Posted by: laughs4dads | January 10, 2011

NSFAQ (Not So Frequently Asked Questions)

I started this blog just about a year ago, to see if I could really come up with reasonably entertaining things to say three times a week and perhaps build up a moderately sized readership.

I accomplished half of my goal (I hope). But I must admit to the six of you reading this that, other than the occasional blip caused by a particularly timely or controversial topic (or my daughter’s boyfriend, Alex, putting a link on Reddit) I haven’t been able to spread the word any farther than you can spread margarine on a slice of toast.

So this will be my final post, number 177. And I thought I’d leave you by anticipating any parenting questions I may have left unanswered.

Q: Someone gave me a present of a cookbook that lets me make my own baby food.  Is this preferable to the store-bought stuff my mother gave me?
A: That depends.  How do you think you turned out?

Q: I have a baby boy.
A: My condolences.

Q: My question is, which disposable diaper is better, Pampers or Huggies?
A: Which one do you have a coupon for?

Q: When should I expect my daughter to start talking?
A: When she has something to say.

Q: When’s the best time to take a baby off the breast?
A: Sometime before you try to burp it.

Q: That’s not what I meant.  I meant when should I stop breast-feeding my son?
A: According to my wife, Barbara, it’s whenever it becomes too much of a pain in the ass.

Q: Whenever my parents come to visit, they bring my daughter all kinds of presents.  Will she get spoiled?
A: No.  Only slightly curdled.

Q: My friends have a daughter the same age as mine.  How come she’s already reading and my daughter isn’t?
A: Maybe she has better books.

Q: Should I enroll my child in one of those toddler courses that teaches foreign languages or nuclear physics?
A: Your child will be smarter than you in good time.  Don’t rush it.

Q: My son is a terror.  He runs around the house breaking things and, when we take him visiting, he runs around other peoples’ houses breaking things.  What can I do?
A: Get him better parents.  And, by the way, you’re not invited to my place.

Q: How long should I let my baby cry before I go into him?
A: Until a commercial.

Q. But we use TiVo.
A. Then put your baby on fast forward until he stops crying.

Q: What kind of video camera should we get to shoot our son?
A: Use a gun.

Q: According to statistics, how much will the average college education cost in 16 years?
A: More than you can afford.

Q: My son has a cold and it’s keeping him awake at night.  What should I do?
A: Sleep in a motel.

Q: Is it true that your baby can hear your voice while it’s still in the womb?
A: Yes, so watch what you say while you’re in labor.

Q: Can you recommend any vacation spots for young children?
A: Any place that caters to toddlers will be just fine, as long as you’re going somewhere else on your vacation.

Q: How old should my daughter be before I have another baby?
A: Old enough to be an au pair.

Q: Is it safe to use a microwave around a baby?
A: As long as the baby isn’t in it.

Q: Any potty training tips?
A: Yes.  Make sure they don’t fall in.

Q: Hello, I’m a single father and I’m looking for a nanny who’s witty, intelligent, a good cook and great with kids.  Any suggestions?
A: Try eHarmony.com.

Q: My year-old son likes to sit in front of the TV for hours and not do anything else.  How can I get him to stop this?
A: You’re kidding, right?

Q: Is it good to have sex in front of your child?
A: Good for whom?

Q: Well, my child, of course.
A: I don’t know, but make sure he doesn’t see you smoking afterward.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed the past year of posts. Thanks for reading.

There’s no doubt that our children have been born into a world that is more competitive than ever.  From the moment they exit the womb, they enter a competition for the best play groups, the best pre-schools, the best colleges, the best jobs, the best pre-nuptial agreements, the best homes, the best children and the best cemeteries.

I remember having to reserve a spot in nursery school for Casey in October for the following September. I didn’t apply to colleges that far in advance.

Of course, the purpose of these pre-schools (and pre-pre-schools) is to teach social principles like interaction and co-operation.  To give you an idea of how this works, I have a transcript of Casey (at two years old) telling me about her day:

ME: How was school today?
CASEY: Stories.
ME: The teacher told stories?
CASEY: Yes. 
ME: What else did you do?
CASEY: Slide.
ME: You played on the slide?
CASEY: Yes.
ME: What else?
CASEY: Hamburger fries.
ME: You ate hamburgers and fries?
BARB: She made hamburgers and fries for the other kids.  They have a play kitchen.
CASEY: Casey boo-boo.
ME: You have a boo-boo?  What happened?
BARB: Jimmy bit her.

Now that’s my idea of social interaction.  When the parents picked up the kids from the school each day, the teacher (whom all the parents all hated because she treated them like children) gave them reports about their kids’ various kinds of anti-social behavior.  Benjamin, this teacher would tell Ben’s mother, Rory, knocked over all the toys as soon as he came into the room.  Rory wondered how she should react to this news.  After all, just how disciplined was a two-year old supposed to be?  And why did this teacher have an inflection in her voice that sounded as though it was Rory who had knocked over the toys?

One Sunday afternoon, the school threw a pizza party with the stated purpose of letting all the parents meet each other, although some of us felt it was specifically to torture fathers who wanted to be home watching football games and drinking beer.

Ben’s father, Ed, had a terrific idea.  He thought it would be fun if he showed up and immediately knocked over all the toys.  And Jimmy’s father went over and bit somebody.  And I pretended to make hamburgers.  Our wives talked us out of the plan.

Now, when I was a kid, some of us went to nursery school, where we got to play with blocks and take naps so that we’d be all prepared to excel at block playing and nap taking in kindergarten.

Not any more.  Today’s kindergarten assumes that your child has at least experienced various social environments, if not already accumulated some credits toward a post-graduate degree.  Our society has made these two-and-three-year old schools necessary because, without them, a child could actually find himself behind in kindergarten.

You see, somewhere along the way, our brilliant child psychologists and esteemed educators figured out that the younger a child is, the more they can learn.  A child’s mind, they tell us, is like a sponge.  The theory, I guess, is that the more they soak up at a young age, the more society will be able to squeeze out of them later on. 

It seems to me that Japan is always used as an example for these arguments.  We see documentaries of Japanese children already hard at work in laboratories trying to figure out what they can miniaturize next.  Look how disciplined these children are, we are told.  They work hard in school, they respect their parents and they always seem to beat our kids in the Little League World Series.

So now there are all these special programs intended to give our kids a head start.  Your two-year old can learn foreign languages, get an appreciation of art, or start training for the Olympics.  If she can pass the entrance exams.  And if you happen to have a lot of money.

Well, excuse me, but I staunchly believe that we should not be emulating a society that hasn’t even learned how to cook fish.  I think it’s much more important for a two-year old to learn how to be a two-year old.  The world at large contains quite enough for our little sponges to absorb; it’s completely unnecessary to throw in the subtleties of impressionist art.

In fact, some sociologists have noticed that, while the Japanese are very good at business and manufacturing and other pursuits that require a structured way of thinking, they may, as a whole, be lacking in imagination.  This will be obvious to anybody who compares sumo wrestling to professional wrestling in our country.

Why are the Japanese lacking in imagination?  Because they don’t let their two year olds spend enough time imagining.  Their two year olds spend all their time installing annoying, nagging voices that tell you to fasten your seat belts.

And besides, even if we don’t enroll them in English Literature courses, our kids are already involved in some pretty tough competition.

Only they don’t know it.

Because while they go on their merry way, their parents are frantically comparing their every move to what the kid down the street is doing.

I’ll admit it; I did it all the time.  I’d say to Barbara, “None of the other kids recites the alphabet like Casey, right?”  Or even something as stupid as, “Casey has longer hair than anyone else, right?”  As if the length of Casey’s hair indicated some special prodigious skill on the part of our daughter.

I remember Barb once telling me how impressed Rory was at Casey’s incredibly long attention span that allowed her to engage in the same activity for as long as five minutes.  Well, it was true that Benjamin had, at that age, never been observed in a motionless state, but on the other hand, he seemed to be some sort of a mechanical genius.  By the time he started walking, he could also insert a cassette tape into the stereo, press the “play” button, and turn the tape over at the end of a side.  By the time he was two, I believe Ed had him doing transmission repairs on his car.

So, you see, different children develop in different ways.  It all more or less evens out in the end, and there’s absolutely no reason to despair just because your child doesn’t show any interest in, say, drawing.

But did you know Casey was already dabbling in non-toxic marker at 14 months? 

In going through some old papers, I made an amazing discovery: a page of my daughter’s diary from around when she was two years old. The page is crinkled and yellowed and, of course, imaginary, but I have painstakingly translated her scribblings, with about as much care as I imagine was taken when transcribing the dead sea scrolls, or maybe hieroglyphics drawn by an Egyptian toddler:

I woke up at 7:30, but mommy doesn’t like me to cry until eight, so I played in my crib.  Loudly.  First I talked to Baby, my little gorilla.  Then I cranked up my activity center to hear the music.  Then I jumped up and down so I could listen to the springs make noise. 

I guess mommy didn’t want to sleep anymore, because she came and got me out.

She changed my diaper while I kicked her.  We went downstairs and I sat on my big beanbag chair with a bottle and watched “Sesame Street.”  I like Bert and Ernie and Grover the best.  I hate Bob because daddy says he’s a wimp.

My favorite part of “Sesame Street” is when they sing “The Alphabet Song.”  I really love “The Alphabet Song.”  Do you know how it goes?  It goes “A,B,C,D,E,F,G/ H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P/ Q,R,S,T, U,V/ Double, X,Y and Z./ Now I know my A-B-C’s/ Next time won’t you sing with me?”  Isn’t that a catchy tune?  I could sing it all day.  And I do. 

(Daddy’s Note: You really can’t get the full effect of this unless you actually hear how painfully off-key it was.  But don’t despair.  If you would like the full experience, simply Paypal $19.95 plus $4.95 postage and handling to haldirect@aol.com, and I will be happy to send you a small blackboard which you can scrape with your fingernails. Hurry–supplies limited.)

Also during “Sesame Street,” I ate breakfast, which was a waffle even though I asked for a green ice pop.  Then I said, “Mommy, potty,” because I was pooping and mommy said that I was a good girl even though I should have told her before I pooped.  I pretended not to understand.

So mommy dressed me in my bathing suit and I was very happy because I like swimming but I hate what happens before we go swimming, which is mommy smears this stuff all over me.  She says it’s so I don’t get sunburned.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t mind being smeared with stuff, but only when I do it myself and it’s chocolate.

Swimming was fun.  Mommy puts these yellow things on my arms and blows them up.  That way I can swim by myself.  That’s good, but it makes it harder to swallow as much water as I’d like to.

Lots of my friends were at the pool including Benjamin and Jonathan.  Jonathan’s younger than me, so he doesn’t hit me as much as some of my other friends, but that’s okay because he has a dog that licks my hand.  Benjamin is going to be my boyfriend when we get older if some other girl doesn’t get to him first.  Benjamin is so handsome and brave.  You should see how he goes jumping into the water.  And it’s so funny how his mother, Rory, starts pointing and screaming when he does that.

We had lunch by the pool.  It was turkey and fruit, even though I asked for a green ice pop.  Then I looked for bugs for awhile, and I found some, but mommy wouldn’t pick them up like daddy does.

On the way home for my nap, I sang “The Alphabet Song” again:  “A,B,C,D,E,F,G/ H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P/ Q,R,S,T,U,V,/ Double, X,Y and Z/ Now I know my A-B-C’s/ Next time won’t you sing with me?” 

(Daddy’s note: That address again is haldirect@aol.com.)

Mommy put me in my crib with a bottle and I had a nice nap dreaming that Big Bird pecked Bob’s head off. I woke up just in time for “Sesame Street” which is on for two hours in the afternoon, even on weekends, because mommy has about five days worth on tape.  I know because she keeps showing me the same ones over and over, and they’re getting pretty boring.  But I won’t tell her because I don’t want to hurt her feelings and, besides, she seems to enjoy it so much when I watch. 

(Daddy’s note: Casey watching “Sesame Street” was to Barbara what a vacation is to most people, except it was cheaper and we didn’t end up with a bunch of t-shirts.)

After “Sesame Street,” I had dinner, which was fish sticks and peas, even though I asked for a green ice pop.  Then we fed my fish, which I named Bigby and Pretzel, and then mommy gave me some pretzels. 

Finally came the best part of my day.  Daddy came home!  I love daddy very much because when he comes home he gives me a green ice pop.  While I ate it, he went upstairs to change out of the clothes he wears to work and he came back wearing ugly red shorts.  By that time, the green ice pop was melting all over the living room, and I went over to share it with him because I love him so much.  Daddy is so funny.  He makes this sound like “yucch” and he pretends he doesn’t like cold, green, sticky gunk running down his leg. Which is silly, of course, because that’s really fun. 

By now I knew it was only about an hour until mommy got me ready for bed, so daddy and I played with as many different toys as possible in that time.  Daddy says we should put one toy away before we play with another, but I’m too fast for him. 

Right before my bath, I sang “The Alphabet Song” for daddy: “A,B,C,D,E,F,G/ H,I,J,K,L,M,N,O,P/ Q,R,S,T,U,V/ Double, X, Y and Z/ Now I know my A-B-C’s/ Next time won’t you sing with me?”  Daddy loves to hear me sing this and he gets this silly expression on his face that reminds me of Kermit the Frog when he scrunches up his mouth. 

(Daddy’s Note: If you don’t want to send for the blackboard, you can simulate the experience by simply ramming your funny bone into a hard object.)

My bath was lots of fun.  Mommy put me in the water and got me all wet and then I said, “Mommy, potty,” and she took me out and put me on the potty seat but I couldn’t go so she put me back into the water and I peed.  Then we played “Splish, Splash.”  This is where I splash mommy and she gets wet.  Then I splash her some more and she gets wetter.  She always gets even, though.  She washes my hair.  Can’t she find some other way to punish me?

After my bath, mommy put a new diaper on me with a Diaper Doubler, and also a t-shirt, and we went downstairs so I could sit on daddy’s lap while I drank my bottle and we watched the Mets game.  Daddy likes to whisper to me while I’m in his lap.  He says he loves me and how beautiful I am.  I know that he’s trying to get me to say, “I love you, daddy,” because I say it really cute, and every once in awhile I say it to him because he seems to get a kick out of it.  I did tonight, and he smiled.

Then I kissed mommy and daddy and we hugged each other and mommy took me upstairs and put me in my crib with Baby, my little gorilla, and big kitty cat and little kitty cat and elephant and bear and dog and dinosaur and my blanket.

I was very tired, because I did so much today.  But I wasn’t so tired that I couldn’t sing “The Alphabet Song” one more time: 

(Daddy’s note: okay, everybody sing!) 

“A,B,C,D,E,F,G/ H,I,J,K, L,M,N,O,P/ Q,R,S,T,U,V/ Double, X Y and Z/ Now I know my A-B-C’s/ Next time won’t you sing with me?”

Did I mention how much I like “The Alphabet Song?”

Posted by: laughs4dads | January 3, 2011

Ten Modern Inventions Without Which Children Could Not Exist

In this post, I’m going to list 10 inventions that are absolutely critical to parenting. I used the word “modern” in the title, but what I really mean are items that had been developed in time for Barbara and me to be parents, but which did not exist for our parents.

At least, that’s what they claim. People who had kids during the baby boom years tell us that they managed to do so without any of these inventions, but I don’t believe them. If these things had not been available since the beginning of time, having children would have just been too difficult, and human beings would never have caught on as a species. We’d still be enormous, reptilian creatures and Burger King would have higher drive-up windows

Anyway, here’s my list of “modern” (HAH!) child-rearing essentials:

  1. DISPOSABLE DIAPERS WITH RE-STICKABLE ADHESIVE STRIPS
    There is a legend that there used to be something called a “cloth diaper.”  The fact is that, in the old days, what they didn’t have was re-stickable adhesive strips.  It must have been scary.  Barbara once purchased an antique bag of disposable diapers and I attempted to use them.  Fortunately, we went through our supply quickly, primarily because I discarded ten or fifteen every time I tried to change Casey.  I’m sorry, I just don’t deal well with the pressure.  Casey was bawling her lungs out and I was trying to arrange the diaper before she could pee again.  The adhesive was good stuff; it adhered to the changing table, the wall, my skin, itself and the box of Baby Wipes. But I couldn’t reposition it to get the job just right.  The good news was, that by the time I was finished, Casey was laughing.  With me, I hope, and not at me.
  2. VELCRO
    There is no other way I can think of to attach a pair of shoes to a baby’s foot.  Velcro is also good for a hyperactive baby; simply affix a strip of Velcro to a wall and a strip to your baby’s back.  You can figure out the rest.
  3. MICROWAVE OVENS
    These reduce by valuable seconds the time it takes to heat a bottle of formula while a baby is screaming in a shrill manner so as to explode an adult’s brain.  Some people eschew this remarkable device on the theory that it is not healthy to let a baby drink formula that has been warmed with radioactive sub-atomic particles, but I say, “Who cares?”
  4. STAIN-RESISTANT CARPETING
    Before this invention, I assume parents had floors made of an incredible substance that could absorb and degrade all sorts of spillage.  I’m thinking here of dirt.  Dirt floors, however, are no longer considered socially acceptable except in extremely out-of-the-way places in Africa where they don’t have carpet cleaners available for rental at the supermarket. Our carpeting did indeed prove resistant to anything Casey could drop on it, although Barbara’s sister Karen would spill coffee every time she was over at our place and the rug would instantly absorb it and put it on permanently display.
  5. VIDEO PLAYERS
    First there was television, and that was fine, except it didn’t show “Sesame Street” 24 hours a day.  Now it can. With the invention of VCRs and then DVDs, parents can create their own “Only Stuff Your Child Likes to Watch Over and Over Again” TV networks, so that your television will never have anything inappropriate. Or a blank screen.
  6. TOYS R US
    Before the advent of the backward “R,” there had never been such a convenient way in which to dispose of thousands of dollars in such a short time.  In the old days, it would have taken days, and much traveling, to accomplish the same expenditure.
  7. DISCOUNT FURNITURE STORES
    These are places where you can buy entire housefuls of furniture for $999.99, and be absolutely confident that it will last at least until you position it correctly in a room.  It is as close as the world comes to disposable furniture, and, if you share our opinion that expensive furniture stands no better chance of surviving a small child, you’re much better off with the cheap stuff.
  8. OUTLET GUARDS
    Sometimes the most important inventions are the most obvious, and here’s a perfect example.  These are simple, plastic things with prongs that fit into your electrical outlets so your little darlings won’t experience the sensation of a few thousands volts zapping through their bodies.  Another nice advantage is the propensity of these things to break every time you try to remove them in order to actually plug something in.  A prong is invariably left in the outlet, meaning you actually have to remove the plate (this involves using a screwdriver!) and replace it. Or in my case, call Gary, the handy brother-in-law, who would then come with his wife, Barbara’s sister, Karen, which was one of the reasons our gray carpeting turned brown. (see number 4 above).

  9. CHILD-PROOF CAPS
    In the old days, children were constantly eating medications as if they were M&M’s, which was particularly dangerous, since we all know how lethal those red M&M’s used to be.  Now there is no danger of this happening because the medications are in shatterproof bottles with child-proof caps, and the shatterproof bottles are in cabinets with child-locks on them.  Of course, there is also no danger of an adult being able to take this medication. Here’s how this works: let’s say I have an allergy attack and I want to take those pills that relieve allergy symptoms in under ten minutes.  First, using a crowbar, I manage to open the cabinet in which the medicine is stored.  Now I am confronted with the dreaded child-proof cap.  After reading the instructions carefully, I severely injure my thumb trying to pry the thing open.  Then I throw the container against the refrigerator, but this does not work because of the wonderful shatterproof bottle.  Then I place the bottle underneath the rear wheel of my car and shift into reverse, waiting to hear that satisfying crunch.  Finally, I scrape some of the powder off the floor of my garage and swallow it with a glass of juice.  This all takes about twenty minutes.  Add ten minutes for the pill to work, and we see that relief from allergy symptoms actually takes a full half hour. 
  10. JUICE BOXES
    These are the amazing little shelf-stable containers of juice that can stay in your cupboard apparently forever and need no refrigeration unless you actually want to drink the contents.  They are great for traveling because they even come packaged with their own straws which disappear completely into the box as soon as they are inserted.  Often, these boxes contain as much as 10% fruit juice.  I guess if they filled up the other 90% of the box, it wouldn’t be shelf-stable any more.

Can you even imagine having kids without this stuff?

Posted by: laughs4dads | December 31, 2010

Ideas for Celebrating New Year’s Eve With Your Child

To truly celebrate New Year’s Eve, a loving parent needs to get two things:

  1. A babysitter.
  2. Smashed.

However, assuming that the first item on the list is hard to obtain due to the fact that, unlike you, teenagers have social lives, there are still some ways to appropriately commemorate the occasion with your child, in your house.

When I was a kid, my family’s way of observing New Year’s Eve was for each of us to pick out his or own flavors of Baskin Robbins ice cream and eat a pint of it while watching Guy Lombardo.

This may partially explain how I became the fun-loving, overweight party animal I am today.

One obvious way to celebrate with your child is to watch the Times Square ball drop on TV. The problem with that, of course, is that it occurs well past bedtime. Your bedtime. Your kid will be wide awake.

I recommend getting a few old-fashioned noisemakers and some of those confetti poppers. Take all of that to a friend’s house and leave it there. Because really, why do you want to mess up your house? And a noise-maker in a kid’s hands is like a hunting rifle in Dick Cheney’s.

Instead, pour your child a nice glass of grape soda (unless you’re one of those fanatics who think sugary soft drinks are bad for your kid) and give a toast to the new year, which will make your child feel grown up and, possibly, set her on the road toward alcoholism. However, assuming that you put real booze in your glass, you can be on the road to a drunken stupor as soon as your kid goes to sleep.

If you’re lucky, your whole family will be asleep before they roll out Dick Clark.

Posted by: laughs4dads | December 29, 2010

TV Confessional, Part II

In my last post, I talked about my daughter’s TV viewing habits when she was a baby.

As she grew a bit older, those habits changed. She became suddenly enamored with “Sesame Street” in a big way.  For one hour in the morning, and two in the afternoon (we got three or four public television stations with cable, and my wife, Barbara, quickly learned when they all broadcast “Sesame Street”), Casey was engrossed in the adventures of Kermit and friends. 

Not only did Barbara get three full peaceful hours during the day (not including afternoon naptime), but Casey actually learned stuff.  She was the first among her friends, even her older friends, to count (although she had this annoying habit of starting with four so that all her totals were somewhat inflated).  And she became virtually addicted to the alphabet.  Imagine, an 18 month old kid singing both verses of “The Alphabet Song.”

Repeatedly.

Often, a dozen or more times an hour.

And very off-key.

She also learned to say “Bert” and “Ernie” frighteningly close to the time she learned to say “Mommy” and “Daddy.”

Of course, she also had her own videotape library (this was in the pre-digital age, remember) containing “Sesame Street” episodes that Barbara had recorded as well as “Big Bird’s Bedtime Stories” and other tapes that we purchased.

The problem with “Sesame Street” was that, if Barbara or I happened to be in the room when Henson’s gang was on the air, we sort of couldn’t help watching it.  I soon had favorite characters (I liked Grover and Elmo, but I hated Bob because he was a wimp and I detested Big Bird’s singsong voice) and I even once asked Barb to tape the big wedding between Maria and Louis.  Worse, sometimes when I came home from work, Barb would tell me about the segments she really enjoyed in that day’s episodes (I remember she loved one particularly profound satire involving a character named Meryl Sheep).

Also, even back then, the merchandising was getting out of hand.  Virtually everything in our house, from the “Sesame Street” picnic table, to the Big Bird piano, to the Bert, Ernie, Oscar and Grover hand puppets, to the dozen or so “Sesame Street” books to our actual adult furniture (some of which had become decorated with Cookie Monster stickers) had some sort of character identification.  And Casey’s artistically-inclined Aunt Gwen painted a mural for Casey’s bedroom wall depicting Big Bird, Oscar, et al in a train.

And then Casey discovered Mickey Mouse.

We were going to go to Disney World, so we thought it was a brilliant idea to buy a few Mickey Mouse videos to get her used to the characters.  This worked beyond our imagination, and certainly beyond our desires.

Casey began asking constantly for “Mouse TV,” and we’d have to put on a tape of cartoons from the forties and fifties.  These cartoons, with their full animation, were a joy even for Barb and me to watch.  Once.  Even twice.  However, they began to lose something on the 59th or 60th viewing (especially after we learned to identify the approximate dates of production by whether or not Mickey’s eyes had pupils).  But at least you can’t say we didn’t expose our daughter to the classics.

Eventually, Casey became addicted to that marketing machine called Nickelodeon, which, it seemed to me, made four or five episodes of every show back in 1988 and was still running those same five episodes well into the 90s.

In conclusion, let me say that there is one thing I am eternally grateful for: by the time “Barney” came along, Casey was no longer in the age group for which that show is intended.

I may have had to yank the cable.

Posted by: laughs4dads | December 27, 2010

TV Confessional, Part I

When our daughter, Casey, was a baby, we let her watch hours and hours of television. She’s 24 now, and she turned out just fine if you ignore the fact that all she does is sit around and watch TV.

Casey began watching TV when she was about two months old. We found that the best way to get Casey to sit still was to perch her in front of MTV. This was 1986, remember, when MTV still showed music videos.  The music, no matter how raucous, had a calming effect. I don’t think this would work for today’s parents, because “The Jersey Shore” probably wouldn’t put a baby in the same, serene place. But you never know; give it a try.

At six months, Casey became a fan of wrestling.  She didn’t so much like the actual matches; she preferred the interviews.  She would stop whatever she was doing to listen to the guys scream into the microphone with their gritty voices.  “I’m going to break both his legs and end his career,” they would say, and Casey would laugh as if she was watching a cartoon.  Her favorite wrestler was Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

At eight months, she started watching “Wheel of Fortune.”  I couldn’t understand this, as I never heard Casey guess a puzzle before the contestants, not even once when somebody had “AS EASY AS P – E” and needed to buy a vowel.  Then I realized she just liked watching the wheel go around.  I guess the blur of colors appealed to her, although I never heard her yell “Come on, $5,000!”

On Saturday mornings, Casey watched “The Smurfs,” but that was mostly because it was Barbara’s favorite show. While it was on, Casey was usually disassembling the weekend newspaper as if she was expecting a house-broken elephant to visit. 

As you can tell, Casey was not all that into what might be called “educational programming.” This leads me to a second admission: we let her watch whatever the hell she wanted to. If it was capable of holding her attention for ten or more consecutive seconds or, at least, diverting her momentarily from her all-time favorite activity, which was banging pots and pans with as little rhythm and as much volume as possible, it was okay with us. If her choices were, um, let us say not conducive to a future as a nuclear scientist or brain surgeon, so be it.

In case you’re thinking that, in order for Casey to have access to this highbrow programming, one or more of her parents had to be watching it in the first place, and, that, therefore, I have just confirmed all your suspicions about the IQ of the average TV viewer, I hasten to point out that Barb and I also watched “60 Minutes” and Casey showed no interest in that whatsoever, although she did chuckle once at one of Andy Rooney’s remarks.

Actually, Casey had already become competent with a remote control by then. Remote controls have buttons and, as every baby knows, buttons are in this world to be indiscriminately pressed.  She would often take the remote unit in her little, chocolate-covered hands and flip randomly through the channels until she found something she liked or had caused the batteries to pop out of the unit by banging it against the bricks of the fireplace.  Unlike adult zappers, her channel surfing did not occur only during commercials; in fact, she particularly liked to change channels during the climactic scenes of 30-hour miniseries that her parents had been watching for three weeks, so that, often, just as the murderer was about to be revealed, we’d find ourselves watching the home shopping network.

In those prehistoric days, we had a VCR instead of a DVD player, and Casey discovered that it not only had buttons, it had the additional feature of flashing lights.  This meant that, more often than not, her parents were trying to make sense of a movie that was running in forward search and whose characters sounded like Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Now you may be thinking, “Hey, if they were really good parents, they wouldn’t have exposed their child to so much television.  They would have had a classical music playlist on their iPods and played it through speakers.”

Shows what you know! We didn’t have iPods back in the stone age! And, anyway, Casey had this thing with music. When she heard music, she wanted to dance.  And she wasn’t bad at it, either.  Except that she wasn’t very discriminating in her music selection.  She would dance to any music, even if it was a commercial jingle or the background music in a TV show. And she expected any human being in the room, as well as four or five stuffed animals, to dance with her.  If you’ve ever tried to do the twist to the song they play during Final Jeopardy, you’ll know why we didn’t have music playing often in our house.

To be continued…

Posted by: laughs4dads | December 24, 2010

Bah! Humbug!

Well, it’s Christmas Eve, and I have 10 reasons to be less than thrilled about Christmas:

  1. It seems to start before Halloween now. At least as far as advertisers are concerned.
  2. The Christmas tree sellers that show up in every parking lot so that it looks like small, forlorn forests have suddenly sprouted up all over town.
  3. Reindeer abuse.
  4. Reruns of 40-year-old Claymation TV shows. In fact, reruns of this year’s shows, from Thanksgiving until February.
  5. Ostentatious and tasteless Christmas decorations on homes. Particularly ones that play music. Especially the giant inflatable snow globes.
  6. The “hot” toy that is selling for 500% over list price on eBay.
  7. Black Friday, and the idiots that actually show up at the mall at 3:30 in the morning as if Bruce Springsteen tickets are going on sale.
  8. Poinsettias, the holiday decor that never dies.
  9. Any toy that talks.
  10. The total lack of ostentatious and tasteless Hanukah decorations.

However, have a wonderful holiday, everyone.

Posted by: laughs4dads | December 22, 2010

Reflections on a Society Without Wisdom

We’re about to celebrate a holiday that involves three wise men, and it makes me wonder: where has all the wisdom gone?

We have many, many smart people in America. But very few wise ones.

You rarely even hear the word “wisdom” anymore, as if it has somehow become obsolete, like a discarded piece of technology.

But if you look around America these days, it certainly seems as though we could use a lot more of it.

Where did it all go?

It used to reside within our elders. You know, the matriarch who passed down all the old traditions, folklore and superstitions, all of which had at least some practical application, whether it was getting out a stain, or warding off disease, or inducing labor or knowing when it was going to rain. There was the grandfather who’d take you fly fishing while imparting the wisdom of the ages: how to track bear, raise your kids, be a man. There was the mentor who would open the mysteries of a trade; the clergyman who would set us on a righteous path; the leader who would reassure us in troubled times, or read the comics to us during a newspaper strike, or at least pose a formidable figure into which we could put our confidence.

It doesn’t seem like we have any of that anymore. Our leaders, more often than not, come off as petty fools with all the maturity of rival sleep-away camps during color wars. Our religions sometimes provide rules to live by, but also deal in lies to rule by. And we have lost the tradition of passing down a trade because, for the most part, we don’t really have trades much anymore. I mean, how many teens aspire to become carpenters?

And the last few decades have been really tough on our elders. The pace of life and the technology it relies on has forced our elders to look to us for help, rather than the other way around. Older people are depicted in the media more as bumbling, crotchety, but lovable idiots rather than sage problem solvers. In our society, older people are discussed as if they are a problem…for children who must tend to them, a health system that must care for them, a Social Security system that must support them.

Truth is, we have been trained to go to the Web for everything now, because it has become a repository for all human knowledge. And yes, here is everything from herbs to cure a cold, to ways to keep deer from eating flowers, to tips on incorporating ancient Chinese mysticism into your life.

The knowledge is there, but not the wisdom. The wisdom to know not only what to say, but how to say it. The wisdom to pass along not only solutions but serenity, not only facts but feelings…a touch, a hug, a shared bond through generations.

And, in any case, I’m not sure we even have the capacity for wisdom anymore. We don’t have the demeanor for it, or the patience. Wisdom is not ironic or snarky or self-deprecating. It cannot be delivered in 140 characters.

There was a time when almost every society, or every tribe, or every family had someone it could go to. It was probably someone really old and wrinkled, maybe someone who spoke with a fractured syntax or hybrid accent, someone who had been around for as long as anyone could remember.

In other words, Yoda.

Most of us had a Yoda, once. And I think most of us are kind of lost without it.

Posted by: laughs4dads | December 20, 2010

“That Was a Word! I Know That Was a Word!”

All of us, while growing up, experienced the feeling at one time or another, if not continuously, that our parents did not understand us.

I’m sure that’s nothing compared to the frustration a baby must have.

Imagine having as your sole means of communication a variety of cries with which you must convey everything from “hungry” to “wet” to “tired” to “please change the channel; this is boring.”

Of course, this is just as frustrating for the parent, who has a mental checklist called “Reasons for Crying” and tends to respond to the baby’s wailing by becoming a whirlwind and trying to discover, by process of elimination, and as quickly as possible, why the kid is screaming.  It is something like being on the old game show “Beat the Clock.”

When the baby does begin to communicate effectively, it has only its self-interest in mind.  Casey began by taking our hand and tugging us into the kitchen, where she would point out what she wanted, usually a cookie.

As she started to babble incessantly, Barbara and I played this game in which we struggled to discern something which could remotely be called a word, hopefully something in a dialect of the English language:

CASEY: trtrgfhfgiytituyfghfghedrtstrwer egitg
ME: She said “daddy.”  Did you hear it?

We encouraged her vocal output by pretending to understand her and upholding our part of the conversation:

CASEY: grtrtguffyityuttssdfgsgsdsjkgh
BARB:  Oh, really?  And then what happened?

When she had achieved a couple of real words, Casey even called our bluff on this:

CASEY: jhfgfuyrtydfgffghjtutufgf
ME: Oh, really?
CASEY: Yes.

After awhile, we realized that Casey’s mumbling wasn’t at all random, that she actually thought she was saying something.  If, after she mumbled awhile, we said “What?” she would repeat her babbles verbatim.  We thought about tape recording her and playing it back for her in ten years or so.  “Casey,” we’d say, “What exactly did you mean by this?” 

Soon came her first word which was, not surprisingly, “cookie.”  Within weeks, her vocabulary had expanded to include “pretzel,” “juice,” and “cracker,” and I figured that by the time she was two, I’d be able to send her out to work in a diner.

Meanwhile, she also learned the word “more.”  She figured out she could use it whenever we were doing something she wanted to continue doing.  Occasionally, however, we’d be sitting around and she’d say “more” and since we hadn’t been doing anything, we had no idea what she wanted.  I decided she was taking after her mother, who can seamlessly pick up a conversation that had been interrupted hours or even days earlier (and expects you to know what she’s talking about), and was asking for more of something we had been doing at some time in the past.

I also noticed that, as quickly as she picked up the word “more,” she was decidedly slower in learning how to say, or even decipher the meaning of, “no more.” 

She did learn “no.”  And its counterpart, which was an up and down nod of the head.  Now we could have conversations if Barb and I were careful to keep all our comments in the form of yes-no questions.  It was like talking to one of those old arcade fortune telling machines.  I had a hunch, however, that while Casey knew what “no” meant, she would nod “yes” not only if it was something she did want, but also if it was something she did not understand.  I proved this theory by asking her, outright, if she agreed with existentialist philosophy.  She said yes.

It is obvious here that the early stages of talking are motivated almost entirely by greed.  I suspect that if we had never uttered the word “cookie” in her presence she would have somehow learned it.  Nevertheless, Barb and I followed in the tradition of generations of parents and began spelling things, on the assumption that anything we said more than once would instantly enter Casey’s vocabulary.  In addition, since Casey could understand a lot more than she could say, there was the danger of triggering a response mechanism, like, say, a sudden undeniable desire for ice cream, simply by mentioning the words.  The result of this was that, while Casey was communicating more effectively with us, Barb and I were communicating less effectively with each other.

Now, excuse the generalization, but artistic types are notoriously bad spellers.  Barb is an artistic type, and does nothing whatsoever to dispel that stereotype.  Conversations would stop cold when I spelled something out, and you could almost see the wheels spinning as Barbara mouthed the letters to herself.

ME:  So what do you want to do today?
BARB: I don’t know, what do you want to do?
(Our conversations tended to start this way even before we had Casey.)
ME:  Casey’s got a cold.  Should we take her O-U-T-S-I-D-E?
(Long pause) 
BARB: We’ll go crazy if we stay in all day.
ME: We could take her to the zoo to see the A-N-I-M-A-L-S.
(Long pause)
BARB: It’s too hot.  Let’s just go to a R-E-S-T…er, R-E-S-T-A-R, er…
ME: Restaurant?
BARB: Yeah, for lunch.
(Casey, having heard the word “restaurant,” has now begun to pay attention)
ME: Okay.  Where? 
BARB: Just someplace for burgers.
CASEY: Hamburg?  Fries?
ME: Now you’ve done it.
CASEY: Hamburg?  Fries?
ME: It’s only ten o’clock.  What are we gonna do, drive around in the car for two hours telling her we’re headed for McDonalds?
CASEY:  Car?  Side? (that meant “outside”)
ME: Maybe we should go to T-O-Y-S-R-U-S first.
(VERY long pause)
BARB: What’s a toysrus?
ME: Not “toysrus.”  Toys R Us.
CASEY: Toys?  Car?  Side?  Hamburg?  Fries?

Incredibly, Barb and I still have conversations like this, only now it’s because of our dog, whose ears will perk up when one his favorite words is mentioned.

Only problem is, I think he spells better than Barbara does.

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