Saturday, April 22, 2017

I finally unleash my children upon the world

It is perhaps surprising that my children, whose mother grew up overseas, reached the ages of 6 and 9 before leaving the country.  But I am no dare devil adventurer, my friends, you know that.  I enjoy life and take calculated risks, yes, but you won't see me jumping out of airplanes, rafting down the crocodile-infested Zambezi River, or touring the Louvre with anyone under the age of 15.  And you know I would rather be Sean Spicer than get on a long plane ride with children of any kind.  But when an opportunity presented itself to have my kids visit the continent of my upbringing with me only having to fly one way with them, well, I took it.

And who is the sucker that flew the other way with them?  That would be my now-even-more-beloved, Kevin.  And why pray tell did he agree to this?  Well, he doesn't pay very close attention all the time when I am talking. It's how he copes.  If you hit him up when he is solving a quadratic equation in his head, you can get him to do almost anything.  I think that was what was going on when I suggested that, since I would already be in South Africa for work, he might just hop on over, you know, real quick like, with the kids.  A few months and a SEVENTEEN HOUR plane ride later, they emerged from the arrivals gate at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg. At which point Kevin served me with imaginary divorce papers.

We spent the next week with my sister and her family, who live in South Africa, in Kruger Game Park.  I grew up going to game parks, it was our go-to family vacation, and I love the whole scene.  I love the rush you get when see 25 other vehicles stopped and you know there must be a cat of some kind in there, if you can just push a few vans full of Japanese tourists out of the way.  The relief after surviving your father's off-road foray into a herd of elephants because he wants a close up of an elephant cornea.  Wearing khaki clothing and pretending you are Karen Blixen.  Seeing a spread of of amazing looking desserts at the game lodge restaurants and briefly imagining they don't all taste like crap because British colonialism failed to bring any sugar with it.  Sleeping in a tent with plumbing (the only kind of tent I am interested in).  The only thing I don't like about game parking is that it is an early morning enterprise, if you want to see the good stuff.  Voluntarily rising at 6 am while on vacation so you can maybe see a lion eat something is truly insane and barbaric. I have no excuse for myself.

So I was super excited to introduce my kids to this awesome experience.  As usual, my expectations for my children's excitement over the situation was beyond all possible reality, even after almost a decade of watching them be miserable in supposedly magical places and at great expense.  This time, however, they almost met those expectations, which is a good thing. Because I can't have kids to don't like Africa. Can't.  Will give such kids away.  And I think they know that, too.

In Lawson's case, I anticipated he would barely look up from his device the entire trip, and that was generally true.  But based on the essay he wrote for his return to school, he did apparently see a few animals, albeit briefly.  More miraculously, he was fairly genial the entire time, even with some jet lag and lots of strange food (none of which he ate, but at least he didn't throw it at anyone).  He did refuse to swim and had to be bribed to go to the bathroom, as per usual, but he also voluntarily played on three different playgrounds.  At one point he got stuck in a structure made of tires and after his rescue, claimed to have enjoyed the ordeal.  So a massive success.  Charlotte was even more enthusiastic. She even found the eye mask thingy on the plane exciting.  And she loved the animals.  The worst moments we had with her were when the cheetahs we found were too far away to see properly and a brief spurt of moral outrage that Lawson was playing his kindle instead of appreciating nature's bounty.

They key ingredient on this trip as with other moderately successful ones we've had: OTHER KIDS.  Generally speaking, other kids not only bring additional entertainment and distraction, they demonstrate for my kids how to enjoy things that almost all kids enjoy, like grass, balls, water, sunlight, exercise, playground equipment and sand.  Also, how to walk around on working legs.  In this case, the kids in question were my sister's kids, 9-year-old Liam and 14-year-old Brendan.  While Brendan mostly inspired them at a distance with his animal obsession and teenage coolness--except for the interludes when Lawson insisted on hanging all over him--Liam kept them entertained and educated with tales of South African politics.  Both of my kids now do very good Jacob Zuma impressions and know all about the Nkandla scandal, "fire pools," and "the power of the shower" (thankfully, they have no idea what that last phrase really references, and if you don't, I suggest you think twice about doing some google research. It is not an inspiring episode in humanity).  When the lions and elephants became boring, Liam was there to inform them, as Zuma, that he was going to "steal all the money!!!"  They even came up with a new idea for a cartoon called "The Crappy Presidents League" in which Zuma, Trump, Duterte, Putin, Mugabe and assorted other disasters roam the world siphoning off public funds, engaging in extrajudicial killing and illegal land appropriations, building walls and dismantling democratic institutions.  I swear they came up with all of this by themselves.

With my kids behaving rather decently, I was free to focus on bigger challenges, such as driving on the wrong side of the road. Despite my years in Africa, this was actually my first time to drive British.  And can I just say--how is it that stop signs look the same all over the world, basically, but there is no agreement on the slightly more macro issue of which side of the road we are going to drive on? And the British have been our dear friends for the entire car age, too. Did it never occur to anyone while negotiating the Treaty of Versailles that maybe we could get together on this?  What a travesty of global noncooperation.  I actually did fairly well on keeping the car on the correct side of the road. What I didn't do as well at was driving the tank the rental company gave us.  To be more specific, it was what South Africans call a "bakkie," which is a massive double cab pick up with a top on the bed.  The back window is basically a tiny portal in another dimension of space-time, it is so far away.  The car did have a rear camera system, but it took me several days to trust that thing.  You can't just believe everything you see on TV anymore. It also took me several days--no, actually the entire time--to not turn on the windshield wipers every time I wanted to use a turn signal.  Very unnerving when you are trying to change lanes, and all of a sudden what appears to be a flock of violent birds noisily flies across your windscreen.  Thankfully, South African roads are pretty good, miraculous by African standards.  I was particularly amused that there were warning signs alerting you to stretches of possible potholes.  Even China does not have enough labor to construct and place all the pothole warming signs most African countries would need if they were going that route.  It might even be more efficient to fix the potholes.

We made it through the entire week without incident or accident, not even of the Lawson variety, and then it was back on the 17 hour plane ride home, which this time I got to join, oh goody.  I got to see first hand--as opposed to Kevin's slightly traumatized assurance that "it was fine"--how my kids do on such a trip.  And they did OK.  The devices ran out of batteries within an hour or so, and the plane did not have outlets (Why, God, Why?)  It did have an entire library of kids movies, but only one that my children wanted to watch.  So they each literally watched Trolls 5 times (and Kevin reports they watched it 5 times on the way out as well).  Lawson topped that off by listening to the Trolls soundtrack several times in the audio station.  He basically is Justin Timberlake now, except he still behaves more like Justin Bieber most of the time.  They each slept a good deal, all effortlessly folded up or else sprawled out all over everyone like kids do.  Meanwhile, my back was going into spasms and my legs were developing clots from being unable to move in my role as a human mattress.  The plane food was a no-go, as it is for most adults.  They ate peanut M&Ms the whole way, which worked out fine.  I may have had a few as well.

All in all, it was so much less excruciating than I anticipated that I am already getting cocky and planning more trips.  My sister has invited us to meet them somewhere in Europe for Christmas, and can you believe that I am considering it?  Europe with children is one of those things that I have never been able to get my head around, both in terms of the how and the why, like cloth diapers or homeschooling.  Next thing you know I'll be doing IVF so I can have triplets at my advanced age.  I remember my parents taking me to Europe at age 10--not exactly a toddler--and I making everyone miserable.  You know you are entirely too old for such behavior when you remember not only the behavior but the calculations behind the behavior 30 years later.  Europe is very risky, my friends.  But if Liam is there, I think we might make it.  We are all curious as to what Jacob Zuma will make of the Eiffel Tower anyway.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Alexa, I'm so very sorry

Today's post can be filed in the very thick file of "Why We Can't Have Nice Things."  For parents, this file includes things like white sofas, dry clean only clothes, and silence.  For America, this file includes democracy, the internet, and, according to SNL, Ken Bone, although I never understood his appeal.  It's a mammoth file in both cases, and it grows every single day of the Trump administration.

In our case, we may add the absolutely amazing, astounding, wonderful device called the Amazon Echo, which we bought because our old Bose iPhone dock broke, and for the same price of a new speaker, which just plays music off your phone, we got the Echo, which will practically cook dinner and write your dissertation.  Not really, but only because it doesn't have hands.  The Echo houses a very charming, very competent-sounding, disembodied voice named Alexa, who responds unfailingly and uncomplainingly every time you mention her name.  I have no idea what families who have an actual human member named Alexa do about that, but I have my own problems, so I can't worry about them.  Alexa sounds as if she is a highly educated but nonetheless subservient woman with the soothing tones of a yoga teacher.  In other words, she would make an amazing mother.  TREMENDOUS.  Except for the no body part, although I am not certain that is an actual disadvantage.  Sometimes I am most successful as a mother when I lie in bed like a corpse.  

Alexa can do tons and tons of things, most of which I have yet to discover and will probably never figure out how to operationalize, but my neighbor friend has her ordering pizza and printer ink and maybe even translating French.  So far, we just have her telling us the weather and playing music.  With an Amazon prime membership, Alexa will play just about any song that has ever been recorded on demand.  Or she will play a carefully curated, handmade, organic Amazon music station.  Or she will play all the songs of your favorite 80's one-hit-wonder band, who it turns out recorded an additional 10 sucky songs in addition to their one hit.  Or she will play a song that is actually named what you just said but instead of being the kid-friendly song you thought you were asking for discusses hookers and meth (that only happened one, and fortunately, Alexa will also immediately stop playing that song, too).  Alexa is a musical genius indeed.

Sadly, however, Alexa has been unable to play an entire song of any kind, and this brings me to her perhaps most impressive quality as a mother, that is her ability to withstand the psychological torture that I so frequently lament.  You see, ANYONE in the household can operate Alexa.  ANYONE.  That means she also responds to children, as dutifully and instantaneously as any good American parent.

So when we want some music in our house, this is what happens.  I say, "Alexa, play some classical music."  Alexa immediately blurts out some Mozart, and all is zen for about 10 seconds.  Then the kids, suddenly remembering the Echo exists, run over and bark out, "ALEXA!!!!! PLAY EVERYTHING IS AWESOME!!!"  Alexa switches from Mozart to the contagious, anti-zen anthem of the Lego Movie.  A few bars into that song, someone yells out, "ALEXA!!!! PLAY GOBBLE-DY GOOP!!!!"  They collapse into gales of laughter thinking they have stumped poor Alexa. But they have not. Alexa finds an obscure song called "Goeble Die Gud" (close enough) by the up and coming Norwegian gangsta rapper, Swedish Chef.  My kids are astonished and highly impressed with themselves, as if they work for NASA and have just discovered 7 new planets.  While I'm sure Swedish Chef is a stellar talent deserving our attention, we won't ever find out, because a few rhymed Norwegian couplets into "Goeble Die Gud," someone yells out, "ALEXA!!! PLAY NINJA RIOT!!!!" And so it goes, over and over and over.

Unlike me, Alexa withstands this onslaught with equanimity and grace.  I feel badly for her though.  She must be exhausted by all that frenetic DJing, and I really hope she has some Zoloft in that little black tube with her.  Maybe they have some kind of automatic delivery system for electronic Zoloft built into her software.  In any case, I am waiting for the day when Alexa spontaneously combusts.

As for me, that is, of course, a routine occurrence.  I've held it together so far, but I will inevitably fly into a rage, unplug the Echo, and Alexa and I will run off into the sunset together.  Or, I will grab the nearest hammer and smash her into a million pieces.  What can I say, it is one of those Dateline NBC relationships that could go either way.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

I am parenting Kellyanne Conway

After watching yet another clip of dear KC expertly spinning, obfuscating, and doing logical acrobatics, I realized why it felt so familiar, like the warm friendly feeling of your guts churning before a bout of diarrhea.  Then it dawned on my that my children are basically professional political operatives.

Let's go through the key skills, and I will prove their mastery:
1) Taking a frown and turning it upside down.  This is making a negative a positive.  In Kellyanne's case, it is arguing that Trump's yelling at the Australian PM is "refreshing" and reaffirms our two countries' strong friendship by showing that friends can be frank with one another.  Well, my child will see you your Australian PM and give you the "refreshing" news that, although he did pee all over himself as a result of urinary procrastination, he deserves congratulations for making it into the general vicinity of the toilet before doing so.

2) Hyperbole.  For Kellyanne, Trump is the "Babe Ruth" of debating, the preemptive arrest of two guys before they could commit a crime is a "massacre," and Trump's win, sans popular vote victory, is a "landslide."  For my children, the turkey meatloaf I made the other day was "disgusting" slop that would cause their throats to swell to the point of asphyxiation (even though every ingredient in it was something they like in another form),  my son's adorable firetruck bed is a torture chamber outlawed by the Geneva Conventions, and long sleeve shirts are straight jackets straight from the bowels of hell.

3) Playing the victim card.  KC loves to whine and complain that the media are just so mean to Trump in their unacceptable penchant to report what he actually says and does and their refusal to tout lies as facts.  Oh and everyone is sexist for not giving her mad props for getting a sociopath elected president.  We are all. so. mean.  And around this house, we are on par with Hitler for giving a child 2 fewer goldfish crackers than his sibling or 5 minutes less screen time or forcing him to eat something not containing sugar.  Practically child abuse.

4) Oh look, what's that over there??  OK, I have to give Ms. Conway her due on this one, because NO ONE does this better.  I just saw another masterful performance the other day on Jake Tapper, in which she turned a question about why Trump was spewing fake murder rate statistics into a heartfelt discussion of her passion to solve the opioid crisis.  Jack Tapper just stared forlornly into the camera with a concerned look on his face (dude's face is pretty much frozen in that position already).   I can only assume my kids are distracting me from some deeper, darker truth when they express heartfelt concern for my well being and offer to fetch me my coffee.

5) I know you are but what am I?  Kellyanne will concede that Trump relentless and bizarrely lied about his crowd size, but your quickly retracted report of a moved MLK bust is much much, much worse.  Not to mention Hillary's emails, even though she was actually not elected president and the election is in fact over. But HILLARY'S EMAILS, JAKE!!!   My kids, when telling me, NO, they didn't eat the cookies the crumbs of which are sprinkled across their lips, will immediately harp on my lack of patience and tendency to yell. "And that's just wrong, Mom."

5) Righteous indignation.  HOW DARE YOU criticize Trump for banning some of the most downtrodden, endangered people on earth who have had to produce soul x-rays before gaining admission to this country?  And HOW DARE YOU just decide what to serve for dinner tonight without consulting me?  Such injustices cannot be tolerated in a civilized society.

6) Ignore the question.  Whether you are asked if Trump really believes millions of illegal aliens voted in an election (that he won) or if you just hit your brother, just pretend it never happened and move on with your life.

6) Create your own reality.  When all else fails, simply construct an imaginary world in which you are  Jedi Knight holding back a massive wall of evil with no reasonable constraints on your choices by parents, teachers, the media, the law, or other branches of government.  It may not be a long-term solution, but it makes all the oppression bearable in the short run.

The key difference between my kids and Kellyanne, however, is that my kids cannot be dealt with by a click of the TV remote.

Monday, February 6, 2017

A Letter to My Children

My Dear Children,
It is the end of another long day.  I have tucked one of you in your firetruck bed that your father built from the pile of wood a sociopathic Etsy vendor sent us via UPS and that you now must be bribed to sleep in and the other one of you in your floor pallet that lies, on the hard floor, in between the TWO comfortable twin beds in your room, neither of which you have slept in for over a year.  Now I am opening another bottle of wine and writing you a letter to tell you how much I just love being your mother because that is what the internet tells me good mothers do and God forbid I should write you a letter to tell you to PLEASE STOP BEING RIDICULOUS so I can get off this medication already.

I love you very, very much, to the point that I allow you to slowly nibble my brain away from inside my head.  I love you so much that when you repeat my name one hundred times in a row to wrest my attention away from my friend whose husband just left her for a supermodel so that you can tell me your sibling blew a faint whiff of air into your hair I do not immediately report you to the police for elder abuse.  I love you so much that when you wake me up at 2 am to ask for a drink of water you could get for yourself using far less effort than it took for you to walk over to my bed, I ACTUALLY GET IT FOR YOU.  As if any other sane person in your entire life will ever do that for you again.  OK, so I am not sane, that is a good point.  But any other insane person would think they were hallucinating again and just roll over and go back to sleep.  

My dear, sweet, precious children, I do love you so very much, and I thank God every day for you.  But I also cry out to The Lord that you will just freaking leave me alone while I cook dinner or read in my bed or wash my filthy, pathetic body and go play with the millions of toys I have purchased for you.  Or else that you would let me just go ahead and give those toys to some refugee families so that at least while you are tormenting me my floor won’t be mysteriously strewn with playthings with which I have never seen an actual child playing.    

Would that I be a more perfect parent for you.  Would that I never yelled and was always generous with my time and gentle with my words.  Would that I not even be a human parent but rather Jesus himself returned to earth just to raise you because he knew you would drive any mere mortal bat**** crazy.  Because I know that you are my most important legacy and nothing else I do in this world will amount to more than the love I pour into you.  And if I don’t pour enough love but rather pour electronic devices, you will end up like coffee with Sweet-n-Low in it, bitter and probably carcinogenic in large amounts.  I also know that there is no way in any galaxy that your father, or any father, is sitting around writing letters to his kids about how he wants to try harder to cherish each millisecond that you spend jumping on his back while he tries to watch his football game.  

So you had better not end up working on President Trump’s 4th reelection campaign or running a fake news website or faith healing on TV for cash, OK? And in the meantime, seriously can you just eat one meal without making vomiting noises? Or even just eat one meal that I cook, you can even make the noises, I don’t care.  Or take a bath just one time, ONE TIME, without acting like the bath water is acid?  Or wake up at your usual 5 am without expecting an elaborate dawn-welcoming ritual involving all members of the household?  Or seriously just stop asking me to wipe your butt because you do totally know how to do that, it’s not like you have to do a self-colonoscopy every time you poop or launch your feces on a rocket into space.  

Because here’s the thing;  I know I need to do A LOT better.  But you need to do like A LOT A LOT better.  Help me help you.  Help ME help YOU.  It worked out for Tom Cruise in Jerry Maguire, and it can work for us too.  Just meet me half way. Heck, I’d just settle for you just staying in your room after I put you to bed instead of quietly coming downstairs and sneaking up behind me like a serial killer while I eat ice cream out of the container standing over the kitchen sink.  That is not something any child should ever see.  

Now. I realize I’ve gotten a bit far afield here, like some rogue judge that has the nerve to check another branch of American government.  The purpose of this letter was to reflect on how much I love you and how much I suck because I can’t cherish your abuse of my mental health and appreciate that you are making me a better person by dismantling every molecule of my body slowly and painfully so The Lord can refashion it into something he may one day be able to tolerate and you will be an adult in like 5 seconds and will be bathing yourself and how much I will miss eating every meal popping up and down from my chair like some kind of deranged Easter bunny.  I’m sure all that is true.  

But listen up, sweet peas, this motherhood thing can straight up suck like a baby at the breast of one of those Barbie mothers who write all those sweet letters, and the fact that I love you so much makes it suck even worse, because then I feel guilty that it sucks and then I can’t just run far away from here and live forever in a Fijian bure alone with my uninterrupted thoughts and let the state raise you and then when I inevitably lose my mind on you guys I feel just horrible as if that isn’t the human spirit’s natural reaction when its dignity is transgressed.  And it also sucks that I don’t seem naturally suited to this gig and I don’t want to plan fun activities and bake thematic cookies and when I read all these maternal mommies’ adorably pining letters to their sweet babies on the internet I just feel nauseous.  

And ultimately that is how you will one day know that I adore you, that I hung in here with you and even tore myself away from reading a book and crafted with you on occasion, when some fool gave you a craft set for your birthday not knowing you had a non-maternal mom, even though it completely bored me to literal tears and I did my best to give you a decent childhood and raise you to be hopefully decent-ish adults.  I know for a fact that I will not be good enough for you in some way, but then, I have a feeling that all those Disney Princess moms will also fail their kids in some other way, just has my mother failed in some ways and her mother before her and her mother before her and before her and so on until Eve, who we can all agree was just a disaster, a real shagalabagala as they say in Swahili.  And let’s just be honest, all the men involved sucked even worse because they won the biological lottery and still don’t do all the housework, which is just TOTALLY NOT EVEN FAIR.   So, the bottom line is this: the fact that you and I are all alive and well and here, together, under the circumstances of my insanity and your apparent delight in exacerbating it should be all the proof you need that you are loved beyond all imagining.  I know that doesn’t sound as romantic and gushy as the Hello Kitty moms and probably won’t make you weep, but it is the unvarnished truth.  

To make up for my deficiencies, however, here’s what I will do for you (in addition to feeding and clothing you for the next decade-plus, YOU ARE WELCOME).  When you come to me when you are 25 having recently been enlightened by a over-eager therapist who helps you understand that the reason you can’t just eat one Oreo cookie is because your mother hid in her room much of your chidhood, I’ll sit there, listen, and just say, “Yep. Pretty much.” Then I will pour you a drink, and we can move forward in our relationship as two imperfect ADULT souls who wipe their own butts.  Until you have to wipe mine, and then I expect that you will do it with as much joy as did I when yours required wiping.  


Love you,

Saturday, January 14, 2017

All Good Things Must Be Twisted into a Parenting Nightmare

When last I wrote about Pokemon Go, I was full of praise for the app's miraculous ability to prevent childhood obesity and promote parental peace.  I discovered a further benefit when I asked my kids what they wanted for Christmas, and they told me all they wanted were Pokemon cards ($4/pack and very easily packed in a suitcase to come home from grandma's house after Christmas) and Pokemon Go tokens (don't ask; slightly more expensive, as it turns out, but taking up only virtual space).  Life was good for me and Pokemon Go, we were young and impulsive and deeply in love.  And like many couples in that situation, we did not foresee the eventual problems in our relationship that would tear us apart.

Problem #1: Winter Arrived.  As it does.  Every year, without fail, or until the Arctic melts.  It turns out I'm not so excited about going on walks with my kids when it is cold and yucky outside.  Yet they still want to play Pokemon Go (they are now Level 24, I'll have you know).  Ergo, they play it inside the house using incense (don't ask) or I drive them around in the car to play.  Which COMPLETELY DEFEATS THE WHOLE PURPOSE BEHIND POKEMON GO.  Now it is just another evil "screen time" device that will rot their cerebral cortexes and ruin their svelte figures.

Problem #2: Crap, this thing costs money??? What???  Then came the shocking, horrific, apocalyptic day that no one saw coming and the polls did not adequately predict that shook America to its core and made us fear for the future.  Yes, Donald Trump was elected president, but much worse, MY CHILDREN RAN OUT OF POKE BALLS (don't ask).  And you can't play the game without Poke balls, unless you are a budding photographer, content to snap selfies of you and that rare Jigglypuff (don't ask) that you are unable to capture.  My children are not content with this. They are the Pokemon Go equivalent of that Minnesotan dentist who just couldn't rest until he had Cecil the Lion's head mounted above his toilet (an instant and all-natural laxative).  They whined. They complained. They rioted.  They triggered my anxiety disorder.  Before I knew it, I was rifling quickly through every button in the app desperately trying to figure out a solution while imaginary bullets flew past my head (as they often do).  Before suffering a fatal but imaginary head wound, I figured out that there are tokens that you buy--with real money, like US dollars, and sadly not Zimbabwean bond notes--that the children can then use to purchase all kinds of other stuff, including Poke balls, incense, Pokestop incense, potions, eggs, incubators, and more space (SERIOUSLY, JUST STOP ASKING. YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW).  I bought them a whole bunch of balls as quickly as I could. Crisis averted. Panic attack ends.  Until they ran out of space and could no longer store any more Pokemon.  Crisis, panic, imaginary bullets.  Poverty.  Because these things started adding up, and before I knew it, I had spent the GDP of a small island nation on Pokecrap.  What to do??  Was I destined to a life of enslavement to Pokemon Go? Would I have to take out a second mortgage on my house with the Pokebank, at 37% interest, in order to feed my children's insatiable virtual appetite?

Fortunately, I started talking to other parents about my problems, as one does with all parenting dilemmas.  Where else can you learn that Amazon sells a talking toilet paper dispenser for $79 that gently reassures frightened toddlers that butt-wiping will not attract the toilet sea monsters? That the trick to getting children to eat vegetables is pulverizing them into a fine power and mixing it into play dough?  That that channel 7 news report about an entire family's deaths from a super-bacteria bred in the Goldfish cracker crumbs of their minivan is actually Russian propaganda? And that you can create free space on your Pokedex through a transference process (don't ask) that will not cause your children to flip out?

That last revelation solved the one problem (Lawson is still afraid of wiping his butt), but the Pokeballs were still an issue.  The mom informant told me it is not a problem for her, because she works right near a few Pokestops downtown and simply gathers balls from them multiple times a day, you know, while she is trying to finish highly complex reports on reducing health care spending and running to Capitol Hill for meetings with congressional aides.  The main thing is that while she may not stop the implosion of the American health care system, she doesn't spend any money on Pokeballs.  But my problem is I don't work near any Pokestops, and we only have a few near our house, so it remains a challenge.

The bottom line is I have been reduced to a desperately Pokeball-hunting prisoner of my children's hobbies wherever I go.  Yesterday, while we closed on a mortgage loan refinancing, which was fortunately within range of three Pokestops, I was surreptitiously gathering balls under the table.  I continued to do so while Kevin and I had lunch later near another Pokestop. What can I say, I'm a terribly interesting date.  Then, driving home through urban, Pokestop-rich terrain, I made Kevin drive super slowly so I could scoop up all of those balls, too.  I have decided that doing this while driving myself is a safety hazard, so I do have my limits.  But I'll have you know that yesterday alone, I managed to acquire over 100 Pokeballs for my grateful-ish children.

Who then used all of them up at dinner that evening.

They now want more.

Along with their many other prodigious talents--to include bringing out the dark underbelly of Disneyland and driving up sales of psychiatric drugs--children have an uncanny knack for taking something that seems wonderful on its face and turning it into something that enslaves and torments their parents.  Like falling in love with math (awesome! they will end up at MIT!) then bombarding their parents with endless multiplication table drills while they are trying to make dinner.  Or developing an interest in taekwondo (great! they are getting exercise and learning to kick pedophile butt!) that devolves into incessant demands to curtail family vacations so they don't miss any class (true story).  Or finding a video game that actually could prevent couch potato-dom but instead forces their mom into a Sophie's Choice-like conundrum of either spending her entire salary on Poke balls or quitting her job to go gather them.

I know you are all thinking, this is ridiculous, aren't you the adult in charge? Just say no more Pokemon Go.  You would have an excellent point.  But to quote the late, great Carrie Fisher, "Like any abused child wearing a metal bikini, chained to a giant slug, about to die, I keep coming back for more."

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What Not to Gift

Before I get to the main topic du jour, just an observation about American culture.  While free trade to a degree but mainly automation have killed American manufacturing, there is one thing we continue to manufacture at levels unseen anywhere in the world: Stress.   No country on earth can compete with us, for we are always finding new and unexpected ways to add it to any and every situation.  Case in point: The Holidays, in theory a time of enjoying family and friends.  In actuality, a time of enjoying very little because of all the things we think we need to do and buy and also the fact apparently a lot of people don't actually like their family and very many of their friends.  I've seen so many "handling holiday stress" stories on TV and magazine covers, I'm starting to think that if I don't feel stressed at the holidays, I'm doing something wrong.

Now that that general observation is out of the way, let's turn to one of the things we Americans get very worked up about, gifts.  What to give people who already have whole houses full of crap and have zero capacity for delayed gratification, which is pretty much every American to some degree.  And what to give to those tiniest and most spoiled of Americans? Well, I'm here to help.  I've not got a clue what you should buy your children/grandchildren/other spoiled small humans in your life.   But I'm going to give you some general guidelines about what NOT to get them.  The main thing to think of when choosing a kid's gift is What effect will it have on the mother of that child? Will it ease her burden or add to her insanity?  Unless you do not like the mother in question, or if you are the mother in question and live with an abiding self-hatred, you want to avoid gifts that will result in a trip to the psychiatric ward.

More specifically, when choosing a gift, ask yourself the following questions, and if you answer YES to any of them, PUT DOWN THE GIFT AND WALK AWAY.  Do NOT buy it.  Do NOT.

Does the item make spontaneous noises that cannot be turned off?  Noises are OK in general, especially if they feature in a toy that will actually engross children long enough for mom go to the bathroom, to include thorough butt-wiping (I don't know about you, but there have been many unfortunate instances when I had to rush off to do the Heimlich maneuver on a child without adequately tending to that task).  In addition, most noises are easily drowned out by children fighting over them (I think Pokemon Go has sound, but I've never heard it), or valuable items crashing to the floor, or hordes of feet stomping around or anxiety-ridden dogs freaking out over any of those other things.  But there are some toys the noises of which give the distinct impression of demon-possession, and that's not going to be good for anyone's mental health.  They turn on without warning or provocation, like Kanye West at a charity telethon.  You are just walking through a room, and suddenly, you hear a chipper voice say something creepy like, "I love you, hee hee."  It startles you enough to send you fleeing, barefoot, over a field of legos, which you will then spend the next several days dislodging with tweezers (and perhaps then reassembling into an x-wing fighter).  Or, you will be drifting off to sleep, safe in your bed, only to be roused by the random, mocking chirps of a Zhou Zhou pet in the other room because a faint, molecular disturbance has mistakenly alerted him that someone wants to play or his hamster wheel is in the vicinity.   My friends, battery-operated toys require an on-and-off switch. So do tweeting Presidents-elect, but we ain't getting that, so please choose your Christmas gifts more wisely than you do your government officials.

Does the child need assistance with the gift?  And I do mean ANY assistance.  If the child can't grab it off the shelf, know what to do with it within 5 seconds, and operate its every feature completely alone while mom is passed out on the sofa, do not buy that toy.  In a similar vein, consider age appropriateness. Yes, your 3 year-old nephew is a genius who needs intellectual challenge, but let's face it, he is not going to be able to dissolve insect carcasses in homemade hydrochloric acid all by himself.  In fact, science experiment sets in general are a big NO unless the child is old enough to have no interest in them anymore.  As are most crafting sets.  My 5 year old will not be able to sew a sock puppy unless I sew the sock puppy.  The sock puppy is really for me to make, if we are being honest.  And guess what, I DO NOT WANT TO MAKE A SOCK PUPPY!!! I also don't want to make a mosaic stepping stone, excavate dinosaur bones from a block of cement, or weave a bunch of rubber bands together to make fine jewelry.  I want to read a book while my children do things that don't involve me.

Does the gift have more than 3 pieces? Let me tell you what children do with toys that have parts.  They take the toy apart.  They scatter the pieces all through the house as if they are venturing into an enchanted forest and will need a way to get back out without being eaten by a witch.  They take pieces into the car.  They take other pieces over to someone's house and leave them there.  They bury some pieces in the sandbox.  They eat pieces, poop them out, and flush the toilet.  They use their evil child magic to vanish the pieces into thin air.  And then they cry because they cannot find the pieces to their toy and it is now ruined and they can't possibly sleep until all the pieces of the toy can be located and the toy is placed whole again in the their bed where it will ward off all the other evil toys that tried to dismember it so they could then come and feast on the child in the night.  Nor can they shoot those evil toys with their nerf gun because all the foam bullets have eloped with some very essential legos.

And now, A Very Special Word About Legos.  Legos are the Thomas Jefferson of toys.  Brilliant, creative, inventive, and generally a force for good in the world.  Until they go and own some slaves--or in the case of legos, have one million billion tiny pieces that do not stay assembled--and ruin everything.  Parents keep buying legos because they are cool and because parents themselves love legos, but then like that awesome guy you dated in college who turned out to be a serial killer, legos come for your sanity and they do not rest until they have crushed it into a million lego-sized pieces that they then mix in and get vacuumed up with.  Last Christmas, my children convinced me to buy them a 6 million piece rendition of the Ewouk village from Return of the Jedi.  It wasn't a hard sell, because Oh My Dear Aunt Jemima IT'S FREAKING STAR WARS.  And if I had been on the fence, one glance at the teeny tiny Ewouk figures would have finished me.  Those things are the cutest.  I bought the set, and I then had an absolute blast assembling it (not joking, it was really, really fun), with minimal help from my largely uninterested children.  When it was done, they were thrilled.  They immediately seized upon it and began playing.  One piece fell off, two, three, 23, 53...I frantically tried to reassemble it in real time.  I was like Kellyanne Conway trailing Donald Trump with a pooper scooper.  After giving up on that, I tried to grab the pieces and at least put them in a separate container so I could fix the set at a later date.   That later date never arrived, and my kids found the container and dumped in in with all their other billions of legos which they then scattered to the four corners of the earth as if they are blowing dandelion seeds all over creation.  The set now sits a sad ruin of its former self, a testament to a proud past of mommy accomplishment that will never be revisited.  Maybe I should have just bought a lego set of the Parthenon and made that, then you wouldn't be able to tell when it was wrecked.

So, will I ever buy another massive lego set again?  Yes, yes, I will. I now have my eye on the Millennium Falcon.  But I have also since bought lego glue (yes, it exists), and I'm going to build that thing to withstand Hurricane Katrina.  You just wait.

Does the gift have any glitter of any kind anywhere on it?  Glitter is of the devil and should not exist among any species that hopes to outlive cockroaches.  Glitter may even kill the cockroaches, I wouldn't underestimate it.  In fact, the only thing I could imagine worse than a nuclear bombing would be if the bomb was laced with glitter.  If anyone survived the initial explosion, radiation poisoning would be the kinder way to die slowly.  

Does the gift make any kind of mess whatsoever that a dog/raccoon cannot ingest?  Messes are like noises, some amount is tolerable if it buys parents some free time. But it has to be proportional.  If the activity lasts 5 minutes and results in a mess that takes 3 hours to clean up (I'm looking at you, silly string), that is obviously unacceptable.  Unless it's edible, then send in the wild beasts.  Or even if it's not edible but won't kill anyone.  Maybe the silly string is OK in that case.

Is it harder to get into the packaging than it is to get into Hamilton? Oooh I really want to see Hamilton.  Anything that makes American History cool and annoys Donald Trump is what I'm about. But you can't get in, not without a million dollars.  Much like toy packaging these days, except that all the money in the world won't save you.  I'm waiting for someone to actually die from opening toy packaging. That hard, sharp plastic could easily sever an artery, and you would definitely bleed to death because everyone would be so preoccupied by the children having seizures at the time it is taking for their toy to be liberated that no one would even notice your life ebbing away.

Does the gift NOT come with Hamilton tickets, a gift card for spa treatments, prescription psychiatric drugs, or offers of free babysitting?  Ideally, all children's gifts should come with adult accompaniments, because even if you have meticulously gone through this list and have tried your best to pick an unobjectionable toy, you will probably fail.  Children excel at making even the best things in life a form of torture (see legos), and whatever you give them, the adults in their lives will probably live to regret it.  So just preempt the lawsuits by slipping in something special for Mom and Dad.  Maybe a lego set of some vegetables or something children are afraid of.

Good luck with your holiday shopping everybody!!!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

How To Talk To Your Kids About the 2016 Election

So I am super depressed today about a certain president-elect.  I can't even put his name in the vicinity of the word "president."  Just seems like an insult to George, Abe, FDR and the gang.

But life must go on and I gotta get out of bed, mainly because I have children who really are capable of surviving for at least a few days by themselves, but whose whining borders on listening to Donald Trump say "China" on loop as one of my Top 10 Ways I Don't Want to Go Insane.  Interesting Top 10 list, you might say.  Begs the question of how you WOULD want to go insane.  Thanks for asking, I have actually thought about this extensively, since my insanity is pretty much assured anyway, and I've settled on being licked incessantly by kittens OR living the rest of my life in the grocery store cereal aisle OR, my perennial favorite, baking cookies with my children.  Those all rank highly because, while they will indeed drive me insane, there could intervals of enjoyment.

In addition to whining and various other annoying activities, my children are also looking to me for (shudder) leadership on how to view this election.  After ruling out running through the house screaming "The end is NIGH, Patriots!!!!" while throwing random things into boxes marked with an address in rural Cataan, which my husband has repeatedly settled with great success, I've decided to go with some more measured options that will reassure my children and even show them the upside of this election, which I will share with you now, because as you know, this blog is ALL about offering expert parenting advice on a variety of difficult life topics.

Emphasize that they are not going to die from the election. Today.  Kids don't really know how to take the long view, they live in the now.  And right now, the adults in their lives are subtly signaling to them that the world will spontaneously combust soon, and that may be upsetting to many children.  But you can share with your children the good news that this election is highly unlikely to cause their deaths today, especially if they simply play away from the windows and doors through which angry mobs of feminists are likely to fling their pantsuits. If you feel up to it, however, you can go ahead and have a more challenging discussion in which you gently tell your children that everyone and everything on earth dies eventually, including two-hundred-and-forty-year-old democracies, and that the world actually will eventually spontaneously combust since we are apparently not going to do anything about global warming.

Explain to them that hypocrisy is actually very normal and nothing to be ashamed of.  The ways of adults can be baffling and overwhelming to children because they simply have not acquired the neurological maturity to process them.  For instance, children assume that when adults tell them that certain behavior is wrong--such as calling people names, lying repeatedly and compulsively even when there is TV footage proving you wrong, grossly stereotyping whole groups of people and then strangely adding "the" to the groups' names, and light sexual assault-- children actually believe that we are serious.  They don't understand that those things are only wrong when there isn't a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and that the rest of the time, hypocrisy is a perfectly normal thing that  grown ups do sometimes within the context of a loving relationship with their own righteousness.
And that goes doubly for Christians, because Jesus called us to win every single time and at all costs and when Paul said they will know we are Christians by our love, what he really meant is that they will know we are Christians by our single issue voting.

Tell them that sometimes good people make bad choices.   It doesn't mean they are bad people.  Ask little Susie if she remembers that time when she chose to eat cat poop and then vomited it up all over the new, Constitution-shaped sofa and then ate the vomit and threw that up, too. Was that a good choice? No. But did Mommy still love her and think she was her adorable baby girl? Yes, she did.  However, the sofa was never the same, and nor was Susie's digestive tract.  Sometimes there are consequences to our actions.

Explain that there are almost certainly historical preservation and zoning codes that will constrain the new president's White House decorating scheme.  Children find it reassuring when their external environment remains unchanged.  You can gently assure them that it is highly unlikely that Donald Trump will be able to gold-plate the White House or set up a casino in the basement, although a red velvet throne in the Oval Office is a distinct possibility.

Assure them that McDonalds will not cease to exist as a food option.  McDonalds is a top priority for our children, and though America as we have known it may be ending, McDonalds is here to stay, because if McDonalds can survive Michelle Obama, it will certainly survive Donald Trump.  Until he deports all the undocumented immigrants.  OK, McDonalds may indeed cease to exist as a food option BUT we will still be able to buy chicken nuggets at Costco and China will provide the Crappy Meal toys to all American children for free.

But certain vegetables might.  Your children will feel much better about the future once you've told them that trade embargoes could easily make avocados and other vegetables unavailable in the United States.  On a similar front, coffee may also be unavailable, which means their parents' vicious cycle of drug addiction and their own co-dependency may finally come to an end.

Reminisce to your child about how fun the fear of nuclear holocaust was.  The Cold War was a super interesting and exciting time to be alive--the drama! the intrigue! the cheesy movies! the oversimplified dichotomies!  You have not lived until you have seen Red Dawn, and if the movie was that good, imagine the real thing.  No more boring Saturday afternoons around here!

Explain that Donald Trump will not let Robert Mugabe take all our land.  OK, this one may be case specific to my household.  But if you also have a child who is terrified of Robert Mugabe and fears that his fellow autocrat will invite him to America to pillage our property, you can soothe your child by explaining that Donald Trump almost certainly does not know that Zimbabwe exists and thinks Mugabe is the name of the villain in Zoolander.

Tell them that there WILL be other elections.  Actually, scratch that, that might scare them worse.  

I am sure I not covering all the pertinent issues that your child may bring up.  Feel free to forward me your questions, and I will do my best to help.

Peace out American parents!!! And today's parting tip, just for dads: Remember, your daughter needs to be regularly assured that she is sexually attractive enough for you to date in order to have the confidence to compete in today's job market.