Sunday, September 27, 2015

Inclusive Little Goofs

When GoofBoy came home from his first summer at Camp Ramah several years ago, one of the very first things he told us about was meeting and getting to know the kids in the special needs program. He relished his time with them. Many had limited vocabularies, but he appreciated how funny they could be given their limited tools to communicate.

Each year GoofBoy was a "buddy" to one kid. He took walks with him on Shabbat and visited with him regularly throughout his time at the camp. One year his buddy was there for eight weeks, but GoofBoy was only there for four. He was disconsolate when he learned GoofBoy was leaving. But GoofBoy introduced him to some of his friends who would be there all eight weeks and could keep him company.

GoofGirl also spent time with the kids in the special needs program. She mentioned visiting them to play games and to dance. She said not every kid in her bunk went out of their way to spend time with the special needs kids, but no one was mean to them - all the kids treated them with respect.

But this inclusive attitude wasn't learned at camp, just encouraged. The little Goofs brought it with them and, as always, I am very proud and touched by their deep kindness. (They are also great about visiting sick, elderly relatives and friends - no easy thing for children, or adults for that matter.)

One day during carpool we saw a social services bus in front of a house. A wheelchair-bound young man who we know from synagogue was being taken to the van. GoofBoy and Carpool Buddy enthusiastically exclaimed, "We know him from shul! So that's where he lives!"

Another time we were sitting at Panera's having lunch. A man sitting near us we gesticulating (a little) and muttering. Out of the corner of my eye I diagnosed him as having Tourette syndrome. In the car on the way home I asked if they had noticed him. They hadn't. I asked if it might have bothered them.

The boys answered in chorus, "No way! Why would it? There was a guy with Tourette on American Idol. He was awesome!"

As it happens, I have a pair of developmentally disabled cousins. They are in their 60s now. One is in a group home near us and comes to our synagogue. The little Goofs are always nice to them and happy to see them. They mention them proudly. My cousins have been told they are "uncles" and are very pleased with this.

This is all very different from when I was a kid. I don't remember us being particularly interested in special needs kids, and almost certainly not particularly nice or respectful.

This is different and different can be wonderful.

People with special needs face enormous challenges to living full lives. But the distances they have come have been enormous and the changing attitudes of today's kids hold promise for an even more inclusive future.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Under the Bus: Lessons on Horrible Humor

Once after buying something at CVS I made a donation with my purchase.

GoofBoy, observing this, said, "Dad, that was really great that you gave that money to kids with diabetes."

"Buddy, I gave it to help kids with diabetes. I wouldn't give it to the kids with diabetes, they'd just use it to buy candy."

GoofBoy laughed hard and then said, "Dad that's really horrible."

"But funny. Lots of things that are really funny are also really horrible. That's how humor works."


Driving we like to put the GPS in other languages. For a while we had it set on German, which is fun because even if you don't understand a word, it is very insistent.

As I drove GoofBoy and his friends around to their practices, I translated the GPS.
Make a right in two minutes.Make a right now!You haf failed to follow instructions. U-turn immediately!U-turn! Schnell! You vill be late.Clearly you vill not follow ze instructions.Alternate route plotted.You vill take ze train. This train vill haf no stops!
GoofBoy laughed, and then said, wisely, "Dad, that's horrible."


I came home from a meeting at the synagogue and observed, "Could we have one synagogue meeting in which someone didn't invoke the Holocaust?"

Note: if we ever really wanted to debunk Zionist conspiracy theories, we should just invite anti-Semites to a synagogue meeting. They will pretty quickly be convinced that Jews can't run anything or keep a secret.

"What was it this time?" MamaGoof asked.

In a bellowing old man voice I yelled, "No gefilte fish after Shabbos services? It's like the Holocaust!"

Everyone laughed, but GoofBoy, again the voice of reason, noted, "Dad, this is horrible."

"But funny," I said, "And you know why? Because there's no business like the Shoah business."

This quickly became a punchline around the house. "We're out of the good maple syrup? It's like the Holocaust!"

"Ten minutes waiting for the ATM? It's like the Holocaust!"

Another aside: So far I've made fun of diabetics, Germans, Jews, and the Holocaust. I hope any outraged comments (assuming I have any readers) are similarly balanced. Also, in fairness, I regularly threaten to sell my kids on the dark web and make fun of their friends mercilessly. I also do truly terrible things to the Spanish language.

It resonated. GoofGirl came home from school the other day and said, "A lot of kids in my class were complaining when the school ran out of their favorite juice box. And I was like, 'We're out of raspberry-lemonade? It's like the Holocaust!'"

Here I sat up, "Did you say this?"

"No," GoofGirl answered, "But I was thinking it."

"OK. Good. Because a lot of people will, as your brother says, think this is horrible. You will get into big trouble. And I will have to go to lots of boring meetings at school. No one wants this. So if you slip up and say something inappropriate - I'm throwing you under the bus."

"What does that mean?" the Little Goofs asked in unison.

"It means that I'll tell them you are out of control and should be sent to juvey."

Just so we're clear.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

First Day Jitters

Lots of first day jitters around Goof Manor earlier this week. The little Goofs returned to school. They weren't worried about bullying since they go to a Jewish day school where the quality of bullying is definitely sub-par. Although there is occasional litigation.

The little Goofs primary worry was other kids in their classes who, by misbehavior, might distract them from focusing on their school work. Really, they were stressed about this.

I was pretty nervous though since I'm starting something new. FatherGoof has been accepted for a prestigious fellowship for brilliant scientists (despite the fact that yours truly is neither brilliant nor a scientist - apparently they have a quota to accept a certain number of middle-aged acerbic goofs to balance the brilliant young biochemists). Having made my own hours (i.e. worked from home while wearing sweatpants) for over a decade, having to go somewhere every day, I mean every single day, while wearing pants and a nice shirt, seems impossible. 

When will I work out, when will I blog? What's that tiny violin sound I hear?

I will be driving less carpool, which is - in a word - wonderful. The children of the Carpool Clan are pretty happy too. Carpool Mom, less so.

But I was pretty nervous. The fellowship includes an extensive orientation. Scientists can be pretty mean. I was afraid the big scientists would take my reactor core, leaving me with nothing but a middle school microscope for looking at slides of snot (remember those, they were pretty cool at the time - I thought I was seeing snot molecules.)

MamaGoof knowing how jittery I was kept tabs by text and email. GoofGirl was doing ok, in her Advisory Group (which used to be called Homeroom) she is in with an old friend. They used to design guillotines together, but now they are working on a laser cannon. (Does the school not know it is a terrible idea to put them together?)

GoofBoy had normal jitters, but things calmed down when they spent math discussing swords. I guess this is part of geometry?

But I was in trouble. When I got there it was just like I thought. No one would let me sit by their table.

I knew what I had to do, I saw it in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. Here are the texts MamaGoof recieved.

So everyone had a good first day.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Dronies - A Dad Goes to BronyCon

As we were driving to Baltimore THE Harry Chapin song came on. The one that brings a tear and wave of regret to every parent: 
And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon
Little boy blue and the man in the moon
When you comin' home, Dad, I don't know when
But we'll get together then
You know we'll have a good time then
Except for one thing, I was driving my daughter to BronyCon. I have NOTHING to apologize for. If my children don’t get the level of attention they want from me it is because they are insatiable timesucks - not because I ignore them.

BronyCon is probably pretty interesting. My daughter loves the edgy reboot of a once insipid animated series. For an animated kids show about magic ponies, My Little Pony is really good. There is a vast, fleshed out multi-verse, smart references to culture, and interesting characters. It is so good that “Cons” are held where people can dress up in costumes, make music inspired by the series, and talk endlessly about it. It is SO good that young men have taken to it and are fans (hence the appellation “brony” - bros who like My Little Pony.)

One’s first thought would have to be that these guys are maybe just a little off - but that is unfair. They may be weird - but hell so was I at their age (and probably still am). But there is an important distinction between weird and creepy. A distinction I’ve been trying to teach GoofGirl, with limited success.

I’ve enjoyed watching a lot of gender barriers shrink and fall. GoofGirl plays with Legos - I don’t remember any girls playing with Legos ever when I was kid (in fairness, I don’t remember a lot of girls.) I remember at some point in my 20s a friend of mine asking me, “When did it become ok to talk about Star Trek around women?” But it had and it was great!

I guess I’m a little worried that girls finally have this really cool thing, so naturally guys will jump all over it and make it their own. But I probably don’t need to worry too much. These girls (and women) aren’t exactly pushovers!

That being said BronyCon itself didn’t do much for yours truly. GoofGirl spent a day with some other girls, chaperoned by a friend (THANKS!). I joined on Sunday. I went to science fiction conventions as a kid, I know the drill. Panels, autographs, people in costumes, and an exhibit hall with a vast range of stuff to buy.

GoofGirl likes to shop, so we spent a LOT of time in the vendors hall as she agonized over what to buy. I put the kibosh on the $75 Princess Luna. Canny GoofGirl had shown me a $300 one and firmly declared she wasn’t interested before taking me to the one she wanted. Good try.

Sorry, but there are limits. I acquisced to a $12 Fluttershy needed to keep GoofGirl’s current Princess Luna company - although I think Fluttershy, who is very shy, is not such great company. (Wow - I’ve retained something from her hours of plot summaries - which are often longer than the actual show.)

My preferences are Pinkie Pie because she is easily identifiable and her name is alliterative. But I’ve come around to Apple Jack who runs an apple farm and brews cider. They pony world (Equestria) is not without merit.

We attended a panel about how to make your own pony plushies. GoofGirl was fascinated - I learned that the ears are harder than you'd think.

I was not alone, there was a fair spattering of middle-aged guys who were not bronies, gamely following their little girls around the conventions. We weren't really bronies - we were dronies.

That's where the hip flask could come in handy. Or better, the next BronyCon could accommodate our needs and maybe set up a bar for us. If they played My Little Pony Episodes while we drank we could really get into it. Maybe, when the full sentiment and decency hit us, as we were deep in our cups of Applejack's handiwork. I have a vision of us drones huddling together, sobbing on behalf of Rarity or Rainbow Dash.

I can see our daughters finding us and nodding sadly and telling us, "Daddy, just because it is ok for boys to cry now doesn't mean they have to."

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

THUNDERSHIRT!!! or why MamaGoof dreads summer storms

Regular readers of this blog (assuming there are any) know that I fall in love with words and ascribe unique meanings to them that are not in accord with the general understanding of the word.
Recently, I have taken to the word "Thundershirt" which is a product intended to calm dogs, who tend to find thunder nerve-wracking. Here is a very good natured dog I know who finds thunder scary, but who is now finally able to chill during a summer storm.

While the reasoning part of my brain appreciates this, the dominant part of my brain envisioned a thunder shirt as something a mild-mannered copy editor at a trade magazine for insurance adjusters (that's a pretty specific back-story because I've been thinking about this a lot) might put on to become ThunderBoy!
ThunderBoy flies around, creating storms, saving people (possibly in trouble from the storm he caused, and of course fighting super-super-villians.
I saw a little boy running around his house yelling, "Thundershirt! BOOM! Thundershirt! BOOM!"

Gentle reader, you undoubtedly know what happened next... I became that little boy running around my house yelling, "Thundershirt! BOOM!"

Since I work alone at home a lot, I would also text this to MamaGoof - who was seriously considering getting an actual thunder shirt for people to perhaps calm me down.

Instead, she sent me some helpful videos and this graphic about thunder shirts so that I would be properly informed and hopefully lose interest.

This graphic on how to use a thunder shirt does not come with written instructions. So I've rectified the situation below.

1. Place THUNDERSHIRT!!! on dog. To make full use of THUNDERSHIRT!!! dog must be airborne.

2. To lift off, flap THUNDERSHIRT!!! wings vigorously.

3. To land, fold wings in.

4. To stop dog from flying around, place food directly in dog's mouth.

WARNING: For use with dogs only. DO NOT USE with other household pets. Especially cats. SERIOUSLY, do not use this product with cats. For other pets and children of all ages, see our Cloudburst line of products.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Fishy Tale Part III: The Stunning Conclusion

The Little Goofs asked me to write them funny letters at camp. So I wrote them a story, part I is here and part II is here. The exciting conclusion follows!


We froze in horror. The first eater on the other team was a giant dinosaur. It looked like a T-Rex, until I realized. It was Godzilla! How was I going to defeat Godzilla in a sushi-eating contest. Then it got even scarier. Behind Godzilla, I don’t know how to say this...

Hello Kitty is real and terrifying. It is an enormous, ferocious-looking cat - the size of a row house! How could we ever eat more fish than a giant cat! And behind them, grinning evilly was North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

A referee in samurai garb came out and explained the rules in Japanese. Old Man Mannesushi translated for us. We did not have to eat what was in front of us, they would bring us any kind of sushi we wanted. But it absolutely must not be cooked. Any sort of food preparation would result in the eater’s expulsion. If an eater were expelled whatever he ate would be disqualified, but the team could substitute other eaters. Ultimately the two man team that ate the most sushi by a complex formula of weight and volume would win. One person had to be eating at all time. The other could rest. But if no one on the team was eating, the team was finished.

An ancient gong sounded and the contest was on.

Godzilla began tearing into the table of food, eating pounds at a time. The only thing slowing him down was his tiny T-Rex arms. Pop offered to go first, but I waved him off. Mr. Mannesushi reminded us, speed did not matter then he said, “I believe you Americans have a saying? Think outside the box?” He pointed to Godzilla and said, “You must now eat outside the box.”

I remembered watching Godzilla movies and cartoons and had an idea.

“Hey lizard brain, eat up! Get fat, we’re gonna make a lot of shoes out of you!”

Godzilla kept eating, but his eyes flickered over to me. I flipped him the bird.

“You think you’re gonna win - you can’t even beat mothra!”

He stopped eating for a second and looked directly at me.

“Sharktopus could KICK YOUR ASS!” I shouted and jumped under the table.

I felt a scorching heat all around me and a terrible sound like a giant piece of chalk on a blackboard the size of a mountain filled the room.

A huge gong sounded. Pop looked under the table and told me to come.

Godzilla had lost his temper and fired his eye-lasers at me. I had gone under the table but it had cooked some of the sushi.

Godzilla was disqualified!

But Hello Kitty moved into his place. Her meow was like thunder and drooled horrible slime down her enormous fangs. In one swipe of her paw he ate a ten pound tub of eel. I felt a hand on my shoulder, Pop was tapping me out and going in.


“What are you going to do, I asked?”

Pop just smiled, pulled out his phone and walked up to Hello Kitty. The enormous feline monster looked at Pop’s phone. She bent closer, her eyes were suddenly less fierce, rather confused. She looked for a moment more, then her fangs retracted. The horrible, hungry expression on her face changed and she became the Hello Kitty we all know and love. And then, she just walked away. Pop turned his phone around and I saw it was a picture of GoofGirl cuddled up with her Hello Kitty toy (the one Bubbe bought).

Kim Jong-un grinned, “You have tricks and I have tricks. But now let the contest truly begin.” 

A pair of enormous sumo wrestlers stepped forward. One sat down at the table opposite Pop and began to eat. Pop calmly signaled and an octopus was placed on his head, like a vice president (did you really think I would write this whole thing without mentioning vice presidents?) The entire crowd, which had been silent till now, gasped. Pop began to work the octopus into his mouth.

They both ate slowly and methodically. The first sumo wrestler tapped out, but Pop kept eating. He finished the octopus and I tapped in. I took a deep breath, remembered what the snow monkey told me and I WAS the ocean. The fish returned to me. Tuna, salmon, mackerel, yellow-tail, red snapper, and my beloved Patagonian tooth fish all swam within me. I can’t tell you how long I ate. I dimly noticed the second sumo wrestler tapped out and the first one came back in. I kept eating. I noticed two men carry off a fifty gallon drum of soy sauce and bring a fresh one.

And then I was full. I could eat no more. I was sweating salmon oil. I looked over to Pop. He tapped my shoulder. He looked up to the sky and let out a mighty EE-EE-EE-EE like a dolphin. Then he leapt, like a playful porpoise, flying through the air and into the table full of fish. It was as though he was swimming through the fish, devouring them.

The sumo wrestler eating turned a little green, the other one tapped in. He started eating, but after a few minutes doubled over clutching his stomach. Pop kept swimming through the sushi.

The great gong sounded. The match was over. We had won. Kim Jong-Un scowled, "You have won today, but tomorrow will be mine."

Then, he switched on his heli-pack and flew away.

I asked Pop about the dolphin noises. He turned to me and said, “The snow monkey told me to do it. But it was easy to become a dolphin when you are a Mannes-tee!"

Then all of the Mannesushis (hundreds) in the arena stood and sang the Manatee Song.