Thursday, June 30, 2011

Boardwalk Lessons: Con to Casino

I remember going to Ocean City as a kid and playing the arcade and carnival games. I don’t remember doing it much - not because I’ve forgotten, but because I was so very bad that I got discouraged. The stuffed animals and toys offered as prizes were far beyond my reach and I got no pleasure from trying. But even my best friend growing up, who was a terrific natural athlete, never won. That was the point of these games, they taught valuable life lessons about disappointment and not being gullible. This toughened up most kids, made them streetwise, teaching them that sure bets are always bad bets.

It made me withdrawn and sullen (not a long journey by any means.)

Now, decades later I take my kids to the amusement parks and arcades of Ocean City and things are different. At a game at Jolly Roger Amusement Park my daughter misses all three shots and gets a small stuffed animal just for playing. My son makes one of three baskets and wins her the larger stuffed animal she really wanted. (She is obsessed with stuffed animals and could fill Noah’s Ark with her cloth menagerie, and yet she always wants more.)

At the arcade, the little Goofs play games, win tickets and cash those tickets in for prizes. They will leave with enormous amounts of swag. I cannot help but think that this is yet another manifestation of Chinese influence. As I’ve noted before, Panda Claus has made toys unbelievably cheap so that a business model of giving away toys to keep the marks playing works better then the old cons.
(This picture comes from another good Daddy Blog, A Family Runs Through It.)

The new model is no longer that of the con, but rather that of the casino. As you play, you win enough to keep playing and there is the chance of a big payoff, but – as I kept telling the kids – the house always wins. In fact, there were actually slot machines in which you pump in quarters and receive tickets to be redeemed for toys. No matter what you spin, you will win at least one ticket and possibly dozens. I forbid the kids to play this as a matter of principle.

I still wonder if the cheap toys are part of a devious Oriental plot to decimate American values and weaken us psychologically. Instead of learning about craft and guile, players learn to mindlessly pump money in – always believing that there will be a big payoff – they are awarded just for playing. This contradicts the primary tenet of parental wisdom/clich├ęs: the world doesn’t owe you a living.

When it was over the kids were still disappointed, but it was a different quality of disappointment from what I remember. They had won hundreds of tickets, but not enough for what they really wanted, so they sulked and whined. Tired and hungry, I withdrew from the discussion and let MamaGoof negotiate it (I wanted to rip up all the tickets as an object lesson.) I kept telling them this just proves, “The house always wins.”

“Stop saying that Dad! What does that even mean!” they shrieked.

I amused myself by calculating whether or not this was true. There were some electronics prizes that went for over 10,000 tickets. So I gamed it out: an excellent skeeball player would probably average about 10 tickets a game and each game costs a quarter. Ten thousand tickets would cost $250, and 1000 games of skeeball. Conceivably one could play that many games of skeeball over the summer so, for an iPod touch, that just about works out. Of curse playing 1000 games of skeeball would take (at 2 minutes a game) over 30 hours (which at minimum wage is worth another $225 – balanced by the joy of playing hours of skeeball.) Add in the hours of practice needed to obtain this level of proficiency and, well, the house always wins.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Once More Unto the Beach Goof Friends...

2010 was a lousy year at GoofManor (I'll write about it some other time - it will require numerous entries.) The truth is, the little Goofs have not really gone on vacation.

Momma & Poppa Goof have had numerous opportunities to go away sans kinder thanks to the good offices of the much maligned Bubbe Goof. But except for family trips to LA to visit los abuelos they have not really had a vacation. With all this in mind, when an inexpensive condo on Ocean City (downee oshun in Bawlamorese - let's see if I can fit in any more languages into this paragraph) we "jumped in it."

Part of the fun was not telling the kids. I wanted to just pile them into the car Sunday afternoon and start driving - and simply not responding to questions about "where we were going?" (I've done this kind of thing before.)

Momma Goof brilliantly concealed her travel preparations (amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics - Momma Goof is a pro who would be at least a brigadier in any army) under the guise of getting stuff in order for a planned trip to LA later this summer. But, by Sunday morning the secret was becoming problematic, so just a few hours before leaving we spilled the beans. The kids squealed. They deserve this.

On the drive down, GoofGirl was a marvelous stereotype, constantly asking, "When are we going to get there?" She hasn't been on many long drives, we don't have a DVD player in the car, and she isn't quite a reader yet.

Our first day, it was raining, but that was ok. The kids watched TV - Cartoon Network's MadTV is really, really funny! I remain jealous of the quality comedy TV kids these days watch. Momma Goof and I sat on the porch sipping coffee.

The weather was still gray when we went out, for lunch, mini-golf, and shopping. The mini-golf was Viking themed and attempted to educate the players about Norse mythology (it was just over the border in Delaware, a weird little state!) We learned about Heimdall, a Norse here who had nine giantess mothers. The Jungian in me finds this fascinating, but the kids felt pretty sorry for him - one mother is enough for anyone.

Then it cleared and well, we went to the beach. I went for a run on the beach. The kids splashed and built sandcastles.

When we got back from the beach, I took GoofGirl on a little walk to watch the sun set over the Chesapeake Bay. Dinner was the inevitable pizza, the kids went to bed and MamaGoof and I had margaritas.

The next day was more of the same, with an added bonus that GoofBoy made friends with the neighbors who shared their fishing rods. Their own grandkids haven't got the attention span for fishing, but GoofBoy loves it.

I want there to be more jokes or a story. The jokes about our vacation are just to the right on my Twitter feed (@father goof). But I can't impose a narrative here. We are taking this week, making no plans beyond whether to swim in the ocean or the pool, and not doing much of anything. We are on vacation, we need it bad.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Physics of Fatherhood & Ghosts of Daddy's Day Past

A good friend, and  fine mommy/Army wife-blogger recently queried how people handled their always playing two-year old (and really is there any other kind?)

I dashed off my suggestions (play-dates, play-dates, play-dates)... let a couple kids wear each other out and earn cred with another parent. Also, use the TV.  I personally think that TV is the equivalent of junk food, but occasional ice cream won't kill you and if it helps you get through the day...  Don't have any illusions that anything on TV makes a kid smarter - it doesn't, but if it buys a parent some quiet time, well - sanity is important too.

My post was followed by about a hundred of her fellow moms with various, wise suggestions.  But my friend noted that there was something funny in the fact that I was the first to respond to a post that began "Okay Mommies."

It is Father's Day and I am going to give myself some credit, I'm not bad at this.  I am not Mr. Mom and I am not a house-husband. I am an abysmally bad cook (although I can crank out a grilled cheese sandwich or omelet when need be) and MamaGoof simply does not trust me to do laundry (I'm not good with machines.)  I also can't fix stuff, while MamaGoof can.  But I know a few things about kids.

My parenting philosophy (since you asked) is simple.  It is the Conservation of Energy.  Children have enormous amounts of it - we don't. We need to design activities that wear them down, without wearing us down.  On that theme, when my son was little I would take him to the playground and referee "World Sliding Championships." I would pretend to be the announcer the my son and any other kid who was willing raced up and down the slides.  They had to do it quick.  They tied a lot, which meant they had to go again. Keeping up a patter took some energy, but not as much as climbing up and down took for them.

I don't like stuff where we build things together because until they are old enough to help they just wander around offering to help.  Think of your brain like your computer.  The more programs that are open the less computing power is available.  Same with parenting - your kid talking at you eats up bandwidth - you've got to pay attention because if you just grunt affirmatively they will eventually catch on and ask for something they know they shouldn't have and you'll agree without realizing what you are doing.  You can agree or disagree at random to reduce the likelihood of this happening, but that could really mess them up. The point here is if you are trying to concentrate on building something having a kid wandering around making random statements (a redundancy) will only tire you out.

Ghosts of Fathers Days Past
Another treat I am going to give myself is to just link to some old stuff.  This is a letter of advice I wrote to my brother when he became a dad, I honestly think it is one of the best things I've written. I'm not sure the advice is any good - but it is honest.

Here are all of my posts from past Fathers Days, I would like to think they show my growth as a person and a parent - but I doubt it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Reading Worries

As first grade comes to a close, GoofGirl is still struggling with her reading.

As I've written before I'm not worried at all. Reading is a complex skill that different minds are ready to take on at different times and this does not reflect intelligence or ability.

Naturally, she doesn't believe me.

In tears she told me, "Gertrude told me that if I don't learn to read soon, I might have to repeat 2nd grade!"

"Is Gertrude a teacher?"

"No, she is in my class. She's my friend, remember she came over?"

"So is that how things work at your school? There are the teachers who listen to the coordinators, then the grade coordinators listen to the principal, and the principal listens to Gertrude - a first-grader?"

"No, but..."

"Sweetheart, if you were having a problem your teachers would tell me and I would get you help. They think you are fine. The brain is like a muscle and it is getting stronger. I still think it is funny that while you are frustrated with reading, you are a terrific writer!"

She really is. She has been writing to-do lists (inspired by Sponge Bob Squarepants).

She also writes us notes - giving us our marching orders.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Generation Gap & Super-Heroes

“Dad,” GoofBoy asked, “Who is your favorite super-hero?”

Without hesitation I answered, “Wonder Woman.”

“Really, if you could be any super-hero, you’d be Wonder Woman?” he asked, surprised.

“I didn’t say I wanted to be her – I said she was my favorite.”

“Why? Her powers aren’t that cool – not like Green Lantern or the Flash.”

“Yes, but she is the super-hero I would most want to have rescue me!”

“Really, you’d want to be saved by a girl?”

“Buddy, I would set a building on fire to have Wonder Woman carry me out!”

He walked away shaking his head, muttering to himself, “Grown-ups!”

He didn’t grow up with Linda Carter as Wonder Woman.

In a thousand ways, GoofBoy has things better. Video games and cartoons made now are so much better then what I grew up with (plus he can still see the best of my era on Cartoon Network or online. He laughs when I tell him about the incredibly bad stuff I used to watch on TV like H.R. Pufnstuf (which always creeped me out) and the other strange emanations from the minds of Sid and Marty Kroft.

Wii and DS vs. Atari is a no-brainer, (although it is satisfying to break out the old Atari system and whip him at “Combat” and “Missile Command.”) But there are a few things my generation had – particularly an awesome Wonder Woman.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

GoofBoy, Someone's Got Your Back!

“Dad, can I speak to you privately,” GoofBoy asked when we got home from school.

“Sure buddy,” I think to myself, he’s only 10, how bad can this be?

In his room he begins telling me about his rough day, “This kid Irving wanted to be rolled up in the carpet in the classroom and he was asking Sheldon and I to do it. I knew it was a bad idea, but he started rolling himself up and Sheldon helped. I started to unroll him when the teacher saw. He took me out of the class and began talking to me. Other people in the class told him I wasn’t doing anything wrong. But he told me this was a warning and if I did anything else he would call my parents or send them an email.”

What is going on in this class that kids are making taco carpets with themselves. Don’t they have math problems they should be doing? GoofBoy is pretty upset, let’s make sure that he knows there is nothing to worry about.

“Buddy, I believe you and I am proud of you for coming to me on your own. Think about it, your teacher said he wasn’t going to call me yet – so you didn’t have to say anything.”

Whoops, probably shouldn’t have told him that.

“I mean, you haven’t had any behavior problems this year so if your teacher did call I would tell him I accept your version of the events and it was no big deal. But he isn’t going to call and even if you were in the wrong, it was one little mistake when you’ve been really good all year.”


“But buddy, one piece of advice. Stay away from Irving and Sheldon. I know you were trying to help, but unless they are really going to get hurt – if you know something dumb is going down, just walk away.”

“OK Dad,” GoofBoy smiles, “Maybe they’ll make a note of this in the archives – it will be on my permanent record.”

I love that, he respects propriety but is not in awe of authority.

“Hey, Dad, I’ll bet this conversation wasn’t really private. I bet my sister was listening at the door!”

“If she is,” as it happens she wasn’t, “you know your sister. It wasn’t because she was spying – it was because she was worried about you. Can you imagine what she would have done?”

“Yeah, if she saw the teacher yell at me unfairly, she’d scream, ‘I’m getting my lawyer!’ and she would call pop. She and pop would show up at school in black suits with big briefcases,” as he says this he struts like a confident lawyer heading to court and begins humming the theme to Law & Order.

“Dum, dum!” we sing together, laughing.

“My sister is tough,” GoofBoy continues, “You know at camp she belted a kid?”

“What! Sweetheart, get up here!” I yell. GoofGirl joins us.

“Remember when you hit that kid at camp?” GoofBoy asks.

“Sure. It was like this,” GoofGirl takes charge now, directing her brother, “First you stand here and be you, then stand over there and be the kid I slugged.”
GoofBoy as himself: My sister is pretty strong.

GoofBoy shifts over three feet to take the role of punching bag: She’s just a little kid. She can’t be strong.

GoofGirl strides up and phantom punches her brother in the stomach. GoofBoy doubles over and says: Hoookay!

End scene