Ho No

“So Matt, what would you like for Christmas this year?”
“Nothing.”
“Matt, you’re a ten-year-old boy, you have to want something!”
“It’s a Christian holiday and I’m an atheist.”
“What?! Well then what are you going to open on Christmas morning?”
“I’ll be live-streaming all day.”

That’s an excerpt from an actual conversation my mother had with one of her grandsons. When I was but a boy, I didn’t relate to the Christian aspects of X-Mas either — but Santa and presents sure made a whole lotta sense.

Frankly, I blame the lack of television for this kind of staunch anti-X-Mas stance. When I was young, we were forced to choose from a total of THREE television channels every night. Come holiday time, at least one of those channels was showing a Christmas-themed special in which it wasn’t too late to find out the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas Miracles were around every corner. Nowadays kids don’t even watch TV. Instead of the picture-tube, they’re glued to the YouTube.

And have you even tried shopping for kids today? When I was young, there were large toy-stores in every mall — EVERY aisle was filled with goodies. They’re gone. You have a few aisles in Target or Walmart now. What can a child reasonably put on his Christmas List this year? What? A bike? Scooter? Legos? Classic board games? Action-figures? Remote-control-vehicle? Xbox? TV? iPad/iPhone? Toy robot? Gift-cards? Movie-streaming/gaming-subscription service? Hmm never-mind.

But it’s like they don’t even care. They’re not inundated with commercial after commercial for hours everyday after school like I was when I was a kid. Frankly, most of the shows I watched were 22-minute long ads anyway (Transformers, G.I. Joe, He-Man). I knew all the latest toys and NEEDED every single one of them because all those ads convinced me. The same with cereal. I wanted every sugar-laden box they sold in the cereal-aisle and I made sure my mom knew it! But kids today? Psh, not even a peep, they don’t even want to go down and check out all the cool characters on the boxes — I always went cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs.

I don’t know what to say, I guess it’s a rudderless generation — simply lost without the guiding hand of television. Every day and night I knelt before its glow and received without question the words it spoke. And I turned out fine. Well, I mean there was the anxiety, depression, sugar-addiction… whatever! It wasn’t TV’s fault, heck they had those World Wars before TV ever became popular. In conclusion, it’s never too late to learn the true meaning of Christmas: rampant unapologetic commercialism ushered in by a jolly old elf. Kids today need to get their act together and get their butts in front of the TV.

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School Days

My little boy recently started school for the first time. And instead of fretting all day, I went to Epcot and had a great time with my wife. We haven’t not had him around us for six-and-a-half years — no date-nights, babysitters, daycare — nothing. But when we sent him into school, I never worried once — I dared not, lest my worry come true. And it turned out, he had a great first day as far as I could tell. He seemed like he had fun and could finally hang around some other kids his own age.

A number of months ago he decided he’d rather go to a regular school instead of home-school. As his homeschool teacher, I wasn’t even insulted, he’s welcome to live his own life. While homeschooling him, I always did so with the potential that he’d switch over to a regular school at some point and always told him what teachers expect and how to behave and all that. I think he went-in pretty prepared — right into first grade and he didn’t seem to miss us at all.

I think if we had put him into kindergarten a year ago, there might have been some separation anxiety issues, but now it seems like he was ready. And that’s been my secret to parenting, not forcing him to do something too soon — simply wait until he’s ready, and voila! — smooth as silk. Also, part of the reason we moved to a new town was because we thought it had a better school-system than the town we previously lived in — and we picked a home only three minutes walking-distance from the school.

At the end of the first day, all the kids were swarming out of the gates. In the distance I saw his little face and I waved. He seemed a bit overwhelmed by the crowds of kids but he smiled and waved back when he saw me. His mom and I walked him home and he told us all about his time in class. It’s neat to witness a little human growing up, I see it as an honor to be able to observe it from the vantage point of a dad. Speaking of which, it’s a new day and time for my wife and I to go have some fun!

Role-model Mom

Speaking of wishes, it turns out that my mother had been wishing for me to move back down to Florida, specifically back to the town I had left ten years ago. Her wish came true, here I am. She also insisted on buying us some furniture. Last time I lived here she insisted the same thing — I had said no but relented a little and got some lower-cost light-weight wicker furniture for the living room and accepted some used patio furniture for the balcony. I didn’t want to anchor myself down with a whole bunch of heavy furniture. It didn’t feel right to settle down in case my work dried up — which it eventually did.

To me, it feels like she’s trying to lock me down with furniture — but of course that’s just my naturally suspicious mind. A few days ago we met over at the furniture store and she bought us a whole bunch of stuff — beds, couches, end-tables, lamps — real heavy stuff too. As I’ve been trying to do lately, I just said “yes”. Even though it goes against my lack-minded thinking, I said yes to a whole condo-full of furniture. When she insisted on buying the entire set of living-room furniture instead of a couple items, I just said “okay”.

But Rich, aren’t you always concerned about budgets, logistics, exit-strategies, etc? Who me? Nah, that’s the old Rich you’re thinkin’ of. I’m Good-Times Rich. Party-central starts here! All aboard!! WOO!! WOO!! Listen, my mother made it seventy-plus years buyin’ whatever she damn-well pleased. She loves it and her strategy seems to work. And for all I know, her power-source is derived from furniture — maybe she’s just trying to impart some of her power unto me.

When I was growing up, I always thought my mom was kinda dumb — no offense. She smoked and drank, was always on a fad-diet, yelled a bunch, worried constantly, applied more make-up than a Ringling Brothers clown, spent money like a sailor on leave, worked at a shoe company answering phones, and didn’t seem to understand complex concepts. In a way she seemed very childlike. But as it turns out, I think she was simply playing the game — and Life is merely a giant game of pretend after all.

She’s been successfully entertaining herself for the past seventy-plus years whereas I’ve been frozen still like a deer caught in the headlights. I’ve been overwhelmed by the simplest things while she’s chuggin’ along doin’ her thing. So who’s the dummy? That’s why, at least for this year, my mom is my new role-model. She’s relentlessly herself and doesn’t break character or engage in any meta-game nonsense. She’s a hardcore gamer that plows through whatever’s thrown at her.

My mom has been helping me deal with shelter-related stuff for several decades already. I’ve always relied on her and she’s typically been there to help out in her own particular way. She used to say, “you better learn to do stuff on your own because one day I won’t be around.” Yet here we are, decades later and she’s still around helping me out. And as far as sons go, I’m literally one of the worst — I’m an entitled taker that shows little appreciation — I’m not affectionate and I complain a lot.

But on the plus side, she gets to use her power to help her kid — as a parent myself, I know that’s a nice feeling. When your child is confronted by circumstances beyond your control, you feel horribly useless — yet during those times when they’re struggling, and you’re able to effortlessly ease their struggle, you feel needed and useful. So basically, “you’re welcome mom!” I’m glad I could be so inept at life that you have plenty of reason to keep on keepin’ on.

Phoning Home

An excerpt from the Talk with Mom series.

I was recently talking to my seventy-something year-old mother on FaceTime. She told me about a recent incident where her dog was barking without an obvious prompt. My mother was concerned about whether the dog was barking at a ghost. I replied, “In your seventy-plus years of existence, have you ever seen a ghost?” She said she hadn’t. I said, “So in all these years, ghosts have been biding their time, plotting and waiting to finally reveal themselves to you when you reached your seventies?”

I continued, “Not one of your nefarious imaginings has ever come true, not once in all the seventy years you’ve seen, has it?” She admitted that not one had come true. “Aha!”, I concluded, “then in fact, you’ve been needlessly scaring yourself all these years by entertaining frightful thoughts of doom?” What could she say, she was stumped. She seemed to tentatively admit the veracity of my claim, yet I knew the argument was won.

Growing Up

Do we say a child has a differing opinion or do we say his worldview is underdeveloped? Is it raw age, or an ever expanding perspective that makes for maturity?

How do we characterize immaturity? The immature are easily frightened. The immature are insular. The immature see only from their own eyes. The immature reject what they don’t immediately understand. The immature must always win else tantrums flair.

How would we characterize maturity? The mature lack unfounded fears. The mature are inclusive of outliers. The mature attempt to see what others see. The mature seek to understand underlying complexity. The mature accept loss with grace.

While immature ideas are not valid opinions, the feelings producing them are real. In this way, seek to validate the feelings of those harboring such thought, let them know their dissatisfaction is recognized.

And once a connection is established, help them understand their myopia. Shine a light on the shadows that scare them. Show them the humanity they share with others. Introduce them to expansive ideas. Encourage them to trust in life’s goodness.

Playing Ball

Don’t yell at the ball. Accept that your ball handling skills are imperfect and that you will regularly drop the ball. The ball is not the issue, your imperfect skills are what need to be acknowledged and addressed. There is no blame though, as your skills are what they are, simply rededicate to improving each and every time the ball is mishandled. There will be times when your best isn’t good enough. Welcome to life. Just keep at it, because that’s what we do here.

Parental Units

My parents didn’t really seem like my parents. I used to wish that my “real” parents would find me and take me away from these “impostors”. For one, their behavior didn’t match that of the TV-show parents I watched, so they didn’t fulfill my expectations of how “parents” should act. But even without these unmet expectations, they were kinda mean and selfish.

But it’s not like they chose to be this way. Who would choose to be a crappy parent? And I didn’t choose to watch TV in order to compare my parents to fictional characters. All this stuff just kinda happens.

And it also happened that I resented my parents for a very long time. They were jerks, and their lousy parenting was the reason my life was the way it was. Clearly, if a baker half-heartedly slaps together a cake, using the worst ingredients, the final product is not going to be delicious, right?

But as it happens, I eventually realized that it’s all out of our control: my control, their control, their parent’s control, and so on. And I didn’t choose to stop the resentment and the blaming, it just kinda stopped on its own.

The memories of my childhood rarely enter my thoughts anymore, or if they do, I don’t pay attention. But what does filter through, are the lessons of what not to do, those are seared into my mind, stinging if my actions wander in their direction — it appears that I won’t be repeating certain behaviors of my parents.