A look at the least important things in life

Kids

Whoa, hey there

Has it really been three months since I posted anything here? Boy. I have been busy.

My extended absence has less to do with running out of things to write than it does having too many things to write. Work – both my salaried employment and a bit of freelance work – have picked up considerably over the last few months and really, better to write the stuff that pays than write the stuff that random Indonesian teenagers read (apparently Indonesia has a bunch of narcissists looking for an example). I also continue to languidly plow toward finishing a book; I estimate it will be done sometime before 2032. I’ve also reignited my passion for reading; I’ve finished some half-dozen books in the last two months, and am working on books for class, the Game of Thrones series and a Hunter S. Thompson book as we speak.

Oh, class. I’m taking a summer class because the fall is a nightmare when it comes to trying to juggle class and work. My spring semester class was… interesting. Without delving into too many details, I would like to say that if you decide to become a graduate-level professor, leaving your students high-and-dry mid-semester and expecting them to ‘just figure it out’ is a pretty crappy way to go.

What else? Oh, yes, going to Europe in about a month. Visiting Italy and Ireland, which in terms of food, drink, historical relevance and beautiful weather, may be two of the most diametrically opposed locations in Europe Mrs. Me and I could have chosen. Whatever; Mrs. Me is Catholic – we’re hoping to get a selfie with New Pope – and I am Irish enough that I like Smithwick’s and golf and the color green. Pictures to come (much like Vegas last year) and if you have any suggestions (much like Vegas last year), leave ‘em in the comments.

Oh, and we’re adopting a baby.

(Knew I was forgetting something.)

We’d been on the attempt for a while now and it just wasn’t working. Medical help had reached its logical conclusion without being crazy invasive or crazy expensive, and even the expense was going to push our chances of conceiving naturally to about 30 percent. That’s not very high.

So we thought, “Hey, instead of paying a lot of money to not improve our chances for a natural conception, why don’t we just adopt? That’s got a pretty high success rate.” We’d talked about adoption before, and now was as good a time as any. As the proud owners of two dogs who pretty literally run our lives, I’d say we’re good at loving adopted things. You’ll probably hear a lot more (way more than you want) about this development in the coming weeks and months.

Well, that’s that. Let’s do this again real soon.

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Everybody Loses

I plan to have a child in the next couple of years. I’m really not certain how I feel about that right now.

Obviously, there’s the apprehension that I’ll be a horrible parent (or a good parent to a horrible kid like I was). There’s the planning, the financial concerns involved, and the consistent issues that pop up throughout. Someone once told me that raising a kid is like running a marathon featuring hurdles that get bigger and closer together every mile, which does not lower my apprehension.

Now there’s the part where I don’t want to let my future kids go to school without their bulletproof Kevlar.

Burying children has to be the most awful experience in the world. Burying children at Christmastime has to multiply that feeling by roughly infinity.

Nobody has any words of comfort for parents that are burying children. It’s not possible – even when President Obama gave one of the more impassioned, real and emotionally raw speeches of our time, I couldn’t help but think that while the words moved me, the impact the speech had on those in Newtown it was directed toward had to be negligible. There’s no way the words could hit home for people so numb with grief.

(Also: if you took to social media last night to complain that the President ‘wasn’t truly sad’ or ‘was just doing it for show’ or ‘I don’t want to watch that (racial word), I’m trying to watch football’…seriously, just resign from society. This whole ‘being part of humanity’ thing was probably a bit over your head to begin with.)

Asking why someone would walk into a school with an armload of weapons is an exercise in futility that no one should even bother with. The search for answers starts and ends with us as a society, and it’s disappointing that the questions only really get asked (or even acknowledged) in the wake of tragedy.

That people think guns are going to be banned is pretty silly. That’s definitely not an ideal starting point here, but it’s important to remember that the Second Amendment gives us the right to bear arms, and the worst possible thing we as a people could do is make sweeping changes to constitutional amendments because we’re a reactionary society. However, the Second Amendment says nothing about stockpiling an arsenal, and I don’t give a shit about your hobbies. You like shooting M4’s? Join the Army; they’ll pay you for it. Or go to a gun club and rent one if you need that kind of fix. It’s obvious that people hate it when the GUVUHMINT tries to come in and tell them how to live, but Christ on a cross at least acknowledge there’s a problem here.

(I will say one thing that’s not anti-gun, but anti-idiot: People say, “Today’s not the day to discuss gun control.” Fuck you. How’s tomorrow? What about Thursday? PICK A DAY. Maybe we’re never going to get everyone on the same page, but it’s time to get the pro- and anti-gun people into a room, lock it and wait for them to come up with something resembling a common-sense plan. At least pretend you’re concerned.)

It’s a shame we can’t fix this. I’m sure it’s a complicated issue with layers of bureaucratic red tape to pull aside and dissect. But at the same time, lunatics have easy access to large-caliber weapons, which they use to kill large amounts of people for no good reason. I concede that ruins the fun for people that legitimately enjoy guns recreationally or for sport – and these people are usually unfairly persecuted for that reason. I’m sorry some psychopaths ruined your hobby by murdering children.

I am not a gun owner – yet. Every time an incident such as Newtown occurs, my first thought is, “I need a gun,” usually followed by, “And what the hell would you do with it, genius?” Truth is, I probably need a gun. The truth is, most people probably need a gun. I want you to be able to protect your house, and if you want to go sit in a tree stand at 4:30 in the morning and shoot deer, I want you to be able to do that too. But like I mentioned before, I’m going to be a dad someday and I’m not in the mood to gamble with his/her life. Psychos aren’t hunting deer and protecting their houses, and that’s who I’m worried about.

But what keeps getting lost – and it’s getting lost on this page as I type these words, because I can’t control my impulses of anger or confusion any more than anyone else – is that children died. Children died, and other children could have, and now we’re bastardizing their memory by asking what it means and how it could have or should have been stopped, when in reality we need to grieve like we as a nation haven’t done in a long time. It’s like we fabricate these other issues, to mask sadness with rage and really, we shouldn’t.

That was pretty depressing, so let’s end this way: the thing I’m going to try to take away from this horror is not ‘we need gun laws’ or ‘lock up people that are mentally ill’. I’m going to remember that in the face of crisis, teachers barricaded classrooms and led children and went above and beyond what could be reasonably expected in a crisis. Children helped other children, adults helped other adults, and for a moment in the whirling sea of bitterness, anger and intimidation humanity broke through like the sun on even the darkest days.

We’re gonna make it.


Good Grief!

No no no.

No.

My childhood is collapsing. First, they took away all the toys with lead-based paint on them – so long everything I played with as a small child. Then McDonald’s became the edible equivalent to heroin. Now Charlie Brown is a symbol of bullying.

What’s next? Calvin and Hobbes as an allegory for Al-Qaida?

I loved all the Charlie Brown movies as a kid – and as an adult: for Christmas two years ago, I may or may not have received a DVD of This is America, Charlie Brown which was a highlight of my youth and certainly that holiday. I make it a point to watch the Christmas and Thanksgiving specials every year; along with A Christmas Story, they are the only movies in my must-watch holiday rotation. Now they’re supposedly encouraging kids to bully?

The notion that ‘schoolyard bullying’ is antiquated leads me to believe the writers of these missives haven’t spent any time in a schoolyard for many years. If they had, they’d realize that the biggest bullies on the playground and the biggest threat to America’s children are America’s overbearing parents.

Kids get bullied; it’s not good, it’s not fun and it ruins the lives of many young people because they aren’t emotionally equipped to handle it. Arguing that is futile and stupid. Unfortunately, nobody seems to realize that education and explanation would be better methods of reaching and educating kids; it’s much easier to blame Charlie Brown.

Here’s what I will tell my kids (and have heard other people tell their own) about kids whose parents are like this: please don’t befriend them. Even if they raised a nice, polite kid that never said ‘shit’ and would never let live frogs loose in the teacher’s lounge, it wouldn’t be worth it. If you accidentally bump into their kid too hard, they’ll try to have you kicked out of school and committed to an institution and will definitely try to put me in jail for being an unfit parent. Let’s just not deal with this unless there’s no other choice.

According to the above article Charlie Brown, as the supposed hero of the Peanuts movies, is subjected to taunting, name-calling and demeaning put-downs from other children, which will teach kids that those things are okay.* This behavior, the logic goes, will make our little ones (THINK OF THE CHILDREN) see these actions not just as acceptable but funny and cool.

*-This perception is total crap, but I feel the need to add this – being called ‘blockhead’ and ‘stupid’ is tame where children are concerned. I could use five different swear words in a seven-word sentence by the time I was 12 years old, and I didn’t learn that from Linus, Lucy or the rest of the gang.

Setting aside the preposterous notion that children would be so stupid that they would learn their behavioral patterns from cartoons, as opposed to their parental ‘influences’, let’s examine Charlie Brown for a moment. He was the saddest of sacks, a kid that could be talked into doing stuff he’d rather not, by people he didn’t particularly like, for reasons that weren’t very clear. It’s depressing to imagine a middle-aged Charlie Brown. Would he find love? Could he raise children? What kind of employee would he be?

The answer is that he’s all of us. When we can’t get a date, or discipline a kid properly, or figure out the right way to ask the boss for a raise, we are Charlie Brown. Instead of worrying about what ‘bad influences’ we would learn from him, we should be thankful he was there, basically saying (now I’m paraphrasing), “Hey, people are going to try to shit on you for your entire life; don’t let them get you down. Just keep livin’, man.”

Newsflash: Charles Schultz’s lovable cartoons don’t cause kids to bully other kids. The (perceptibly) weak being preyed on by the (perceptibly) strong is ingrained in our DNA from the time of cavemen. Blaming Charlie Brown for that is akin to me blaming ESPN and the World Series of Poker for my brother’s God-awful gambling addiction.

The fact is, most of us are Charlie Brown: flawed, not always sure of the right move, bumbling through life the best way we know how. People that think Charlie Brown is the problem are the Lucy’s of the world: arrogant, always right, and constantly telling you how much better they could run your life for you. Bottom line: Lucy was a bitch. Long live Charlie Brown.


The Culture of Childhood Celebrity

There has never been a single moment in Lisa Marie Presley’s life that wasn’t weird.

As Elvis Presley’s daughter, Lisa Marie became more famous than you or I will ever be simply by existing; the moment she entered the world, she did so to a mountain of fanfare and expectations the likes of which the normal person can simply never understand.

I expect that’s made for a profoundly confusing existence.

I was never a particularly spoiled child; being relatively poor, which is a good and a bad thing, has that effect. But I had other advantages, like two parents and a sibling to beat up at my convenience. Although I complained (loudly and incessantly, to whomever happened to be in earshot), I really didn’t have a ton to gripe about.

Even though her childhood was (ostensibly) better than mine, I have a suspicion that Lisa Marie Presley had a lot more to complain about.

Her parents separated when she was four. She spent the next five years being shuttled from Redneck Mecca (Graceland) to Beverly Hills which, on the surface, doesn’t sound bad. Her super-famous father died when she was nine. That’s got to be hard regardless of who you are. Now add in the fact that your father is looked on as a demigod in some circles and it has to become really confusing.

(I can’t believe there is a faction of people in this world that believe Elvis is alive and walking among us today somewhere. I can only assume these people also see UFO’s piloted by Jimmy Hoffa on a regular basis.)

People don’t seem to appreciate that THIS WAS HER ENTIRE LIFE, ALL THE TIME.

Somehow, Lisa Marie seemed to turn out okay. Despite being Elvis’ daughter, she had few public lapses in judgment – sure, she married Michael Jackson and Nicholas Cage (the latter for barely 100 days), but these things happen when you’re famous for being famous. Given the events of her youth, it wouldn’t have surprised me if she followed the Grateful Dead around and freebased heroin.

Being the children of celebrities has to really suck.

I’m sure there are privileges, like getting to meet other famous people and skipping line at Disney World and stuff. The nature of celebrity is that if you get famous, you seem to get lots of free shit (tickets, cars, etc.) due to that fame. That seems backwards to me but, like I mentioned, I was poor. Nobody ever explained the rules rich people got to live by.

But to get all the perks, you live in a fish bowl you didn’t even have the pleasure of creating. Your famous parent is always getting hounded by autograph seekers and paparazzi. Going someplace in public is always a risk since you, as a child, could always be kidnapped for ransom. And if you screw up in your teenage rebellious years, you’ll be sullying the family name.

All so you can grow up with outsized expectations from John Q. Public that you will most likely fail to deliver on.

We’ve all met a kid (probably when you played sports as a child) that was trumpeted by his stage parent as the best, the brightest and the smartest no matter the scenario. Almost invariably, those kids went on to lead lives that felt like letdowns in large part because they didn’t become the world’s first crime fighting super hero/All-Pro quarterback/President.

Imagine being the child of the super famous. Unless you somehow become more famous and important than your famous parent, you’ll be looked on as a failure, a mere footnote to a Wikipedia page. Although if you’re Snooki’s unborn spawn of Satan, that’s probably the best you can hope for. They should just name that kid ‘Nochance N. Hell’.

Possibly worse is your regular run-of-the-mill child stars. It just never seems to work out well for them. But at the very least, the Macaulay Culkin’s of the world get their 15 minutes of fame without gravy training on a parents name.

When I was a kid, I desperately wished one of my parents were famous. How awesome those kids’ lives must have been; to have everything they wanted whenever they wanted it sounded like a fantasy. Children are always so disappointed to find out their parents aren’t the modern-day equivalent to Howard Hughes.

Thank God I didn’t get my way. If you think I’m insufferable now, imagine what a lifetime of privilege might have done to me.


Children of the Barbershop

So I was out getting a haircut for the first time in probably three months Monday and ran across my favorite reason not to have children: unhappy parents.

You’ve seen these people. Typically, they are in their mid to late-20s, two or more children screaming, dead-eyed look of sadness and failure in their eyes. Their dreams stayed in the minivan, right beside “Tickle Me Elmo” and two naked Barbie dolls.

Anyway, these two perfectly normal-looking adults brought two small children into the place where I get my hair cut. Since there was a wait and only one person working, I got to watch these horrible beings act with impunity for an hour. Some highlights:

  • A screaming match that ended with one parent walking one child out in the cold for 25 minutes.
  • Magazine rack destroyed.
  • A duel with rolled-up magazines serving as sabers (really epic: made Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader look like they were having a tickling contest).
  • At one point, one of the children actually OPEN-HAND SMACKED HIS DAD. Oh my God… when I think of things Jeff would’ve done to me if I had the audacity to do that, I get the chills. Sweet Moses. The authorities may have still been looking for my body.
  • More screaming.
  • Throwing of a shoe occurred on two occasions, including a 10-yarder that probably would’ve been better than anything Carson Palmer displayed on Sunday.
  • Even more screaming.

Look, children seem fantastic if you really like kids and know how to handle them. I’d be lying if I said my brother and I were the most well-behaved children that ever lived, but my father adopted the perfect parenting tactic: the installation of abject fear. If your children are scared of misbehaving in public when they know what’ll happen to them, they are much better behaved.

But if you suck as a parent, I can’t imagine a worse fate. There is no end in sight if you can’t control your kids; you are trapped for at least 18 years, and that’s if your kids turn in to a decent member of society that goes to college or joins the army, as opposed to living with you in order to “find themselves” when they’re 39 years old.

What bugged me about these people was the direction they took on this issue: instead of keeping a firm hand and a death glare on these kids (or better yet, snatching up a pair of scissors and threatening to play Zorro) the parent’s began to bargain: “Calm down. This is not how we behave in public. You have to be better than this.” Add a twinge of sadness and despair into that phrase and it captures the moment perfectly. By the way, this is how my mother-in-law speaks to my dog.

Of course, bargaining with a child is about like bargaining with my dog: blank stares followed by butt sniffs. You’re sad and upset? Aww… hey, will you feed me? I am helpless; PUT MY NEEDS BEFORE YOURS!!!

I know tons of people that raise kids that are fantastic; I also know people that raise kids that act like hobos on crank. There’s a fine line. How do you not cross it as a parent? There’s new information coming out every year about raising children. Our parent’s got the best books and information available when we were kids, loved us unconditionally and completely screwed up; we will be the same way.

And it’s coming for me. Like a specter looming over my head, fatherhood is going to pounce and kick me in the testicles (figuratively; literally if I have a boy) sooner rather than later. It was a fun idea to pooh-pooh when I was in college; now that I’m out, and especially now that more and more of my friends are having/considering the prospect of children, I can’t hold back the fate that awaits me.

I have to be better than those clowns I saw at the barber, right? If I was that bad, I would just lose my children, either because someone would call child services on me or because I’d just open the front door, usher them out into oncoming traffic and serve the prison sentence. Let’s hope I’ve calmed and matured by the time I have kids; we don’t want to see this happen.

I take some measure of solace (if you can call it that) in the fact that how your kids turn out appears to be absolutely arbitrary. My parents were pretty good; I may have been the most disastrous child that ever lived. I know people who grew up with totally screwed up family lives that have become normal.

Either way, I’m not ready for these shenanigans. I can barely take care of myself and the dog (although I must say, I’m doing much better with her than I am me most days; maybe my selflessness will permeate when I have children, although this is unlikely). But I’ll probably try to take my wife people watching at various barbershops, restaurants and Target for a couple more years: nothing is more likely to make you want to hold off on kids quite like seeing someone else’s life being ruined before your very eyes.*

*-This is probably not going to happen; most likely, I am screwed.