Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Baby Borrowers: Bad TV or Free Baby-Sitting?

Tonight The Baby Borrowers is premiering on NBC tonight - soon. Five teenage couples each take care of a baby, then a toddler, then a pre-teen, then a teenager, and then someone who is elderly. Relationships are tested, words are exchanged, and diapers are not...

Suffice to say, I won't be watching. Father Goof is no fan of reality TV to begin with, and this sounds truly dreadful (although a bit of schadenfraude watching other people suffer through parenthood does seem in order).

But what got me is Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales wrote, "...we don't get to know enough about the kinds of couples who would lend their infants to a piece of exploitainment like this..."

Quite frankly, that's a no brainer: Parents who want free baby-sitting!

The producers do not want the infants to die on them and will intervene on that front if necessary. If (as the posted video teaser suggests) the teenagers can't get the kids to sleep - so what? That's their problem (and in the meantime, I would have slept fine without a baby crying every few hours). The baby will sleep on his/her return.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Catch of the Day

It is a beautiful day and somehow I did not get outside. My work did not go well. So when I got home I asked my son if he would please play some ball with me. He didn't really want to. But I begged him.

It was buggy and he complained about all the mosquito bites, but I pitched and he humored me by pretending to be flummoxed by my change-up (the drop in speed from 12 mph to 8 mph really throws him).

While we were at it, he told me about camp (it's his second day - much better than the first, which was also good.) I thanked him for making my day.

The things he has to do to for his parents!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Handy Man Can & The Field of Nightmares

I am not a bad husband, overall. I have my strengths and my weaknesses, but when asked, my wife's big complaint about me is how completely and utterly "unhandy" I am with tools. I do not build, fix, or repair anything. My father-in-law was a regular McGyver and his yard is a treasure trove of decaying tools, inventions, and jury-rigged devices of uncertain origin - or, as my children call them, "toys."

My father can also fix things, but I did not inherit this, despite his efforts to teach me. I believe that I was a poor student because as a southpaw, I am at disadvantage in attempting to repair right-handed devices - just another way rightey keeps us down!

So I am sending her (through the very private medium of this blog) this recent Washington Post article about Jim Scardina who's -
entire front yard is a baseball field. With dugouts, bleachers, even a concession stand.

Piece by piece during the past 10 years, Scardina has built the field from scratch, to the astonishment of his neighbors, the disapproval of his wife and the delight of his son....

But it didn't stop with grass on the outfield. Scardina started working on accessories: A bathroom so players wouldn't have to hike all the way to the house. Bleachers and a concession stand for the kids.

Then one day, Michelle Scardina noticed a big shed being erected beside the house. At the time, they were using a tractor to mow the grass on their 10-acre lot. "A storage shed for the tractor, that's how he explained it," she said.

But within months, the tractor shed had somehow transformed into a $100,000 winter baseball training facility with a bathroom, shower, kitchen and office. Two batting cages were installed with 90-mph pitching machines. An area to the side served as a mini-infield for the boys to run drills.
This will be a quick lesson that she should be careful what she wishes for. I have lots of big ideas. Recently I've been considering a catapult system to send the kids to school so I don't have to drive carpool, but I can't find a good contractor.

But since my primary medium is words, the biggest danger my wife faces is that I'll start another blog. The pen may be mightier then the sword, or hammer, or even the lathe. Perhaps my words will change the world. But they won't clutter up the yard (although my office is a wreck.)

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Father's Day Finances: Mamawala

One last Father's Day gift - my wife, after talking to her mom handed me some cash. I looked at her quizzically - not that I mind being handed cash.

"It's from my mama," she explained. Although of course I am grateful that my mother-in-law likes me, this is, however, a worrisome sign that her usual good sense is failing.

But here is the thing, it was my wife's money - and we basically pool our money so what was I given exactly?

My wife shook her head, "Just take it - my mama said to do this so we have to do it."

Suddenly I understood the hawala system, one of the informal financial network used by diaspora communities to transfer money. The system works entirely on trust, one broker will release money strictly on the say-so of a broker on the other side of the world.

Mamacita is running her own network, and I'd best go along with the mamawala.

So what will I do with my good fortune? I'll take my inspiration from former major league pitcher Tug McGraw, who, when he was asked how he would spend his $75,000 salary (this was 1975) said, "Ninety percent I'll spend on good times, women and Irish whiskey. The other 10 percent I'll probably waste."

I'll do like good old Tug McGraw, an old, sluggish, married Tug McGraw who needs to be up early the next morning.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Father's Day Card Update

Below (no link, just scroll down) my I wrote about my daughter's disturbing Father's Day card. Bouncing her on my knee this morning, I asked her about it again.

"Sweetheart, why did you make the person on the Father's Day card all bloody?"

"Daddy, I did it to make you freak out."

Well, it kind of worked.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day Cards: Portrait by an Artist as a Red Man

So my kids made me Father's Day cards - pretty standard stuff (and as such, painfully sweet.) My son's card had a picture of my pitching to him, his drawing of my face had black magic marker blotches because I hadn't shaved. Great!

My daughter (she's four) made a card featured below.*

After my son explained his card, I asked my daughter about her work. She explained, "That's a bloody man."


"The sun, the clouds, all bloody," she continued.

"Daddy, maybe it is from that time you had a lot of nosebleeds and got blood on everything," my son suggested helpfully.

I learned my lesson - never ask an artist to explain his or her own work, just appreciate the spirit that went into it.

One source may have been some of our recent reading. Their Trotskyite grandfather gave them Big Bird's RED BOOK, with its focus on the need for discipline and monster/child unity in order to prevail in the class struggle (Mr. Hooper is obviously a symbol of bourgeois control over the means of production - particularly of milkshakes). Still, politics aside, Big Bird puts it best when he says, "Red is a very beautiful color. I think you're going to like it."

*Astute readers may have noticed my daughter's card was signed with an "E" that she made herself. It is the first letter of her name. Recently, when I was catching up on some work, she expressed the opinion that my boss was making me work too hard. She announced that she was "Going to write him a letter!"

She made a neat card, with lots of drawings and when I opened it up, inside was a big letter "E."

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Past Father's Day Entries

I've built up a bit of an archive of Father's Day pieces.

My favorite is my first - Fatherhood and Today's Dad about how previous generations of fathers had it easier, with a reference to the late great King of Tonga Taufa’ahau Tupou IV (I expect they will have another - who can refuse a fifth?)

You can read the full Father's Day Archive here.

Gaming Lessons Part II: Seizing the (Father's) Day

Risk is much more to my son’s liking. Counting and remembering may not appeal to many little boys, but world domination is right up my son’s alley. He likes it so much, that this morning I woke up to hear him trying to teach his little sister how to play. She is only four, and while she was eager Risk was a bit over her head both in mechanics and in purpose. She is less interested in domination. When we play chess the Queens meet in the middle of the board, have tea and invite the bishops, knights and castles to join them. For some reason the king is always busy checking his email.

My son became frustrated and starting yelling at his sister for not paying attention, so (after a few moments of enjoying this delicious irony) I accepted that, Father's Day or not, I could sleep no longer and went down to play her part – naturally she had chosen pink.

The die was cast, and it kept coming up in his favor. While I sought chokepoints (Iceland is good, so is North Africa) and to develop adequate force ratios, my son favored a more direct stratagem: “Attack!” His tiny expeditionary forces trounced my citadel in Quebec, my firewall in Ukraine, and my strongholds in Peru and Kamchatka. Soon he needed more pieces then the game provided, so he started using red pieces to augment his forces. A canny move, since my aged eyes had some trouble distinguishing between his red and my pink pieces.

Not that he needed much help. As four straight rolls went against me in the battle for Egypt I envisioned a newspaper headline spinning out, reading: Nile Defenses Shattered as Demoralized Pink Armies Collapse. But then, my small Mongolian contingents put up a surprisingly fierce resistance. I began composing lines for a future history textbook:
Unfamiliar with the terrain and overconfident from their stunning successes, Blue Armies found themselves bogged down by a tough insurgency in the depths of Mongolia’s deserts.
Finally, at my last bastion – inevitably Madagascar – the garrison fought well. I imagined its commander exhorting his men in their doomed defense like Hector at Troy and delivering bombastic speeches like Henry V calling on history: “To always remember the courage of the armies of Pink!”

But a few more rolls and it was over.

As a graduate student of international affairs, who has studied Sun-Tzu and Thucydides, it is humbling to be bested. It was also a lesson in the role of fortune in human affairs (and perhaps a warning that my coursework in conflict management is not serving me well.) The laws of probability decree that we all have a certain number of favorable rolls of the die in our lives. But perhaps these favorable rolls are bunched up at the beginning, for, as Machiavelli instructs, “…fortune always favors young men because they are not so much inclined to caution as to aggressiveness and daring…”

So my duty as dad is to teach him the things he’ll need when fortune’s favor shifts – as it inevitably will - diligence, virtue, and perhaps just a bit of cunning. That is my Father's Day Lesson, to teach my son guile, but as to girls he’ll be on his own.

(And to some extent so am I - I can't teach my daughter anything about guile, or much of anything else. She is four and knows everything.)

Gaming Lessons Part I: Naval Intelligence

My son, at seven, is finally at the age where he can play board games, and it is chance for me to impart some fatherly wisdom.

We started with Battleship, the classic game of naval combat. But this requires sitting still, remembering things and counting – not the traditional strengths of little boys. We play a more active version, which probably better exemplifies war at sea.

When he has a friend over, they team up to take me on. They add a dimension of intelligence and counter-intelligence. One will distract me, while the other tries to learn the location of my ships by sneaking around the dining room table where we play. Crawling under the table is permitted if they still have a submarine, but aircraft carriers or not, aerial surveillance by climbing over the table is forbidden by international treaty, and by mom. When the spy reports back the wee Admirals gesticulate madly at the board and discuss their findings in a chatter that brings to mind monkeys trying to write Shakespeare. Their intelligence analysis needs some work. Unless I actually give them the coordinates, they only locate my ships by chance.

Sometimes, after a disputed call, we wrestle it out. How can there be a disputed call in so straightforward a game as “Battleship?” When one party can’t count or keep track of moves the game acquires a more subjective component. This is historically accurate. Classic naval engagements were frequently settled by boarding actions.

To compensate for their poor naval intelligence, I’ll give both my son and his friend a strike in one turn. My son’s comrade will announce “E9.” “Miss,” I sigh. Then after a several minutes of shrieks and grunts, my son will announce their second strike, “E9!”

“Guys, it was a miss two minutes ago, how can it be a hit now?”

More monkey chatter. “Guys. I’ve told you before, don’t move your ships.”

It is now my turn, the chimpanzee chatter increases as the commodores discuss maneuvers to counter my strike (my 15 second old admonition not to move their ships already forgotten). If I paid attention to their increasingly manic gestures, I could locate their fleet readily, but I will let the little Nelsons have their Trafalgar. Instead, I warn them with a phrase so familiar, but almost never used in context:

“Loose lips, sink ships.”

Friday, June 13, 2008

Our New Pet Gets Sick...

We have a new pet. It is a goldfish, but it is not gold (it's black.) It has big bulging eyes, so it has been named "Big Eye." This is the first fish in several decades of fish owning in my family that is not named "Fishy."

Unfortunately, within a few days of buying him, Big Eye began to move sluggishly. My wife noticed that he was covered in white spots. We told my son that Big Eye might not be with us for long. He began to wail. His little sister consoled him, "Don't worry! I'll fly to the pet store and steal another fish for you."

My wife Googled "goldfish diseases" and identified the fish as having something called Ich.

Fish get Ich when they are stressed. On telling this story, more than a few friends have laughed at the concept of a stressed fish. But, in fairness, being taken from home, transported great distances, and dropped into a completely different environment - where there are no other fish - is probably pretty stressful. The human equivalent would probably be an alien abduction.

Thankfully, there is a cure and I volunteered to make an emergency run to the pet store (there was an element of selfless heroism - but also I am listening to a terrific book on CD.)

The medicine cost $5, about $2 more than the fish - still saving a life is like saving a world.

The Ich medicine has some interesting warnings. First of course is not to eat it. I cannot imagine under what context I would be tempted to eat fish medicine (maybe if I were abducted by aliens who kept forgetting to feed me), but I guess from the Ich medicine manufacturer's perspective it is better to be safe than sorry.

But the bottle also advised that this medicine was not for use on baby whales (full grown whales presumably are ok.) When would this come up? Hopefully professionals at aquariums would have the necessary background to make this judgment without relying too heavily on the instructions on the $5 bottle of medicine.

How would non-aquarium workers even encounter a baby whale? Who keeps whales as pets - James Bond villains possibly? Does Dr. No send his minions to PetCo when his precious Orcas just don't show any appetite for the most recent capture?

The most likely scenario would be encountering a beached whale. But who takes fish medicine with them to the beach?

Regardless, Big Eye is not a baby whale (what a wacky underwater sitcom that would be) because the medicine has worked its wonders and he is no longer Ichy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Speaking Truth to Daughter

"Daddy, why was that man yelling at you?" my daughter asked.

"I parked in the wrong place."

"Daddy, lots of people yell at you."

"Well, your daddy is kind of a dork."

"No Daddy, you're not a dork. You are a man."

My wife chuckled, "Sweetheart, the two are not mutually exclusive - in fact they tend to coincide."

Better she should learn this fundamental truth at four.

Primary School Primaries

Our long national nightmare is nearly over – the Primaries are over and we can enjoy the Olympics this summer. My nightmare ended earlier, when Mike Huckabee dropped out.

With football season over, my son has been following the primaries closely. Every morning his first question on waking up is “Who won?” The explanations are taxing. If CNN “political strategists” can’t explain super-delegates, what chance do I have with a six year old? (Although, in fairness, he understands the NHL playoff system – so maybe I’m the problem.)

Somehow my son decided he was rooting for Mike Huckabee. Maybe it was the funny name, maybe it was his down home charm, or maybe it was because I told my son he used to be fat (my son loves stories about William Howard Taft). Possibly it was because he thought Huckabee’s wife Janet was “Inter-Planet Janet” (from "Schoolhouse Rock - I've got the whole video below.) I don't think my son's support was due to Huckabee’s policies (about which my son was blissfully unaware).

The reasons don’t matter. While I try not to infuse him with my politics (I’ve learned from the mistakes of my Trotskyite father), in our social milieu of liberal Jews (possibly an oxymoron) open support of Mike Huckabee is verboten. If my son actually said something about it at school it would spread like wildfire and we would never be able to schedule another playdate again. We would probably have to move.

Now with Huckabee out, my son has shifted his support to the much more palatable Barak Obama

Personally, I had a soft spot in my heart for Huckabee. I’m not a creationist, but the kinds of people who get worked up over creationism are the kinds of people who are really fun to annoy (like middle school teachers.) I’m not so old that I have lost the joy of provoking apoplexy in a tightly wound pedagogue. This may have been Hillary Clinton’s problem – she reminds people a bit too much of the middle school teacher who insisted you would use algebra when you grew up or who tolerated no dissent on the proper diagramming of sentences.

Another nice thing about the primary season being over is no more mad maps on the cable networks. At one point, CNN's John King used his interactive map to focus in on a home in northern Indiana, which in turn was watching CNN - where John King was focusing in on their home. It was pretty trippy, but I believe he was playing fast and loose with the time-space continuum. Speaking of which, here is "Inter-Planet Janet." I loved her, in my heart and now it is too late...