Favorites

My youngest was on a favorites spree two nights ago, and my wife was coming out on the losing end of the stick. I was the big winner in almost every competition. “Who’s your favorite – a chocolate milkshake as big as your head, or Daddy?” “Daddy!”

We were at the dinner table during this episode, enjoying a meal my wife had lovingly prepared, and she was holding it together pretty well, until the dam finally burst. I think my youngest had picked our dead cat (whom she’d never actually met) over her mother, and the gloves came off.

“Who cooks your meals, changes your diapers, wipes your nose, takes you to therapy after therapy after therapy, agrees to be Stitch or Mulan or whatever random Disney character is lodged in that head of yours and I don’t even beat the cat? I mean, come on!” Continue reading “Favorites”

Oh Mother Where Art Thou?

Two books I’ve read in the last few months share themes that make them worthy of a post (more than worthy!) They’re both excellent, tightly written, suspenseful horror fiction, and both explore a mother realizing her child is the embodiment of evil. These two masterpieces of Mommy Macabre (mahvelous!) are Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin and The Bad Seed by William March. If you haven’t read them, and don’t like it when someone gives away the plot, read no further, but for the rest, let us proceed. Continue reading “Oh Mother Where Art Thou?”

Ex Machina: A Mechanical Victory for Feminism

This isn’t a movie review, per se. So, I’ll open by saying Ex Machina is worth seeing. High quality acting, directing and writing put this film a step above the usual movie house fare, particularly when it comes to science fiction. It’s not “action packed” however, so if you’re looking for that, look elsewhere.

Instead, the movie is “idea packed.” And because this short essay is going to deal with various plot points, if you would like to see the movie without knowing the twists, read no further. In other words, spoiler alert. Continue reading “Ex Machina: A Mechanical Victory for Feminism”

8:36 a.m.

Do you know the minute you were born? 8:36 a.m is mine. I always watch the clock on my birthday to see when I officially cross over into that next year. I’m sniffing around middle age now, and I’m not sure I like the smell.

My mom always says she loves the age she is now. She declares it like she’s planting a flag in the ground with her age emblazoned upon it. I’m not so declamatory, nor do I feel her absolute confidence. Maybe I know too much about slippage, how things fall apart, how the ends of my dividing cells are degrading, senescence in essence, and how old age creeps in and makes the aches ache and suddenly crawling out of bed seems like “one more thing to do.” Do I remember springing out of bed and attacking the day in my twenties? Not in that cartoonish fashion, but I can definitely feel a difference as I dip into my fifth decade on the planet. What is that line from the song: “My get up and go, just got up and went?” Continue reading “8:36 a.m.”

Werewolf, magic, with a twist

The Changeling Prince was a very readable book, and Velde does a great job of having you root for the central character, Weiland. He is a sympathetic young man/wolf put into impossible situations, and this is all to Velde’s credit. The drawbacks of the book are: 1) Weiland doesn’t really think his way through any of the problems. When there is a big reveal at the end, it isn’t because the main character has reasoned it out, which is ultimately more satisfying for the reader; rather, it is just dumb luck. 2) The climax is rushed and feels very deus ex machina. I won’t give much away when I note that the character of Kedj, the villainess’ henchman, is incomplete and yet he figures heavily in the final crisis. 3) The villainess is vile to the extreme but she lacks in levels, character shadings that would make her more realistic. She is a spoiled child with incredible power, but that is about as deep as it goes.

All in all, I’m glad I read it. A little above the level of juvenile fantasy in terms of writing style and subject matter. I would give it a partial recommend.

More on Anti-fragile Parenting

I’m trying to bring this new outlook (anti-fragility) to bear on various aspects of my life. The first, and most obvious, application is how I interact with my children. I want to encourage them to be anti-fragile. This leads me naturally to being more of a hands-free parent. I’m sure you’ve all read or heard about helicopter parenting, and how that stifles creativity. We aren’t raising Tom Sawyers any more, let alone Huck Finns. I read this entire article, for example, and while setting fires while in a designated park still feels supervised, it’s more danger than our kids typically experience today.

Anti-fragility is bigger than just having your kids roam, though. It’s having them roam with the right perspective. My wife was telling me my oldest’s biggest fear was being left alone, for instance, at a store, and not knowing what to do. I was thinking to myself, there’s a certain type of kid who would think, “All right, I’ve been left alone, what kind of experiences am I going to have? This rocks” Ok, maybe the kid would just have the last thought, but then he would go forth and do. And then I’m thinking, does that type of adventurous, come-what-may kid actually exist?

This line of thinking dovetails with the reading I’m doing with my oldest. Daddy daughter book club! She and I are trying to read the Hobbit together. I’m listening to it in the car, while she’s reading the words themselves. But I’m having to remind her all the time to read. She was excited at the outset, but then, she checked out a slew of other (dare I say, lesser) books from the library. They simply interest her more. The Hobbit can’t compete with the latest American Girl Adventure. The anti-fragile view of learning would say I should release her from the agreement to read the Hobbit, because fiction is only enjoyed (and learned from) when you want to read it. As soon as it is “assigned” the mindset changes and part of your brain shuts down. This was supposed to be an activity we enjoyed together, but I feel myself swiftly turning into a scold. “Have you read, have you read, have you read?” This is the same reason I quit trying to teach her piano.

I’m torn. Should we be done? I’m going to give it a think, and get her feedback. We already nixed one book (jointly) but this would be the second. Time for a new strategy. The daddy daughter book club is falling apart, after such an auspicious beginning.

And, of course, there’s also my son and his sports. I saw him outside practicing with the soccer ball. By himself. No one asked him to do it. I thought this was great. I need to get him more options (very anti-fragile) so he can try out as many sports as possible. But I also need to get him involved in things without rules (rules are fragile) so he can gain in confidence that he can handle anything. The artificial environment of a sports activity does not match life. I think there is some cross application, but in the end, I want all the kids to be good at life. And sports doesn’t fully prepare them.

So, in the end, my hope is that they are not afraid to be left alone in a store and, also, that they can function when there isn’t a rulebook.

And, don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten that I need to look for ways to anti-fragilize me, myself and I.

Brinley Cake

My youngest turned four on the 13th of this month, and we had her party yesterday. About sixty people descended on the homestead, we put up a bouncy house, the weather could not have been better and kids sucked down juice boxes like mosquitoes attached to a major artery.

The same cast of characters shows every year, though the guest list has grown steadily. We buy some pizza, Italian beef, my wife whips up a mean coleslaw and we stock up the fridge with drinks (besides juice boxes). My sister-in-law bakes a cake every year for the party. She calls it Brinley cake.

This cake is the the best cake ever made. Can I say that with a straight face? Yes. Because no matter what fine torte Louis the XVI enjoyed or what delightful baked sweet the Queen of England ever let pass beyond her lips, it cannot match this cake.

How am I so sure? There is an extra ingredient (besides the sour cream that makes it so moist you want to cry). The ingredient is Brinley herself.

My sister-in-law made the cake when my daughter was born to be part of the general celebration. But as it happened there was no celebration. The news was not good from the start. And oh, we were not prepared. At all.

My wife, who will willingly say she has the patience of a gnat on methamphetamines, used to joke with a friend that if she ever had a kid with special needs, the friend would have to adopt it, because my wife couldn’t handle it. (The friend is an avid supporter of Special Olympics). Be careful when big ears are listening.

The day after the birth I came home to see my older kids and my wife’s family who had gathered to welcome the new little one. I rose up from the couch in the living room, legs stiff, voice thick, nose plugged, the usual symptoms of grief. I thanked everyone for coming, and I’m sure no one understood the words, but everyone understood the pain. We tried to eat the cake then. It tasted like sand. Because everything tasted wrong that day.

The next year, the first time we had this party, the tradition began. My sister-in-law arrived with the cake in tow. My youngest daughter, who we doubted would even recognize us when she was born, smiled to her friends gathered around her. She did freak out a little when the whole group started singing to her though. Nonetheless, the Brinley cake was passed out and the people ate their pieces and closed their mouths on ecstasy, and weren’t scared to remark on it. The cake melts in your mouth, with chocolate chips strewn throughout like little nuggets of gold. Brinley had defied the doubters (including, at times, her own parents) and the cake’s flavor now had an ingredient no one, not the best European chef, could account for.

And so it was again, yesterday, that the Brinley cake arrived. We sang “Happy Birthday,” but this time remembered to sing it more Norah Jones style rather than Axl Rose, which pleased the girl of honor very much, thank you. She blew out the candles on her namesake cake, along with slightly too much drool, and then the pieces were passed around.

It was delicious. The best ever made.

Voting for Trump

To me, it’s not complex. It’s about voting to maintain my nation, versus ceding total control to a global elite that doesn’t answer to me or any other American.

I hear a lot of people saying that Trump makes them uncomfortable because of the things he says. He’s a loose cannon! Don’t let him near the nukes!

My answer to this, again, is simple. One candidate loves this country and wants to make it great again. The other wants to change it to fit her, and her minions’, view about what is “better.” I am convinced Trump loves this country and his decision making would spring from that.

Let me ask you, if you were thinking about dating someone and considering them for a long term relationship, would you want the one who was going to support you and allow you to spread your wings to be the best that you can be? Or would you rather have a hectoring nanny telling you all the things that are wrong with you, and who plans on instituting rules (down to who goes into your bathroom!) so you are “bettered,” whether you like it or not.

I know who I’d choose.

Favorite Anxiety

My kids love to establish a person’s favorite things. Favorite food, favorite movie, favorite season, favorite pair of socks, favorite window in the house, favorite character in Frozen, etc, ad naseum, ad infinitum. And they’re not alone. Social media is peppered with favorites lists, where you identify your own and then tag other people to have a Favorites Festival.

I confess to having a hard time with determining my favorites. Ask me about books, movies, or TV shows, and I’ll start massaging the question. “Do you mean movies before 1950s? How about favorite classic book? Do you mean animated TV shows?”

And of course, there’s the pressure to choose a movie/book/TV show you’re supposed to like versus one you’d actually pick up and read again. You might have a hard time admitting to the one you’d pick up again, because people might judge your tastes as being “problematic.”

For example: are you allowed to identify “The Honeymooners” as your favorite TV show anymore, if the main character is always threatening domestic violence? “One of these days…” Maybe that show will one day be sent down the memory hole into nonexistence. “There were never Honeymooners. In fact, there are no honeymoons. And if you had to define honeymoons, they would be considered a remnant of a past patriarchal society where there was this thing called marriage, and a honeymoon followed that archaic ceremony. Thankfully, we’re past all that.”

Look at me, going all 1984. But back to the main point, I deal with Favorite Anxiety. I get asked the question (even by my kids) and my mind begins to race. “I could say X, but I’m probably forgetting the Y that I can’t think of at the moment. Argh! Ten minutes from now I’ll remember Y and I’ll want to amend my statement.” No one wants to hear a revision to your identified favorite later in the conversation. Learn to commit, man!

Let’s take a for instance. I have said in the past (but not always because I probably forgot it!) that my favorite movie is The 400 Blows. What? A French black and white film about a boy on the lam from school? So pretentious, Chad. Did you take a film class in college and you gotta throw that movie out there to show your cred? Full disclosure: I did watch this for a film class in college.

Ok, deep breath. I just have to own my favorites, and let them stand up on their own terms. Yes, I like, nay love, that French flick, but I have watched an American Werewolf in London more times than any other movie. I watch it every Halloween. Perhaps I’ll peg that as a strong second.

What I need to do is get a list going on my mobile phone. That’ll relieve my anxiety. I’ll just reference the list whenever I face a question. Next time my eldest asks me what my favorite vegetable is, I’ll go right to the list. “Oh, right, it’s avocado.”

“That’s not technically a vegetable, Dad.” Favorite Anxiety strikes again!

I Want a Reason!

Those with kids out there – has this ever happened to you? You’ve prepared a little something for yourself and children magically appear around you for a handout. It’s like they’ve been beamed down to join you, Star Trek style, their little chins are suddenly resting on your shoulders, their eyes pleading and their tummies empty. So, so empty.

My youngest daughter can hear the slightest crinkle caused by opening a bag of tortilla chips within a half mile radius. She’s like a shark sensing one part per billion of blood in the water. If a bag opens in her vicinity, she drops whatever Little Critter book is occupying her at the moment and begins to circle.

Last night, I had just microwaved myself some nachos when my son and daughter appeared at my elbows, little fingers reaching, mouths watering. Now, I have let them have the occasional bite in the past, but on this night, I wasn’t interested in sharing. I told them both, “no.” I’d made myself a dish I wanted to enjoy on my own.

My son said, “Ok, then make me a plate of my own.”

I again told him no. He asked me his favorite question, with just a dash of accusation to spice it up. “Why?”

“Because the answer is ‘no'” was my response.

He flung himself onto a couch in the living room, which shares space with the dining room in our home. “But,” he informed me, “I want a reason!”

“No reason,” I said. “Just ‘no.'” This flummoxed his seven year old mind. Wasn’t I supposed to give him something? Wasn’t that my duty as a caring loving father ready to talk out why he’d already eaten all the food he needed for the day?

Nope. It was that day’s lesson in “life’s not fair, buckaroo.”

Maybe a little cruel. But my nachos, all to myself, were delicious. It’s the little victories, really, that make parenting worthwhile.