Tag Archives: horrible parenting

Toddler Life, Chapter 148: Because It’s Hard

You don’t get much help as a parent. You can buy all the books — all the Idiot’s Guide to Parentings and How to Think Like a Toddlers you like — but when the rubber meets the road and you’re faced with the prospect of actually bringing up this fledgling human to be an actual human, you’re pretty much on your own. All that preparation goes out the window and you’re locked in with your lizard brain, fight-or-flight instincts to get through it.

Not only are you all alone at the stick, but there’s a fogbank closing all around you, the instrumentation is freaking out and giving you bad readings and it’s close to impossible to tell whether that dark shape in the distance is the runway you’re hoping to land on or a mountainside waiting to pulp your plane. Oh, and there’s a tiny person behind you who keeps screaming in your ear and placing their hands over your eyes — only they don’t fully understand how that works so it’s not so much hands over your eyes as jagged, flesh-rending fingernails thrust into your eyeballs.

It’s often hard to see what you’re doing, in other words — and doubly hard to see what sort of effects you’re having on your kid. And while most moments fly by and don’t make much of an impression, every now and then you find yourself in the midst of a Moment. A Moment that Matters. You feel the gravity of the situation fully, and somehow, through senses indecipherable, you see through time to the futures that could unfold as a consequence of your choices in this Moment.

A Moment, in other words, where you see that your choices could make or break your kid.

Such a Moment transpired last night.

The Sprout is in kindergarten, which means homework. Writing his name. Writing numbers. Practicing “sight words.” (Did they even have “sight words” when I was a kid? I have no memory of such a thing, but I don’t know if that’s because “sight words” is just a new buzzword or because education was just a leaky life raft in those days — it worked and we didn’t much care about how it looked or performed along the way as long as it got us there, which it seemed to. Also possible: my memory is less steel trap, more sleepy security guard.) Preparing for class presentations.

The teachers told us there would be homework on the order of about 10-15 minutes a night. Which is fine. But this week, it’s gusting towards an hour (10-15 minutes of handwriting practice, 20-30 of sight word practice — which feels more like two to three hours, let me tell you — and another 10-15 minutes of reading books about firefighters for a class dress-up day this week). And last night, it reached a head, and caused that Moment.

We went to a fundraiser night at a local restaurant, which had us getting home later than usual — just about 45 minutes before bedtime. And the kids have been cooped up all day, so we let them out to play in the yard for a few minutes while my wife and I take stock of the situation and figure out the plan of attack for bedtime (and if you think having a “plan of attack” for bedtime sounds a little silly, well, obviously you’re not a parent). So by the time they come in, we’ve got thirty minutes until bedtime. And in our house, much like Bruce Willis doesn’t miss his drilling depth even in an asteroid of alien construction, WE DO NOT MISS BEDTIME.

It dawns. We don’t have enough time to do Sprout’s homework. What do we cut? His handwriting is atrocious; he needs every rep he can get. And for every day we don’t work on his sight words, he forgets ninety percent of what he had learned. And the bloody firefighter presentation is tomorrow, so we can’t skip that.

We start working. He’s writing while I sit next to him, and I’m watching the clock. He’s dawdling (go figure, he’s a kid), and I’m getting frustrated. The waters are rising, threatening to close over both our heads. He goes to erase a mistake and I stop him. I stop him. “Just leave it. Let’s get finished.” He’s confused and upset — do I want him to work or do I want him to be done working? — and near tears. It’s too much. Now I’m underwater, and I’m fuming. He’s five years old, for crying out loud. We shouldn’t be dealing with having so much homework he has to stay up late at five years old. This is insane. Just let it slip.

And then, the Moment. Because, see, in addition to being a dad, I’m a teacher, too. And as a teacher, I know what’s plaguing our youth and by extension, our future; it’s a lack of gumption. That thing that sends you out into the rain for a five AM workout when you’d rather stay in your warm bed. That thing that gets teachers staying late in the evening and going in early in the morning when their neighbors are working their 9-to-5’s. That thing that gets Rocky off the mat after Creed knocks him on his keester. (Kiester? Keister? Keester? Spellcheck recognizes none of these.) The thing, in other words, that recognizes that the job is tough, the job is unpleasant, the job is painful; but at the same time, the job needs doing, and if you don’t do it, then it won’t get done.

The urge was there. The thoughts were there. He’s only five. Why is he doing all this at home anyway — aren’t they supposed to teach him in school? What’s the big deal if he doesn’t do it? Not like he’s going to flunk kindergarten!

But it’s that kind of thinking that has classrooms across the nation filled with kids who don’t know the value — not just of homework — but of WORK. Who don’t have the patience to work at anything that doesn’t come to them almost immediately.  Who aren’t interested in trying something if it doesn’t already interest them.

This is a Moment, I realize — maybe not the moment (because after all, he’s still only five), but certainly a Moment — when we teach him that homework is just a Thing You Do, that school exists outside the walls of a government building, that Mommy and Daddy support and believe in and will even enforce the things he’s getting from his education. It’s not a thing that happens to him in a vacuum, separate from us. Not a thing we hear vague whispers of across a dinner table, in disinterested mumblings around mouthfuls of mashed potatoes. (“How was your day today?” “Fine.” “School okay?” “Sure.” End scene.) Not a thing we allow to slip at the first inconvenience.

That way would be easy.

That way is too common for too many parents of too many kids.

That way is not for us.

JFK said it best … we do these things “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

And, okay, sure, there’s the added benefit that maybe, hopefully, these things will turn the Sprout into a decent human being one day.

So I gather him in for a hug and we back off for a few minutes and talk about doing the work and being ready for school the next day. We dry his tears. And we get back to it. I’m happy to say, we finished the homework. Then we got him down to bed a little bit late. And we talked about firefighters the next morning before we sent him off to school.

And he was smiling when he left the house.

I guess a few minutes of missed sleep didn’t hurt him. And for that matter, it didn’t hurt me, either.

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.

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?

To the Parents of Children Gassed in Ferguson (I Am Not Sympathetic)

I’ve said it before, but it is not my intention to go around starting fires using this blog.  I try to speak from a place of my own personal experience and to generalize that experience when it’s appropriate to those unlucky souls who read what I write here with any manner of regularity.

That said, there are some things going on in Ferguson that I do feel comfortable making blanket statements about.

Look, what’s going on there is a tragedy and a travesty.  I’m not here to say that justice has gone haywire or that people are overreacting — it’s a capital “B” Bad Situation there right now no matter how you slice it.  That said, what the situation calls for is NOT people across the country jumping immediately to the blind defense of one side or another.  We simply don’t know all the ins and outs and it’s impossible for us to make a judgment on what should or should not be going on there from one day to the next.  But I do know ONE thing that protesters SHOULDN’T be doing, and that’s involving their kids in the protests.

A thing that’s getting a lot of play today is that apparently some children were on the receiving end of teargas used by the police to disperse one of the protesting groups (I’m being really careful not to use the word “mob”, because, again, I’m not there and I don’t know the situation).  And let’s not split hairs: that’s bad.


The subsequent headlines and outrage and villainization of the police on the back of this unfortunate eventuality is all a fraud.  You can’t be mad at the police in this case and this instance because it is not the police force’s fault the kids got gassed.  You just can’t.  Sorry.  I know the narrative is supposed to be that the police are jumping to violence and becoming downright fascist and impinging on human rights down in Ferguson.  And the truth is, maybe they are.  But that’s immaterial in the case of these kids getting gassed.  No, if you’re a parent in Ferguson and your child got gassed, that is your fault.

“But the police shouldn’t be using teargas to break up peaceful protesters!”

Maybe not.  But they have been.  They did it on the first night of protests and they’d done it again since.  What makes you think it’d be any different this time?

“But those protesters were protesting peacefully!”

Maybe they were.  But those protesters are also fully and acutely aware of just how tense the situation is out there.  They know the cops have (and I really wish there were a better metaphor) itchy trigger fingers.  They knew and they know that it can go down at any moment out there.

“But those were just children!”

Maybe so.  But a mob is a mob (again, I’m not saying it was a mob, but I’m saying that the police are treating it like a mob), and when you’re dealing with a mob, you don’t have the luxury of time to say “oh, this person is physically trying to murder me and that one’s leading a hunger strike; let me direct my limited resources at the one that matters”.

No, the onus for any child getting gassed at any of these protests is strictly on the parents.  As a parent, your job, before anything else, is to provide for the safety of your child.  Your kid should have been at home, watching terrible reruns of cartoons you’ve seen hundreds of times, or — and I know this is pretty far out there — in bed, asleep.  Instead, you brought the kid to a protest.  A protest in a city where over the past week a teenager has died, reporters have been arrested, and teargas and rubber bullets have been unleashed on protesters.

Let’s not forget, either, the lunatic selfishness and self-importance that might cause a parent to bring a child to an event like this.  I understand the compulsion, and perhaps even the fervor that makes you feel like you have to be present, that you have to be a part of what’s happening when your community is in turmoil.  Guess what?  Your first job as a parent is keeping your kid safe; you have to either accept that and sit the protest out or embrace the idea that you’re putting your child in harm’s way for your own ideology.  I might as well bring my kid to an industrial finger-slicing factory for the educational possibilities and be angry when my kid sticks his hand in a machine (as kids are wont to do) and gets his fingers lopped off.  It’s not the machine’s fault that YOU put your kid in a dangerous situation.  The machine is just doing what it does.  The police in Ferguson are just doing what they’ve done since this whole mess started.  I’m not saying it’s right; it’s not for me to decide what’s right.  But they’ve been using teargas and rubber bullets since the first night, and you brought your kid to the protest?  You should be arrested for child endangerment.

The righteous indignation over kids being the newest victims of police brutality in Ferguson is as empty as the sympathy-pit in my cold, dead heart for these idiots putting their kids in harm’s way.  News outlets posting that “violence in Ferguson has turned against children” or “children are the latest victims of police aggression” should be ashamed of themselves.  Parents raising hell and boo-hooing and calling for the officers in question to be killed or arrested can likewise go take a hike.  The police are not knowingly firing on children.  They’re firing on a “mob.”  Let’s say you have a delicious piece of cake.  It’s glorious and has just the right amount of buttercream frosting and the cake mix is just delectable; it’s so perfect that no man living could say a cross word against the cake.  You stick the cake into a brown paper bag, light the bag on fire, and ring my doorbell.  I open the door, see a burning bag, and proceed to stomp it into oblivion to extinguish the flame, ruining a perfectly good piece of cake in the process.  You don’t get to paint me as a cake-hater.  The only way you get to say the police are targeting kids is if the police broke into your house where your child was sleeping and gassed him in his bed.

And if the cops did see the kids in the crowd?  Sorry, you still don’t get to villainize them, because now you’re hiding behind the defenseless to deter the threat of violence, which is the most cowardly of cowardly war acts.

Oh, and if you did bring your kids to the protest in the hopes that you would gain more notice for yourself or your cause by involving the kids, shame on you.  Kids don’t have an agenda; kids don’t have the capacity for that stuff.  At best they think it’s some intricate field trip, at worst you’re just indoctrinating them.  And, oh yeah, if you got your kid gassed at the protest you just had to be at, you’ve only taught him to hate cops and by extension all authority figures, which I’m sure is NOT AT THE HEART OF ANY OF SOCIETY’S PROBLEMS.

Let me reiterate that I don’t think the cops are right in this.  I don’t think that they’re wrong either.  It’s not my place to make that call, but if they have received death threats and if the crowds are growing unruly, then I understand their position.  By the same token, I don’t think the protesters are right in this, but I don’t think they’re wrong either.  A member of the community is dead and the police seem to be closing ranks, so I understand their position.  What both sides need is a good solid dose of calm-down juice and probably a more forceful authoritarian force coming in from outside to chill the business out.  Maybe the National Guard can help that today.  Either way, for the love of all that’s holy, leave your kids out of this mess.  They don’t deserve to be on the receiving end of violence that you’re helping to perpetuate, no matter what you believe about this situation.

Hot Car Summer

Is there something in the water?

Does this kind of thing happen all the time and it just never got news play this big before?  Is it the fact that this schmuck who apparently murdered his toddler by locking him in the car that’s thrown the spotlight on other inadvertent cases?

It seems like every day there’s another news story of another kid locked in another car, and it just makes me wonder, what the fargo is going on?  Are people really forgetting about their kids?  Or, worse, are they really just not thinking about the fact that it’s summer and the temperature in your car can get up over 120 degrees in the space of a few minutes in the sun?  Or, worse worse worse, are people who hate their kids trying to murder their children without actually having to murder their children?

(Strap yourselves in, it’s about to get preachy in here.)

Whatever the case, this sharknado is happening too often.  I refuse to believe that a rational adult, functioning with all the years of development in a human spirit and parental instinct could at best forget about his kid, or at worst leave the kid in a hot car to suffer and die.  It’s torture in addition to neglect.  Does this not bespeak the need to step up the penalties for committing a crime like this against a helpless child?  I understand that not every parent wants to be a parent, and certainly not every parent is cut out to be a parent, but that doesn’t mean that the kid should suffer for that parent’s shortcomings, EVER.

I think it’s time to get a little bit medieval on this particular crime.  Throw it back to the old code of Hamurabi.  This is not facetiery.  I’m being very serious.  To commit a crime like this against a child is indicative of a fundamental lack of something human, whether the crime is intentional or accidental.  If your own parental instinct isn’t going to keep you from torturing and murdering your child, isn’t it the job of society to make sure you don’t, through deterrent and harsh punishment?  You do this — you lock your kid in the car, INTENTIONALLY OR ACCIDENTALLY, and part of your sentence is that you have to sit in the same car in the same heat for at least as long as you let the kid sit.  The kid died in the car?  Guess what, waste of skin?  You get to suffocate and burn just the same.

Say what you want about capital punishment for murderers; that’s a whole separate issue.  These are, in the unholy majority of cases, parents acting against their kids, and that means they’re unfit at best, and downright psychopathic and depraved at worst.

Let’s take the three cases: neglect (I forgot the kid was in the car), idiocy (I only left him for a few minutes), and outright murder.

Neglect.  You forgot your kid was in the car with you?  Really?  What were you so engrossed with, what was so important?  What, in short, demanded SO MUCH of your attention that you FORGOT about the life that you brought into the world?  You forgot that that life was in your care and depended on you for the basicest of basic needs (shelter from harm)?  “Sorry” doesn’t cut it.  “I wasn’t thinking” doesn’t cut it.  If you weren’t thinking, if you “just forgot” your kid was in the car, you need a reminder.  Enjoy your penance in the sun box.

Idiocy.  You knew what you were doing, but you were only going to leave the kid in the car for a few minutes.  Okay.  Some people are not the most empathetic or sympathetic; in fact some of us can barely see past the end of our own noses.  Look no further than viral videos of morons texting on their cell phones as they wander into traffic or into water fountains to see that some people aren’t concerned with ANYBODY outside of their own skin.  So you aren’t thinking about consequences another person might have to endure, that’s plain.  But that’s not good enough.  This is your child.  A life that you created, that counts on you to make the world a safe place to the best of your ability.  You’re going to knowingly leave that child in an enclosed space in the dead of summer for any length of time?  I feel bad closing the door on my kid and then loading groceries into the back for thirty seconds before I can get the A/C on.

Here’s the rub for this instance.  Would you sit in a car with the windows up for ANY length of time in the summer heat if you didn’t have to?  If you said anything other than “no,” you’re lying to yourself.  You wouldn’t sit in the car while your significant other ran into the grocery store.  While she got her nails done. While he went to have a beer.  And if somehow you DID find yourself sat in a car with the windows up and no A/C running, within twenty seconds you’d be looking for a way to break the windows out, because YOU’RE AN ADULT and you have that capability.  Kids don’t have that capability.  If you really thought it wouldn’t be so bad for your kid to wait in the car while you ran in at the post office or picked up eggs from the store, then you need a reminder.  Enjoy your penance in the sun box.

Murder.  What can be said?  If you intentionally leave your kid in a hot car knowing he’s likely to die, you don’t deserve your worthless hide, and you deserve to exit it smothering and suffering and suffocating, whether your kid died or not.

There’s no excuse for it.  There’s no reason a child should have to suffer for an adult’s idiocy or negligence.  A stronger message needs to be sent to protect these poor kids.

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