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CHARLIE SHEEN: ROLE MODEL

KID: Are we gonna watch “Two and a Half Men?
PARENT: No.
KID: Why not?
PARENT: Because we never watch “Two and a Half Men.”
KID: But I want to see Charlie Sheen.
PARENT: Why? Because he supposedly trashed a hotel room with a hooker?
KID: What’s a hooker?
PARENT: Never mind. The point is: bad behavior should have consequences.
KID: It does: higher ratings.*

*If half of parenting is threatening kids when they’re about to act inappropriately and the other half is punishing them when they do anyway, what’s a parent to do when the specter of public shame and humiliation not only stops being a deterrent, but is a legitimate pathway to fame and fortune?

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO WOULD-BE PARENTS?

“So… what’s it like having kids?” the would-be parent asks.

“It’s great,” you say, “Having kids is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. They’re a lot of work, but when you see the way they smile and laugh and take in the world, it’s definitely worth it.”

And then maybe you chuckle and offer to let them stay over and take your kids for a weekend “test drive,” knowing they probably won’t but hoping they will so you and your spouse can get away for that “romantic weekend” you’ve been talking about since pretty much your kids were born (with the term “romantic” being parent-code for “getting some sleep and being able to watch pay-per-view movies all the way through, in one sitting, without being interrupted a dozen times because ‘I’m hungry’ or ‘I had an accident’ or ‘I spilled jam on the carpet,’ etc.”).

You may suggest these would-be parents pick up a movie or two, too. But while many recommend something like “Parenthood”1 for its funny and touching insights into the ups and downs of, well, parenthood, there’s another movie that gives a fuller and more complete picture: 1970s horror classic “The Exorcist.” Here’s why:

Demonic possession is just another name for a weekday morning.

As every parent knows, at random and unpredictable intervals, your little angel will wake up snarling and nasty like a beast from Hell. Foul-mouthed? Before you even get through the door to say “Good morning, I made you breakfast,” you find yourself assaulted with “GET OUT! Can’t you see I’m sleeping? You always wake me up like this. I hate you. I hate you. I HATE YOU.”

And their appearance? Definitely something unholy (though, to be fair, not because they’re suddenly sporting horns, scales and some grotesque demon pig-nose, but because nobody looks good when they don’t shower for three days – why is personal hygiene such a difficult concept for kids to get, anyway?).

As for being able to crawl across the ceiling? Well… maybe not the ceiling, but when you consider the gravity-defying ways kids flip around in their beds while they sleep, it’s not such a stretch to think they might some- how end up on the ceiling.

Green puke? How about orange puke, yellow puke and blue puke, too?

It’s not called “The Technicolor Yawn” for nothing, something parents usually find out fast. Often, these multi-colored hues can be traced back to two types of foods: foods consumed in excess, like artificially-flavored fruit punch, Halloween candy and birthday cake; and foods consumed under protest such as salad, non-breaded fish, and brussels sprouts (with the eventual volume of puke increasing exponentially if you happen to say something like “I don’t care if you don’t like it. Nobody ever threw up eating brussels sprouts, so finish your plate!” first).

You know a child’s head can’t spin completely around… but a 5-year-old doesn’t.

And no matter how quickly the parent dashes into the other room to get the phone or answer the door or shut the oven off before dinner burns, it’s five seconds more than the 5-year-old needs to twist the 2-year-old’s head around to the point where it’s about to snap. “But we were just playing owl,” the child protests.

You don’t need an exorcist, but a child psychologist might be a good idea.

What parent hasn’t thrown up their hands at some point and said “I can’t do this anymore!” before turning to an expert for help?

Whether it’s the therapist, the math tutor, the reading coach, the college placement counselor or even the pitching specialist, all these experts are trying to do is exactly what Father Merrin was trying to do to Linda Blair’s Regan: make the kid “normal” again.

There can always be a sequel because evil – like parenting – goes on forever.

Which means the moment parents think they’re done and their kids are on their own, they move back home. Or go into therapy. Or just stop calling. This can happen at any time, for any reason (though it’s often financial), and it’s generally a lot worse than the original, just like “Exorcist 2 – The Heretic,” “The Exorcist 3,” and both versions of “Exorcist – The Beginning.”

And if that isn’t scary, nothing is.

From “Why Chicken Nuggets are Better Than Prozac.”

1Is the TV version of this movie a reasonable substitute? Clearly the show has plenty of fans –  here, here, here and here, for example – but what if it gets cancelled? Imagine devoting hour after hour to something, getting attached and becoming emotionally invested in its well-being, only to have it suddenly just grow up and move go away? On second thought… maybe that’s even more like parenthood than the movie “Parenthood.”

TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS? OH, PLEASE

As a parent, time is precious. So how do you make the most of it? Time management experts offer the following advice:

1. Prioritize.
2. Delegate/outsource.
3. Set time limits for tasks.
4. Establish routines and stick to them.
5. Don’t waste time waiting.

At first glance, these suggestions seem simple and straight-forward, but when you actually try to implement them you quickly realize they are better suited to some kind of parallel “self-help dimension” where the laws of time, space and sibling in-fighting don’t apply.

1. Prioritize.

In theory, yes. In practice – forget it.

Take, say, the tasks of treating an injury versus giving a toddler a bath. Typically, bleeding kids come first, unless they’re bleeding because they did the thing you told them not to do five times, in which case the toddler would get the bath. If the bleeding kid is bleeding on furniture, however, then the furniture needs immediate attention.

On the other hand, if there’s only a little bleeding and it’s not on any furniture, then that might not be as important as preventing the toddler from trying to bathe himself.

2. Delegate/outsource.

Which means what? Parents are supposed to ship their kids off to India to get help with their homework?

3. Set time limits for tasks.

Okay. But what is the appropriate time limit for a temper tantrum? And if getting everybody ready in the morning takes 15 minutes longer than whatever amount of time you set aside – whether it’s 40 minutes or two hours – how are you supposed to limit that? Or if you make reservations for that one night out a year you get a leisurely three hours to eat, what happens when the babysitter is 20 minutes late and the restaurant gives up your table?

4. Establish routines and stick to them.

Most parents already do this, but it doesn’t seem to help. For example, a typical morning routine would be telling the kids to get up, get in the shower, get dressed, get some breakfast and get in the car, then repeating this three or four times over the course of 20 minutes before threatening them with some kind of bodily harm if they don’t do all of the above RIGHT THIS MINUTE!

This is followed by the nagging suspicion that something that was supposed to have been done last night wasn’t, and the sudden realization that this “something” was making lunches for all the kids.

Oops.

As there is now not nearly enough time left to do everything and still get off on time, vows that “This will never happen again!” must be shouted so that all in the house can hear, spouses must be silently cursed for not helping, and God must be asked “Why me? What have I done to deserve this?”

5. Don’t waste time waiting.

Clearly this was not written by anyone living in a small house with kids. How else is a parent supposed to get into the bathroom?

From “Why Chicken Nuggets are Better Than Prozac.”

WHEN YOU'RE EXHAUSTED

…the answer is “NO!,” regardless of whether the question was “Are you up- set?” or “Can I go to the potty?”

…you call your kids by the wrong names. Or worse – by the dog’s.

…simple things become infinitely complicated, to the point where microwaving chicken nuggets takes an hour.

…you can’t remember if it’s your day to do the pick-up, and if you think it is, it isn’t, and if you think it isn’t, it is.

…you try to play hide ‘n’ seek but fall asleep in the upstairs hall closet.

…your spouse is “in the mood” and doesn’t understand why you’re not.

…somebody throws up, bleeds on something, or has “an accident.”

…non-parents suggest you just put the kids to bed early and get some sleep, but you’re too tired to tell them what a massively stupid and unrealistic idea that is.

…telemarketers call every few minutes asking you to donate.

…helping your kids with their homework proves so stressful and challenging, it makes you cry, even though it’s just addition.

…you don’t realize you’re yelling at your kids until everybody else in the supermarket aisle starts to stare.

…you push on, because you’re a parent and that’s what parents do.

HOW TO EXPLAIN THE ECONOMIC CRISIS TO YOUR KIDS

KID: Are you sick?
PARENT: No.
KID: Then why do you look like you’re gonna throw-up?
PARENT: The President is talking about the economic crisis again.
KID: What’s an economic crisis?
PARENT: Well… Basically, it’s when everybody in the country suddenly realizes they’re fucked.
KID: GASP! You said a bad word.
PARENT: I’m sorry.
KID: You’re not supposed to say bad words.
PARENT: You’re right. Even with a situation as bad as this, I shouldn’t swear.
KID: Why is the situation so bad, anyway?
PARENT: The cost of living is going up. Real wages are going down. People’s houses are worth less than they owe on them. Nobody can get credit any more. We can’t seem to find a way to use less energy. And now the experts are saying the very foundation upon which our entire economy is based is cracked at best, and may actually be broken beyond repair.
KID: Wow. We are fucked.
PARENT: Now you said a bad word.
KID: Sorry. Do I have to wash my mouth out with soap now?
PARENT: No, but only because we can’t afford any.

BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR!

Our legal system guarantees the accused a fair and speedy trial, proof of guilt “beyond reasonable doubt” and punishment that isn’t “cruel or unusual.” Fortunately, these same rights don’t extend to children — something every parent who’s ever come home stressed, worried, angry or anxious about something else and just exploded at their kids can take comfort in.

(As if parenting wasn’t hard enough, just imagine what it would be like if you had to be fair and reasonable every minute of every day.)

In light of that, a short, incomplete list of crimes, punishments and the real reason behind them:

Crime: Cheetos
Punishment: brown rice, tofu and vegetables for dinner every night for the rest of the month
Real reason: mom started a new diet, has somehow gained 3.5 pounds

Crime: putting hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place just before dad lands on it
Punishment: game over, everybody sent to bed
Real reason: one of dad’s fraternity brothers just made the Forbes 400

Crime: putting hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place just before dad lands on it
Punishment: game over, everybody sent to bed, dad sits in living room drink- ing whiskey
Real reason: one of dad’s brothers just made the Forbes 400

Crime: acting like a 4-year-old
Punishment: no more Chuck E. Cheese’s, ever
Real reason: as if an hour at Chuck E. Cheese’s wasn’t bad enough, you’ve now been there for three

Crime: one sibling violates another’s personal space by “not touching”
Punishment: turn car around, go home
Real reason: dad just got the taxes back from the accountant, who said “child care” wasn’t deductible

Crime: answering the phone
Punishment: fined $50
Real reason: it’s fundraising season and charities are exempt from the “Do Not Call” registry

Crime: leaving a single cookie crumb on the kitchen counter
Punishment: helping clean the entire house from top to bottom, including the back yard
Real reason: mother-in-law coming, will mentally perform “white glove test” the second she arrives

Crime: getting out dad’s “Stripes” DVD
Punishment: no TV for the rest of the week
Real reason: it’s not really a “Stripes” DVD (wink, wink, nudge, nudge)

Crime: missing the toilet
Punishment: a good talking-to
Real reason: mom and dad spent the day cleaning up somebody else’s mess at work, just can’t handle doing it at home right now

Crime: not finishing food
Punishment: 20-minute lecture on how food costs a lot of money that we can’t afford to be wasting right now
Real reason: employment figures released, stocks plunged, housing market dropped even lower, etc.

MELTDOWNS

No age group is immune to meltdowns, with even teenagers releasing their inner Linda Blair every now and then.
If you’re lucky, these unprovoked, uncontrollable eruptions occur in the privacy of your own home at the exact moment a parade of siren-wailing fire trucks, ambulances and police cars passes by, so there’s absolutely no chance the neighbors can hear anything and report you to the Department of Child and Family Services.

(And if you’re really lucky, you’re the parent of the one out of 1,000,000,000 kids who just don’t melt down. Ever. And not because they’re medicated all the time, either.)

Still, some places are worse for meltdowns than others:

Church

God won’t care, thankfully, but some of the parishioners sure will. And even though you are in a place of compassion and forgiveness, always remember that none of it will be directed at you if you can’t keep your kid quiet during the sermon.

Chuck E. Cheese

It’s only bad if your kid is the one who sets off the chain reaction of temper tantrums. And if that happens, get out of there fast.

At home, the minute before the new babysitter arrives

Because even if you manage to calm your kid down, you’ll clutch your cell phone the entire time you’re out, waiting for the babysitter’s exasperated call, making it all but impossible to enjoy the play, movie,
dinner, etc. (And if you don’t calm your kid down, you’re not going anywhere. Ever. Because now you’ve scared off the last babysitter in your neighborhood.)

Upscale, urban supermarkets

None of those people looking at you with disgust have kids, so none of them realize you’re about as responsible for a meltdown as you are for an earthquake.

School

If you can’t get your child out before things get really ugly, count on the fact that from now on, any time your child has trouble paying attention, or doesn’t understand an assignment, or gets in even the slightest amount of trouble, the teacher will assume it’s because you’re a crappy parent.

Around old people

Not because there’s anything wrong with old people in general – most are understanding, even indulgent when it comes to kids – but there are two sub-groups you can’t always avoid: those who never had kids and hate the fact that part of their taxes go to educate “your” dirty, greasy, uncontrollable monsters, and the “spare the rod and spoil the child” types who look at you like you’re weak for not just hauling off and smacking your kid across the face when he or she gets out of line. Sadly, both groups seem to go out of their way to let you know how they feel.

Somebody else’s birthday party

This is especially bad if the meltdown coincides with the opening of presents and all the other parents can hear your kid wailing about the fact that the birthday boy or girl is getting lots of cool stuff and your kid isn’t.

As awful as it is when your kid has a meltdown, another kid’s meltdown can be among the more satisfying of parental experiences.

All you have to do to feel really good about yourself is throw meltee’s mom or dad an empathetic look that says “Hang in there, compadre, and don’t focus on the fact that everybody in the entire food court is staring at you like you’re the worst parent in the history of parenting. Focus instead on the terrific way my kid is behaving and let his or her pleasant and well-behaved exceptionalness remind you that your kid will soon return to his or her normal behavioral state, and within a few weeks even the most shocked and horrified of the bystanders will have forgotten what you look like, at which point it will be safe to return to the mall, where – if you’re lucky – you will find yourself standing where I am now, offering a look of encouragement and compassion to somebody who most definitely needs it.”