Monday, June 21, 2010

"Parenting Advice," Defending the World Cup, Holidays & Posed Photos, and Summer TV...

"Parenting Advice"... Here's a question... what is it about parents and parenting that causes people to constantly offer unsolicited advice?  Or at least to play the "I have been there before and you have no idea what you are in for" card over and over and over? new parents, Brielle and I are constantly bombarded by this 24-7 message from a few friends, some family, and almost all strangers.  Why?  What is it about parenting that causes this "know it all" attitude?  If anything, shouldn't the ups and downs of parenting reinforce a more humbling "the only thing I know for sure is that I don't know anything" stance?  Is it that existing parents are just angry and frustrated and thus need to do the old "you'll have no idea what you are in for" talk-down thing to other people to make themselves feel better?  Think about it for a second...does this exist in any other form?  When you got into college, did complete strangers say, " idea what you are in'll find out..." and then offer gobs of unsolicited advice?  Or, if you announced you were buying a new car, would friends say "oh, the new car experience...good luck have no idea what you are getting are not will change your life!"  I mean, the drama around parenting is utterly ridiculous.  Here's my take:  first, what's the big deal anyway?  Hmmm...let's do the, there are roughly SIX BILLION other people who have been born that are alive on this planet right now.  Doesn't that make childbirth and parenting about the most ordinary, least-rare thing on the planet?  Second, I am not going to pretend I know more than anyone else...because I don't!  Now that I am a parent, when I meet other prospective parents I will simply say, "congrats, and good luck" and maybe "here's a book that worked for me" if I am asked for advice.  It's not my place to say anything more or to pretend I am an expert.  It's nonsense.  So please, if you meet me on the street, how about a few words of encouragement, or even some rock solid advice?  Just spare me the "you have no idea what you are in for" speech.  Besides, you don't even know me!  So how could you possibly know what I am or what I am not ready for??  That may come off a little harsh, but you get my point.  There is definitely the presumption from some people that what they are doing is so incredibly unique that they have to talk down to others about it.  And that's a shame.   But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak...  There are many friends and family members who provide solid advice and guidance without the posturing, and for that I am thankful.

[Incidentally...what's my favorite advice/commentary?   Things like... Roll with the punches. Trust your instincts. Enjoy the ride. You'll be fine.   And the worst?  Here's an example:

Parent X:  You have no idea what you are in for.  Really. (Then in sing-song voice) But you'll find out soon enough...
Ben:  Yeah, ok, you are probably right.  Thanks.
Parent X:  I mean, especially as a have no clue how your life will change.  It's not about you anymore!  (Sing-song voice)  No more football and free time on Sundays... (Back to normal voice, serious face)  I mean, you realize everything changes, right?
Ben, trying to ignore this conversation is happening right now:  Um, yeah, I got that.  Thanks.
Parent X:  (Very serious face) It's nothing you can prepare for.  You.  Just.  Don't.  Know. What's. Coming.  It's a lot of work.  But good work, ya know?  You will get used to it.  Eventually.  But you can't possibly imagine what it's like.  Until it happens.  (Happy face)  But it's amazing.  (Serious face) But your free time is gone.  Forget reading.  And free time.  And workouts.  (Serious face, usually with a finger point) Are you prepared for all that?  (Wave hand in dismissive fashion)  Probably not.  I'm just telling you... And the diapers and the crying and the...
Ben, bemused smile:  Uh-huhn.  Yup. 
Parent X:  (Serious face, furrowed brow) The rewards totally outweigh the work.  But it's hard.  Get used to not sleeping.  And did I mention you are gonna find out that yourlifewillchangeinsomanywaysthatyoucan'tevenimagine that youarecluelessabout and totallynotreadyforatall?  (Happy face) I am soooo excited for you guys!  But you have no idea...oh my god...wait, what kind of stroller did you buy? 
Ben, gouging out my own eyes with a salad fork at this point and cradling my head in my hands while rocking back and forth and pulling my hair out while nevertheless forcing a smile:  Yeah...awesome...thanks.  Great seeing you.  

And by the way, can I just ask the question...what does "get used to not sleeping" mean, exactly?  Do I join the Navy Seals and practice sleep deprivation?  Do I ship off to Guantanamo and get myself water-boarded?  What exactly am I supposed to do with that tidbit of advice??  Does it make any sense?  The inverse is equally funny..."get your sleep in now!"  Ok, thanks...yes...I will immediately quit work and hibernate until Brielle gives birth.  I will sleep for 3 straight weeks and grow a Rip Van Winkle-type beard and wake up refreshed and with a reserve of sleep and ready to parent!!  Thanks for the heads-up!  Yeesh...]

Defending the World Cup... I'm sorry, I love the World Cup.  First, and foremost, how can you go back to watching our "American" sports with the constant commercials after watching an entire soccer match without?  (Aside from halftime, of course.)  No wonder the NBA sucks today...with TV timeouts every friggin 90 seconds, how can players ever get into a rhythm or a flow?  This is little talked about, but probably true.  And speaking as someone who rarely experienced a TV game as a ballplayer, I can tell you that it did mess with your flow versus a non-TV game the few times I was in them.  Second, three cheers for soccer, a sport dominated by...gasp...passing.  I love it.  Third, the open green space, the passing angles, the chess-like movement of the players on the field...they all just relax me - something like watching fish in an aquarium.  There's a peaceful, beautiful flow to the game which stands in stark contrast to America's most popular "fast food, I want it all and want it now, stop/start, quick burst" sports.  Soccer is like the old saying...It's not the destination, it's the journey.  Meanwhile, Americans are so focused on the destination ("goals...where are the goals...why don't they shoot...why not more scoring...they need more goals") that they completely miss the beauty of the journey.  And shame on us for that.  Yeah, there are plenty of things Europe and South American -for example - have screwed up (and it's certainly fun to poke fun at the French team and their World Cup squabbles), but soccer is one of their best gifts to the world.  Just like jazz is America's original contribution to the world, and it takes an ear to appreciate it and it's maybe not as fun or exciting or as in your face as "American Idol" or MTV, it is nevertheless a thing of beauty...and so is futbol.

[Side Note:  despite my argument this video from The Onion is pretty damn funny.]

Speaking of sports... I wanted to be excited by the NBA Finals... I really did.  And I thought long and hard about why I was just not as into it as I was as a kid... My thinking is this:  it's not only the experiential difference of being a kid versus being an adult that makes me appreciate the mid-80's NBA so much more.  I think it's also the result of total media over-saturation.  When I was younger, there were so few games on prime time, so few highlights, so few interviews, that key moments from then - when they happened - are absolutely seared into my brain.  They were rare and special, no replay necessary.  And so my brain took extra care to appreciate them.  Look, it's just human nature, isn't it?  I might love pizza...and when I have pizza once a month, I savor every damn bite.  It's otherworldly, amazing, rare, special...all of that.  But when a truckload of pizza gets delivered to my place each am suddenly not so into pizza.  What am I really getting at?  Cable TV and the internet - in other words, 24-7 constant access and bombardment - has had the effect of rendering Kobe and KG and Boston/LA the opposite of special.  I hear about them all day long and it turns me off.  My brain can't help it.  Men know this to be one of the great secrets of women... they play hard to get so you'll chase what you can't have... and we fall for it every time.  The NBA and sports in general used to be "hard to get," or at least not available whenever you want it - the opposite of the girl who came on a bit strong and made herself available to you "on demand" causing you to lose all interest!  There is no answer here - just an observation.  But sports have diluted themselves by their constant availability.  Yes, you are too easy, NBA Finals and the NFL Draft and the Superbowl and the World Series.  Sorry to tell you this, but I am no longer interested...and you brought it on yourself. 

Call me the Grinch...But I Hate Forced Holidays & Posed Photos... A few blogs ago I ranted against posed photos.  The point was that the very act of herding people together to interrupt what they are doing and to force them to smile destroys the fun or the conversation they are actually having and makes them usually resent the photographer who is stealing that moment.  It's artificial and unnecessary, in my opinion.  Turns out that I feel the same way about "forced holidays."  There are always parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, siblings, etc. (you know the ones...) who guilt the others into attending all holiday functions at all costs... and invariably, what happens when everyone is together?  Those holidays almost always prove anticlimactic, don't they?  [Side note:  And don't you just love the requisite toast, "I just want to's so nice that we could all be together...on this day..."?  In my view, if you are talking about being together then you are not really together!  In the same way that if you have to ask people to stand together and smile to document the great time you are having, then you are not at that moment having a great time - you are interrupting that great time to take a damn silly photo!]   Anyway, I am being overly dramatic for effect here, but my point is this...those times that we were all guilt-ed into being together and sitting around and making small talk because a relatively arbitrary measure of time (the modern calendar) tells you that day is "special"...those times are probably not going to prove to be - when you are lying on your deathbed looking back - the best moments of your life.  Instead it's the unforced moments...the unplanned and spontaneous great days that just come together...the random snippets of life...that always seem to resonate in hindsight.  Don't they?  Everyone knows what I am talking about here.  So why the nonsense...why the obligation and the guilt and the "forced, posed photos" of life?  I will never, ever understand this...

Summer television... Does anyone else find it ridiculous that there is now a summer television "season?"  Isn't this just another sign of our laziness and inactivity (mental and physical) as Americans?  Remember when summer was all reruns that no one watched because you were either outside all day (adults and kids), traveling, working, etc, etc?  Now there's a summer television season all its own?  That's just crazy.  Another sign of the modern-day Fall of Rome... 

Microwave Mysteries... been meaning to mention this for a there's a microwave in the kitchen at work... sometimes (most times) people open the door instead of hitting the "off" button and the time is thus not reset.  So I can see the "time remaining" from someone's microwave session.  The mystery...why is this number off by so much each time?  I mean, yeah, if it said 5 seconds that would mean you probably heard some kind of popping sound or burning smell and pulled your stuff out 5 seconds early, indicating your initial time choice (1 minute, 2 minutes?) was not so far off.  But when I see things like 3:27 left on the microwave on a regular basis, I have to ask myself "wtf?"  Is the microwave chef guessing that poorly on the time it takes to warm up a bowl of oatmeal? (1 minute, btw)  I find this to be a great mystery.  How can you be 2 minutes and 48 seconds off your "warming up the food" guess?  That's just nuts to me...

Going back to parenting for a second... I have been thinking about this a lot lately.  And this is a little harsh but just might be true - I have seen it firsthand as a high school basketball coach.  One of the real pandemics of our time seems to be the overly involved, constantly hovering "helicopter" parent.  Why is this so common these days?  Just my opinion...but...well, if your own life is completely un-fulfilling, maybe you feel that procreating justifies your existence (which it shouldn't - there is more to life than that...), and maybe you feel that the "success" of your kids becomes your subconscious pet-project and thus becomes a measure of who you are as a person.  And maybe you turn all the resources at your disposal towards that kid and smother that kid as a weird counter-action to all the things wrong in your own life and probably do more damage to the kid than not as a result... I dunno, just a guess.  But here's the are not a friggin' project like a garden...there's no blue ribbon for "prize tomato" or anything.  So, for all those prospective helicopter parents...get a dog, teach him how to do frisbee tricks.  By leaving parenting to some other, more balanced, sane people, you'll be simultaneously letting coaches coach and letting teachers teach, which might be nice.  Schools wouldn't be sued as much, there'd actually be a 2nd place trophy instead of the umpteenth runner-up so no one feels bad, etc.  In Po Bronson's great book NurtureShock, he talks about the need to be honest with kids.  He argues for telling your kid - when proper - "hey, you were not that great today - maybe you game/cello/acting needs more work..."  Sounds like the anti-helicoptering...and wouldn't that be refreshing?

Weird segue, but speaking of overpopulation...don't you feel sometimes like the world is just smarter than us?  that Mother Earth will always manage to humble us as humans and balance the scales of population and the replacement rate of population in ways we can't even imagine?  Even as we manage to live longer and longer, there's just more and more to worry about...aluminum in deodorant, elevated levels of obesity, sodium consumption, the unknown effect of wireless radiation from cell phones and cell phone towers, people driving and texting, mercury levels in fish, the hoax of sunscreens and how many cause more cancer than prevent... It's just amazing.  Try as we might, it seems the world will always be a step ahead of us in terms of unknown dangers to humans and what the "killers" of the future will be... And climate change might be the biggest one of all.  Something tells me we're not gonna win this battle.  Maybe in hindsight, 500 years from now, despite all our innovation, people of the future will know this as the Age of Icarus or the "Icarian Age."  (google "Icarus" if you don't get the reference...)

Some random thoughts... been thinking a lot about words and word origins for some reason lately... for example, in the same way that Chinese food is probably called food in China, I wonder what the Romans called a Caesarian Section before the time of Caesar?  Also, there are so many interesting Latin words used today as root words because they mean stuff like "sharp-toothed" or whatever.  But my question is this...the first time a Roman saw something with a sharp-tooth, how did he know what to call it??  Also random...there must be stories of "near miss" famous phrases out there... Something like the rough draft that never was. Or the script that didn't quite make it.  Don't you think there is a really bitter screenwriter out there who argued like crazy that Colonel Jessup's line should have been "You can't possibly fathom the reality of the situation"?  Or a bitter dude working in a gas station who argued for "wipe on, wipe off" and thought "wax on, wax off" was stupid?  Or the A-Team writer who fought against the re-write and wanted Mr.T to shout "I pity that dope!"  I'd like to see that version of "where are they now" or at least an SNL skit honoring the "Almost, but not quite" Hall of Fame... Last know how they always trot out a kid on late night TV who can hit a golfball at age 2 (like Tiger) or who can sing like an opera star?  I think Tiger is the rarity - invariably these "child prodigies" don't make it, so essentially the parents get their 15 minutes of fame with the kid and that's that.  But do you know what would be a useful skill that would also be of lasting benefit that would be great to see on late night TV?  Show me a two-year old who can empty a dishwasher!  Or do laundry!  Or vacuum!  You can't tell me that stuff is any more difficult than teaching a kid to hit a dimpled ball a hundred yards down a fairway... Anyway, that's all for now, I am off to teach Baelyn how to wash a car, look for us on Jimmy Kimmel in 2012!  

All the Best, 

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