Pig Wrestling

There are a multitude of lessons to teach the kids as they move on through life and it’s a good thing to have a brief descriptive tagline that, after you explain it originally, you can fall back upon as a reminder when the need arises.  And in this household, one of the taglines is the phrase pig wrestling.  The term is an old one and applies to the lesson that when you wrestle with pigs, they just love it and you just get dirty.  It was a phrase that’s been used repeatedly in this household as the kids learn to deal with unpleasant people who simply enjoy stirring up trouble for no other reason than to sit back and enjoy the resultant fireworks. 

But the phrase’s most recent use came upon relating a story to the three kids at a recent meal.  I related that  I’d been sitting at a fast food place enjoying a cup of coffee when a mother and her two late ‘tween daughters entered and sat at the next table.  One child was silent almost the entire time while her sibling put on a brat show worthy of a failed Nick Junior pilot; the mother took the orders from her children and went to the counter while they sat and the Princess proceeded with the show.  She spoke with a stereotypical brat whine and refused to even look at the menu board, easliy visible from her seat, requiring the mother to read the menu to her loud enough that the entire dining area could hear; a peripheral glance allowed me to see that her vision was fine since she was nose deep in her iThingy.  When her coffee was delivered without sugar, she made her mother – the woman actually responded to her daughter’s peremptory order – return to the counter with the coffee and add the sugar for her,  She even openly insulted the staff on some point not to her satisfaction.  My comment to my kids was that I wanted to reach back and pop her, Gibbs-style, across the back of her head and when Middle asked why I didn’t at least say something to the girl, I could only shake my head and say pig wrestling.  My wife nodded and explained that this type of person would only complain and it was likely that Mom would feel compelled to come to the brat’s rescue; my real options were to leave or stay and marvel at the show.

The sad fact that most adults know is that there are people who simply don’t care how offensive they are or how they alienate others.  My own parents’ lesson to me was that they should simply be avoided whenever possible and engaged only when absolutely necessary; protesting their behavior and commentary was simply a waste of breath since these people often also enjoyed provoking others for their cheap entertainment. 

While kids today also have to learn that lesson, it’s also more difficult than it was two or more decades ago for two reasons.  The first reason is the insidious effect of the gangsta culture that’s been propagated through American society via the mass media.  One of the prime tenets of the gangsta culture revolves around the notion of disrespect; any instance of perceived disrespect has to be remedied immediately, even to the point of physical violence or death.  The two older kids have related stories from their middle and high school years in which being dissed was a prime component of potential violence amongst teens in a hallway.  One of these tales was even tagged with Eldest’s startling remark, Dad, it’s not a real fight until there’s a knife… The second reason is the simple fact that the prevalent electronic devices and sites – Facebook, Twitter and the like – mean that rude or threatening comments are no longer simple verbal, but posted with an indefinite lifespan to perpetuate the real or perceived insult and rub salt in wounds of pride.  When the prevalent youth culture is influenced by the gangsta vibe, the foundation is laid for real violence.    Even if you tell your kids to avoid the Twitterverse, some lunkhead can save a screenshot and pull it out at the lunchtable to share. 

You might not think it at times, but the kids will listen to you and what you advise.  The immediate response to proffered advice might be dismissive but there’s a decent chance that they’ll actually think about it and heed it.  But for this to happen, you have to pay attention to what’s going around both you and them.  You have to be able to set aside your own activities when you note even a potential issue and you have to also pay attention to those electronic forums in which they’re engaged.  You have to have an ongoing dialogue about daily events and be willing to dig when the circumstances demand it.  You also have to understand that there can be contention as the kids hear and process what you say, seeing how that advice can run against the grain of the tween/teen subculture.  And when the circumstances require it, you’re going to have model the pig wrestling mantra, letting meaningless slights roll away.  The kids are watching you and the lessons take on greater meaning when they see them taken to heart.



Explaining the Shutdown

As I sat with Middle at the kitchen island yesterday morning, I commented that this was the first day of the government shutdown.  He yanked his head upwards in surprise.  What?  How can this happen?  The conversation ensued as I explained that certain functions would certainly continue and that the world wasn’t going to come to an end; the linkage was inevitably made between the rollout of the new Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare and the debt issue and how the last minute Republican spending included a year-long delay in the individual policy segment of the Act.  It was here that he discovered that the Congress, in it’s infinite wisdom and deep compassion, was exempt from the law and actually had its own healthcare program.  Greedy Bastards was his simple response.

There are certainly many other aspects to the issue, difficult to parse through in short time frames and hard to keep clear and factual in light of tweets he was receiving about how the Republicans are to blame for this mess.  My response to that on the car ride to school was a succinct pox upon both parties; each has contributed mightily to the mess and neither is beyond reproach. 

But with such rancor and smoke, how do I get a factual and informative basis across to this smarter-than-average teen?  I’m certain that he’d prefer to ignore it since it disturbs his zen, but his generation is going to be paying for this slow-motion trainwreck and it’s best that he have a clue now, sooner than later. 

The first point to remember is to keep it as factual as possible; calling a particular politician a raging cretin – even if he or she is a raging cretin – is certain to create a block because it’s indicative that Dad’s simply back on his soapbox.  Blah, blah, blah, runaway deficits, blah, blah, blah like the famous Far Side cartoon.  Dad feels better but it’s rolled off with no impact whatsoever.

The second point is to actually use correct facts.  It’s become nigh impossible with the mainstream media cherrypicking their information, depending upon whether they’re CNN, Fox or MSNBC so be prepared to go to other sources for the information.  The other aspect to this is that if he’s embarrassed in front of friends, classmates and teachers because of incorrect information, then he’s going to simply turn you off when you begin to talk about it.

The third point is to present it in bite-sized bits.  Most parents don’t spend a huge amount of time with the kids and as they age, your available time with them shortens so you have to be prepared to grab the moment and present a segment.  Kids also don’t have the attention span that they might have had fifty years ago because of the prevalence of the ubiquitous electronics.  Try to squeeze in too much and you’re going to reach concentration overload with many kids sooner than later.

The fourth point is to be consistent in your beliefs and conversation.  With enough time and effort, the conversation will shift from the factual to the philosophical and here’s where the core of values teaching takes place.  You might not think that they’re out of the zombie state yet, but they are actually thinking and working to put two-and-two together; if you make the effort to bring them along, many will make the effort to coalesce everything into a coherent whole.  Your inability to remain consistent in your own beliefs will simply sabotage the entire process as they will root out the inconsistencies.  And this I speak from experience as a few instances of waffling have brought forward cogent, almost surgically precise questions that made me stop and re-think what I’d said so that I could either clarify or, in one particular case, acknowledge that I’d been wholly inconsistent.  The simple truth is that kids can smell out hypocrisy like a dog can sniff out a bone.

Issues of such complexity are not made for one-off conversations.  They require multiple efforts and considerable thought, both of what was already discussed and what should be covered next to help clarify things further.  But if my job as a father is to prepare the kids for their future, then it’s my responsibility to think through the process and then make the effort so that they don’t suddenly awaken in ten years, upset that they didn’t have a clue of what was coming.

Having the Conversations

Tonight was an evening in which I pulled over the car to have a conversation with Youngest, who’s now old enough that testosterone is starting to course through the veins of both he and his buddies.  On one level, it was just another conversation to cull through the phrases and comments that he’s hearing and yet on another, it’s the conversation, the first of many that will occur over the next half-dozen or so years.  Even having had similar conversations with his older siblings, it doesn’t get easier and it still puts me so far outside of my comfort zone that returning to it sometimes requires a compass and map.  But having this kind of conversation is crucial because I’m certain that the kids are having their own conversations with both their peers and  the entertainment/media complex. 

We’ve made sure that the basics of birds and bees are clear with the kids from a young age and all of them knew the source of babies before they were in kindergarten.  But we left the mechanics alone and only went into further detail when they started asking or bringing comments home from elementary school; it was then that both my wife and I made the promise that I repeated to Youngest last night.  If you hear anything that you don’t understand, or have a question on the meaning of a phrase or comment that you hear, then bring it to me and I’ll answer it.  It will be factual and it will be correct, and after the actual definition, I’ll even toss in some of the slang so that you have a clue of what you’re hearing when you hear it.  The flip side is that it’s incumbent upon me to actually honor that promise; I might have to defer the question to another time – Honey, let’s answer that one when no one else is around – but it’s critical that it’s not only answered, but that I bring up the topic to the child.  Especially in the case of the boys, I added several additional comments:

  • When you hear your buddies talking, accept it as gospel that they’ve got lousy information and might not even know what they’re saying;
  • When you hear your buddies talking, accept it as gospel that even if they have a clue as to the concept, they have no experience with any of it;
  • When you hear your buddies bragging when they’re older, expect that they’re blowing smoke.

The conversations that our kids are having aren’t just with their peers however.  The entertainment/media complex has been having a long-standing monologue with them via the electronic media – television, music and video games – for decades now and the level of the conversation progressively coursens over time.  If you don’t believe it, consider the impact of MTV’s Jersey Shore and the subsequent behaviors of teens at the mall and on the street.  Pubescent teens strut down the street with loud and obnoxious swagger, proclaiming the most shallow nonsense but utterly ignorant of the most basic workings of the world around them. When the average American youth is spending about six hours daily in front of a screen, it’s especially important that you make the effort to have conversations of your own; it’s okay to tell them to turn off either a particular program or the entire device and make an effort to have conversations of your own.  What I’ve also found helpful is to quietly pursue my own inquiries into what’s out there, by checking out the lyrics of some of their favorite tunes and periodically checking out popular youth websites.  It’s fantasy to believe that I can stop the older kids from following them, shy of fully eliminating the electronics, but I can certainly be forewarned about what they’re encountering. 

The conversations aren’t always going to be heavily laden and not all of them are going to go well, but it ‘s crucial that the effort be maintained.  The kids might even roll their eyes, but the truth is that they want to have your attention and conversations; and it’s in everybody’s best interests that you do.

Family Values

If you listen to the media, then you hear the recurrent phrase family values emanating from the conservative side of the spectrum.  The values – faith in God, respect for elders and institutions, love of country, thrift and the like – are packaged by the media in a shiny, neat red-state bow and the sense is that they are so inter-related that the removal of any one of them leads to a yellowing and early expiration date for the remainder.  But parents should decide early on what other values they wish to instill in the kids along with the mainstays; this is especially the case as there can be an effect on the family budget and distinct choices must be made if they’re to be pursued.

In our case, we decided early on that travel and exposure to the great, wide world was important for the kids.  Our wish is to inculcate in them the understanding that there are experiences and vistas beyond the confines of a small town and that there was great value to partaking of them.  The reality however, is that this is a value that costs money with an impact upon our daily lives.  We’ve managed to get around part of the cost by tacking vacations onto business trips so that my wife’s airfare and some of our lodging was covered by the employer.  We’ve managed larger trips by overtly saving each month and refusing certain kid requests by simply uttering the name of the proposed location.  Other choices made overtly support the travel value, such as driving used cars – we’ve had three cars towed away for salvage in our marriage – and refusing to hire anybody to do jobs that we can conceivably do ourselves, such as landscaping, yard and housework.  When I was working to finish a lengthy outdoor project with assistance from Middle, I was glad to hear him say that we probably do more around our own house than most of our neighbors.  

There are other values that we work to instill with the kids and that continues even when they’re well into the teen years.  Do your best.  Understand that debt is as much a dangerous tool as a powersaw, badly damaging if not used with respect and thought.  Question what you hear.  Treat the media’s messages with skepticism.  Some will look at the last two and wonder whether these are actually true values, which are usually associated with virtues; I’d argue that when the message coming from the prevailing media and society is ultimately harmful, then valuing skepticism and free thought is indeed a virtue by itself.

That’s the key part of purposefully working to instill values with the kids.  They’re certainly going to get the prevailing values from the media, and even if you work to control the electronic media, they’ll still get hear those values from their friends. Think what matters to you and then begin the lengthy process of constant reinforcement so that the kids aren’t overwhelmed by the negative values of the prevailing culture.

Politics, Current Events and Kids

I’m writing this as Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) is engaged in the eighth hour of his Senate filibuster to stall the vote on John Brennan for the directorship of the CIA.  As happened during Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2010 filibuster, I took the opportunity to play a short live-feed for Middle before the family gathered for dinner; Youngest, Eldest and Eldest’s boyfriend were still not upstairs for the meal.  Regardless, I did make it a point to spend a fair part of the dinner to explain multiple aspects of the political event.

There’s an age differential of eight years between Eldest and Youngest and in such a conversation, it’s helpful to lay the groundwork because a filibuster isn’t an everyday thing (the last one was Senator Bernie Sanders’ filibuster in late 2010).  From there, the conversation moved through to other questions and it was eye-opening to find what they did and didn’t know.&nbsp: What is a filibuster?  What is a drone, why are they used and how extensively are they used?  While it’s easy to say that overseas drone strikes are being used on terrorists, who’s defining who that particular person is and does it matter whether that person is an American citizen?  An unspoken question that ran through my head was whether or not the US government would have attempted to assassinate Tokyo Rose, the American collaborator who broadcast for the Japanese during the Second World War.  As the conversation progressed, I moved it to the heart of the matter, which is whether the President should be allowed to unilaterally decide what American should be summarily executed either abroad or in this country.  One of the kids commented that the President should be able to do what was necessary to protect the country but the conversation swung back to the idea of due process; if the President believes that something should be done – especially to citizens in this nation – shouldn’t there be some process that must be engaged first?  We already force due process for searches and wiretaps, isn’t it in the least bit reasonable to force the executive to prove cause for the taking of a life?

The issue beside that of due process for the proposed potential death of an American citizen was whether drones were a legitimate tool for domestic activity or whether they’re Big Brother overkill; how much should we be surveilled?  Because I believe that the best lessons learned are those that link the larger issues to local life, I brought up the topic of nearby downtown surveillance cameras.  We live near a city which is heavily surveilled, with widespread camera usage through the downtown area and frankly, one of the most surveilled in the nation.  Who owns the cameras and who monitors them?  Who paid for the cameras and their installations and when one response was “tax dollars”, the kid gave an incredulous look when he learned that they were all covered via private funding.  How long are the tapes kept and who oversees the people overseeing the monitors?  Does an unknown person have the right to literally follow us on our way around the city?  My wife shot me a look as the kids laughed when I admitted that I’ve occasionally walked past a camera and flipped it off out of sheer annoyance at their ubiquitous presence; we condemn the use of the middle finger and have punished kids for it, but my response was that in this particular situation, it was a legitimate expression of free speech that registered my displeasure at their use.

The point is this.  Take every opportunity to engage the kids in current events and teach them.  Start with the basics and then build upwards from there, fleshing out their understanding and tying as many loose ends back to the beginning as possible.  Keep the personal invective to a minimum and give them as many facts as possible; they’ll get a good handle on what you think by your conversation but if you think it necessary, save your full opinion for the end and in that case, make it abundantly clear with plain, straightforward language.  It’s our job to prepare them for the world and thinking that they’ll get a good grasp elsewhere is a critical error.

The Post-Mortem

All kids have their stories to tell and it’s important to listen.  But if my job is to teach, then it’s also important to dig further and help them ascertain what really happened and that can be unpleasant for both kid and father.  That’s why post-mortems are difficult, because they expose the sometimes gruesome unpleasantness of why something occurred; but the post-mortem can also serve to explain how to avoid having it happen all over again.

It was another of those playground incidents in which a kid loses his cool and in the heat of the moment, makes threats and then finally chucks an inflatable rubber ball into the face of another kid in a pique of anger.  Such was the story from one of my own kids, who was the recipient of the ball in the face and on telling the story, becoming rightly angry again.  The unfortunate problem was that I didn’t just nod my head and sympathize out of blind loyalty, but began to ask questions about the incident; this was especially the case since the ball thrower had a reputation for becoming upset, but never before with Youngest.  After hearing the initial report, I asked him to begin again and as he progressed, I would stop him and ask for more detail.  What came through was that Youngest wasn’t the cause of the initial situation and subsequent anger – spilling the gas, so to speak – but he did make a subsequent comment that lit the match, pushing the other kid over the edge.  His remark was under his breath, sotto voce, but it was overheard and that was the spark for the rubber ball explosion.  The quiet comment wasn’t remotely helpful to the circumstance at hand. 

When I understood what happened, I asked what he’d learned from the situation and when there was no response, I commented that he’d figuratively lit a match and tossed it onto spilled gas; this wasn’t an errant ball, but one that he did cause to be chucked at him.  The first lesson was that if he was going to make remarks, he had to be ready to stand by them.  The second lesson was that if there was situation between others, his best course of action was to keep his mouth shut and not make himself a target instead of others.

His response was one of anger and confusion, questioning why I’d take the other child’s side instead of his.  I had to explain that I wasn’t and that the other child was clearly wrong for pegging him with the ball.  But there were lessons to be learned from the situation and my job was to help him learn those lessons so that this didn’t happen again, getting hurt for no other reason than opening his mouth when it should have stayed shut.  It wasn’t what a child would want to hear from Dad, but there it was in all of it’s painful reality.

Everyone has a tendency to embellish their own story one way or another.  We make ourselves the heroes in good circumstances and frequently the victims when things don’t go our way.  This is usually accentuated in children but I have seen a few adults who give the kids a run for their money.  What’s important for me, as a father, is to slow the process down and help my child figure out exactly what happened.  What the progression of events and at what point did things go off the rails?  It’s not easy and sometimes impossible since kids are neither the most reliable nor objective storytellers in the known universe.  But it has to be attempted and if unsuccessful…well, at least you tried.  The only sure thing is that your child will be angry with you for not reflexively taking his side in the situation; but that’s part and parcel of being the parent, because it has to happen.

Bankers Anonymous

While I’ve tried to stay up on all that’s been going on in the economic and financial mess, I’m still an outsider and not privy to the inner workings of the financial machine.  But there’s now a site that I’d suggest that you follow and that’s called Bankers-Anonymous.com.

The aptly named site is written by a former Goldman employee and hedge fund manager who’s come to view his former profession with a somewhat jaundiced eye.  He writes for those who are interested but don’t have the knowledge base that he brings to the table.  In other words, the rest of us.

Take the time to read what he writes.  It will be time well and fruitfully spent.

Condensing the Answer for the Kids

The shirt somehow came into the house, probably on the back or in the gym bag of one of the plethora of kids that visit or spend the night and typically, wound up in the hamper.  It was a grey t-shirt with large orange block letters exclaiming Just Do It and after washing, went into Youngest’s dresser drawer; it was his size and while I didn’t recognize it, I put it there just so that it had a place and wouldn’t wind up in yet another of the piles of stuff that litters the household.  My thought was that I’d figure out the owner later when some of the guys wound up here.  But when Youngest came down for breakfast before school the other morning, he was wearing the shirt.  I looked at it and then the clock as he’d pushed the time to the limit before having to scoot for the bus.  It wasn’t one that we considered school appropriate but it was an instance that I decided to let slide with a warning, just so you know, that shirt isn’t returning to school after today.  He glanced at me and asked why he couldn’t wear it and in that moment, I had to stop and think carefully before responding, mindful of the time and yet still wanting to give him a coherent answer.

Bill Cosby has mined a huge amount of material from his kids and the brief comment that stays with me about children is the question and response, Why is there air?  To blow up basketballs.  The core of the response is that kids are curious and want an answer, but they don’t have the attention span and will tune out the response until they get a bit older, so you’d better keep it short.  When to start going into greater depth is dependent upon your sense of the kid and the circumstances.  He was curious, without attitude and there was enough to get a decent response without a curt because I said so.  I asked him to wait a moment while thinking about a decent answer; you know how much money corporations make, and that you’ve heard me say that they have too much power, right?  It bothers me that we pay money for the shirts with these taglines that give them free advertising on top of the money that we’ve already spent.  It winds up giving them even more money and makes us nothing more than another tool

He cocked his head in that way of his and then asked, well what about Under Armour?  They have their logo on their shirts and even on my cleats.  Do I have to give up the cleats?

I shook my head.  I don’t have a problem with a logo by itself…almost everything has a logo and that’s all part of advertising.  But when it’s so huge and obviously just an ad for their tag line, then I think that we can do without it.  At some point you say enough and that shirt is past that point.  I considered having him go upstairs to change it after the comment, but the exchange was so measured and without angst that I figured that one day would be fine; the shirt would simply never make it back from the next load of wash.  Youngest nodded and went back to finishing off breakfast and afterwards, the shirt went on its sole trip to school.

There have been plenty of times when the situation hasn’t worked, either because the kids resisted the request which made for a problematic civil conversation or because I couldn’t find the right words to get the point across.  But when it works, it can be a beautiful thing for the brevity and effect and with younger kids, brevity is better.  When it came time that evening for baseball practice, I glanced at Youngest’s cleats.  Under Armour makes cleats?


I’m a Helicopter Parent or a Shelter Parent?

This past weekend was Eldest’s college check-in, a week earlier than most other students because she’ll be playing soccer; while everything was abbreviated because of the tight schedule, the Dean of Student Life gave a brief talk to those few of us parents there, shortened from the fuller speech that he’ll give next weekend at regular orientation.  While he gave out a few informational tidbits, he also spent a fair period talking about the need for parents to step back from the kids and let them find their way.  What caught my attention was that by his definition, I fit the definition of a helicopter parent.  Seriously?

The Dean’s comments were that our generation of parents are reputed to be helicopter parents, who "hover" over the kids.  But in his description, our generation made it a point of attending all – or most – of the kids’ events, whether musical, theatric or sport.  He commented that his own father made it to perhaps one of his games when he himself played sports four decades ago.  But now it was time for us to step back and let the kids to care of the institution in their next phase of growing into adulthood.  While I might have misconstrued his comments – doubtful – what struck me was his narrow, misplaced definition of a helicopter parent.  Is it hovering to attend as many games, concerts and plays as possible or is that just part of being an engaged and active parent?  Are we actually smothering the kids by showing up consistently and repeatedly?

There is a practical and economic side to the increased attendance of today’s generation versus the grandparent’s generation that the Dean referenced.  Forty years ago, kids didn’t have the plethora of choices available for sporting and other activities that our own children have today.  There might have been a non-school related baseball or football organization, but there simply weren’t the options otherwise.  There’s also a fear amongst today’s parents that options must be made available to the kids; on the one hand, it permits them to grow and experience new activities that weren’t available to us when we were younger, and there’s a concern that if a kid isn’t kept busy, he or she will be more likely to fall prey to the scarier aspects of unsupervised life.  So parents willingly sign the kids up.  Now comes the economic aspect – with gas at high levels, the money being spent isn’t going to be wasted so the folks will assure that the kids make it where they need to be and then will stay because it doesn’t make sense to waste gas by leaving and then returning later.  The time spent on the road to and from the activity is literally wasted, so the thought is to make the best of things by bringing a novel, a laptop or in my case, the occasional notebook for ideas and thoughts.

What do the kids themselves want?  As I sat and made notes for this article yesterday, Youngest wandered in and asked what I was doing.  He listened and cocked his head, puzzled at the term helicopter parent; after I explained, he stated that he actually referred to them as shelter parents because their intent was to shelter their kids from any and all possible harm.  We discussed it from the standpoint of baseball – his first love – since his practices had started the previous evening.  Did he actually want me there and did he want me at his games?  The practice is a moot point because the field is located far enough into the countryside that I take a passport before leaving, but the games were a legitimate question.  He emphatically stated yeah, I like it when you see me play with the proviso that I not behave like a shelter parent.  To him, a shelter parent was one who interceded with the coach and referee when something went against the kid and when I asked about when he might be getting chewed out by the coach, he simply shook his head and commented that that was all part of it.  He referenced an incident at a ball game last year when a teammate’s irate father yelled at his coach and publicly pulled the teammate from the team and dugout because the coach had reprimanded him for poking a teammate in the eye with his finger and that would certainly qualify as a shelter parent.

Youngest’s term – shelter parent – is actually a better description than that which is commonly used.  It more accurately describes the issue of parent and child relations and also points out that the kids aren’t stupid, they really do understand there’s going to be a time when they have to take a place in the world and that we won’t be there, so they need to learn to deal with it.

Your kids want to have you there as much as possible.  They want to impress you and earn your respect and approval, so don’t worry about what others might think about your attendance.  It might be beneficial, if they’re old enough to understand, to have a talk with them about what does and doesn’t embarrass them so that there are some ground rules with which both kids and parents are comfortable.  Before that point, simply accept that they want you there.

Eldest is now going to play college soccer in another state and of about 14 games on her roster, her mother and I will only be able to attend two games.  We’ll follow the results on the college website and via updates from her, but we won’t be able to see her play as before.  So it’s guaranteed that in the next decade, I’ll attend every baseball and volleyball game, every concert and play that is practicable because it really does come to an end and when it does, I will miss it.  And the kids will miss us if we’re not there.  This isn’t hovering, it’s simply being a responsible and engaged parent.


Dad, Why Are You So Cranky Tonight?


My better half is out of town for several days and I’m keeping things together as usual.  It’s infinitely easier now than when the kids were little, but the question from the two older kids tonight was the same:  why are you so cranky tonight?

A friend with older kids once commented that the pressure of raising kids is still there as they age, but it’s different and she was correct.  Young children will wear you out with the constant physical demands of feeding, changing, washing and everything else that goes with small ones; even when there might be no physical demands, they want something akin to the fictitious mouse of Laura Numeroff’s excellent children’s story, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.  I should be grateful now because we had an operative curse in the household for years as anytime that my wife departed on a business trip, one or more of the kids fell ill.  After it happened twice, I palpably dreaded these trips because they could be – and were – met by episodes of pneumonia, bilateral ear infections and intestinal viruses.  Some people have animals that can portend a departure by seeing an open suitcase on a bed, but we had latent viruses that perked up when the luggage came up from the basement.

I’m now past the point of changing blown out diapers and having to spoon-feed the kids but in a sense, they’re still intensely demanding with their short attention spans and raging egocentrism.  If they want something to drink, they can get it but there’s no guarantee that the glassware will make it back to the kitchen.  Towels will be used and dropped where they are and if a teen doesn’t like the answer to his question, the ensuing conversation can become rancorous and potentially end in a raging indictment of my personal sense of honor, fairness and a general condemnation of the useless values engendered by western civilization.  Where one indicts openly, another can respond with sullen silence and pointed use of the dreaded death glare, hoping, like Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper, to telepathically instigate a minor stroke for nixing plans with the peers.  When there are children of different genders, school levels and personalities, the increased stress is more exponential than arithmetic as you bounce along from one pin to another.

Despite it all, I should be grateful because the Eldest leaves in the Fall for college and when she’s out, her presence – and death glare – will be sorely missed.  Perhaps it will be hardest on my wife however, as she’ll be left to swim in a pool of ‘tween-age and teen-age testosterone.  In the moment however, the gratitude will have to wait until each is abed and quiet, adult rationality returns to the household.