I’m really, really good at, but I’ve always felt like I’m kind of a master at the “work-life balance” that eludes so many of us—especially, it seems, those of us with kids.  Of course, I usually err on the side of “life,” and have bailed on a couple of careers that interfered with it too much.  And thankfully, I have been able to spend the past four years (since my twin girls were born) scheduling my work around my kids, which has tilted the scale way over to the “life” side.  Next year, my kids will be in kindergarten, which will leave me more time to work.  The balance shifts back and forth with time, and I hear that careers can be very fulfilling, but most of us hope to have more memories of quality time with friends and family than of punching the clock.

Last weekend, however, I met a dad who made me look like an amateur work-life balancer. 

To hear Jon and Laura Weiss tell it, they never planned for the life they have now.  They met in high school, married some years later, and started a family with whom they now spend almost all of their hours, on the job and off.  According to them, it all just kind of fell into place.  But it’s hard to imagine that the line of work Jon, Laura, and now all three of their kids are in doesn’t require an extraordinary, innate sense of balance.  The Weisses are circus folk.

I got the opportunity to meet Jon and Laura and their kids when my family and I went to see Circus Vargas at Mission Bay Park.  (They have moved on from that location, but will be in Mira Mesa until March 3rd, after which they set up in Temecula, so you can still catch them pretty close to home.)  I think I must have been expecting them to be shifty-eyed vagabonds or something, because I was very pleasantly surprised to find that they were some of the most open, friendly, laid-back people I’ve met.  Jon introduced us to his two teenaged boys who were manning concession stands and acting like teenaged boys; i.e., rolling their eyes at Dad’s jokes and exuding the impression that they knew much more about the circus biz than the old man did.

When we were done embarrassing the boys, we went to the “back lot” behind the big-top, to see where the circus families live.  According to Jon, Circus Vargas is definitely a family affair.  Many, if not most, of the performers and crew travel with their families.  There is a trailer that, when not on the road hauling equipment, functions as a school for the dozen or so kids who are enrolled this year.  Many of the kids will go into the circus business—some of the performers’ families have been in it for several generations—and some won’t.  Laura and Jon’s eldest daughter, whom we met briefly while she was on her way to get into costume and makeup, is continuing the family tradition.

Jon and Laura invited us into their home for the brief time before the performance was to begin.  While the interior was tasteful and neat, I have to say that the landscaping (dust and woodchips) left something to be desired.  Of course, every few weeks, they hook their home up to the back of a dually pickup truck and join the caravan to the next performance location.  I sometimes feel hemmed-in by our narrow, 1200-square foot cottage; but all five Weisses (and their tiny dog) live in a 43-foot fifth wheel trailer.  My kids were fascinated by this house-on-wheels, especially the big-screen TV tuned to the Disney Channel. 

As we lounged around in their kitchen, the Weisses explained how they ended up as a circus family.  Jon graduated from clown college in 1981 and planned on performing for a year or so, while he figured out what he was really going to do with his life.  Laura joined him at Ringling Brothers a couple years later, and they ended up staying with that organization for 26 years before moving on to Circus Vargas.  It turns out we had a lot in common with the Weisses, between moving from the East Coast to California (Circus Vargas mostly stays in the Golden State), traveling, raising kids, being shot from cannons…oh, wait—I never actually did that.  The point is, they seemed like the kind of people who had figured out how to live in a way that made them happy, and those are the kind of people I really like hanging out with.

The circus itself is very kid-centric.  There’s a pre-show (don’t miss this if you have kids!), hosted by Jon and Laura, where the children come out to the ring and learn tricks like hula-hooping, juggling scarves, and balancing peacock feathers.  If you don’t find this adorable, you are dead inside.

Once the pros take over, it goes from cute to mind-blowing pretty quickly.  I have to admit that my opinion of the performance may have been colored by seeing my four-year-olds literally agape and applauding wildly for most of the show.  It was a classic circus performance—thrilling, silly, amazing, cheesy, and just a lot of fun.  It also has the benefit of not having any animal acts, so we didn’t have to feel terrible about our complicity in the degradation of noble jungle beasts. 

There are very few things more engaging than seeing your small children losing their minds with excitement; and yet I still found myself reflecting, as I watched Jon Weiss balance progressively bigger things on his nose and chin—a dollar bill, a shoe, a hat, a folding table, a Costco-sized shopping cart, a 12-foot stepladder:  they’ve got a pretty good thing going, these circus families. 

As usual, I grilled the kids afterwards to see what their impressions of the show were.  They loved it all, especially the parts where some fire turned into a lady, and the guys jumped on the trampoline, and the lady changed her clothes a lot, and Mr. Jon balanced a shopping cart, and…and…and.
“So, what do you want to be when you grow up,” I asked.

“Circus girls,” they both said.

I hope they take me with them.     


Your Workout Looks Ridiculous 

Have you ever seen people riding those two-wheeled elliptical trainer contraptions? It looks like they just tore free of their moorings at the gym and started cruising down the street. Are they supposed to be scooters, NordicTracks, bikes, or what? They should decide whether they want to run or ride a bike or cross-country ski. They look ridiculous.

Of course, so does most exercise. We humans face an inherent conflict: Our bodies are meant to subsist on only the foods we can hunt down, scavenge, or coax from the earth by endless sowing, tending, and reaping. But our actual lifestyles consist of sitting on soft chairs and eating unlimited, delicious, and inexpensive calories. As a result, we engage in outlandish activities that are, when considered objectively, completely preposterous.
While less jarring than the sight of someone riding a piece of cardio equipment from the gym down the street, cyclists are a bit of an eyesore themselves, what with their loud, matching Lycra shorts and jerseys emblazoned with logos of Italian bikes that cost more than most of the cars I’ve owned.

By the looks of these Spandex harlequins, they’re more obsessed with their outfits, shiny components, and carbon-fiber frames than with the actual riding of their bikes, which, by the way, is accepted by much of the world as a means of transportation for people who wish they had cars.

Runners, on the other hand, with their minimalist equipment and dedication to doing only the most primitive and laborious of human physical activities, are the ascetic monks of exercise. It looks like a penance as they chug grimly along in whatever unpleasant conditions nature throws at them. Their faces weather-beaten and haunted, and their dead eyes fixed on the horizon, they seem just steps ahead of their personal demons, usually nursing a half-dozen or so repetitive-stress injuries.

I'm only allowed to post a teaser here, so please read the rest at The Atlantic...

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Time I Took My Daughters to Hooters

I had hoped I would be able to swing by my house before going to Hooters.  I had been building cabinets all day and didn't really want to show up in grungy work clothes, my face and arms smeared with a paste of sweat and sawdust.  But traffic was bad between the Valley of Gated Subdivisions and the Valley of the Malls, so there was no time for a side trip to my home on the Mesa of Partial Gentrification.

I parked my pickup and jogged to the entrance, not wanting to squander the goodwill of the corporation, which had graciously offered to host my family at the House of Owl, by showing up late.  The young (like, really young) hostess at the front desk greeted me, and I tried to explain myself.  I gave her my name, told her that I was supposed to ask for the manager, that she was expecting me...did any of this ring a bell?

"Oh, yes, of course...we have a table waiting for you [something something unintelligible] you're from corporate?"

My hearing is pretty bad (guitars and Skilsaws), and there was quite a bit of ambient noise happening.  Also, the hostess spoke a version of Flirtatious Teenage Southern Californian that was very unfamiliar to my ear.  I moved to San Diego at age 36, so while I've heard this dialect in movies all my life, it's sometimes harder to parse on the ground.

"Yes.  No.  Wait.  I don't know if I understood you.  I was supposed to ask for Sandy?  Somebody from PR made arrangements?"

She didn't seem to understand my Boring Grownup accent, but nodded and led me to a booth with a big "RESERVED" sign taped to the table.  She never stopped smiling for a second during the exchange.  I could see the ghost of recently removed braces on her teeth.  She wore...well, you know what she wore: a tight tank-top with the Hooters logo on the chest, silky orange high-waisted shorts, nylons, scrunchy socks, and white sneakers.  That's what all the ladies wore, except for the manager, who came over to welcome me as I took my seat.  The manager was allowed to wear jeans and a shirt with sleeves.  Which probably gave her a great sense of authority over the wait staff.

Because let's be honest.  The Hooters outfit projects nothing if not vulnerability.  At least that's what I thought as I scanned my surroundings.  The shirts seem pretty easy to pull off  [honestly unintentional double entendre--I caught it while proofreading and am leaving it] for a woman who is reasonably fit, especially given the advances in bra technology over the past few decades.  But those shorts?  Who ever thought those were a good idea?  And then pantyhose?  Look, I'm not usually one to cast aspersions on anyone's sexual or aesthetic predilections; but whoever continues to enforce the bottom half of the Hooters uniform is a sick bastard.  There were a bunch of attractive young ladies working in that restaurant, all of whom would have looked fifty times better in anything other than those shorts.  Remember the Seinfeld episode about "Bad Naked"?  That's what this scene reminded me of.  Women who probably looked lovely in their street clothes, hunching over to wipe tables, straining under trays full of fried chicken parts, singing their special song to the diners who raised their hands when an announcement asked anyone who was celebrating something to identify themselves, all wearing what looked like the product of a sadistic PE teacher's twisted fantasy.  The uniforms may have worked in the context of beach volleyball or cheerleading; but when combined with food service drudgery, there was nothing sexy about them.  The visual effect wasn't exactly horrifying or anything; it's just that the flimsy little outfits invited examination of every flaw in posture and proportion.  I mean, the whole ethos of the restaurant invites the customer to feast his or her eyes on the "Hooters Girls."  And to feast is to judge the fare.  I was trying not to be a snooty, socially conscious killjoy about this experience--just soaking it all in in the spirit in which it was offered--and yet it all made me immediately uncomfortable.  Because I couldn't imagine that these women were comfortable, knowing they were being scrutinized by assholes like me while they wore outfits that amplified every imperfection in their bodies.

But maybe I'm projecting.  Maybe I'm getting it completely wrong.  Maybe they love going to work every day, and their outfits give them the confidence of a feminist superhero: "I am Hooter Girl--hear me roar!  I have a real body that's not photoshopped and you'd better just eat your fried pickles and get used to what women look like in giant orange panties and tank tops!  Death to the Patriarchy!  Free wings with the purchase of a Hooters Girl Bikini Calendar!"

I sat for less than a minute before another young lady slid into the booth with me, told me her name, and said, "I'll be your Hooters Girl tonight."  Not "I'll be your server," or "I'll be taking care of you."  No.  "I'll be your Hooters Girl tonight."  My discomfort must have been palpable.

She walked me through the beer list, which started with Bud and Bud Light, and, to the franchisee's credit, eventually got around to a local craft brew, which I ordered with something close to desperation in my voice.

"Would you like that in a Hooters Girl size or a Man size?" she asked.

"What the..."  I sputtered.  "That's a really dirty trick.  Does any guy ever order a Hooters Girl sized drink?"

"Not very often," she answered.  "But you can.  Some guys do.  Or so I hear.  Do you want a Hooters Girl sized beer?"

"Of course not!" I said, all my gender-norm-challenging pretensions dissolving as this gauntlet was thrown down.  "I'll have the Man size!  Unless there's something bigger available."  I was quickly able to rationalize this capitulation by reminding myself that I would have opted for the larger beer regardless of the sexist labels.

I had sat awkwardly alone at the booth for no more than five minutes before my wife and four-year-old twin girls walked in, but I don't know when I have been happier to see them.  My wife looked particularly radiant to me in her stylish yet modest work clothes, and my children looked like models from a Tea Collection catalog.  It wasn't their contrast to the other customers that was so striking--the crowd wasn't particularly seedy, and in fact there were other couples with young kids there.  I think it had something to do with how much better my family makes me feel about myself.  I was no longer self-conscious about being a grubby middle-aged dude in a place where people go to leer at waitresses.

Was I overthinking this?  Of course.  That's what I do, in general; and Hooters had been on my mind for a while.  I wasn't taking my family to dinner at Hooters on a lark, exactly.  You see, I had written an article for The Daily Beast a few weeks earlier, wherein I recounted an incident in which an acquaintance had taken his adolescent son to Hooters in what seemed to me like a (probably unintentional) rite of passage into the time-honored tradition of objectifying women.  In the article, I mentioned that I had never actually set foot in a Hooters myself, and that my impression of the institution was from reading about it and perusing its website. 

Days after the article was published, I got an email from a PR person who wanted to give me a chance to see how awesome and not-gross Hooters really is.  I parlayed the offer of a meal on the house for me to free dinner for my whole family, and so there we were.

It may seem hypocritical that I would censure another parent for taking his 12-year-old boy to Hooters and then turn around and take my own children there a couple weeks later.  I can totally see that.  But my kids are four.  The subtleties of gender relations are a bit beyond their ken.  The following is a breakdown of the observations they made that night:

Regarding the atmosphere: "There are a lot of TVs in here."

Regarding our Hooters Girl: "She says 'awesome' a lot."

Regarding another Hooters Girl who checked on our table: "I can see her belly button."

As for my and my wife's impressions, we both thought the shorts were terrible, the food was just as mediocre as we had expected (although the crab legs, which I was shocked that my wife ordered, were surprisingly good), and we didn't understand why anyone who wasn't interested in scantily-clad waitresses would ever go there.  The service was great (but tinged with sexual weirdness if you can't get yourself to forget that you're eating in a restaurant whose very name reduces women to pairs of boobs), and oh my God do they have a lot of complicated special offers and calendars and swag and free wings on certain days and other cost-saving schemes to inspire you to become regular customers.  I was so impressed that our Hooters Girl could remember all that stuff that I almost forgot about her breasts for a minute there.

And believe me, if you've never been in a Hooters, they make it difficult for you to not think about breasts for more than a couple seconds.  There's the name of course:  Hooters.  The franchise has been around for so long and become such a part of the cultural landscape by now that it may not even register that "hooters" is (or was) one of the most common vernacular/crude/offensive-to-some terms for breasts; and they didn't name the restaurant "Hooters" because they sell owl meat, despite what the logo may suggest.  And then there are the outfits.  The breast theme continues on their menu too, where there are little jokes like "Double-D" and "More than a mouthful" worked into the names of dishes. 

So there you are, being bombarded with reminders that boobs are awesome and there for your pleasure, and then your server, who is half your age, wiggles up to take your order, and tries to get you to buy the Hooters Girl calendar, in case you want to stare at pictures of young ladies in bikinis during the times when you can't be at Hooters.  AND YOUR WIFE IS SITTING RIGHT THERE.  MAYBE SHE WOULD LIKE A CALENDER FOR HER OFFICE AS WELL.  W.T.FUCK?  I can see this being no big deal if it were a bunch of guys out together, or even a group of men and women where it was all for a risqué chuckle; but as a family outing, I found it to be just about the strangest dynamic possible, mainly because we were supposed to pretend that there was nothing odd about being all together in a place that encouraged Daddy to ogle and fantasize about the nice ladies who brought the food while Mommy and the kids colored the placemats.  It would be a little odd if a waitress in a neighborhood restaurant flirted with me in front of my wife; but I would just figure she was angling for a good tip.  But this is a place that says, "Come on in! Look at our tits!  And our weird orange shorts, if you're into that kind of thing!  Bring your family!  It's all good clean fun!"

I'm not a prude, and I don't hate myself for finding women's bodies attractive.  I really don't.  But I just don't get Hooters.  I tried to approach this with an open mind and leave my snobbery and self-righteous progressive values in the cab of my dirty pickup, but the fact that a boob-themed restaurant is a mainstream, strip-mall thing where people sometimes chose to go with their spouses and kids...I just don't get it.          



Friday, January 3, 2014

That's Not Fair: Teaching Kids to Share

This was first published in San Diego Uptown News


This tearful, gasping lament regularly resounds through our house.

The counteraccusation--“LIVVY’S STEALING MY STUFF!”--inevitably follows.
My four-year old twins have had a sense of ownership since they were babies; but now they have much more sophisticated ways to express their feelings about the inanimate objects that surround them.  Whereas they used to cut right to the chase, these days, thanks to their parents, Wonder Pets, and the gospel of the preschool social contract, they are able to first spend several minutes hurling indictments at each other before the conversation devolves into screams of “MINE! MINE! MINE!” and mutual whacks on the head.

Children are notoriously bad at taking the long view.  This is what makes imparting the concept of sharing so difficult.  Here’s how one of my attempts played out, after I broke up a full-contact kickboxing bout:
Livvy: [hysterical] Maddy’s...*sob*...not...sharing!

Me: Well, sweetie, you can’t just go up and take something out of her hands while she’s playing with it.  That’s not sharing--that’s just taking whatever you want, without thinking about what the other person wants.
Livvy: But I waaaaaant it!

Me: I know.  But so does Maddy.  So you have to wait until she’s ready to share.  Just think if you had something Maddy wanted.  You wouldn’t want her to come up and grab it, would you?  If you take something from Maddy without permission, that’s just not fair.

Livvy:  It’s fair for me.

When we tell children why sharing is important, we usually emphasize the goodwill that it creates, and the warm feeling you get when you make someone else happy; but it’s the rare preschooler who can relate to these lofty notions.  I’ve found some success in resolving conflicts of ownership by lecturing about what the world would be like if no one shared.  I’ll go on until the child can’t stand it anymore and drops the toy just to get me to stop talking.  Failing that, I resort to the basic elements of parenting preschoolers: bribes and threats.

According to psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg’s classic research regarding the stages of moral development, as we grow up, we have different motivations for “being good.”  In the first (“pre-conventional”) level, we simply want to avoid getting in trouble, and take advantage of whatever benefits accrue from doing what we are told.  As we mature, our morals are influenced by societal norms and laws (the “conventional” level).  Eventually, we can hope to develop our own personal set of principles (the “post-conventional” level), which are more supple than laws and other conventions, and can be thoughtfully applied to complex dilemmas.

But let’s face it: few of us ever get beyond the “what’s-in-it-for-me” pre-conventional stage when it comes to sharing our toys.

Sure, we’ll share a piece of gym equipment with a stranger, and maybe even a table at a restaurant, just so we won’t be perceived as jerks, and only insofar as it doesn’t actually inconvenience us.  If someone--even a spouse or loved one--asked for half of your sandwich, though, or the iPad you were watching “Breaking Bad” on, you would be like, “Have you lost your mind?”

I can identify with children’s reluctance to share things they care about; but the problem is that they care too much about stupid stuff.  They don’t differentiate between the mundane and the truly valuable.  A broken crayon or a specific fork is just as crucial to their happiness as is their most cherished lovey; and the attractiveness of a worthless object multiplies exponentially if anyone else expresses any desire for it.  Which they inevitably do, because an object, no matter how useless, shimmers with desirability when another child is holding it.  I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only parent of siblings who knows the frustration of having to broker peace over a crumpled magazine subscription form scavenged from the recycling bin.

While preschoolers can be sweet and adorable, they are, at their core, covetous, materialistic, self-serving mercenaries who would throw their siblings under a bus for an 89-cent party favor.  When my kids are at school, they (mostly) follow rules and repeat the mantras of good behavior their teachers feed them as part of the socialization process.  And for that I am thankful in the extreme.  But when it’s just the two of them, they use those words to justify tormenting each other.  “I need space!” one of them will shout, while stiff-arming the other.  “She’s not listening to my words!” becomes a perfectly valid reason to pinch an arm or throw an awkward punch to the midsection.  Likewise, “She’s not sharing” means “I WILL have that broken slinky, if I have to disembowel her first!”

Like the teachers at my kids’ preschool, I preach the abstract foundations for “good behavior,” and hope that they will internalize them, and maybe, unlike many adults, someday come to understand and believe them.  But when passions are high, it’s all about sticks and carrots.  Well, sticks mostly:

“If you don’t give your sister that--what is that, anyway?  A refrigerator magnet with a picture of a mortgage broker on it?--anyway, if you don’t give that back right now, I’m putting your Cinderella’s shoes in time out.”

“That’s not faaaaaiiir...”

“It’s fair for me.”

Friday, December 6, 2013

Am I Outgrowing my Inner Grinch?

This originally appeared in San Diego Uptown News


I’ll cop to it. I’ve been kind of a Grinch for the past thirty years or so.

I was pretty much over Christmas by the time I was in my mid-teens. I had a bad case of punk rock cynicism and saw nothing but hypocrisy in every gesture of fellowship and goodwill offered up by mainstream culture during the one special time of year when you were supposed to stop being rapacious and self-serving. The plastic ornaments that festooned the suburban tract houses and malls of my youth just made me sad for all the people who could be distracted from the emptiness of their lives by a handful of tinsel. And until recently, I was pretty sure that my severe case of adolescent drama had done permanent damage to my holiday cheer receptors.

Sure, I would participate in the gift-giving ritual, even though I felt like everyone would be better off exchanging hundred-dollar bills with one another and spending the money (or not) as they saw fit, rather than enriching soulless corporations by buying trinkets that were very likely to be ignored by their recipients. And, yes, I would throw a couple decorations around the house if I thought it would make someone who cared about such things happy. But for myself, I would just as well have skipped the whole affair. The religious origins of Christmas didn’t resonate with me; and the secular, commercial aspects of the holiday made my skin crawl. I think I have had a total of one legitimate Christmas tree in my house from the time I left my parents’ home until now. You don’t even want to know what I thought about Santa Claus.

But lately, I’ve been having some strange compulsions that I can’t quite explain. It started right around Halloween, when I didn’t grumble about putting a big fake spider in our yard. I never had anything in particular against Halloween, but I didn’t want to invest any energy into it either. It was fine for little kids and college students who wanted to dress up inappropriately and drink murky purple liquor from a cauldron belching dry-ice vapors; but why would a grownup waste time decorating his lawn with plastic tombstones?

My twin girls are four-and-a-half now, which appears to be the age at which children are most susceptible to holiday enchantment. They loved the lawn-spider (they named her “Spide-Spide”) so much that I happily helped them carve two actual pumpkins—something I hadn’t done in years—and, as we trick-or-treated in the Morley Field neighborhood of North Park, took mental notes about the spooky tableaus our more ambitious neighbors had created around their houses, so I might steal some of their ideas for next year. It’s like I didn’t even know me anymore.

This newfound interest in holiday participation didn’t dissipate after Halloween either. As soon as we put Spide-Spide and her web away in the garage, my daughters asked when we could start decorating for Christmas. Instead of my usual reaction, which would be something along the lines of “Ugh,” I heard myself telling them that we could begin right after Thanksgiving.

My wife was as surprised as I was to hear me suggest that we get an actual Christmas tree made of, you know, pine needles and whatnot, instead of, or in addition to, the 24-inch white plastic one we have been putting in the bay window for the last seven or eight years out of a sense of obligation. “Who are you, and what have you done with Ebenezer Scrooge?” she asked with an incredulous smile.

Driving and walking around with my kids for the past week, much of our conversation has revolved around holiday decorations. The madness has barely even started, but they are aware of every new tree that appears in a neighbor’s window. The lights on the overpasses above the 805 are “so beautiful,” and today while we were at Bird Park, they watched with fascination and anticipation as men with step ladders and extension cords worked on this year’s iteration of the “house that Christmas threw up on” (as my friend calls it) across the street. As I watched the monument to festive kitsch being erected, I didn’t get my usual twinge of melancholy, though. Instead, I started picturing how my house would look with a twenty-foot tall inflatable Frosty the Snowman on the roof.

Is this over the top?


Friday, November 22, 2013

The Beautiful Party

One of the twins' new favorite games is playing dress up with Mommy.  No, they don't all dress up together, and no, Mommy doesn't dress the girls up.  The kids dress Mommy up.  As if she were a big doll.  They drag her upstairs, one pulling her by the hand and the other pushing from behind.  They place her in front of the closet in our bedroom, and try different dresses, shoes, and jewelry on her.  Sometimes, if Mommy is game, they will go into the bathroom and tell her which makeup to apply.  Usually, Mommy ends up looking like she's ready to go up into the proverbial club, and perhaps even dance there for tips.  Daddy likes.

Somehow, dressing Mommy up led to this idea of throwing a swanky party where the guests are required to wear their finest finery and use their best manners.  At first, the girls were calling it the "Beautiful Party."  Since then, they have lowered their expectations a bit, and currently refer to this future event as the "Fancy Party." 

A number of routine activities may inspire conversation regarding the party.  For instance, when they get dressed in the morning, they might point out which dresses they will wear to the Fancy Party.  Likewise, when Mommy selects her earrings, they might remind her which ones she is supposed to wear to the big soirée.  They have been thinking about the menu, as well, and when we tend to the vegetable garden, Maddy, with a grandiose sweep of her arms, might say, "Everyone will LOVE the vegetables from our garden at the Beautiful Party!"  "You mean 'Fancy Party'," Livvy will correct.

When talk of the Fancy Party starts, the girls become eager and want to have the party as soon as possible.  "Can we have the Fancy Party tomorrow, Daddy?" they ask.  "Well," I say, "we still have a lot of planning to do.  We have to come up with a guest list, make the invitations, figure out what else we'll eat, and other stuff too."

So far, this is what they have come up with:

Girls and ladies have to wear beautiful clothes.  The twins will be wearing "twirl dresses," tights, and sparkly shoes.  Mommy will wear her light blue cocktail dress with sunflowers on it, red shoes with flowers on the toes, amber bung tai ("earrings" in Vietnamenglish), and a necklace with a flower pendant.  She will wear white sparkly eyeshadow, mascara, pink lipstick, and her nails will be painted sparkly red.  Alternately, Mommy may wear either her purple or her orange ao dai (traditional Vietnamese outfit).  Daddy (and all other males) must wear long pants and a clean shirt.

Coarse language and bad behavior will not be tolerated.  Inappropriate language is frowned upon.  Specifically, guests will be forbidden from using the word "stupid" and instead of saying "fart," they must say "toot."  Furthermore, there is to be no "going bananas," fussing, screaming, or growling.

The menu will include fresh lettuce from the garden.

Yes, there are some details that need to be hammered out.  I don't see the Fancy Party coming to fruition until after the winter holidays.  But the dress code is dialed in, and that's pretty much the most important part.     


Friday, November 15, 2013

Hey lady. You f**king suck at parenting.

 I took my four-year-old twins to our favorite pizza joint for lunch yesterday, and they wanted to sit in the back, at a booth, like we always do.  About six feet away from us, in a semi-private nook, sat five adults and two toddlers.  It was a raucous group, prone to outbursts and potty talk.

I should be clear that the toddlers were fine.  It was the grown-ups who needed to use their inside voices.

The kids and I were focused on our slices, and I'm sure the loud, profanity-laden conversation coming from the next table washed over my girls like ambient street noise.  I, however couldn't help but flinch every time I heard the so-called adults at that table say "shit" and "bitch."

I have already established that I'm a hypocrite, and I'll be the first to admit that, in many social situations, I cuss like a motherfucking sailor.  There are definitely times when swearing is appropriate and effective.  And it's kind of bullshit that there are certain words that make people clutch their pearls when used in an "inappropriate" environment.  They're just words, right?  I mean, there's a lot of classist fucking horeseshit wrapped up in that, as there is with people using certain dialects and speaking ungrammatically.  We instantly judge people's intelligence, values, social position, competence, etc. on how they speak, and that shit is pretty fucked up.

Nonetheless, I almost never swear in front of my kids, or anyone else's kids, as difficult as it may be.  (Actually, it's gotten easier, and I find myself cussing less frequently even in situations where it would be appropriate.)  I also very rarely speak ungrammatically in front of my kids, even when it sounds a little bit formal for kiddie chit-chat.  The reason is simply that I want my kids to speak Standard English, using the kind of diction and tone that will not get them judged negatively by all the fucking judgmental assholes like me in the world.  I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this thinking.

So the fuckwads at the next booth at the pizza place were yelling and swearing and drinking (illegally--the restaurant doesn't have a liquor license, but turns a blind eye to people who BYOB) their Coors Light (their lowbrow taste in beer was yet another thing about which I judged them), and at one point, one of the moms got up and ran to the bathroom, her toddler in her arms.  But she was thwarted as the one-seater was ocupado. 

"Oh, shit, you guys!"  She yelled.  "Someone is taking a shit in there!  That's not cool!  I have to piss so bad!"  Then she ran over and banged on the bathroom door and yelled, "Hurry up in there!  I'm gonna shit on the floor!"  She giggled and ducked behind a wall in case the person in the bathroom were to come bursting out.

I must have shot her a look, because she covered her mouth guiltily and said, "Hi, pretty girls" to my kids.

So the dipshit mom was eventually able to take care of her business, and then she sat back down at her table full of stupid fuck friends.  One guy worked the word "shit" into every sentence.  Sometimes "shit" was the entirety of his contribution to the conversation.  I continued to feign the same level of obliviousness as my kids to the crass spew of these fucking lowlifes.

As we finished our pizza, the conversation next to us grew louder and more vulgar.  The asshole mom who had threatened to drop a deuce on the floor casually dropped an f-bomb, using it as a modifier to emphasize the extent to which she didn't care about something or other.  I was surprised when the guy whose vocabulary seemed limited to the word "shit" and derivatives thereof, reprimanded the fucking dirtbag mom.

"Hey, c'mon.  Don't use the f-bomb in front of kids," said Shithead.

"Fuck you.  I'll fucking say what I want," replied Mama Fuckface.

"That's not cool.  I never drop f-bombs in front of kids," the righteous Shithead declared.

"What do you want?" Fuckface said, "A fucking Brownie badge?"

This went on for a while and the rest of the crew of shitheels joined in, with the table divided into pro-f-bomb and anti-f-bomb camps.  The potty-mouthed mom argued that she was essentially being a responsible parent by exposing her pre-verbal child to filthy language.  "I don't want him to be confused when he hears people say 'fuck'," she said.

At this point, we were finished with our pizza.  I bussed our table, and, since the trash can was (appropriately) right next to this table teeming with human filth, I leaned in to add some insight to their lively conversation.

"You know what?" I started.  "It's entirely up to you how you speak in front of your own kids, but as a courtesy to other parents, it would be nice if you didn't hurl f-bombs at the top of your lungs in a restaurant full of kids."

I didn't really think it was possible to get drunk from Coors Light, but Mama Fuckface must have shotgunned quite a number of them, because when she went off on me, she took a perplexing approach.

"Oh, yeah, right..." she said, contorting her vapid features into a taunting duckface and bobbling her sloshy head from side to side.  "You're so awesome, dude," she mocked, throwing sarcastic shakas with her meaty paws.  "Hang Ten, bro."  This amused some of her companions, and I could hear laughter as I walked away with my kids.

I chuckled, bemused, at the idea that she thought I was some kind of surfer dude.  I was wearing grey Dickies shorts and a black t-shirt that had grout stains on it because I had been tiling a kitchen that morning.  I also wore a green baseball hat with a faded Mountain Hardware logo on it.  I was carrying a nylon across-the-body-strap backpack thing (okay, a murse) and was accompanied by two little girls in sundresses and Hello Kitty shoes.  How did she get "brah" out of that?

I've been tinkering with some theories about how a rebuke in Standard English from a square, if a bit dirty, dad could be mistaken as surfer aggression.  Maybe Mama Fuckface went to high school with a bunch of surfer kids who were rich and entitled and bullied her because she was so fucking stupid?  Or maybe everyone who speaks anything besides Vulgarian sounds so foreign that she can't quite place the accent?

Anyway, I was glad I spoke my piece.  I got it off my chest without making a big deal about it (my kids didn't notice the exchange at all), and those assholes needed to know that not everyone thought their fucking shenanigans were cute.

But--and here I expose myself as a hypocrite again since I generally discourage judging the parenting of others--I wasn't really being honest when I gave the impression that I didn't care how many fucking f-bombs she dropped in front of her kids.  I feel bad for those kids.  When they are in kindergarten (probably at the same school as my kids), yelling about how fucking much they love going on the monkey bars, how much of a disadvantage are they starting out with?  What are you going to say, Mama Fuckface, when the teacher calls to tell you that Junior's show-and-tell presentation was titled "My Fucking Pet Turtle Is the Shit!"?  Are you going to tell the teacher to blow it out her fucking ass?  Or are you going to say, "Oh, heavens!  I don't know where he's hearing that language!  It must be from his classmates!"  Will you then start to do remedial work to get him to unlearn the words that stuck-up people like me have decided must not be used in polite company?  Or will you stick to your guns and let Junior be at the vanguard of a brave new generation that shuns classism and talks how the fuck they want regardless of how they are perceived by their peers, neighbors, teachers, and potential employers?  Why not, right?  How the fuck could anything go wrong with that plan?


(Please fucking share this, unless you don't give a shit about kids.)


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