2 June 2012

The Lie: No, I don’t find that joke funny. I find it derogatory.

The Truth: I do find it derogatory, but I also find it funny. It’s tempting sometimes to tacitly approve some casual incidence of ethnically-flavored humor with a nod and a self-aware chuckle, as I can with my adult friends. However, I worry that my kids lack the sophistication necessary to avoid internalizing the uglier elements of any narrative, however pithy, that relies on stereotypical characterizations to get its point across. I’m not saying my kids are racially unsophisticated; I’m saying they’re unsophisticated in general. This is just one of the many ways in which their lack of sophistication interferes with my life.

At the end of the day, though, I think we can all agree that an Italian navy crew would probably experience all kinds of confusion if the lookout were to call out “it’s a mine, it’s a mine!” (Because, as my daughter gleefully pointed out, the likely response would be, “ok, you can a-have it.”) Unsophisticated or not, it’s nice to know that the girl inherited my weakness for shticky humor.

14 May 2012

The Lie: No, you can’t change your name. Your name is beautiful.

The Truth: Her name is not beautiful. As much as I love my daughter, I don’t think I’ll ever warm up to the name “Olivia.” I find it off-putting. It has the tendency to remind one of olives – which, while delicious, are also slimy and green and unattractive.

I’d never been a fan of the name, but I thought it best not to argue with my six-months-pregnant wife when she woke up one morning claiming that she’d dreamed the baby had arrived – a girl – and that we’d named her Olivia. Once we learned that the gender was indeed female, Michelle insisted it was “a sign,” and my much more reasonable suggestions were dead in the water.

(In retrospect, I’m tempted to wonder if she’d gone in for a secret ultrasound, thus allowing her to hand-pick whatever horrible name she wanted.)

3 April 2012

The Lie: I don’t know, we’ll just have to wait and see.

The Truth: We shouldn’t have to wait and see. We should already know. I’ve read this book to him no less than fifty times – why does he need to ask me how it ends? Is my son suffering some sort of juvenile early-onset Alzheimer’s? Or is it selective memory loss from the time I bumped his head on the car door two years ago? How can he remember the lyrics to every asinine Cartoon Network theme song but not remember how Corduroy ends? The girl buys the bear and takes him home. It’s totally predictable.

(That’s the other concern: his failure to recognize hackneyed story conventions. Even if I’d never read him the book before, his inability to see that ending coming a mile away would be equally troubling.)

27 February 2012

The Lie: We should wait to see it until it comes out on DVD, because then we can watch it more than once.

The Truth: We should wait to see it until it comes out on DVD, because then I don’t have to watch it at all. I can just hide behind my laptop under the pretext of having to answer some e-mails, reassuring the kids that “yes, I’m paying attention” as necessary, but secretly doing everything I can to shield myself from the cacophonous assault of loud noises and seizure-inducing CGI that apparently passes for a children’s movie these days. The worst ones are when the film in question is an adaptation of a picture book, in which case the standard sensory bombardment is amplified in order to distract viewers from the clunky, logic-defying plot you inevitably end up with when you try to make something long and complex out of something short and pithy. How many narrative disasters will it take for Hollywood to realize that you can’t squeeze ninety minutes of screen time out of a book that takes ten minutes to read? It’s like Danny DeVito putting on platform shoes and a stovepipe hat and declaring himself tall enough to play for the Celtics.

Speaking of DeVito and his increasingly questionable choices, if Dr. Seuss could’ve seen the trailer for this new Lorax movie back in 1971, I’m pretty sure he would’ve burned his manuscript to prevent the whole debacle. Forget speaking for the trees – why isn’t there a fuzzy little creature who speaks for the source material?

16 February 2012

The Lie: No, eating toast won’t give you cancer.

The Truth: It probably will. Everything gives you cancer these days. It used to be just cigarettes and sunburns, but now it’s bottled water, deodorant, cell phones, barbecues, microwaves, drinking coffee, not drinking coffee, processed food, genetically-modified food, and food in general. Being a parent in the 21st century means reconciling your instinct to feed and nourish your children with the knowledge that whatever you feed them is inevitably going to give them cancer.

Why is there so much more cancer nowadays than when we were growing up? Nobody in my grandparents’ generation died of cancer – they all died of comforting-sounding things like “old age.” The only way my kids are going to reach “old age” is apparently if they consume nothing but broccoli and green tea from this point forward. (And even if I were to enforce a draconian diet at home, I can’t prevent them from engaging in risky behavior when they’re with their peers. What’s to stop them from meeting other kids under the bleachers after school to eat toast and drink bottled water?)

3 January 2012

The Lie: Getting more exercise? That’s a great New Year’s resolution.

The Truth: That’s an incredibly problematic New Year’s resolution – for me, at least, because it’s one that implicitly demands my participation. I’ll doubtless be subjected to increasingly numerous trips to the playground, during which I’ll either be expected to participate in tedious athletic activities (i.e. “tag” and “race” and “hold up my daughter as she works her way across the monkey bars, even though the point is to do it yourself”), or simply be repeatedly admonished to “watch” whatever unimpressive thing she’s figured out how to do. It never fails: just when you think your kids couldn’t be more demanding, New Year’s comes around, and they resolve to become more so.

In response, however, I plan sneakily introduce my kids to the secret truth about this annual ritual, which all adults know well: that New Year’s resolutions aren’t so much things you actually do as things that you merely say you’re going to do. On New Year’s Day, I told my kids I was resolving to eat fewer carbs – but when they get home this afternoon, they’ll find me three-quarters of the way through a box of sourdough pretzels with a pot of spaghetti boiling on the stove. It’s underhanded, perhaps, but it’s preferable to a situation in which my children’s every seasonal whim demands massive lifestyle modifications on my part.

25 December 2011

The Lie: Yup, Santa came. There are lots of presents under the tree.

The Truth: There are no presents under the tree. Michelle doesn’t drop the kids off until the 27th, so I don’t need to buy their gifts until tomorrow, which means that I can take advantage of the post-Christmas sales and get their stuff on the cheap. In addition, when they called me to wish me a merry Christmas, I got a full report of not only what gifts Michelle and her family gave them but which of those gifts were hits, thus allowing me to tailor my buying to desirable and/or overlooked areas. My presents will not only be cheaper, they’ll be more enthusiastically received. Being divorced on Christmas is terrific… every dad should try it at least once.

As to whether or not Santa came, he may have – somebody drank that half bottle of Scotch I left out for him last night. (It may very well have been me. The bars were more lively than I’d expected on a Christmas Eve, and I don’t recall the details of my trip home, or its aftermath.)

21 December 2011

The Lie: You learned that Christmas carol in school today? I’d love to hear it.

The Truth: I’d love to never hear it again. It’s been playing on a virtual loop in stores and on the radio, alongside a handful of other regrettable anthems, for the last four weeks. There are literally hundreds of viable Christmas songs – why are there only fifteen or twenty that ever receive any airplay, and why are they invariably the stupidest ones? If I’m subjected to the inanity of “Jingle Bell Rock” one more time, I swear I’ll never mix and mingle with anyone ever again. In what universe are we supposed to accept that there’s actually a place called “Jingle Bell Square?” Imagine how bizarre that label would seem the other eleven months of the year. “Hey man, come to my Fourth of July barbecue. It’s in Jingle Bell Square.” I don’t think so.

Sadly, if there’s one thing that never fails to upgrade an uninspired yuletide anthem from merely annoying to fully intolerable, it’s the decision by my five-year-old son to sing it at me. He makes the vocalist of “I’m Gettin’ Nuttin’ For Christmas” sound like Placido Domingo.