September 27, 2011

Courageous Parenting

We here at the Used Diaper Salesman have a slogan that pretty much sums up the miraculous conundrum that is parenting: It ain't for the faint of heart.

Most of us are in for a rude awakening once our children discover that they have a will of their own. The idyllic Hollywood family is mostly a flat-out fake, but most of us don't truly begin to understand that until our kids start teething, talking, and tantruming, the last of which is not actually a word, only a term that I made up because my powers of alliteration are a little slow this morning and I couldn't think of anything better. The fact that I'm explaining this to you at all should tell you that I'm short on sleep and very well-caffeinated this morning, and really not at the top of my game. So because you're obviously in for some stream-of-consciousness and I don't want things to get out of hand, I'll try to keep this a bit shorter than usual. Also, I really need to go get another cup of coffee.

So, random tangents aside, we've agreed that parenting is not usually what we thought it was going to be, right? If you said "no", you're a big fat liar. If you gave the correct answer, you're among the vast majority who have by now realized three great truths, which are as follows. 1. My kids aren't perfect, 2. Neither am I, and 3. We never will be.

The reason? We're all selfish creatures by nature. Children are the perfect showcase for this fact, because they act on impulse and instinct, and those impulses rarely include sharing with or helping someone else. I'm sorry to break it to you, but we humans are not basically good, as it turns out. We've simply developed civilizations that make it unnecessary to kill each other over food and club our desired mate over the head and drag her (or him) off to our cave. We civilized adults have mostly learned to control those impulses, but it's ultimately a choice, and this applies nowhere more than within our families. A parent who goes against their nature and serves their family selflessly will have a better chance of success, and as horrible as I am at doing that much of the time, it's still my goal.

Think about it. It takes courage to set your own needs aside in favor of those of your spouse and kids. And with that said, I'd like to encourage you dads out there to take the time to go see a new movie that's coming out this weekend. It's called (surprise!) "Courageous", and it looks to be a great drama about four cops, regular guys who overcome a variety of challenges and obstacles in the interest of becoming better dads and husbands. You can check out the trailer and get more information here. Moms, you can go too. Here's the poster:

Okay, gotta go. The coffee machine is calling my name.

September 14, 2011

Explaining the Unexplainable

Some things defy explanation.

Take Pringles potato crisps, for example. Does anyone know why it is indeed the case that once you pop, you truly can't stop? Is their ad slogan really just that effective? Do we have an ingrained need for partially hydrogenated plant oils? The world may never know.

Or how about green olives. Everyone I know has a mostly-empty jar of them in the back of their refrigerator that has been there since approximately 1974, and sometimes it came with their fridge when they moved into their house. Why in the world is it so hard to get rid of those things? The jar that resides at the back of the second shelf in my fridge has an olive near the bottom whom I've named Pete, because for some reason, it reminds me of a bald guy I know. Pete stares at me balefully with his pimento eye every time I open the fridge for a late night snack, seeming to say, "Please...please, eat me. I've been looking at the back of a pickle jar for years and I just can't stand it anymore!" But I never do. I'm not a big fan of green olives. Who knows why those briny little jars sit back there for decades? Pete might; he's older than I am, and therefore probably wiser.

Stonehenge. Teletubbies. The Bermuda Triangle. The number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. There are many unexplained mysteries out there. The one that has me thinking today is one of the oldest in existence (cue dramatic music): the evil that resides in the hearts of men. dun-dun-dun-DUUUUUN!

No, seriously.

Last night as he settled into bed, Brady initiated one of his patented late night conversations that usually catch me when my brain is at its most fried. These chats inspire a strange mix of feelings that is equal parts love (because of how sweet they are), fierce pride (that is one sharp kid!), and exasperation (since I'm trying to get little brother Riley to sleep in the same room and he can't do so when there's stimulating conversation to be had). Here's how it went down, straight out of the blue.

Brady: Daddy, does Bin Laden make bombs?

Me, flat-footed: Uhh...well, he did, honey. He blew up some big buildings and it was very sad because a lot of people got hurt. But our army caught him, so he won't make any more. Who was telling you about Bin Laden?

B: Tanner (a big-mouthed kid from his Kindergarten class) told me. Did the buildings fall in the Gulf of Mexico?

Me: No, it was in New York City.

B: Oh. Daddy, what if Bin Laden makes more bombs?

Me: Oh, he won't, bud. He's dead now.

B (long pause to think): But what if there are more Bin Ladens to keep making bombs?

An awfully terrible insight for a five-year-old, don't you think? Because there are, and Brady is worried about them. Thanks a lot, Tanner.

I went on to tell him that we live in the greatest, strongest country in the world, that we have an awesome army and navy and super-secret spies all over the place making sure that we're safe from bad people. Because that's what he was really asking: am I safe, dad?

I assured him that he is, and that set him at ease, but can a parent really guarantee that? No, we can't. The world is a wonderful place, filled with thousands of awe-inspiring things like pyramids and dinosaur bones and Silly Putty, and those are what a kid in his second week of Kindergarten should be thinking about, not death and destruction. But the fact is, the world is also a dangerous place in some respects, and as it get smaller and its inhabitants get closer together, the hatred of the evil ones becomes more palpable to us all. Even kids. Especially kids, because they usually process information with pure emotion. Am I safe, dad? I can't guarantee anything, kiddo, but it's my life's mission to keep you that way.

I'm not interested in sheltering my kids, and I don't think that the information supplied by big-mouth Tanner is going to ruin Brady's life. It just made me think. I'm approaching the phase of parenthood in which we have to start having difficult conversations about strangers and internet safety, war and (gulp) the birds and bees. I'll soon have to tell him what really happened on September 11, 2001. It's a weird feeling, as I'm sure many of you know.

And speaking of wars, I'm thinking about taking this war of information right back to Tanner. I wonder if I can get Brady to convince Tanner that the boogey-man lives in his closet. What do you think? I think two can play at this game.