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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dreams are for sleeping


I have Casino Royale playing in the background (and may I say, THANK YOU, Daniel Craig, for the awesomeness of your James Bond). One of the previews is for “The Pursuit of Happyness” with Will Smith. Now, I’ve never seen it, and probably never will. I’m enough of a grammar fascist that the misspelling of “happiness” turns me off badly enough to give the whole film a miss. Among the many heart-wrenching and yet uplifting scenes in the preview is one where Smith’s telling his faux-kid to never give up on his dreams, no matter what. “You want something, go get it. Period.”

Man, do I hate that sentiment. Goals are important. Dreams are stupid. For example, it’s my goal to one day be a published writer. It’s my dream to one day be bitten by a radioactive spider and get superpowers. I dream of winning the lottery; it’s my goal to pay off the house in fifteen years. See the subtle but crucial difference? Even the dictionary says a dream is “a conception or image created by the imagination and having no objective reality.” (Yes, one of the later definitions is the more prosaic “something you intend to do,” but the first one I’ve quoted really sums it up.)

Goals are changeable. They are malleable. You can adapt them to your changing circumstances and desires. Goals can be accomplished. You can have many of them at the same time, and failing in one doesn’t mean you have to re-evaluate your whole life. Some dreams are really just goals dressed up in more dramatic language (“It’s my dream to get into Harvard”) and that’s fine, just don’t pretend otherwise. A goal is something you can make to happen by your own efforts. A dream may happen, but the achievement of it is pretty much out of your hands.

Which leads to my REAL problem with what Smith says. “You want something, go get it. Period.” How is that advice for a kid? It belongs in the exact same category as “Never give up,” a phrase commonly thrown around on Facebook and motivational posters. How are those words to live by? “Learn to compromise” would be wiser. “Never give up” results in a world of tyrants with no capacity to be reasonable. “I want ice cream, Mom - you said to never give up. It’s my dream to have two scoops, by the way. My DREAM. You don’t want to deny me my DREAM, do you?” Or “Well, Officer, I know I stole that Macbook, but my dad always said ‘if you want something, go get it. Period.’ It’s important to never give up, don’t you think?” Imagine seven billion people all with the “never give up” attitude. Seven billion little psychos all convinced their wants are paramount, and damn the torpedoes!

Of course I realize a reasonable person hears “Never give up” and understands “Try really hard,” so why don’t we just say that, then? “Hey, make sure you try really hard.” Maybe add “But sometimes you’re going to fail no matter what, because either someone else tried harder, or is better, or the world just doesn’t like you this time, so be prepared for it.” Why are we so committed to this idea that surrendering is wrong? I hear people I would normally count as rational, thinking individuals quote this “never surrender” drivel. Surely they aren’t convinced that’s a realistic way to live, are they?

Or do we suppose kids and adults are incapable of understanding a lesson unless it’s couched in black-and-white “sound-bite” format with a catchy little expression? If so, it’s certainly our own fault for filling the world with this stupid little tidbits of pseudo-wisdom.

“If you can dream it, you can do it.” Nope, nope, nope, unless you have absolute CRAP for imagination, cause I have to tell you, I can dream a helluva lot bigger than any human can accomplish.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Wrong again. What doesn’t kill us either weakens us to the point where we WISH for death, or it leaves us mentally scarred enough to think watching Dr. Phil is a smart move.

“Live as if it’s your last day on Earth.” So don’t do to work, sleep with a hot stranger, give your house to that homeless wierdo on the corner, blow your life savings at the race-track, and eat nothing but bacon and poutine? Smart plan, genius.

I could go on forever. But what’s your favourite idiotic piece of advice?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

House-husbanding


I’m a house-husband. Having experienced this life for a number of years now, I have concluded that many of the stereotypical traits attributed to the classic 1950s wife & husband dynamic are almost entirely environmental in nature. Examples?

Let’s begin with an obsession with the house, especially its interior. This is my domain. I exist within it for hours a day, either alone or in the company of non-speaking children. Flaws in design and decor are noticed first by me. (“Why’d they put the door there? It would have been better over here.” “Another stain on the carpet. Gah!”) Given a choice about where to spend household finances, I’d put them into home improvements. Bigger kitchen. Newer appliances. Renovated bathrooms. Change out the flooring. Paint. That kind of crap. I never used to care about this stuff, just since I’ve become house-bound as a full-time job.

Next? Social starvation. When the women come home from work, I nearly jump on them in my eagerness for social contact. Adult conversation! A glimpse into the world outside! Gossip, rumours, work-stories, who’d you meet, what’d they say, how was your day, what are you doing tonight? All they want to do is have an hour in silence to detox from a long day, and all I want to do is engage them in the excruciating minutiae of their time away. You can see why those 50s dads just wanted to put their feet up and have a beer, and why those 50s wives were hanging around. It wasn’t because they were waiting to serve, it was because they were WILLING to serve in the hopes of getting some conversation going.

So why not just ask? (“Geez, Bill, talk to me, will you? I’m dying in here!”) Well, that’s where a subtle but powerful factor plays in: balance of power, both perceived and actual. I have a valuable job to do--take care of the kids and the home--but these skills don’t sell particularly well. Nor do they pay well (at all, beyond room and board). Housekeepers don’t, by and large, pull in sixty large a year, nor do nannies or baby-sitters. If I’m kicked out the door, the only thing I’m currently trained to do is take care of families. While this is a legitimate career, the problem is I don’t much like children other than my own. Selling myself as a male nanny who doesn’t like your kids could be tricky.

So I have to rebuild some kind of sellable career from the ground up. All my old corporate contacts are five (or more) years outdated, as are my job skills. I wouldn’t be destitute, but it would be a bit of a slog to get back to the lifestyle I enjoy right now. And I’m lucky, in a way, as I did have the usual kind of job until switching over; what if I’d NEVER worked outside of the home? Employers rarely see “house-husband” as a big selling point. A paycheque carries with it a certain degree of freedom. Sure, the estranged wife is entitled to half the assets, but she has to fight to get them; the guy with his name on the accounts can just take what he wants without asking.

This balance of power is also why the 50s magazines carried all sorts of articles about looking your best (for your man!), preparing great meals (for your man!), and making the house pretty (for your, you guessed it, man!). It’s easy to imagine, home alone all day, that your spouse might lose interest in you. Going outside the house to work carries with it all manner of temptations. Booze, sex, drugs, and a variety of other forms of entertainment can be much more easily accessed when you’re away from your kids for eight to ten hours a day. That doesn’t even include the business trips, over-time, conferences, and other “bonus work” many are expected to do. There’s a reason “working late” is an often-offered excuse to cover infidelity. The only real way to combat all these temptations is to present something at home that can’t be beat (sexy trophy wife/husband, top-notch food, and immaculate house).

Of course, that only applies while the kids are at home. Once they go to school, I’ll spend my carefully hoarded embezzled funds to have non-stop orgies and dance parties.

Just have to remember to make sure the house is clean by 5, and supper on the table for 6.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Neighbourhood walkabout


Many moons have waxed and waned since the last time I was in charge of a toddler. The world is a different place to the caretaker of a small, fragile, all-too-curious human being. There’s no doubt we, as a species, have our mental capacity to understand danger far outstripped by our physical ability to get INTO danger. How many two year olds do you know that look both ways before crossing the street? How many two year olds are aware drinking toilet water is a bad call?

A parent can control his/her own home. Wrap marble coffee tables in bubble wrap (hmm… might have been smarter to just put it away. Oh well, what’s done is done.). Put protective covers over all electrical outlets. Steam clean your carpet every week. Lay crash mats down over your tile floor. Put corks on the ends of all your forks. Lock your cabinets. Put up warning signs like “Keep the basement door closed if the baby is on the loose” (this one actually exists in my home - ask anyone who’s been there).

But you can’t do much about the big wide world and all the complete asshats who slouch their way through it. In a twenty minute walk this morning with my wee one (toddler, just to be clear), I came across these Crimes Against Childhood:

~An unleashed dog. Yes, he was trotting obediently beside his owner (at least, I assume the wizened old bugger was his owner), but with no ready means of control, anything could have happened. Dogs can be threatening enough when you’re an adult but when you’re eye-level with the canine, things can go really wrong, really fast. One bite, my daughter loses her face, and I end up in jail for strangling a dog and his old-man owner to death. Not a good day.

~Public sandbox hiding some cat-poop treasures, like tardy Easter eggs. Feral cats are hard to stop, but the only reason we have feral cats is because cat owners are being irresponsible. Not all of them, of course, but I’ve heard too many say things like “Oh, I don’t want to keep Tubbles inside - he likes to wander. Cats are independent, you know.” You can be sure Tubbles and his ilk were never given the Bob Barker Special, meaning they can impregnate (or be impregnated) freely. You ever notice those “independent cats” rarely crap on their owners lawns? (Proving them to be cleverer than their owners, who are willing to risk the lives and freedom of their beloved Tubbles to maintain a thousands-year old link to housecats-as-wild-predators.)

~Broken beer bottle. Nothing is as immediately fascinating to the toddler as broken glass. Yes, it’s my job to make sure they don’t go gargling with it, but glass spreads and its impossible to spot fragments in grass, meaning a chance spill (and they fall plenty, those toddlers) can result in stitches and a tetanus booster. And you wonder why public drunkenness is illegal.

~Dog droppings on the sidewalk. They weren’t steaming, so they probably didn’t belong to the aforementioned leashless wonder, which just means there’s yet another rude, selfish dog owner roaming around. If you don’t want to pick up dog shit (and who could blame you?) don’t get a dog. Or did you not realize that food they so greedily gulp turns into feces (or puke, or both - yeah, I’m in a real rush to get one of those furry mongrels)?

~And the blue ribbon winner? A melted swing seat. Someone has clearly decided applying a heat source to a child’s swing was the height of hilarity. This guy (or group) beats all the others in the Asshat Contest. Why? Because every other Crime listed here is one of laziness: don’t want to take care of my pet, don’t want to find a garbage can, etc. Not so for our Mystery Melter. He went out of his way to do this little slice of stupidity. In fact, a fair amount of effort was involved, as the average cigarette lighter would NEVER be enough to do the kind of damage I saw. A blowtorch was needed. So either this guy just happened to be whipping up some crème brùlée or he deliberately dragged a torch out to a playground, clearly the act of a nob.

At least my toddler had a good time. She is blissfully unaware of the dangers of the world as viewed by Adult Vision.