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Archive for May, 2008

“Can I have it please Daddy-Dog*? I wanna hug it!”

“No, no you cannot hug a toilet seat right now, Mater-Dog, one because I am driving and two because you’ll probably be doing plenty of that in your later teens!”

My wife gave me a sharp elbow in the side, which fell on deaf blubber but did have the effect of getting me to recognize that this might not be the greatest thing to say to a nearly three year old.

This is the sort of thing which happens when your little one is learning how to control their evacuations. Instead of diapers, you pack a potty and a toilet-seat adaptor. And said-toilet-seat adaptor becomes a coveted item of support and love. Not surprising really, as it does save them from falling down the big hole and going to sleep with the brown fishes. But it’s still not allowed for your toddler to hug the bloody thing.

Having managed to navigate such tricky waters of reason with virtually no fall-out, we completed our journey home. The toddler and I decided to go to our local library. We rummaged around a few books before I spotted one which seemed to hit all her favorite parameters; “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell showed two adult penguins and a baby penguin. The toddler loves penguins and babies. A winner. 

“Shall we read this one?” I’d ventured.

“Yeah!” she’d said enthusiastically.

And so I’d started to read. It rumbled along, a nice tale about chinstrap penguins gathering in pairs in New York’s Central Park Zoo with their offspring waiting to burst out from their eggs. By page 7 I realized that our two main penguins did not have an egg whilst every other couple appeared to. ‘Roy and Silo did everything together…’ started the next sentence, intriguingly.  And by the time page 10 rolled around, the zookeeper who’d been observing Roy and Silo had given them an egg to nurture so as they could ‘be like all the other happy penguin families.’ Which is when it dawned on me that I was in the middle of a tale not  about simple fish-eating flipper-ladden birds and their babies, but about how gay families are just as cool as straight families realized via the bizarre metaphor of New York City zoo penguins. It was, I confess, a shock.

 I immediately laughed. Furthermore, I defy anyone who has wandered into a library to read a book with their toddler only to find themselves pages-deep in a tale of the modern gay family unit as seen via  penguins not to start laughing. Trust me, as liberal, wonderful, green and PC as you doubtless are, this is one moment you’re not prepared for. I soon found myself skipping certain paragraphs in the book, not because I am in any way homophobic but just because forgive me, I really could not be bothered  to discuss why a gay male penguin couple could not produce their own egg to my not-quite 3 year old toddler at that juncture of the day.** 

 As I deftly skipped around a sentence here and a paragraph there,  I imagined hoardes of angry gay parents stampeding towards me in self-righteous indignation whilst my daughter yelled ‘they’re not just penguins Dada!’ as I was trampled and held aloft like Frankenstein’s corpse post-witch-hunt. 

“I love you all,” I cried as they tore my limbs sinew by sinew, “I just didn’t want to get into it all with Mater-Dog at the library…”

“I need to go pee pee!”

I was quickly jolted back to life by these words, and as I pushed the PC mob aside with out-stretched palms and grunting thrusts, I realized I had left her toilet seat adaptor at home. 

“OK, let’s go,” I said, ignoring this potential disaster as long as I could.

“I need my toilet seat!” she whimpered as I pulled her pants down.

“Don’t worry, I’ll hold you on the seat just in case.”

“But I need privacy!”

“How about I hold you on the seat, close my eyes and look the other way?”

“OK.”

And in less than a minute, she had peed successfully. No toilet seat adaptor. Privacy maintained thanks to my clenched-shut eyes and 90 degree angle twisted neck. 

As we left the bathroom and the library, I quickly shuffled the gay penguins to one side and instead grabbed a Dr.Suess book titled “I Can Lick 30 Tigers,” a surefire winner which checked further parameters including having multiple tigers. Anyway, licking a tiger sounded kinda funny…it was only when we got home, we started reading it and I saw that the main character had gloves on and was talking about fighting that I realized ‘lick’ in this context was not what my simple, naive and innocent tiny mind had perceived it to be. It was about a horrific 50’s bully who wanted to punch big cats. Yes, I started editing that one too…

…Winnie-The-Pooh anyone?

 

 

* I have become Daddy-Dog, her Mum is Mama-Dog, her brother is Zsa-Zsa-Dog and she is Mater-Dog. Thus we sound like extended family of that bounty-hunting idiot on the television. Fan-tastic!

**Actually, I couldn’t be bothered to do it for another few years, not until she starts to notice such matters. Because let’s face it, unless directly involved in the issue (or being raised by a family of bigots), no toddler will notice who’s gay, lesbian, black, white or anyone else unless we instruct them to notice. It’s one of the redeeming qualities of any toddler, that all adults are, err, just adults, no frills, differences or value system attached.

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The teenager turned to spit a large flobb of phlegm into the flower beds behind him.

“DON’T!” I roared. “GO TO THE BATHROOM AND SPIT IT INTO THE TOILET…”

“Uggghhh!”

“…OR DOWN A DRAIN…”

“Ugggghhhh….”

“…or bloody well swallow it!”

“BUT IT’S BIODEGRADABLE!”

“BUT IT’S BLOODYDEGRADING!”

My friend, who happened to be sitting outside with us and thus witnessed the whole scenario, sighed and grunted his agreement with my sentiment. I nodded mine in return before speaking in a measured and ‘appalled’ fashion.

“It is really disgusting to spit. I won’t have it mate, uh-uh, especially with all the bloody pomp that seems to go into it as you prepare to launch the dirty little bastard.”

The teenager sat and groaned. I relaxed and let my guard down. We all chitter-chattered about this and that before the teenager finished a banana he’d been eating. He motioned to throw it into the flower bed.

“DON’T…”

“I was winding you up Dad…but I still dunno why you mind. I throw my banana peels out of the window on the freeway from my mom’s car because they’re biodegradable…”

“Not out of my bloody car!”

“Not out of yours but I do it out of others.”

“And what else,” I inquired imperiously, “do you throw out the window because it’s ‘biodegradable’…the pits of certain fruits?”

“Yup.”

“By you doing it,” interrupts my friend, “you make it acceptable to someone else to think they can do it. And then someone else thinks it’s OK too. And before you know it, 50,000 people feel it’s acceptable, at this point creating a major health hazard.”

“Yeah but OBVIOUSLY that’s not going to happen.”

“Why?

“Because there aren’t 50,000 people driving down the freeway on the same day at the same area eating bananas or other fruit!”

(Oh fuck me).

“Tell you what,” I bark, “why don’t I just start dropping my trousers wherever I need to and taking a dump in the street? It’s ‘biodegradable’!”

“Because that would be lame and disgusting you weirdo.”

“Which is what we’re getting at!” said my friend.

“But it’s not the same thing,” groans the teenager, exasperated at our continuing brute stupidity and lack of differential, “a human turd versus a banana peel, come-on now, you can’t compare them!”

“It’s the PRINCIPLE MAN, THE PRINCIPLE!” I scream, hopping up of my chair, “Good Christ Almighty don’t you see that? A banana-skin, a turd, it’s all about showing some CIVILITY and being CIVILIZED and not allowing the world to descend into some farcical savage land where people toss their garbage wherever they want regardless of the consequences. PRINCIPLE boy, PRINCIPLES, they’re all we’ve GOT!”

“But Dad, BI-O-DE-GRAD-ABLE means that it will be broken down NAT-U-RALL-Y…”

I should point out that he actually shouted the word ‘biodegradable’ at me, as if I hadn’t heard it clearly the first time.  The moment was much like those bufoons who when confronted by a person that does not understand what they’re saying, simply raise their voices and repeat the same thing in the hope that the added volume power will convey a previously unknown meaning.

“I-HEARD-YOU-THE-FIRST-TIME…and I DO-NOT-GIVE-A-TOSS…don’t spit in public places like some lout and don’t bloody well throw your peels, skins, pits or whatever other ‘biodegradable’ shite you might have onto the floor or out of a window of any variety.”

“Can I take a dump in the street?” he grinned.

This last comment was swiftly ignored for the sake of both of us. The alternative was 30 further minutes of arguing which would’ve ended with me going apoplectic. And seeing as I don’t believe he will ever take a dump in the street (unlike a former school-colleague I once knew who not only did so in the middle of Kingston High Street but also once ate his dinner on the toilet whilst his poor, beleaguered mother screamed from outside the door what a dirty pig he was. Her reward was to hear him reply that he was ‘maximising his rate of efficiency’ by combining two functions at once. I now understand why his mother thus let out a small yet bone-chilling squeal, like a field mouse being stepped on by a 500lb giant wearing spike-soled shoes) why even visit such a stressful place? Exactly.

Later, I find myself at the AT&T store. Yes, it’s phone time. The teenager had, indeed, taken the week to sit and think about it. He had come back to the fact that a Blackberry would suit all his needs best of all (these basically amounted to texting like a lunatic and being able to get the web). Plus it was only $99 as he was due an equipment upgrade. I had reconciled myself to making this trip as nice as possible. I mean, what’s the point in being grumpy about it? In his world, from his perspective, this is an important piece of equipment, and given that it is his birthday present from his Mum’s side, why should I make it unpleasant?

After exchanging pleasantries with the salesman, who also managed to offer me some money saving tips, I found out that the only plan he could get would involve an extra $30 a month on my bill and not the original $15 I had been quoted.

The $30 I had found so reprehensible last week suddenly seemed a little more doable this week. I managed to trim $5 bucks off my bill, so we were talking about $25 extra bucks, $10 over the $15 I had said I wouldn’t go over.

“There will be extra chores,” I said.

“Oh of course!” he replied, sensing the finishing line was close, that victory was near. I realized I’d have to write this down.

“You realize I’ll have to write this down.”

“OK Dad, I mean, I’ll do stuff though…you mean watering, garbage, stuff like that?”

“Stuff like that.”

“OK.”

The salesperson then reminded me that the $99 was actually AFTER a mail-in rebate, thus it would be more like $210 after tax. The teenager had $200 in cash. I offered to make up the difference. And then I offered to buy a pack of three rubber cases for $19.95. I chuckled. Bark worse than bite? 

Outside, the teenager was visibly delighted.

“Thanks very much for taking the time to do this with me and give me your advice on it, I trust your advice on this sort of stuff and I really appreciate it.”

“Oh you’re welcome mate, you’re welcome…remember though, there will be chores.”

“oh I know, of course, but I guess I’d like to think I help out around the house already anyway…”

Clearing the dinner table, helping out with his sister, ferrying stuff to and from the outside table when we have guests, carrying groceries, babysitting occasionally…yeah, he does indeed. Perhaps that’s why I acquiesced. Perhaps I don’t have a bark or a bite, perhaps I have an in-built sense of reason? Or perhaps it just hypocrisy, the providence of age. Who knows. Who really knows. 

Suddenly he cleared his throat. I threw him a dagger. He stepped to the outside of the street, found a drain and spat down it.

We’re not quite there, but the distance is getting considerably shorter.

 

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The warning siren goes off. 

It’s him.

I chuckle at the shock members of the general public in my immediate vicinity are displaying at this most apocalyptic of ring-tones. “My son’s special ring-tone,” I say casually, a smile on my face, “Ha ha, bloody teenagers, eh?!” They think I’m mad of course. Anyhow, I answer the siren.

“Hello?”

“Oh, hey Dad, what’s the last 4 digits of your social security number?”

“And how are you too? I’m very well thanks, bit of a toughie with regards to work but other than that, sitting spiffy.”

“What? Uh, I’m in the phone shop and they need the last 4 digits of your social security number.”

“(I consider explaining the point I was trying to convey via that last bit of sarcasm and quickly conclude it would be futile) Why?”

“Because for my birthday my Mom’s getting me a new phone and seeing as I’m due for an upgrade they need your last 4 digits of the social because the account is in your name.”

Ah yes. The new phone. A vital thing. Lord knows how he’d survive with his current Sony Ericcson 801 2 megapixel camera-and-walkman model complete with full texting functions. There again, it IS a year old. One whole, entire year. 365 days obsolete. 

Now, call me old-fashioned (or even just old, because I obviously am for what I’m about to say) but aren’t consumer electronics meant to last for a little longer? I mean, would two years be pushing it? Three would be luxury I know, but what about two? I did try to have this conversation with my son a while back, here’s roughly how it went.

“I think I need a new phone.”

“Jesus Christ are you joking? The one you’ve got is not even a year old.”

“Uh, well, I think it is…”

“It isn’t.”

“Well it keeps on turning itself off.”

“Strange, because whenever I call I find you and whenever you need to find me you manage to, and judging by a quick view of the bill, the text message function works just fine. What more do you want?”

“Well, I wanna be able to surf the web on it properly and now you can get phones where you can watch TV.”

“And pray tell me when you would be watching TV on your phone with all the spare time you have? You’re either at practice or doing homework or at home where the wonders of cable are at your very fingertips!”

“I dunno. On the bus sometimes, at lunchtime, between classes…”

“BETWEEN CLASSES? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?!!!!!! NO, NO AND THRICE NO!”

“Urrghhh…well…OK…I think I wanna get a Blackberry…”

“A what? A blackberry? And why is that? Important e-mails to send? Business to conduct?”

“No, it’s just cool and I really like the keyboard layout for texting.”

As you can see, it was always going to be hard to reign this one in.

“OK, but Dad, could you speak to the woman in the store, I’m here with my Mom and this lady needs to verify your last 4 of the social…”

I am passed quickly to a woman in the store.

“Hello?”

“Oh hello, my son said you wanted the…”

“…last four of your social so as we can…”

“…verify that I am the account holder, yes OK, here you go, fine, thank you. Now, can I ask what the extra charge will be on-top of my current bill?”

“$15.”

“$15. Oh well, fine, whatever, that’s kids for ya, ha ha ha.”

“OK thank you sir…”

He comes back on.

“Thanks Dad, I’ll do extra chores around the house (IMPORTANT: THIS MUST BE WRITTEN UP AND POSTED ON THE WALL SOMEWHERE AT HOME AS OTHERWISE IT WILL BE A SENTENCE HE NEVER UTTERED), got to go, bye…”

Click.

30 minutes later, another phone call. From his mother. Apparently, nothing in the range of phones which qualify for a $15 a month additional charge suited his tastes, he wants to jump to the next price band in phones and in plans (an extra $30 bucks).

Or there is the following CHOICE (yes, I am the one getting the ‘choice’ here) and that is he can get a crappy Metro PCS phoine for 20 bucks a month and also get a T-Mobile text-only plan so as he can get a sidekick.

Two phones…TWO FUCKING PHONES?!!! Only dweebs, desk-heads, criminal, rock stars and freaks have two phones on the go all the time. This, my friends, was becoming very, very stupid. And did I want to scream loudly? Oh yes, Oh God yes, at the tip tippity top of my hearty hairy lungs. But I took a 10 second pause. Why shout? What’s the point? When I could actually use this as a moment to explain basic common sense and economics. I mean, what did I have to lose?

I got him on the phone.

“Listen mate, it’s like this. Why not put the new phone purchase on hold for a another a week or so and really do some research? Your actual birthday’s not for a couple of weeks anyway, so why not do some research and really make sure you have a few choices to pick from? Because the thing is mate, I don’t really have the cash to splash around on phones and plans that are unnecessary or going to be wasted, and this next phone will be the start of a two year plan. So can I ask you to take a step back and take that plan on board?”

A small, fractional silence.

“Sure, that’s fine, I understand.”

And not said in a shitty or pissy voice. No, a genuine sentiment.

“Great, thanks for seeing it this way too. I think we can make sure you get the right phone now which also won’t be the least cost-effective.”

“OK Dad, that’s cool I guess, see you later.”

“OK mate, lots of love…”

I am hopeful this newfound tolerance to fiscal realities will stretch to the conversation we’ll be having next week, when I have to try and explain that we really cannot afford to take him and 11 friends paint-balling for his birthday…

 

 

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We have just moved house. 
The toddler is racing around like a bigger lunatic than usual, infused with not just delight and curiosity but also a large amount of sugar, specifically two small cartons of chocolate milk. 
We have just put the books on the shelves and she has a dust cover for one particularly large volume in her hands.
“Put that back now please.”
“But I want it, I wannit I wannit please please can I have it I wannit I wannit…”
“No. Put. It. Back.”
She starts to cry.
“I wannit I wannit, i like the picture I like the picture!!!”
My blood pressure, a fragile thing at the best of times, is on the rise again. Sweet Jesus and Mary Chain I wish she’d just put the thing DOWN and be DONE with it. 
How best to achieve this?
Yelling with great impatience is certainly not the way forward, as any god parent will tell you…
“PUT THE BLOODY BOOK JACKET DOWN RIGHT NOW OR IT’S A TIME-OUT!!!!!!”
Oops.
“But I really really wannit, please? Please?” she sobs at me. 
Now, she is using good manners by saying ‘please’ but she is not understanding that I want the book jacket to remain unruffled, untorn and unfettered, thus no amount of ‘pleases’ in the world is actually going to help her cause.
As I sit there, my brain slowly boiling with the sheer ridiculousness of the incident and it’s sudden enormous growth of scale, I muse why it is that small children fixate on the most bizarre of objects, dig in and refuse to let go. A book jacket? I mean, seriously! A book jacket?!!!!? What next, a salt cellar? A trial size tube of toothpaste? A toilet-roll holder?
I decide it’s high-time I took a closer look at exactly which book jacket, and what picture, is causing this increasing stress on both sides of the matter.
Frankly, it’s unbelievable.
Because my daughter, my darling little bundle of pride and joy, has decided that the dust jacket to ‘Margaret Thatcher: The Downing Street Years’  is the most wonderful and fantastic book jacket ever, and that Margaret Thatcher makes for the prettiest of pictures. Ahh, the innocence of children. How could she know that ‘the Iron Lady’ is seen by many (including this narrator) as the wretched reason for imnpoverishing so many members of the working class? That she is viewed by more than a few of us as sitting directly to the right of satan’s throne, and that we further feel her name resides comfortably alongside the likes of Saddam, Pol, Idi and Pinochet. No, all my daughter sees is a big helmet of blonde hair, and a face that looks like a cartoon. There is another book slightly lower down on the shelves, by the Class War anarchist collective, which has virtually the same picture of Margaret Thatcher except it has added an axe splitting her head in two complete with a river of blood spilling down the cover. Is this the time to play spot the difference? Perhaps even engage in a spot of good vs evil? No. This is simply about looking after books (whoever they’re about) and not mistreating them.
I ask you, does it actually make any sense?
“Why have you got a book about her when you hate her so much?” asks the teenager (who having unpacked the  books and put them away is in my good, er, books). I wince. It’s a disgustingly decent question. I consider explaining that I bought it second-hand so as she wouldn’t get a penny of my hard-earned cash. Instead I attempt to use the moment as an ‘educational moment’ to explain the importance of a balanced view.
“Because I also have books by Tony Benn and George Galloway (former Labour MP, Scottish chap,  wonderfully – crackpot socialist) and as much as I loved Benn, I think it’s just as important to know ‘the enemy’ perhaps even better.”
“Well Dad, she’s about to scrunchle up the enemy.”
I spin around and see her with the book jacket in hand about to crumple the whole thing up into a ball.
“YELLOW TOW TRUCK DO NOT DO THAT OR YOU WILL GET A TIME-OUT!!!”
“But Dad, she’s about to crush Thatcher!”
“No she’s not, she’s about to ruin part of a book, and I don’t want to encourage her in that by letting one slide just because the subject is that bloody stupid, evil cow!”
And that’s the point really. Regardless of the details, there’s right and wrong ways to behave, and Yellow Tow Truck’s current behavior is unacceptable.
She puts the dust cover down and I seize the moment to distract her by mentioning it might be time for to ride her Pooh train.
“Pooh train Pooh train, gotta ride the Poooooooh traaaaaaaiiiiiiin WHOO HOO WHOOOOOO HOOOO…”
Later on, when the Piper is finally down, when Suzanne is doing a crossword in bed, when the cat is dozing and the teenager off downstairs enjoying his new subterranean den, I edge over to ‘the book’ and ‘the dust cover.’
I eye it.
I pick it up and run it through my fingers…it’s gold embossed print is certainly eye-catching, and as I fiddle with it, running it around my fingers, I get hit by the urge to crumple it, to squoosh and squish it, to destroy it…
…but ‘maturity’ prevails…
I put it down, turning around and distracting myself by heading off with the paper to a late night ‘train’ all of my own…
*ppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppppp
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*all those ‘p’s are a result of me trying to finish this column at midnight, 48 hours after
having moved house, and thus falling asleep with the laptop, finger firmly pressed against, well,
guess which letter! Only that weird little ‘dingdingdingding’ sound woke me up!
Jesus, I need a nap.

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