Tag Archives: parenting

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.


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?


The Weekly Re-Motivator: Childish Energy


Child, Cool, Dress, Fun, Hero, Red, Feeling, Kid, Boy

Tap, tap, tap.

It’s six AM on a Saturday, and my 4-year old is tapping on my forehead.

“Daddy, it’s Friday o’clock. It’s time to wake up.”

I grumble and open one eye at him. “Friday isn’t a number, Sprout. Time has to be a number.”

He thinks about this and says, “Dad, it’s Saturday o’clock.” Which is closer to correct.

I pull the sheet over my head. He climbs up on the bed and jumps on me. Why? Because he’s awake, the sun is coming up, and he’s ready to start his day of watching cartoons, eating fruit, drinking chocolate milk, running around in the yard, tormenting his little sister, chasing the cats, coloring on the walls, and all the other things he has to do. His schedule is a giant blank slate, but he runs from one thing to the next like he’s trying to stretch out time by moving close to the speed of light.

Seriously. He runs everywhere. To the kitchen. To the bathroom. Up the stairs to his room. To the car. After the dog. In circles around the coffee table. Everywhere. And, to shamelessly reminisce upon my post from a couple weeks ago, he does nothing halfway. With every task, every diversion, he throws himself into it like … well, like a 4-year-old hurling himself into a bouncy house.

He’s that kid that adults see and think, I wish I had that kind of energy. Imagine what we could get done! But the fact is, we do have that kind of energy, we’ve just forgotten how to channel it. We work at jobs that wear us out physically or mentally or emotionally or all of the above. We come home from those jobs tired, wanting nothing more than to collapse on the couch and watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or whatever Netflix show is binge-worthy this week. And it’s all we can do to haul ourselves into bed a few hours later to steal a few hours of blessed sleep before it’s time to do it all again. We don’t have energy because our momentum sucks.

We watch TV because it’s that time of day. We heave ourselves out of bed after hitting the snooze button three times because we can’t put it off any longer.

Meanwhile, my son has seemingly endless reserves of energy because he’s always moving. He doesn’t rest because he just got done coloring or because he just wants to sit down for a minute after a hard day. He rests because he has to. He’ll run fifteen laps around the playground, then come to me and say, “daddy, I’m tired, I need to take a break.” And he does. For about two minutes. Then he’s up and running for the slides again. In fact, I can hardly ever capture a decent picture of him because he is always in motion.

20141013_082555

He doesn’t even touch the *ground*.

 

He has an urgency to everything he does that I wish I could recreate. He does everything in his life like he knows it won’t last forever.

And we can too, if we let ourselves.

Momentum matters.

We come home and watch TV for hours because our momentum sucks. We drag ass and sleep in and laze around on the weekend because we feel like we need the rest to muster ourselves for another week at work. But that’s only true if we view the movement, the activity, the doing of things as an obstacle in our day.

But these things are not the obstacles in our day. They are the stuff of the day itself. They are the stuff of life. Your job. Playing with the kids. Going to the store. Cleaning the house. This is life. And if it wears us out, well, okay, maybe that’s what happens. But energy is transformative. The more you spend, the more you seem to have.

It’s why I feel like I can get more done on a day when I run than on a day when I don’t. It’s why I feel like I need to write for an hour after I push through grading a whole stack of papers. The days I feel like I can’t get anything done are the days where I just never got started and can’t break out of the funk of the negative momentum.

So, back to my son tapping on my forehead.

Six AM on a Saturday. I’d rather be sleeping. But I’m coming downstairs. Making him breakfast. Taking time out to write a little bit while he chases the cats around.

And now, I think I’m going to go chase him around the yard a little bit.

You know, fill up the tank a little.

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.


The Weekly Re-Motivator: It Even Snows in Atlanta


The world is not equitable. The playing field is not even.

Sure, most of us start with more or less the same genetic code, and people are generally people wherever you go, but there’s no telling who’s going to be naturally gifted at this thing or that thing. Some great writers languish, undiscovered, for their entire lifetimes, while the Stephanie Meyers and the E.L. Jameses of the world spread their cancerous tripe like a brush fire. Some of the best athletes the world will ever know have never set foot on a proper field or court.

All of which makes it pretty darn reasonable to throw in the towel. Getting discovered is a mug’s gameIt’s who, not what, you knowProbably, you’re too old anyway to take up anything new. Old dogs and all. Right?

And that’s the problem with our culture. We think that we’ll never get to the top, so we give up on our dreams before we even take the first step. I’m never going to lose the thirty pounds I’d like to, so let me chomp down on this pile of cheeseburgers and watch reruns of House all day. This or that measure won’t solve every single problem with gun violence, so let’s not even bother disrupting the status quo.

We have such a distorted view of success that we’re afraid to reach even for the hem of its garment. We might not be perfect, so let’s not even try to be decent.

But that’s bullshit. Kids know it.

Give my kids a couple of crayons, and they will gladly launch into a whirlwind of artistic expression. They’ll branch out from doodling on paper to scrawling on the walls to decorating the family cats, then bring their work to you with a face-splitting smile saying “look what I did!” They take pride in their work, even though it’s crap, because they have no conception of what good work is. They have no idea — and are therefore not concerned — that there could possibly be somebody else out there doing anything better than what they are doing right here, right now, at this moment.

And that’s where this insecurity stems from, isn’t it? The constant comparison, the inescapable knowledge that while I’m sitting here tying myself in knots to bang out a few more words on my novel, Stephen King is somewhere in a mahogany study probably twenty pages deep into today’s copy. Every word better than mine, and by dint of that betterness, more valuable, and once we start talking about value, well. Steve’s words have value and mine don’t. It is as unlikely as a blizzard dumping two feet of snow in Atlanta that my words will ever be as valuable as Stephen King’s.

So why bother?

When we focus on the prizes that the things we could do bring — publication, wealth, an adoring audience … or a slimmer waistline, or a smaller number on the scale, or a promotion at work, or a new car in the driveway, or a medal or a trophy — we take our eyes off the road at our feet. Now, having a goal in mind is great. You have to dream big and aim high or you really won’t have a shot. But the prizes we’re aiming at — or the prizes we’re told we should aim at — aren’t the only prizes out there.

You can run for the serenity of it rather than to be the fastest. You can play pickup basketball for the distraction and the exercise and never have to worry about getting picked for a team. You can write for the sheer joy of it, or for the rush of playing god with the lives of the tiny beings you’ve created, or because it relaxes you, or simply because you have a story to tell.

I may never get published, or never reach the audience I hope to, or never make a dime off my writing. But I think I’d be okay with that. (I mean, it’d be a bummer, but I like to think I’d be okay with it.) I’m having a damned good time telling stories, even if it’s just to myself. Even if I’m never even a patch on Stephen King.

Then again, every now and then, it even snows in Atlanta…

20160123_093316.jpg

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.


%d bloggers like this: