WIFE: What’s wrong?
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.
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 “$#*!”
Which means the problem is… what exactly?
Because CBS broadcasts its programing over the public airwaves, the FCC insists (more or less, depending on who’s in charge) that it and other broadcasters adhere to a higher standard of decency than, say, every other media outlet in the known universe, because there’s a reasonable (though infinitely small) chance some unsuspecting innocent will accidentally turn on the TV and be offended:
CHILD: I just saw something on TV I don’t understand.
There’s nothing wrong with parents protecting their kids from what they feel are bad influences, but isn’t it kind of silly to make such a big deal out of something like this? If for no other reason than the fact that there probably isn’t a kid left in this country who doesn’t already know the s-word, the a-word and probably the f-word, too.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I know my kids know them because (a) they are sometimes in the car with me when I drive and (b) I think it’s important they have a full and complete grasp of the English language, including words that are inappropriate, which is why I sat them down one night and taught them.2)
Besides, when you think about it, television doesn’t need to be censored because televisions come with a remote control and a power button.
Isn’t that easier than a national boycott?
(That said, remotes can be so confusing and complicated it is possible somebody somewhere can’t turn their TV off, change the channel, lower the volume or remove the annoying on-screen overlay because they haven’t managed to crack the secret combination of input/source buttons even this most basic level of functionality can sometimes require. But that’s the fault of the manufacturer, not the media.)
Rather than being bad, in fact, a situation like “$#*! 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?
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?
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.
How can a two hour and 20 minute flight take five hours?
Electronic check in:
Manual check-in after electronic check-in can’t find everyone’s name:
Pat down, additional questioning after dad was randomly flagged as a potential terrorist (which the kids thought was funny, but the parents couldn’t believe):
Flight Delay (cause unknown, but “kid in control tower” incident suspected):
Wait on tarmac (after pilot announces “We’ll be taxing to the gate in just a few minutes”):
Wait at gate:
Wait at baggage claim:
Wait at baggage claim “lost luggage” department:
Time-out for deep, calming breaths:
Finding car in long-term parking after losing slip of paper with level and section number:
Explaining why there won’t be any more family trips until the memory of this last one has faded away completely:
KID: Are you sick?
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
When characters in cartoons get angry, smoke comes out of their ears, their heads explode or they undergo instantaneous genetic mutations that turn them into aliens, gigantic, green-skinned freaks, uncontrollable ninja-war- riors, ghost-demons, magical giants, etc.
While young kids believe this kind of thing is possible in real life, older kids eventually learn it’s not.
Or is it?
As bad as it can be for a parent to have a massive, screaming, meltdown – something that happens to everyone eventually, thanks to too little sleep, too much caffeine and a child with bad timing – allowing your offspring to glimpse “the monster inside you” can ultimately be good, because if you play it right they’ll wonder if maybe, just maybe, you might turn into some kind of mutant humanoid if they really, really piss you off.
All you have to do – and this is probably harder than it seems – is let your rage build almost to the breaking-point but then suddenly stop, turn, and walk briskly to the kitchen, hall closet, laundry room, etc. and grab the unlabelled bottle of vodka you keep hidden in there “just in case.” Pour yourself a shot, and then just before you knock it back, check to make sure your kids are close enough to “accidentally” overhear you as you say something like “That was close. Too close. I was able to stop the transformation this time, thanks to the antidote, but if something like that happens again, who knows. When the kids are older I’ll tell them the truth, but for now, it’s got to be my secret.”
If you’re lucky, the next time they decide to have an indoor water fight or shave the dog, they’ll maybe – just maybe – think twice.
(Although probably not.)
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel good when you do.
ME: So… how much did I gain?
Google is great for things like finding answers to obscure homework questions and getting directions to distant soccer fields, but it’s terrible for checking health symptoms.
Search: bloody nose
You’d think something that’s sophisticated enough to be able to figure out what you really want to search for even when you type in the wrong word or phrase would be smart enough to filter out (or at least de-prioritize) the rare, deadly, one-in-a-million afflictions that always seem to pop up when you search for something minor.
Instead, you’re faced with page after page of terrifying results.
(Exactly how many pages is unknown, since what you read on the first page alone is usually enough to make even the most anxiety-proof parent pass out from a panic attack.)
All of which would be fine – even amusing – if a visit to the doctor’s office or emergency room offered relief.
But it doesn’t because even if you catch your M.D. muffling a scoff when you admit you googled the symptoms and freaked out when you read the results, he or she will run a bunch of test anyway, “just to be sure.”
Because doctors use Google, too.
If Eskimos have a thousand words for snow, shouldn’t we have a thousand words for life’s little irritations?
For most of us, a day doesn’t go by that God, the universe, fate, karma, quantum physics or all-of-the-above don’t needle our emotional well-being, usually when we’re running late, just had an argument with our spouse or suddenly realized we forgot to get a babysitter for tomorrow night so we could go to dinner and a movie and finally get a break from all this crap.
It doesn’t help that these cosmic paper cuts never seem to be isolated one- offs, either, but instead come in sets, like celebrity deaths and unsolicited parenting suggestions from opinionated strangers – it’s not just the long line at Starbucks, it’s having them mess up your order twice and then spilling your extra-hot, half-caf hazelnut mocha down the front of your shirt as you pull out of the parking lot.
The impact of these little irritations – and they are little, even if we can’t figure out how not to sweat them – increases exponentially as the day progresses, to the point where we find ourselves cursing some 82-year-old women with a walker because she’s not crossing the street fast enough, or threatening to ground our kids for the rest of their natural lives if they EVER give the dog another peanut butter and jelly sandwich again, or contemplating divorce because our spouse forgot (again) to fill up the car when it got close to empty, leaving us in the position of having to coast down the hill to the Shell.
Psychologists say the only reason any of this stuff annoys us the way it does is because it reminds us that we’re not really in control (no matter how thoroughly we’ve managed to convince ourselves otherwise) and that ultimately mastering the moment isn’t nearly as important as just being in it, regardless of whether that moment is good, bad, satisfying, awful, rewarding, stressful, happy, sad, amusing, aggravating, etc.
But as nice as that sounds (in a zen-like, higher-consciousness kind of way), who has the time to learn how to do that? Or the energy? Or the patience?
If learning to live in the moment can’t be accomplished in one 30-minute session two times a week, in the car on the drive home from work, or during one of those rare moments when every kid in the house is quietly pre-occupied, then it just becomes one more thing we don’t have time to squeeze in but try to do anyway – or would try to do if we didn’t have to wait for the knucklehead in the car ahead of us to get off the phone and go.
Note: It’s easy to complain about life’s little irritations, but it’s also important to point out that we could probably eliminate entire categories of irritation if we really, really wanted to – just moving to a remote cabin in Montana and living off the land, for example, would instantly rid us of driving-, shopping-, neighbor-, school- and work-related annoyances (though it would probably more than make up for that by adding starvation-, bear attack-, hypothermia-, and isolation-related irritations, so maybe that’s not such a good trade-off. Plus, let’s not forget that Unabomber Ted Kaczynski moved to a remote cabin in Montana so he could get away from it all and look what happened to him).
Gathering around the table. √
Spending some quality time together. √
Taking a break from DVDs, movies, video games and other passive forms of entertainment. √
Reliving fond memories of playing Monopoly as a kid. √
Trying to figure out which version of Monopoly to play. √
Watching the kids fight over who gets to be the racecar. √
Watching the kids fight over who gets to roll first. √
Watching the kids fight over who who the bowl of popcorn gets to be set down in front of. √
Threatening to send everyone to bed if they don’t behave. √
Enjoying five minutes of stress-free game play. √
Trying to explain to a younger sibling why they have to give their older sibling money just because they landed on Marvin Gardens. √
Wiping away the younger sibling’s tears. √
Using the parent voice to tell the older sibling not to be a sore winner. √
Getting competitive. √
Mentally adding up the cost of therapy if you decide to just completely bankrupt your kids. √
Reminding yourself the point is to have fun. √
Letting your kids win. √
Hoping Family Game Night will be better next week. √
Fearing that it won’t. √
Wondering if Family Movie Night would be a better idea instead. √
KID: Look at me. I have a beard!
If it’s the cleaning lady’s job to clean the house, why do we always pick up before she comes?
(Usually just before she comes, too, with one of the kids stalling her in the foyer as we scramble to de-clutter the upstairs.)
It would be one thing if we were motivated by conscience, believing it unfair to have her clean everything, but this doesn’t seem to be the case. Are we worried she’ll realize we’re really just a family of slobs?
She can probably tell that already, thanks to dishes that occasionally end up under the bed and the collection of crumbs, coins and God-knows-what-it-is she regularly unearths from beneath the sofa cushions.
Do we think she’ll tell the H.O.A. how much more disgusting our house is than, say, the neighbor’s down the street?
(It is, but only because they have no kids.)
Or do we just not want anyone — even the cleaning lady — to find out how much of our lifestyle is an illusion, and that the only parts we have the energy to maintain week in, week out, are the ones that other people see?
(And if this is the case, is it a valid reason to switch to a cleaning service that relies on a small, anonymous army that moves too quickly for any one that’s a part of it to form any kind of impression of what a stye the house usually is?)
Everybody draws a blank sometimes, especially tired, distracted, frustrated parents. So what do you do when you need a threat but just can’t think of one? Click the box below to randomly generate a generic threat that should work for just about any occasion.
To generate other responses, just click the bold text in the box above.
CUSTOMER: Hi, I have a complaint.
According to The New York Times, shouting is the new spanking.
But what ever happened to the old spanking? And how could anything be as effective as a cold, hard slap across the butt?
Still… if psychologists are to be believed, the problem with spanking is that it teaches kids that hitting is an acceptable way to solve a problem.
(Among other things.)
On the other hand, at least it teaches ‘em something – ‘cause as any non-spanking parent knows, you can only yell so much before your kids just tune you out. And then what? Waterboarding?
Lots of couples spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on counseling when what they really need to do to improve their marriage is argue.
Not in person, but by text.
Arguing by text has a number of benefits. For example, in face-to-face arguments, tensions usually escalate because each person reacts (and over-reacts) to what the other is saying. But since SMS shorthand is so obscure and confusing — URAPITA? UG2BK? SHID? — how can you be outraged by something you can’t understand?
The 140-character limit helps, too, because it means you have to reduce your anger/frustration to its root cause before you can text it. Since most arguments end when the roots are exposed, however, starting this way means there isn’t really anywhere for the argument to go — You say you’re upset because you don’t feel like you’re in control of the relationship. Your spouse agrees you’re not. End of story.
As for those argument that proceed anyway, it’s important to remember that at some point, “principle,” ” being “right” and even just the need “to be shown a little respect” can’t overcome tired thumbs.
Which isn’t to say texting is flawless.
But keep in mind that if you scream something cruel and inappropriate at your spouse in the heat of the moment, you can’t ever take it back. But if you text it, you can say it was just a typo:
HUSBAND: No, I wouldn’t ever call you that. What I meant was you’re being a stitch, because I thought your whole argument was a joke.