Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sacrifice, Snark and Spin

As spouses and parents we all make sacrifices; indeed there’s no other way to successfully navigate any meaningful relationship without opening up and surrendering a part of one’s self. Or so I’ve been told. Actually I guess it makes sense that everything’s not all about me, because if it were I’d have probably ended up being That Guy on Cops who was holed up in a cheap motel room in Vegas with a one-legged hooker and a big stash of crank instead of being the all ‘round Good Guy that I am. One assumes. Actually I don’t even really know what crank is.

Anyway, what does all this mean, practically speaking? That instead of subsisting on an entertainment diet made up entirely of lasers, spaceships and things that go boom, I’ve begun watching American Idol with the rest of my family. And Dancing with the Stars. And probably a few other things I should be ashamed about as well. (What Not to Wear anybody? Bueller?)

It’s ok, though, (I tell myself) because it’s all really quality time spent with the Boys and my Lovely Bride. And actually it really is quality time, because rather than being passive, potato-like recipients of the reality show weirdness that ABC and Fox streams into our living room, we take a much more active role. Much like Joel and the ‘bots, my Boys and I spend our time amusing each other with a running commentary on the absurdities with which Ryan Seacrest and Tom Bergeron present us each week.

In fact it’s become something of a game to see which of us can be the sharpest, snarkiest wag in the room as we constantly hone our Oscar Wilde-like wit just to the point where my Lovely Bride finally snaps. Well, perhaps “snaps” puts too fine a point on it; but either way we know we aren’t really bringing our game until she sighs, rolls her eyes and pauses the DVR until we shut the hell up.

So there you go. I’d argue that far from being the wasteland that TV is often portrayed as being, it’s really an opportunity for not only some personal growth, but some genuinely constructive quality time with the family. =(And there's your spin.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Spring already? Ok, here we go:

Ah, Spring. The traditional season of growth and renewal. The daffodils are on their way and the magic of Daylight Savings Time means an extra hour of life-affirming sunlight at the end of each day. And as if that weren't enough, spring is also a harbinger of all sorts of other goodies as well: Easter baskets, a spate of first Communion celebrations, some Passover gatherings and even the occasional baptism or bris. So either Amen or Mazal tov… =whichever.

(Moreover, I believe it’s been noted that Spring is when a young man's thoughts turn to love. While that may be true, I seem to recall that my own youth seemed to revolve around "love" to the exclusion of nearly everything else. Indeed, I’m pretty sure that the vernal equinox has absolutely nothing to do with all those raging hormones…= I mean “love”. =But as usual, I digress.)

Anyway, this particular Spring is looking even brighter than usual because it’s the first time I’ve been spared the seasonal albatross that is Little League. That’s right, I don't like Little League. There, I said it.

Ok, I realize that my ambivalence towards (read: hatred of) Little League puts me just outside the norm, but jeez, how many hours can you sit there and watch your progeny wiff the ball? How many times can you applaud someone else’s kid for making it to first without falling down? And then there are the physical challenges: by the end of the season the sun is baking you on the same aluminum bleachers on which you froze your buns at the beginning of the season.

So, where does this all leave me? Well, despite this failure to conform I do still believe that I'm a good father, and yes, a good American. I play basketball in the driveway with my boys. We throw a football at each other in the back yard. I drive them to religion and karate. In the summer I cook slabs of corn-fed beef on my grill and offer the neighbors a cold one to go with it.

So, yeah, that's me: all round regular guy and good dad. =And yeah, I hate Little League. =Going to make something of it?= No, I didn't think so.= Go Spring!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Learning, Giving and Shaving. In that order.

Just recently I was mulling over the surprisingly long list of things that parents try to teach their children. It’s a list populated with not just life lessons to be learned as quickly and painlessly as possible, but pitfalls to be avoided. But it’s a really long list though, isn’t it?

It starts with the basics for the young ‘uns: Don’t-Take-Things-That-Aren’t-Yours, and then moves on to other seemingly simple concepts that are inexplicably much harder to follow, such as: Stop-Hitting-Your-Brother-With-That-Garbage-Can-Right-Now-Before-I-Have-To-Come-Down-There.

Anyway, two more things on that list are: Help-Others and Try-New-Things, which we managed to combine into one activity this weekend when our youngest decided to participate in our local St. Baldrick’s Day event. It’s a fundraiser in which participants not only have their heads shaved for the amusement of onlookers, but manage to raise a good bit of scratch for pediatric cancer research as well.

So really, it’s a win all the way around: a good cause got some dough, our shaggy youngest finally got an embarrassingly belated haircut, and now the rest of us have a peach-fuzz covered noggin around the house to mock for a little while. And, we get to mark a couple of things off the list.

Friday, March 13, 2009

...but some animals are more equal than others.

I’ve found, and I’d think you’d have to agree, that one of the great pleasures of growing up, making new friends and moving around is that your cultural horizons are inevitably expanded and your social life grows richer and more satisfying.

Having kids though, exposes a dark side of that very same dynamic; becoming a parent expands your cultural horizons as well, but in a very different direction. No longer are you hanging out with your cool friends and talking about music, books and politics… no, as a parent you wake up one day to find yourself adrift in a complex, baffling world populated by talking bears, pint-sized explorers and anthropomorphic trains.

So, bearing that in mind, I particularly enjoyed this bravura missive during a visit to Cheeky’s Hideaway. He does a fine job of demystifying some of the more complex economic forces that seem to govern the alternate reality that clutters up my TV every day. Go on, give it a thorough read. I’ll wait.

Back now? Good, because I still have a few questions of my own that remain unanswered. I am, for instance, still baffled by some of the thornier social issues involved, particularly those surrounding inter-species subjugation. How is it, for instance, that a sponge named Bob can in good conscience keep a mollusk named Gary as a pet? On a leash, no less?

Other such cell-shaded instances of domination abound: Mickey Mouse “owns” a dog, as does that disturbingly anthropomorphized aardvark named Arthur. There are, of course, countless other examples.

So just exactly what are the rules that govern this inter-species subjugation? Are they social, biological, or perhaps even intrinsically existential? I’m assuming it can’t simply be an issue of sentience, as we all know that Gary the snail is not only savvier than his “master” but has the natty fashion sense to wear wingtip shoes as well.

If it turns out, as I’m afraid it may, that this class distinction merely lies in the ability to verbalize, then the animated world must be legion with animals trapped in a nightmare of mute impotence, unable to articulate their desire for freedom.

Oooh creepy. Never mind. I should probably just watch something harmless like re-runs of The Bachelor instead… eeew, no. Hey, maybe I’ll just go outdoors and see what’s happening in the real world. =Thoughts?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dreams deferred.

It occurs to me that one of the joys of parenthood is that not only do you get the underlying biological satisfaction of passing along your DNA, but as a bonus you get to pass along a lot of your emotional baggage as well. Now considering my propensity for monumental self absorption, which of those two gifts to posterity do you suppose interests me the most?

Yeah, it’s all about the baggage for me. After all, it’s fine that future generations will benefit from the genetic diversity I’ve injected into the collective gene pool, (Eeeew?) but what’s much more immediate and interesting to me is the near-instant gratification of projecting a lifetime of hopes and dreams on my unsuspecting offspring. Really now, who of you out there hasn’t put a bat into Little Billy’s hands while secretly fantasizing about the huge checks that are bound to come rolling in from Nike? Or a golf club, or a football or whatever. Play your cards right and a decadently comfortable retirement on the Cote d'Azur can be yours, thanks to Little Billy.

But life doesn’t always cooperate, does it? Nope, just when I thought I had everything worked out, Fate has gone and thrown a surprisingly large wrench into the midst of my little plans. It seems, if you can believe it, that kids have a natural selfish streak and don’t always play along. To wit: My older boy is 13 now, and he’s long since lost any interest he had in baseball (or any other sensible sport, for that matter) and has spent the last year or two doing what? Playing music, of course.

That’s right, my favorite little retirement plan… I mean son, has decided to follow his muse, literally, and be a Rock-God. That’s right, a guitar-playing, song-writing, vocal-wailing musician. I’ve tried pointing out to him that as a musician the only likely future he can look forward to is one of a perpetual diet of Cheetos and sleeping on other people’s couches, but of course he thinks that sounds great. Great. (And what makes it even just that much more galling is that I wasn’t really even married to the notion of sports-star. Really, any of the clich├ęd old faves would have been fine. You know, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.)

Oh well, I know it’s early yet and he’s liable to smarten up, but I guess it would be best for everybody if I just relaxed and let him be. When I look at it objectively, after all, he really is pretty talented. Ok, it’s more than that: he has a great ear, can pick up any instrument pretty much overnight, and jeez can he shred. Fine then. I guess I’ll just have to focus on his little brother instead.

And hey, you never know, it may work out for the older one. After all, I bet Mick Jagger bought his mum and dad a house or two.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

25 Random things... Oh for heaven's sake.

I suppose one of my favorite ways of categorizing people is by using a clear, unambiguous binary system of taxonomy. Which is, I suppose yet again, just a pretentious way of saying that I’m a fan of using the old saw: =“There are two kinds of people in the world…”

In this case, I was just thinking about the fact that I’m more of a scrutinizer than an enjoy-er… =if you will. = I always seem, for instance, to be more interested in what’s going on behind the scenes and how things work than in actually paying attention to whatever it is that I’m supposed to be enjoying. Sort of like a magic show I remember seeing when I was 8 or 9. It was just an affable guy in a cheap suit who was pretty good at sleight of hand tricks;= but I enjoyed the show in a very different way than the other kids around me because I was busy watching his every move and trying to figure out how he did the tricks.

Anyway, that’s all really just to say that my penchant for deconstruction also applies to this ‘25-Random-Things’ meme that’s been chugging along for the last month or two. It’s been sort of interesting to watch, but not because I really have much interest in the banal drivel that people are busy revealing about themselves. =(Not like the stuff you and I write, of course; we’re fascinating) =No, it’s the science behind the lifecycle of the 25-Things meme itself that’s actually kind of cool.

As Chris Wilson points out in Slate there’s a really interesting correlation between the seemingly inexplicable growth of the 25 meme and the way biological pathogens spread themselves. What’s more, just the fact that the meme evolved organically through several stages from one perfect square (16 Things) until it finally settled on another (25), suggests that it’s also yet another natural phenomenon that can be described using the mathematics of fractal geometry. How cool is that?

So anyway, yes it’s already occurred to me that the irony here is I’ve inadvertently just told you one or two things about myself that you didn’t know… = but hey, at least I didn’t number them. ‘Cause jeez, don’t even get me started about the internet blight of listing everything. =Bah. =Have a nice day.