TWEEN: Do you think I’m mature for my age?
DAD: I don’t know. Why do you ask?
TWEEN: Because I was just thinking about the way I help take out the trash, put my clothes in the hamper, brush my teeth at night, wash behind my ears when I shower, do my homework most nights without being told, and sometimes even go to bed early the night before I have a big test, and I wanted to know if you thought that was a reflection of how mature I am.
DAD: Uh… well… I guess if you put it that way, then “Yes.”
TWEEN: “Yes” I’m mature?
DAD: Yes, you’re mature.
5 minutes later:
TWEEN: Can you take me to the video game store?
TWEEN: I need to get “Call of Duty: Black Ops.”
MOM: You mean that ultra-violent first-person shooter a lot of parents have been concerned about?
MOM: But isn’t it rated “M” for “Mature?”
TWEEN: It is rated “M,” but Dad just said I’m mature, so it’s okay.
MOM: Uh… No.
What’s sex? Did you take drugs in college? Why did you vote for George W. Bush* the second time?
Kids ask questions all the time, but there’s a difference between the ones parents can’t answer — “Does God need to shower?” — and the ones (some) parents don’t want to. The solution? Perhaps we can take a cue from politicians, their press secretaries and the so-called “bipartisan” pundits we see on TV and use the same simple strategies for answering without answering.
1. Give a detailed, thoughtful response, just not to the question they ask.
Campaigning politicians are particularly good at this, and the trick is to remember that your answer can be anything, just as long as you can loosely relate it to the original question.
For example, if asked about drugs, begin by saying “I’m glad you asked me about smoking pot in college…,” which makes it sound like you’re going to admit that for most of your sophomore year your best friend was your bong, but then say “…because I think it’s important that we be open and honest with each other, especially now that you’re older and starting to ask hard questions. It seems like only yesterday when the most important thing on your mind was which Power Ranger you wanted to dress up as, or if a certain Pokemon could beat a certain other kind of Pokemon. I have to admit that watching you grow up has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life, and I look forward to helping you continue on that journey towards adult- hood by providing you with the information and insight I myself have gained over the years…”
If you haven’t lost them by then, just keep talking.
2. Focus on “the larger issue.”
Which can be pretty much anything you want it to be.
3. Ask your kids what they think the answer is.
Also known as the therapist approach.
This works well for things you don’t really know how to explain, but not-so- well for things you’re just not comfortable talking about.
Time was that people who didn’t tell the truth were called liars and they were looked down upon, but thanks to all the CEO’s, athletes, politicians and ce- lebrities who’ve been caught with their pants down (or off, or filled with drugs, etc.) those days seem to be over.
The best thing about this approach is that if your lie is later exposed, you can claim you just “misspoke.” As in “Yes, I can see how my response to the ques- tion ‘Did I vote for George W. Bush?’ might have been confusing, because when I said ‘No,’ I actually misspoke. In point of fact – and because it’s im- portant to me that the record accurately reflect my views – I didn’t mean ‘No’ in the traditional sense of the word, and I can see now how my incorrect use of that word might have been somewhat misleading, because what I, in fact, meant was that I felt that in light of the specific challenges facing the Presi- dent at that time, it was important for me – and really, all of us as a nation – to remain united and strong, and because of that, I did my duty as an American by going to the polls and casting a ballot so my voice could be heard, and even though that ballot was nominally in the affirmative, it was really more a show of support for the country as a whole than a specific endorsement of any one candidate. I voted because it’s the duty of every citizen to vote, and for that I will never apologize.”
5. Use a spokesperson.
Either a hired professional or your spouse, if he or she has the BS skills required.
This has the added benefit of distancing you from your answer, whatever that might be.
Plus, if you are later confronted about the answer your spokesperson gave on your behalf, you can say you didn’t actually mean whatever it was they said and that you must have been “quoted out of context.”
*Or, increasingly for many, Barack Obama the first time.
Awakened by phone.
Son’s friend’s mother calling to ask about afternoon playdate despite being told many times before do not call before 8:30 am unless it’s an emergency, especially on a Saturday because that’s the only day I ever get to sleep in.
Tell her to call back after 8:30 am.
Climb back in bed.
Reluctantly accept fact that chance to sleep-in ruined.
Even more irritated.
Think of other ways to get the do not call before 8:30 am unless it’s an emergency point across because, clearly, plain English is not working.
Also think a playdate is not an emergency, and sure as Hell isn’t going to happen today.
Realize this is harsh/unfairly punishes kids for mother’s behavior.
Fantasize about retaliation/payback.
Wonder if I could live with myself if I called every night for a week at 12:01 to remind her do not call before 8:30 am unless it’s an emergency.
Accept fact that I could not.
Try to think of other alternatives.
Have one idea.
Go out for extra-large coffee.
Hear phone ring just as door is closing.
Know instantly who it is.
Think disconnecting phone line may be only option.
One of the most popular feeds on twitter is “$#*! My Dad Says,” which is a collection of the irreverent, biting, very-funny comments 29-year-old Justin’s 74-year-old dad makes. It has close to 1.4 million followers and is being turned into a sitcom by CBS starring William Shatner.
A national family-advocacy group called the Parents Television Council is threatening an “unrelenting campaign” against the show’s advertisers and CBS’s affiliates if the show airs because they don’t like the idea of a show named “$#*! My Dad Says” being on at 8:30 pm.
(They probably don’t like the idea of the show being on at all, as well — these are the same gate-keepers of morality who don’t recommend the new Shrek movie for kids under seven because it includes “toilet humor, with Shrek’s children belching, farting, pooping their pants and urinating on Shrek,” which, as even the most conservative parents know, is exactly what kids under age seven think is funny1.)
It’s not like CBS is actually going to use the s-word in the title, of course; instead, they plan to substitute the all-purpose curse-word stand-in “$#*!”
Which means the problem is… what exactly?
Because CBS broadcasts its programing over the public airwaves, the FCC insists (more or less, depending on who’s in charge) that it and other broadcasters adhere to a higher standard of decency than, say, every other media outlet in the known universe, because there’s a reasonable (though infinitely small) chance some unsuspecting innocent will accidentally turn on the TV and be offended:
CHILD: I just saw something on TV I don’t understand.
OVER-REACTIVE PARENT: What was it?
CHILD: It was a promo for a new show called “$#*! My Dad Says.”
OVER-REACTIVE PARENT: You saw that on TV!?!?
CHILD: Why? Is that bad?
OVER-REACTIVE PARENT: Of course it’s bad: “$#*!” is a swear word.
CHILD: Really? I’ve never heard of that one before.
OVER-REACTIVE PARENT: Well… technically “$#*” isn’t a swear word, it’s a substitute for a swear word, but it’s still offensive.
CHILD: Which swear word is it a substitute for?
OVER-REACTIVE PARENT:That’s just it: it could be any one of ‘em — though usually if you think about it you can figure it out.
CHILD: Oh.. now I know.
OVER-REACTIVE PARENT:Exactly. Now you go wash your mouth out with soap while I write a letter to FCC to complain about the way the liberal media is corrupting our youth.
There’s nothing wrong with parents protecting their kids from what they feel are bad influences, but isn’t it kind of silly to make such a big deal out of something like this? If for no other reason than the fact that there probably isn’t a kid left in this country who doesn’t already know the s-word, the a-word and probably the f-word, too.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I know my kids know them because (a) they are sometimes in the car with me when I drive and (b) I think it’s important they have a full and complete grasp of the English language, including words that are inappropriate, which is why I sat them down one night and taught them.2)
Besides, when you think about it, television doesn’t need to be censored because televisions come with a remote control and a power button.
Isn’t that easier than a national boycott?
(That said, remotes can be so confusing and complicated it is possible somebody somewhere can’t turn their TV off, change the channel, lower the volume or remove the annoying on-screen overlay because they haven’t managed to crack the secret combination of input/source buttons even this most basic level of functionality can sometimes require. But that’s the fault of the manufacturer, not the media.)
Rather than being bad, in fact, a situation like “$#*! My Dad Says” is actually good because it’s a potential springboard for a family discussion about the the way personal beliefs shape behavior, and how these truths help us decide appropriate from inappropriate, right from wrong and good from bad.
(Though, admittedly, given the time and effort that kind of thing would involve, a national boycott would probably be easier and less time-consuming.)
So what do concerned parents do about “$#*! My Dad Says”?
Just explain in clear and graphic terms exactly “$#*!” is: punctuation — because if the fear is that exposed kids will suddenly start slinging obscenities willy nilly, nothing will kill that impulse more quickly than a long, drawn-out lesson in grammar:
PARENT: Have you ever wondered why they use “$,: “#,” “*,” “@” and “!” to denote obscenities instead of, say, a semi-colon?
WOULD-BE FOUL-MOUTHED CHILD: No more, please!
PARENT: Sorry, we can’t stop now: we haven’t discussed your reading assignments from The Elements of Style, Eats, Shoots and Leaves, and The Mother Tongue yet.
WOULD-BE FOUL-MOUTHED CHILD: NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!
And as for the show itself, the only reason to ban, condemn or make it the focus on an “unrelenting campaign” is if it isn’t funny.3
1 If anyone should be offended by this it’s parents, because they know from first-hand experience there’s nothing funny about pee, poop or puke, especially when it’s just been splattered all over you.
2 Given the current political climate, I’d venture that liberal households aren’t the only ones where kids are getting an education in vulgarities, either:
CHILD: Where are you going?
ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE PARENT: There’s a Tea Party Rally at the park.
CHILD: What’s a Tea Party?
ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE PARENT: The Tea Party movement is a grass-roots effort whereby patriotic Americans join together to save our country from Obama, Pelosi and the rest of those f-ing liberals.
CHILD: GASP! You said “f-ing.”
ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE PARENT: I know, but it’s not my fault — liberals make me so mad I just can’t control myself.
CHILD: You still have to wash your mouth out with soap though, right?
ULTRA-CONSERVATIVE PARENT: I’ll be glad to, too, ’cause everything that’s happening to our country right now leaves such a bad taste in my mouth, soap would be an improvement.
3 If anything should be banned, condemned, or made the focus of an “unrelenting campaign,” it should be ads for erectile dysfunction that air during shows kids probably shouldn’t be watching with their parents but do, because trying to explain that is really, really uncomfortable.
Is there anything worse than bringing a baby to a bar?
Judging by all the anger that’s being vented online, this seems to be among the most grievous sins any parent can commit.
To begin with, it’s more than likely the lonely, bitter, child-hating singles who seem to be so put out by this are in the minority, and that the majority of bar-patrons either don’t care, or accept the fact that there’s really no getting around the situation because babies need to be with their parents and their parents need to relax and have a few drinks before they completely lose their minds.
(Though I might be more than a little biased about that.)
On the other hand, if the baby-haters are in the majority, then… well… at least they’re in a bar where they can just order another round to numb their senses, right?
But forget that for the moment.
It seems like the primary objection to babies in bars is that they do a lot of things that ruin it for everyone else.
Maybe that’s true, but is a suckling newborn any more off-putting or “obscene” than two semi-intoxicated singles groping each other in a back corner of the bar that’s not nearly as dim as they think it is?
If spit-up is the problem, it’s important to keep in mind that when babies do that — whether in the car, or in a bar, or in a country called Myanmar (sorry, too much Dr. Seuss) — they usually do it on themselves, their mom or their mom’s childless, single friend who suggested they meet for a drink in the first place.
The same can’t be said for the just-turned-21 winner of the “Let’s see how many shots of Jack Daniels I can do” contest.
(Though he, too, may spit up on mom’s single, childless friend:
JUST-TURNED-21-YEAR-OLD: You ever watch “Cougar Town?”
MOM’S CHILDLESS, SINGLE FRIEND: I do, actually.
JUST-TURNED-21-YEAR-OLD: Me, too. I… I…
MOM’S CHILDLESS, SINGLE FRIEND: You want to come over and watch it with me some time?
JUST-TURNED-21-YEAR-OLD: No, I think I’m gonna be sick. BLA-AAAAA-A-A-TCH.
Think baby spit-up smells bad? It’s nothing compared to the stench of half-digested bar nuts and bourbon.)
So what about drool?
Any two geezers who’ve spent the entire day knocking back $2 PBRs produce a lot more than an infant.
Ditto for diapers, and the whole Huggies vs. Depends thing, too.
Which leaves what? Crying?
Sure, that can be loud, grating and unstoppable, but even a 5-month-old with a bad case of colic can’t compete with the sobs and wails that ring out when those same two semi-intoxicated singles run into each other a few nights later and one claims to have absolutely no memory of the other, let alone the passionate night they spent together where they pledged their mutual love and promised to be soul mates forever.
Conclusion: Baby-haters 0, Babies 1
In fact, maybe more than “1″ when you consider that to singles, a baby in a bar might not just be a reminder that they should enjoy themselves while they can still get out of the house without hiring a sitter, but that they should be careful, too, lest some intoxicated encounter take an intimate turn and they find themselves having to do that way too soon.
Now… if there’s anywhere babies should be banned, it’s coffee houses, because nothing makes every coo, burp, squeal, shriek or sob more irritating than a whole lot of caffeine.
(Note: to be fair, of course, if we ban babies from coffee houses, we should also ban loud talkers, people who yell into their cell phones like they’re stuck in a hurricane, anyone with an iPod who sings along to whatever’s playing through their earbuds, people who push three or four tables together to have a staff meeting, teenagers who spread their textbooks out across all the tables but then sit there and text their friends instead of studying, anyone trying to sell anything, promote anything, or affect any kind of social change, anyone coming from, or going to yoga, because who needs that kind of guilt, politicians, dog walkers who leave their dogs outside, nannies who leave their strollers outside, and, of course, anyone trying to write anything on a laptop — especially if it’s a post like this.)
Links to the many online articles and rants:
“Babies in Bars”/New York Times Blog
“Babies in Bars”/CNN
“Babies in Bars”/Luke Constantino
“Babies in Bars”/Brownstoner
“Babies in Bars”/New York Blips
“Babies in Bars”/The Nervous Breakdown
“Babies in Bars”/Parent Dish
“Babies in Bars”/Gothamist
“Babies in Bars”/New York Times
…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.
KID: Are you sick?
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.
As every parent knows, that’s actually a trick question because when it comes to being peed on, pooped on or puked on, you don’t have a choice: it’s not a question of if it will happen or even when it will happen – though probably in the middle of the night, right after you’ve put on your last clean shirt, or just as you’re rushing off to an important meeting that you’re already 20 minutes late for, etc. – but how often it will happen.
(Not to mention whether or not all three will happen at the same time, which is the parenting equivalent of hitting the “Trifecta,” even though – sadly – it isn’t nearly as rare.)
While the idea of being splattered in your own child’s pee, poop or puke makes non-parents squirm (and probably resolve to remain non-parents), most of us eventually come to accept it – even welcome it – because no matter how disgusting that is, it’s not nearly as gross as being splattered with some other kid’s pee, poop or puke – something that’s also not a question of if, or when, but how often.
From “Why Chicken Nuggets Are Better Than Prozac,” page. 83
- Things that won’t fit in suitcases.
- Scotch tape.
- The person in front of you at Starbucks who can’t decide between a mocha frappuccino and a cinnamon dolce latte.
- A computer – because even though it seems like it knows when you’re having a bad day and chooses that exact moment to crash, it’s just a glorified toaster. (Why doesn’t somebody develop some kind of curse-recognition software to replace online help? – i.e. the way you say “Damn it!” determines what kind of help you get.)
- Stop lights.
- Delivery vehicles that double-park.
- Tire jacks.
- Bus drivers – aside from the fact that they’re encased in a sound-proof – and seemingly sight-proof – cocoon, they don’t care.
- Speed bumps.
- Street signs.
- Stairs (both the invisible one at the top of the landing and the non-existent one at the bottom).
- Pants that won’t button.
- Toys that get left in the driveway.
- Pets (especially hamsters, who are too stupid to understand, dogs, who get their feelings hurt and cats, who get revenge).
- TV remotes.
- Automated telephone helplines – the only thing that happens is you get stuck in a loop where you say “Screw you!” and the computer says “I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you repeat that please?” and no matter how angry you are you can’t outlast the computer, so you’re the only one who suffers.
- God (even if you sometimes feel justified).
- People on TV.
- Coaches, refs and players on Monday Night Football.
- Little League Umpires.
- The cable guy.
- Anyone who messes up your order at the drive-thru.
- Anyone in customer service.
- Anyone with a name tag that says “Asst. Manager.”
- Tour guides.
- A fetus that won’t stop kicking in the middle of the night.
- A spouse that won’t stop kicking in the middle of the night.
- The Post Office.
- The DMV.
- Pre-schoolers – because if they don’t cry, they gasp and say “You said a bad word!” and then repeat it the next day at school.
- Teachers – imagine having to tell your kid he or she has to repeat 3rd grade because the parent-teacher conference you had last week got really, really ugly?
- The other cable guy who comes to fix the problem the first cable guy couldn’t fix
- Anything you stub your toe on.
- Congress – because unless you’re making a major campaign contribution or have a radio show that reaches 20 million people they can’t hear you.
- Your boss.
- Your spouse’s boss – because if you yell at your boss and get fired, you have only yourself to blame, but if you yell at your spouse’s boss and he or she gets fired, you not only have yourself to blame but your spouse has you to blame, too, and if you think it took a long time to be forgiven for, say, denting the car, imagine how long you’ll suffer for this!
- Your parents.
- Your irons, putter and sand wedge. (But not, oddly enough, your woods because swearing at them does actually seem to help.)
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good when you do.
It seems like there are two kinds of divorces: the ones where the split is amicable, or at least free from a restraining order, and the ones you get caught in the middle of – where the pain, hatred, contempt, frustration, mistrust and loathing go on long after the marriage ends.
Staying neutral can be a challenge for even the most savvy and diplomatic, but usually – eventually – you’re sucked in:
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: Can you believe my ex-wife! She’s such a selfish, spoiled, careless, mean, stupid, cow. Don’t you think?
YOU: Uh… I couldn’t say.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: Trust me, she is. I’m sure you’ve seen her act that way. You can admit it, she’s a heartless, bossy, mean-spirited, nitpicking, ego-centric, man-hating shrew.
YOU: I.. uh… I guess I haven’t really seen that side of her, but.. uh… I’m sure you know here better than I do.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: ‘course I know her: I was married to her. And trust me: she’s a first class bitc-
YOU: Hey! Will you look at the time? I really have to go.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: What’s your problem? You’re on her side, aren’t you?
YOU: I’m not on anyone’s side.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: My God, she’s turned you against me, too.
YOU: I barely even know her.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: Yeah, right – you think she’s a saint and I’m an abusive, controlling, foul-mouthed jerk.
BITTER EX-HUSBAND: That’s the exactly the same thing she’s done to our friends, that clueless therapist she dragged us to go see, her lawyer, the neighbors, even my kids. Well you know what? Screw you.
As ugly as these conversations can be, at least they don’t require you to anything more than walk away. What can be worse is when you’re pressed into service:
BITTER EX-WIFE: Say, I’ve been meaning to ask you: you see my ex-husband when he picks up the kids, right?
YOU: Yeah, at the playground after school.
BITTER EX-WIFE:: Interesting.
BITTER EX-WIFE:: I say “interesting” because I’m hearing some things that are just a little troubling.
YOU: I’m sorry to hear that.
BITTER EX-WIFE: Not troubling because I still secretly want him back, or blame him for ruining my life and am looking for ways to exact revenge, but because I’m concerned the children might be exposed to something inappropriate.
BITTER EX-WIFE: Have you ever seen him with a girl that’s much too young for him?
YOU: I can’t say.
BITTER EX-WIFE: If you did, would you let me know?
YOU: I don’t think it would be right for me to spy on your ex-husband.
BITTER EX-WIFE: Oh, heaven’s no – I’m not asking you to spy: just keep on eye on him and his whore for me. And if you can get video or a picture, that would be even better.
Fortunately, there is one benefit to being caught in the middle of this kind of animosity: it reminds you to treat your own spouse with a little more kindness and compassion, if for no other reason the last thing you want is to put your friends, neighbors or even acquaintances in the position of being the “you” in any of the exchanges above.
- Don’t make yourself at home.
- If you stay longer than invited, you will not be asked to come back.
- There is no maid.
- Seriously — NO MAID, which means whichever host you are related to, or knew first, will end up cleaning up after you (though probably not until after a long, ugly argument).
- If you bring a pet, make sure your pet is housebroken.
- On second thought, no pets.
- When we say “if you need anything, just ask,” we don’t expect you to take us up on it.
- But if you really do need something, we’d prefer if you would let us find it for you rather than snooping looking for it in our drawers, closets, cabinets, etc. yourself.
- Pottery Barn rules apply: you break it, you buy it.
- This rule applies to kids, too.
- If you forget your toothbrush, razor, underwear or prescription anti-depressants, please don’t borrow ours.
- Just because you walk around naked at home doesn’t mean you should do that here, if for no other reason than seeing you naked will forever change our impression of you, and probably not for the better.
- Please refrain from discussing politics, religion or anything else unless you are certain your views are in line with ours, or that we like to argue.
- You know that ugly piece of art we have on the wall in the living room? We don’t think it’s ugly.
- On a related note, you know the voice you use when you don’t want anyone to hear you? We can still hear you.
- Please keep in mind that we invited you, not members of your extended family.
- And knock.
- If you don’t think you can abide by these rules, stay home.
- Unless you are family.
- And then only come during the holidays, when we are more likely to be forgiving.
- And which only come once a year.