Category Archives: parenting

Watch Out — There’s Girls Driving


We’re in the supermarket. It’s a weekday evening, and I dunno about you, but where I live, that means the grocery store is absolutely idiotic. Overcrowded, understaffed. People stalking you in their cars in hopes of a good parking spot, even though there are perfectly good spots at the end of the lot, which, if they’d just suck it up, park out there, and walk, would get them into the store and on with their idiotic days sooner. This one person — I swear to goodness — gets a cart in the front vestibule, moves through the doorway at an angle, then stops — blocking the entire entry/exit door — to root in her purse for something. It’s as if people have radar for the most inconvenient things they could possibly do, and then they do them, for the sheer hedonistic joy of blissful oblivion. Maybe they subconsciously feed on the pissoffs they’re sowing in the people all around them. (Man, that’s a good story idea. A semi-sentient lifeform who derives life energy, not from consuming or harming, but from irritating other creatures.)

Where was I? Right, the supermarket. On a weekday. *involuntary shudder*

We’re weaving our way through the aisles. Both of our kids are in the buggy, in that little plastic car thing that they bolt on to a normal shopping cart to give the kids the illusion of driving. My son is really too big for the cart, but that doesn’t matter — with the store as crowded as it is, letting the munchkins run free only makes us part of the problem, and we try whenever possible not to be part of the problem. Anyway, my kids are seated side-by-side in the pretend car, not screaming at each other (for once!).

We take the corner and almost mow down a kid who looks to be about three (plenty small enough to be in the cart, you know, NOT being part of the problem), with an open bag of goldfish in his grubby fingers and stains all over his shirt.

I don’t begrudge the stained shirt or the bag of goldfish straight off the shelf. I’m a parent too; I get it. But I heartily begrudge the kid running free and making me feel like a jerk for nearly running down a kid next to the canned corn. That’s on mom.

The kid stomps and stumbles to a halt as I put the brakes on the cart. The kid dashes around us as mom calls out, “careful kiddo, there’s girls driving!”

I had to stop breathing to stop my natural reaction. I dead-eyed and white-knuckled it down a couple of aisles before I started venting at my wife. Let’s just say you were dangerously close to reading about this incident on the police blotter instead of my humble internet abode.

“Careful. There’s girls driving.”

Where to begin?

First of all, she obviously mistook my son for a girl, which is, well, special. Usually it’s my daughter getting mistaken for a boy. Or maybe she mistook me for a girl — you know, my bald-on-top-hairy-everywhere-else self.

But more importantly, we’re just gonna go ahead and make the horrible joke that girls are bad drivers — even here when the girl is just pretend driving the car. Okay, that’s great.

And finally — she’s a woman. Making the no-thought-required, loaded-on-the-tip-of-the-tongue automatic joke that women can’t drive. To her son. Who is just on the threshold of understanding language itself. Sure, let’s go ahead and start filling his head with tired old stereotypes that will form the basis of his understanding of the world and the people in it. And just cap that with the mind-boggle that his own mother is debasing her own gender. In public. To strangers.

Just one more reason we usually shop on Sunday morning at eight AM.

Because everybody else is either at home or at church, and I can grab some cornflakes in peace.

 


Toddler Life, ch. 419 — Cite Your Source


“Dad, I’m drinking ink.”

It’s 6 AM, and when your five-year-old says he’s drinking ink at 6 AM, you forget for the moment about overactive imaginations and the fact that five-year-olds will say just about anything for the pure joy of trying it out. I whirl and look, and he’s grinning at me with a made-you-look smile, his tiny hands wrapped around his Pokemon tumbler and a smear of pink foam glazing his lip.

The sleepy haze recedes a bit. Of course he’s not drinking ink; he’s drinking my smoothie. But where’d he get that idea? Ink? It’s …

I haven’t said anything to him yet, and this kid requires a response to everything he says, no matter how off-handed or to-himself it seems to be, so he starts repeating himself.

“DAD. I’m drinking ink.”

“Ink?”

“Yeah. Pink ink.”

Pink ink. Pink ink? That sounds Seussian. More fog recedes. It is Seussian. He goes in cycles — about two weeks at a time, wherein he loves a certain book like air itself while totally forgetting whatever book he was over the moon about just a few days prior. Currently, the Book he Loves is One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. The nonsensical novelletta about a menagerie of monsters.

I hate this book.

I grow to hate all the books he loves; as an adult, you can only read the same series of simple sentences so many times before you begin to memorize it, and once you’re muttering the phrases to yourself as you walk the halls at your job, well, you start to suffer from social problems more than you already do.

This one has a little star. This one has a little car. Say, what a lot of fish there are!

(And then the murders began.)

I hate this book more than most, though, because it’s not a narrative, not a story. Every page just presents a new, weird little critter, spurts off a few rhymes, and then sends you on your merry way to the next critter. No throughline, just “look at this weird little thing. Isn’t it weird? Hey, here’s another one!”

But at the same time, I hear a tiny voice from the depths of distant memory telling me that I once loved this book — our copy of it was quite well-worn — when I was my son’s age, for much the same reason as I hate it now. The sing-songy little rhymes. The cute little creatures. I dug it.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. The morning haze recedes enough for me to realize — he’s quoting the book. Which is awesome. I mean, sure, thinking about the Yink kinda makes me want to put an elbow through a wall (really? It drinks pink ink, and that’s it? There’s nothing else worth mentioning about it? How about those bizarro weird tufts of fur all up its neck? Can you explain for me the evolutionary processes that spawned those, perhaps? WHO CARES WHAT IT EATS?). But the kid is quoting literature. Identifying with a character from a book. I approve of this development in general, if not in the particulars of the moment.

But I’m a dad. And the dad circuits are waking up. I can’t just say, “oh, that’s nice.” I have to tease. I have to troll.

So I say, “oh, that’s right. You’re drinking ink like the Gox.”

He laughs at me. “No, dad. The Gox doesn’t drink pink ink. That’s not the one.”

I nod and smile. “That’s right. I remember. It’s not the Gox. It’s the Zeds. They drink pink ink with one hair upon their heads.”

His smile disappears, replaced with a scowl. “Dad, no. You’re not getting it right. It’s not the Zeds.”

I smack my forehead. “I forgot. It’s the wump. That one –”

“Dad! Stop! You’re not paying attention.” He’s mad now. He hops down from the bench and goes running upstairs, only to reappear a moment later with the book clutched in his tiny paws. He plops it on the table, starts flipping pages, finds what he’s after. Turns to me, with every ounce of I-told-you-so that a five-year-old can muster dripping from his voice.

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“See, dad? It’s the Yink.”

And I pause. Blink. Things start to rattle around in my brain. This little midget just cited his source on me.

As a teacher who has been trying for seven years to convince students of the importance of doing exactly this thing — to point to your source material and use it to prove the point you’re making, so you’re not just pissing opinions into the wind — I’m gobsmacked. My five-year-old just did this thing automatically, for a thing that had literally zero stakes.

He can craft an argument. Make a literary allusion. Cite his source.

If he could just write his own name, he’d be ready to graduate high school.


Pun Without A Cause


If a dad joke gets cracked on a deserted street at five in the morning, does anybody groan?

I’m out for a run this morning. Five AM. Hazy moon floating behind the clouds. Hint of fog hanging in the air. Not a soul in sight.

I round a curve coming around the back of a shopping center, and there, in the middle of the road, a Dark Thing.

Dark Things always give me pause on the morning run — there are coyotes in the area, neighborhood dogs escaped from their backyards. At a distance, in the morning blackness, the shadowy shape could be anything. Usually it turns out to be roadkill, or a sad discarded sweatshirt. Sometimes it’s a stray cat or, in springtime, a rabbit, which bolts for cover long before I get close.

But as I drew closer, this Dark Thing resolved itself first into the suggestion of a shopping cart — which I resolved to move from the middle of the road — and then, when it began to move on its own, into a deer. What’s important is not how I mistook a deer for a shopping cart. What’s important is what I said.

“Oh, dear.”

I couldn’t help it. It just bubbled up and popped out, like a tooth-rattling belch after 76 ounces of diet soda. I was literally helpless.

The dad joke.

How I hated them in my youth. My dad has a bottomless supply of them and would let fly at the slightest provocation:

What time is it? Time to get a watch.

I need to take a shower. Where would you take it?

I’m getting a haircut. Really? Which one?

But in my adulthood, I have assimilated them, Borg-like. They come out as naturally as breathing.

I cringe inwardly when I say them — but I can’t help saying them. Now that I have kids, the part of my brain that would ordinarily stop me from saying these embarrassing, obvious jokes has shut itself down and boarded up the windows like the last man out of a dying mining town.

Why does the dad joke persist? Nobody likes a dad joke, except, perhaps, for the dad saying it. The joke exists, rather, for the sole purpose of irritation. The dad joke’s payoff is not in a delighted shock of laughter, but rather, in the rolling of the eyes, the put-upon sigh, the pained groan, or, best of all, the reflexive facepalm.

And here I am, all alone on the street at five in the morning, saying “oh dear” at the sight of a deer, as if to elicit such a response from the trees. And in the silence that followed? When I realized what I had just done — cracked a dad joke to nobody, apparently for the pure joy of it, for the sake of the joke itself like a truth that MUST be told, the future-seer shouting in the streets about impending calamity even as he knows nobody believes him — when it dawned on me that I have become this thing? That dad jokes are now a part of me?

The groan came after all.

It came from me.

Let the circle be unbroken.


Five Years a Dad


My son is five years old today.

Nothing quite drops a boulder in the stream of what you thought your life was like the birth of a child, to say nothing of adding a 26-day stint in the NICU into the mix. Having kids has forced me to grow up in ways that I never thought I would have to, has cast shadows of doubt and rays of hope across my world in ways I didn’t think possible.

I used to think I had a pretty good idea of who I was and where I fit in this world. But kids will divest you of that notion like a raccoon divesting a garbage can of its contents.

Ever since I became a dad, I feel like every day I have to reinvent myself a little, adjust the way I think a little, consider my effect upon the world just a little bit more. I have to grow up a little more every day, just to stay a few steps ahead.

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Well, maybe not that far ahead.

Happy birthday, Sprout. To quote Johnathan Coulton, you ruined everything … in the nicest way.


No?


A question for the parents in attendance:

How many times do you say “no” in a day?

Broadly interpreted, I’d be willing to believe I come close to five hundred or so; more if it’s rainy out.

This weekly remotivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every weekend, I use Linda G. Hill’s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results. This week? Maybe not so productive.


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