Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kids to Adults...Lost in Translation

A very random and somewhat classless thought occurred to me when I got home from work today. I was the first person home, well that’s not true, my oldest daughter had been home a great part of the day so let’s just say I was the first person home who thought the dogs would need to go outside since they hadn’t been out for several hours. I took them outside and the older, larger, smarter (but only because the younger, smaller, dumber dog has the IQ of a jar of paste) dog took about three steps to get all four legs in the grass and then proceeded to undertake the task for which I brought him outside in the first place. That is when two thoughts went through my mind. The first thought was I had been correct in my assumption that the eldest child had not taken the dogs out for quite a while as the number one undertaking (pun intended) proved a certain amount of canine leg crossing and dancing about had been taking place prior to my return home. The second thought and this is the not-so-classy bit I referred to earlier, is I should have been a tad more selfish and made absolutely sure I did not have to go myself before heading out into the back yard with the dogs as witnessing this process suddenly added a certain amount of urgency to my own world. Lesson learned.

Now on to our regularly scheduled column…

Last weekend I was an audience member for a dance recital. This featured dozens of children ranging from seventeen-years-old on down to learned-to-walk-about-twenty-minutes-before-curtain. Even though the older kids were much more adept at the actual dancing the tiny kids were my favorite. Most of them made it appear finding the beat of the songs to which they were dancing was harder to find than a shred of decency in a Goldman Sachs executive. They stood there watching the teacher go through the choreography. Some of them realized their task was to ape the movements of the bigger person, others randomly moved various body parts in an asynchronous manner and still others stood there transfixed, like a Precious Moments doll in headlights. It didn’t really matter though. Each and every one of them exuded a preternatural level of cuteness.

The auditorium had to have over three hundred people in it for what had been billed as a three hour dance recital. I am sure there were many people who remembered Gilligan’s group was just going on a three hour tour and ended up stuck for 98 episodes. I have to admit I snuck in my iPod in case the afternoon drug on just a bit too much because my own personal kid was part of the very first dance and then would not be on stage again until the second to last routine. I never resorted to my contraband entertainment because the kids had obviously worked very hard in preparation and they were truly fun to watch.

We are often told our most precious natural resource is our children and afternoons like this one bring that idea home to me. I like children, most days. The wonder the younger ones possess is so much fun to observe. They think things are cool. Why else would they constantly demand you look at each and everything they notice or do? “Daddy, look at me riding my tricycle!” “Daddy, look at that rainbow!” “Daddy, look at me smearing peanut butter all over the computer keyboard!” “Mommy, look at Daddy crying in the corner!”

Let’s look at other natural resources. Water is the very life of the planet and if you mix it with a certain granulated powder you have Surfin’ Berry Punch Kool-Aid. Gold is a shiny rock that by itself is somewhat pleasing to the eye but mine it, melt it and shape it and it becomes jewelry which has ruined many a young man’s bank account.

This ruining of natural resources is what I fear we do entirely too often with children. We have such a large supply of them in their raw state but then we don’t seem to know how to process them properly. Like oil there is great potential for usefulness in the world but then instead of carefully collecting and refining them we willy-nilly go about the process and then we’re surprised when there are suddenly hundreds of thousands of adults spewing all over the planet making a frightful mess of things.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

That's Gonna Sting for A While

A Cleveland man complaining of tightness in his chest was found to have an elephant standing on him. The man said he had experienced some discomfort, but had no idea there was a pachyderm perched on his pectoral muscles. Okay, I made that up. It is pretty preposterous, but is it any more outlandish than the man who had to go to the dentist to find out he had shot a four inch nail into his jaw? It was there for six days before he sought help. Not only should this guy never be handed a nail gun again but the most dangerous object he should ever be in control of is one of those Kentucky Fried Chicken sporks.

Most everyone has had an accident which resulted in an embarrassing injury. I broke my collarbone when I was in fifth grade. I told everyone I broke it high jumping, which was true. What I failed to tell them was the bar had been set about 15 inches above the ground when my Fosbury truly flopped and resulted in a clavicular fracture. At least I didn’t wait six days to seek medical attention. Actually, my mom made me go. Even at the age of eleven I had the male predisposition to “tough it out.”

Men don’t like going to the doctor. Many psychologists think it stems from a deep seated dislike for giving up control by admitting one needs help. Others think it grows out of a sense one is not a real man if he admits to pain. All men know it isn’t either of those reasons. It actually boils down to one thing – doctors are creepy. They use small metal implements which remind us all of that scene in Marathon Man when Laurence Olivier is asking Dustin Hoffman, “Is it safe?” (man, that still causes ever sphincter muscle in my body to squeeze tighter than then skin on Joan Rivers’ face). It is not unreasonable for men to do all they can to avoid medical attention. If a person told you he was going to make you wear a big paper towel, sit in a tiny cubicle for forty minutes with nothing to do but skim seven year old copies of Brides magazine, then tell you you’re overweight and to stop doing and eating everything you truly enjoy doing and eating, all for the low, low price of 100 dollars you’d tell him there was no way you would do that. The real miracle of modern medicine is not the advancement in technology or pharmaceuticals. It is the fact that whole cubicle scenario is something people do, frequently.

Early man survived without modern medicine. The fact the life expectancy of early man was just slightly longer than the number of weeks the Kansas City Royals can even pretend they are contenders in the division shouldn’t worry us. Can you blame men for having the somewhat Cro-Magnon mentality to just rub some dirt in it and walk it off? It is much simpler. Men like simple. Women like complicated. Whereas men look for the most direct solution to any problem, which is often ignoring the existence of a problem, women enjoy the twelve step programs. If admitting it is the first step, than men are definitely using the elevator.

The life expectancy of a man born in 1960 is just over 66 years, and the life expectancy of a woman born in 1960 is nearly 73 years. That seven year discrepancy might just be attributable to a woman’s willingness to go to the doctor and actually try to take care of herself. I suppose it might also have something to do with the fact that many men enjoy doing things like lighting fireworks with the cigar they have clamped between their teeth after having sucked down enough beer to founder Secretariat. Self-preservation is not the top characteristic for the average American male. Guys do not tend to think, “If I get the speedometer up to 110 M.P.H. and try to jump over that train blocking the street I might just die.” More likely they think things like: “It would be soooo cool if I could get my Festiva over the top of that Burlington Northern.”

I suppose it will take quite a bit to make men change their attitudes towards healthy living habits. Until then, guys, remember, “turn your head and cough” is better to hear than “it will cost $55,000 to remove that rearview mirror from your forehead.”

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Is "Paternal" Latin for Clueless

This weekend my youngest child will turn twelve years old. I will not annoy everyone by typing in the full lyrics for the song “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, but holy Tevye, Batman! Where did the time go?

Even though the term father could be used to describe me for 17 years now I make no claims that I know how to do this job. There have been fathers for generations. Actually, there have been fathers for as long as there have been generations. Even though people have been practicing the art and science of parenthood for ages nobody has all the answers. Oh, sure, Dr. Spock tried to write the owner’s manual for the little beggars but after a while even that book is more useful as a device to measure if the bars on the crib are close enough together to avoid injury than anything else. (Warning long-winded non sequitur may be closer than it appears: It is amazing I lived through my childhood. I had a crib with bars I could fit my head between. There where wall sockets in my house without little plastic prong thingees shoved into them. I played with an Erector Set which was totally comprised of sharp-edged metal bars. My Major Matt Mason action figures had accessories sold separately which could just as easily have been labeled choking hazards sold separately. And my favorite breakfast cereal was Lead Paint Flakes with its lovable cartoon mascot Brain Damaged Idiot depicted in bright colors on every box.)

I have been forced to look for guidance where the majority of people seek their role models for everything in life: television. I tried to be Ward Cleaver but the cardigan sweaters were too itchy. I thought about emulating Cliff Huxtable but those sweaters were itchy and ugly. Charles Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie seemed to be capable and had really great hair. That and the fact that he was light years more intelligent than the Pa in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books (“There’s a blizzard a comin’ I guess I better go to town and leave my young children and wife to deal with it on their own.”) made him a good candidate until I found out I was going to have to follow that up with being in Highway to Heaven.
This was going to be harder than I thought. Full House Dad? Too wimpy. Family Ties Dad? Too in-touch-with-your-feelings-y? Eight is Enough Dad? Too oblivious of the real world? My Two Dads Dads? Too many of them in one house.

That’s the thing about being a parent; you can’t really use anyone else’s experiences to guide you. This is probably due to the fact no two children, fathers, or situations (even similar situations hours apart) are ever truly the same. That fact is really starting to tick me off.

I have to adjust to the fact that my children are starting to leave the truly childish existence I am used to, not good at, just used to, behind. This is just one of the myriad of things my wife is better at than I am. A while back I had between 7 and 249 teenagers in my basement. Okay, it was twelve, but that’s within the range I mentioned. (Hyperbole, a perfectly acceptable writer’s tool.) Anyway, my wife came into the room I was hiding, uh, working in. She was excited our house was the “go to” house for my daughters and their friends. She was focused on the facts that our kids were in our house, they had friends who were good kids, their friends saw our house as an acceptable place to be, and we knew they were all safe. I was focused on the facts that there were several hairy legged boys near my girls, I was paying for the snacks and soda pop they were drinking, and since I am an old man with a job I would be trying to sleep as they were raucously laughing below me.

I need to stop worrying and enjoy the ride. I am very lucky because I genuinely like my children. The more time I spend out in the world the more often I find there is a smaller and smaller percentage of people I really want to spend time with. Maybe that is why people have children. It is not some primordial urge to keep the species from extinction but rather a selfish desire to create people we don’t immediately want to smack across the cheek with a sock full of lard.