Category Archives: Kids

Parents Who Hate Their Kids, Ch. 1


My son has a classmate named Taylor.

But not “Taylor.” It’s pronounced “Taylor,” but it’s spelled “Taeler.” Nothing against the name — I have a new niece named Taylor (and I hope I spelled it right, as I haven’t seen it in print yet, and HOO BOY am I about to make things awkward at Thanksgiving if I guessed wrong) — but this strikes me as a problem. Not because I don’t know whether Taylor is a boy or a girl; there are plenty of those names these days and that’s cool and trendy and whatever. But because poor Taeler’s parents have doomed her (or him) to a lifetime of interactions that begin with “actually, it’s spelled T-A-E-…”

Isn’t life hard enough?

Then there are C’Niyah and Zaniya. Pronounced the same, just starting with an “s” sound or a “z” sound. So is the apostrophe required? Or the “A”? How about the “H” on the end? Or are all of these things just flopping around like vestigial tails? And when it’s time to learn about capitalization, I pity poor C’Niyah — she (or he?) has to do it twice in her own name! How confusing is that?

In my own classes — this year alone! — I’ve got Michaela, Mikayla, Mikayela, McKayla, and Macayla. And maybe Mikaela. All pronounced the same. I’m pretty sure one of them has an “H” on the end as well, but does it even matter at this point? C’s, K’s, Y’s, E’s, H’s … they’re all flying around like cows in a tornado (RIP Bill Paxton), and there’s no telling where they’ll end up, or why. These poor girls (because there are plenty of other Michaelas, Mikaylas, etc enrolled) must ever clarify their identity by adding their last name, and have given up hope of ever having a teacher spell their name correctly — I personally couldn’t properly tell you which spelling goes with which girl with the first degree of confidence. These, too, might as well have the middle name “actually, it’s spelled …”

To say nothing of Caila, Kayla, and Kaela, whom I taught last year. Guess which one was pronounced “Ky-la”. You can’t, because there are no rules when it comes to names.

Here’s a fun one. How do you spell the name that’s pronounced “Jay-len”?

Trick question. I’ve seen it dozens of ways. Jalen, Jaelan, Jaylen, Jaelen, Ja-len, Ja’lin, Jalynn … I could go on. The possibilities are almost endless, because you can apparently capitalize whatever letters you like and throw around punctuation like you’re mixing salad with the SlapChop.

Image result for slap chop

Point is, none of these spellings for any of these names is “correct”, because there is no “correct” spelling when it comes to names. Which means — wait for it — ALL these spellings are INCORRECT! That’s just logic.

As a teacher, I dread meeting these kids for the first time, because inevitably, my first question will not be something insightful like “how was your summer” or something easygoing like that. No, the first thing I’ll have to say to them is “…spell that, please.”

And I know, I know. We want our kids to be unique, and we want them to stand out from the crowd because they are our delicate little snowflakes. But having been a teacher now for seven years (if that doesn’t make me the grizzled elder waving a yardstick around and get-off-my-lawn-ing), I can tell you that these names don’t uniquely identify a student to us, and certainly not in a positive way. Rather, these students are more likely than others to be frustrated with school, and people in general, because nobody can pronounce or spell their name! (Take it from a guy with a last name that’s vaguely eastern-European. I’ve heard so many different pronunciations I could start my own alphabet.)

If you want your kid to stand out, the way to do it is to bring them up to be a decent human being. One that seeks out learning and opportunities for their own sake. One that treats people with respect as a baseline. One who greets the world with positivity and optimism and effort.

You don’t do that by telling a child that they’re special all the time (and make no mistake, spelling your kid’s name “Taeler” when it’s pronounced “Taylor” only sets her — or him! — up to think that she’s special, that she’s different). That only confuses them when the world doesn’t back up that belief, and then they get mad at the world.

No, you make your child stand out by teaching them humility. Yes, to me you are special, but to the world, you are just another person like everybody else, and you have to earn what you want. In our new, technologic, me-centric world, it’s the person who actually lives in the real world, who pays attention to the people around them, who acts with compassion and good will instead of out of attention-seeking, who really stands out.

This post brought to you by M’ahtT, because apparently I can spell it any way I like.


The World of the Small


We took the sprouts to Six Flags last night, and it opened up our eyes (as doing things with your kids will often do) to some things that you just don’t notice or even think about when you don’t have kids.

Namely, “family” events. Before you have kids, these things might as well be taking place on the moon, and you can avoid them just as easily. In short, if you see a bouncy house, a grown person in costume, or a brightly colored clutch of balloons, steer yourself in the opposite direction, and you’ll be fine. But when you do have kids, these are things you have to do, somehow. There’s a vague impression that lives at the base of your skull that you’re not a “good parent” if you don’t take your kids to these things. Unfortunately, they usually also mean leaning into the worst things about having kids. The peer pressure of other kids acting crazy, which inspires your kids to act crazy. The hyperprevalence of sugary snacks and drinks, for which your kids will beg you incessantly. The proliferation of oblivious parents, obliviously ignoring the obliviously a-hole-ish behavior of their oblivious kids.

But because you’re dumb, you take them.

And it sinks in — again — that your life has changed irrevocably, and will never again be what it once was.

Because once upon a time, you were young and adventure-seeking, and you went to amusement parks for the thrill rides: the more the better. Your stomach was made of iron: you could easily take down a 64-oz full-sugar soda, a double cheeseburger and fries, and a funnel cake, then ride the most wickedly devised gravity-defying stomach turning rides and never blink an eye. There was a “kids section” in the park, and you knew its location only so that you could more effectively avoid it.

These days, you know the kids section because it’s the only area of the park that concerns you. You pack your own snacks because you know that a whiff of funnel cake after riding even the tame little teacups will leave you queasy and sweaty. And you walk right past the thrill rides with a suppressed sigh because you won’t be riding them today, even if you thought you could handle them, which you probably can’t anymore.

So it’s bad enough going to the park with sprouts in the first place. But it’s worse on the “family days” (here in Atlanta, it’s Six Flags’ Holidays in the Park). Because 90% of the traffic in the park is poor, run-down, exhausted and raccoon-eyed moms and dads and their squalling, snot-faced brood.

The kid-centric drains on your wallet are even more pronounced, prevalent, and shameless. The kids’ area is lousy with “games” that cost a ridiculous amount of money for your kid to win a bit of candy or a cheap stuffed toy. Everywhere around the park are carts selling pretzels and popcorn and hot chocolate. And around every corner is a festive elf or a costumed cartoon character just crying out for a photo-op with your bundles of joy — which means people are clogging up all the major thoroughfares and creating foot-traffic jams, the worst kind.

But worst of all is making your bee-line past the thrill rides — most of which have waits of less than five minutes, if they have a wait time at all! — to the kids area with its crappy slate of rides, for which you’ll be waiting twenty minutes a pop, because everybody who is here tonight is here for this.

The part of your life where you could run amok, ride everything in the park, and go home without making a bathroom stop halfway (because the four-year-old somehow never needs to go when you’re walking past a restroom, but damned if he doesn’t suddenly start doing the dance when you’re about to get on the crappy kid coaster)? That’s over.

Say goodbye to fun at the amusement park.*

You’re parents at the park, now.

Abandon all hope.

*Actually, Holidays at the Park is pretty sweet. I just hate everything.


Sick Day


The kids are sick. So I’m home sick with them.

And, almost as if on cue, the monstrous cough I’d been fighting for weeks — and thought I had the better of — has resurfaced. I’m sure it’s unrelated. Couldn’t be my stress over the state of the country or anything like that.

Eh, we’re not going there.

It’s weird. Teaching is one of the few professions where it’s almost more stressful to take a sick day than it is to just suck it up and go to work: upon your return, you’re almost certain to have behavioral issues to sort out, extra work to grade, a day to make up in your lesson pacing. Not to mention the sense — foolish as you know it is — that things are surely going to sharknado without you there.

Add to that I’m in my first year in my new job. I’m definitely in the not wanting to screw anything up boat. So taking a last-minute day off makes me feel a bit like I’m letting people down.

So around 10 last night, when my kid woke up with some pretty horrific, uh, bodily functions, and it became clear I was gonna have to take the day, I started stressing out. Got him sorted out, stopped him crying, and got him back into bed. Ran downstairs to chuck his clothes in the laundry (for the second time in four hours). Then I went to work. Fired up the laptop to e-mail supervisors. Whacked together some activities to e-mail to the sub. Started worrying about what was going to happen while I wasn’t at work. Struggled going to sleep.

Then I realized my priorities were all fargo’d. My kid is sick — in discomfort and upset in addition to oozing from his orifices (orifici?) — and I’m getting my knickers in a twist over my job, over my students — many of whom will be only too happy for me to miss a day!

And with that, I let it go, and I slept like a baby.

Frankly, the day off couldn’t come at a better time. I got to hang around the heezy, watch some movies with the kids (both of them somehow really dig the new Ghostbusters, which is fine by me), read ’em some books, snuggle them on the couch. All of which is a very welcome respite from where my mind has been for the past week.

Didn’t actually get much done that was productive or helpful around the house. Only managed to type this up while the kids were napping. (Here, the savvy reader might interject: couldn’t you have done some housework instead? Some dishes, a little vacuuming, a much-needed dusting? To which I respond: this was a sick day, dammit. That would be missing the point.)

But that’s fine. All of that is just fine. Despite the gummy gunk collecting in my lungs, I am breathing easier than I have in a while.

All the same, let’s hope sprout #2 doesn’t come down with the same thing sprout #1 had. You can only do so much laundry in a day.

 


Toddler Life, Chapter 419: We Have Lost Normality


Kids make you insane.

Not necessarily in that gibbering, banging-your-head-against-the-walls, strait-jacket kind of insane (well, maybe in small doses), but in the way that it warps the way you look at the world. The world a parent lives in is not the same world that a normal human lives in. We see things that are invisible to most people. We do things that make normal people scratch their heads in wonder. Our heads are constantly filled with bizarre fuzzy maths that would make the physics department at MIT weep. We tie ourselves in knots to make the world livable for ourselves and the future humans we are tasked with raising to adulthood.

Here are just a few of the strange behaviors that have become totally commonplace for my wife and myself since having kids (we have two, and that’s probably significant as well):

  1. Normal people can drink out of cups, but we can’t. If we have a glass of some beverage, and we leave that beverage unattended for even fifteen seconds, then that beverage will end up spilled on the couch, the carpet, the dog, or possibly the ceiling. The fact that we have cats plays in here, too, because our cats cannot abide an upright glass. So instead we drink out of bottles with lids, all the time, until the kids are asleep.
  2. Normal people lock the bathroom door to poop, but we don’t. I don’t even close the door all the way; I just rest it lightly against the frame. For some reason, the kids never want my attention so much as when I’m trying to drop a deuce; something about the fact that I’m bent over, pants around the ankles, making my offering to the porcelain god brings them scrambling. And here comes that mental math I mentioned: I can lock the door (which will keep them both out) or simply close it (which might keep out the 2-year-old), but then I have to suffer the slings and arrows of a tireless banging on the door to the chorus of “DADDY? DADDY? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Or, I can give them easy access, and put up with the lesser indignity of relieving myself in front of two future humans while listening to them prattle on about the bug they just saw or the piece of candy they want or why does it smell funny in here? (Generally, the prattle wins out over the banging on the door.)
  3. Normal people can buy just one of something, but we can’t. When we buy treats — and let’s go ahead and establish that a “treat” is anything special that one of them gets that isn’t basic sustenance — we have to buy two. Two bags of popcorn at Target. Two kiddie sundaes at the restaurant (not that we take them out to eat with us, but on that rare occasion…). Two silly little paper hats. Case in point: just this past weekend, we were at the grocery store and saw on the endcap (by the way, the people who design end caps for grocery stores and for Target seriously need to be shot, or at least saddled with a 2-year-old and forced to walk through their own stores) a cute little pair of Minion goggles. You know, the annoying little blobs from that Steve Carrell movie, Despicable Me? Well, my son loves those things, and the goggles were only a couple of bucks, so of course I picked them up. My wife immediately went to pick up a second pair for my daughter. She doesn’t even like the minions, as far as I can tell, but the point is, my son had a thing, so it was gonna be a problem if she didn’t have that thing, too. So we double up, and fill our house with twice as much crap.
  4. Normal people check the thermostat maybe once or twice a day, but I have to check it somewhat more often. This makes me crazy, because the thermostat is not a thing that changes on its own, and I feel like an insane person looking at it as often as I do. But little kids love pushing buttons, both the metaphorical and the literal. Seriously, they had somehow managed to turn on the heat while it was 95 degrees out the other day. Luckily, I caught it before the house or any of us combusted from the heat. Because I check the thermostat more often than your dad does. Every time I walk past the thing, I check it. Very OCD, and I am not even a little OCD.
  5. Normal people know what “no” means, but we don’t. The word “no” means nothing in our house. For two reasons. First of all, it obviously means nothing to the children. My wife and I say it and say it and say it, but they keep asking or doing the thing that had us saying “no” in the first place, so we clearly haven’t taught the meaning of this simplest of words properly. Then, there’s that thing that happens, you know, where you say a word over and over and over in rapid succession and, like a soggy Cheerio, it just kind of disintegrates in your mind? Like the syllables and the letters come apart and the meaning just evaporates? Where do words come from, anyway? What’s a language, for that matter? How are we even able to communicate at all?

There are more, but I have to go check the thermostat.

How about you, dear readers? In what ways have your kids fragmented your reality?


Your Kids Are Not My Kids


The same thing happens everywhere we go.

Strange kids come running up to my wife and myself, imploring us to “watch me,” or “look what I can do,” or “check me out!” It happens everywhere. The playground. The neighborhood pool. The waiting room at the doctor’s office.

Your kids want US to watch them. Watch them climb up the slide backwards. Watch them do a crappy somersault. Look at this dumb toy with the detachable attachments. Watch them run around in circles and fall down. Basically, they want us to look at all the stupid kid stuff that they’re doing.

We’ve looked. We’ve examined this phenomenon. These kids don’t just go approaching adults willy-nilly. We’re not random targets. They seek us out. They find us. Like tiny heat-seeking missiles with grubby fingers and Cheetohs dust on their shirts, they abandon the swings and the slides to come get in our faces.

Swing, Playground, Children Playing, Park, Child, Play

Why us?

It certainly isn’t because we care. Well, I shouldn’t speak for my wife, but I certainly don’t care. I would be hard-pressed to care less about anything anybody’s kid does, anywhere, at any time. Hell, I can barely summon up enough Fargos to give when my own kids do something mediocre (oh, good job, you stacked some soda cans on top of each other! Oh, wow, look at that formless scribble you drew on the TV Guide! [just kidding, who even has TV Guides anymore] Wow, listen to that garbled nonsense that just poured out of your mouth!). The only reason I do care when my kids manage some dubious toddler achievement is because I’m biologically compelled to do so: some bizarre alchemy of genetics and instinct overrides my default response, transforming a gruff “leave me alone” into a half-hearted “aw, that’s great!”

But I have no such genetic hard-coding when it comes to your kid.

I don’t love him. I don’t hope for her well-being (outside of a general, future-of-the-species vaguery). And I double definitely don’t give a sharknado about your kid and the fact that he can spin around in a circle until he falls down, or that she can almost but not quite balance on one foot for two seconds. I just don’t. And the only reason I won’t tell your kid exactly that is because society frowns on shouting at children, unless those kids are your own. Instead, I will summon up an even more (or would it be less?) half-hearted smile than the one I give my own kids, show them my teeth, and hope like hell inside my head that they just go away.

But they keep coming. They keep approaching me. Showing me dumb things that nobody cares about, seeking my attention when my own kids have already used up all of it.

Why are they seeking out my attention?

Because they don’t have yours. The only thing I can count on just as much as a strange kid coming up to beg me for a few seconds of attention is that while said kid is bugging me, I can cast my gaze across the playground/waiting room/pool pavilion and see that kid’s parent completely ignoring him. You got your kid to the playground, cut him loose on the slides, and buried yourself eyeballs-deep in Facebook or Twitter or whatever the cool kids are doing these days. You took your kid to the pool, slapped some floaties on her, and dove into a real deep discussion with your neighbor about your nails or your hair or the way that other part of the neighborhood is really going to sharknado. You got to the doctor’s office, and doctor’s offices are BORING, Goldfingerit, so you picked up an issue of Sports Illustrated from three years ago and became real interested in the Packers’ midseason woes.

Meanwhile, your kids are looking for somebody, anybody to pay them an ounce of attention. Just a wisp, a hint, an inkling on a summer breeze that somebody gives a damn about who they are and what they’re doing.

And why are they coming to ME for this vindication?

Because my wife and I pay attention to our kids in public. We have to. I mean, what’s the alternative? We follow them around at the playground — mostly to make sure they’re not running up to other kids’ parents and getting on their nerves. We get into the pool with them, partially because it’s fun, but mostly because they could slip an arm floatie or overturn their dumb float in half a second, and we want to make sure the kids don’t waterboard themselves. We keep an eye on them in the doctor’s office because that’s bloody GERM CENTRAL, and we don’t want them bringing home more of the plague than they have to. We are there. We are present. We pay attention to what they’re doing, and as a result, OUR KIDS DON’T BOTHER OTHER ADULTS. (The unfortunate by-product is: your kids think I care about what kids are doing in general. Sigh.)

I get it. You’re tired. Every parent is tired. Every parent wants nothing more than to disconnect for a few minutes and not have to hover over every little thing their kid does. To just kick back and read for a minute. To sneak away and drop a deuce in peace, even. But you can’t do it at the playground. Ignore your kids at home, where the only other person they can bother for attention is the cat.

Not to be preachy, but when you’re out in public, that’s when you need to pay attention to your kids THE MOST. Not just because they’ll go up and talk to strangers (obviously they will), but because a few seconds is all it takes for somebody to make off with the little bundle of joy that you’re ignoring. And while that might not be a big deal if you’re the only people on the playground, when you’re there at midday and there are twenty kids flying around and a dozen parents on cell phones around the outside … I mean, really? How hard would it be for me to walk off with your kid? Or, let’s make it less sinister — how hard would it be for your kid to just follow me and my kids off the playground?

Look. I’m not out here trying to abduct your kid (as far as you know). The two I have already drive me up the walls six days out of seven. And those are kids that I love. That I’m required by law to care for.

I don’t care about your kids.

It’s your job to do that, so they don’t come looking for vindication from me.

 


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