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Archive for September, 2009

Driving too early in the morning and she was nearly uncontrollable. Shouting, yelling, seemingly unable to disconnect from her inner-Moroccan bazaar, a chaotic kerfuffle of audio-physical explosiveness.

7.15am and I could feel my blood-pressure steadily rising…steady…steady…breathe deep…fire up a BBC podcast for the teenager and I…Five Live football daily…boring update, boring interviews, all punctuated by the back-seat cacophony.

And then I did it. I selected a playlist. And like honey-suckle elixer for the ears, like a homeopathic salve for the soul, she suddenly, and I mean SUDDENLY, dropped down 6 gears, ceased cacophonizing and got sucked into the sounds. She started singing quietly along. And so did I. And so did the teenager. Even though two of the car’s speakers have blown to silence, NOTHING was gonna derail this! And I realized, in an epiphany, that I had discovered a new personal Jesus and that his name was Rob Birch.

Jesus and his diciples offer the word...

Jesus and his diciples offer the word...

Yes, behold the new Jesus, for He is a spikey-haired, craggy-faced Mancunian who wears baggy coats, loped around the Hacienda back in the day and says things like ‘kewl’ instead of ‘cool’ because he has a ‘kewl’ Mancunian accent which automatically makes him ‘kewler’ than you or I. He usually wears really ‘kewl’ shades, which just add to it all; the pre-schooler likes his picture.

His voice, smooth yet raw with that Manc-man bluster, lends itself to a singalong for sure, but the beats, the styles, the fusion, the whole blend is like an instant security blanket for the pre-schooler. This, by virtue, makes it heavenly for me. On returning home from the school drop-offs, I immediately went about finding their latest music, and read some unflattering reviews from the usual collection of  young witless critical bastards who’s sole job it seems is to cock a snook at anything outside the parameters of modern ‘cool’ (which lies somewhere between navel gazing with Thom Yorke or criticizing the world like Kanye West). Well listen up arseholes, the Stereo MCs can do no wrong in this house because Rob Birch is a personal Jesus* with willing and able disciples who spread a musical word of energetic joy and calm, an escape from whatever’s bothering and irritating the soul, a full-body massage. So whether you think they’re ‘dated’ or not, Mr.Oh-t00-uber-cool Emo Warrior Fundament, you are wrong! OK? And you’ll listen to me because I am probably old enough to be your Dad OK? ! Yes! That’s right! OLD ENOUGH…

Old enough…I wonder…it’s been swirling for a little while now, as it does when you’re approaching the midway point of the match, the metaphoric half-time (although I’m hoping for some Sir Alex Ferguson-approved added-time after the full 90) I wandered into the new Diesel flagship store this weekend, looked around, scratched my head and started frowning at the sight of a guy in ‘ironic’ dress shoes/chequered shorts, shirt, suspenders, waistcoat and trilby hat get-up. ‘What on earth happened to this trog?’ I mused from inside my recently purchased g-star dark (danger danger) denim jeans, black t-shirt and big black boots, before said-20 year old shouted that ‘I’m sorry Sir that size isn’t available!’ My God. It was an employee. And I was a grumpy middle-aged man disguised (just about) as a mid-30s brooding European in my tight jeans made by a company which is (frankly) just about out of my reach and my  big trendy boots. I looked at a pair of jeans. I liked them. But they were $200 dollar and I quickly realized they had some leather applique on the them. Good grief. And you know what? As much as I could try to pretend, I don’t think they’d really like me. Why? Because save the occasional 40-something guy, jeans with leather applique don’t work unless you’re a rock star or actor, and even then it’s debatable. Truth is, on me, they would not be in the territory of ‘rocker’ more than the territory of ‘wanker’, and that’s just how modern male ‘fashion’ seems to pan out.

Indeed, wandering the mall, I realized that increasingly, there isn’t much for me. American Eagle? No. Abercrombie? That’ll also be a ‘no’. Banana Republic? Yes. Gap? Yes. Macys? Only if it’s not in the basement. But I still look. I’ll look with the teenager and we’ll peruse items together. And sometimes I’ll catch a glimpse of someone, oh alright, a YOUNG person (!!!!) and I’ll briefly realize that although I’m fighting again, although I’m regaining some of what I lost over a few years of aquiesance to sugar, I am not 30, let alone 20 or 25. I am 42. And yes, age is a state of mind but it’s also a state of realism. Like the realism which gripped me once I got home and started reading the issue of COMPLEX magazine I’d bought; yeah, fun to look at but not to live by.

Because sometimes, when the teenager is grinding and the pre-schooler is whining, when my feet are screamingly sore from planter faciitis after indoor soccer, when I’m moving just a tad slower, I remember that I am, in fact, 42. Not old by any stretch but also no longer young. It is middle age. And it is OK. It doesn’t mean I will give in to being a grumpy old bastard all the time, it doesn’t mean I will cease to be physical and it doesn’t mean I will cease to ‘live’ an active life, no no no! But what it does mean is that I must slowly recognize that certain situations, and certain shops, should be approached with both caution and realism. again, I am still fairly cool for my age, but I’m not uber-cool (thank christ -sorry, thank Rob Birch).

“You are the silliest Dada in the whole wide world!” the pre-schooler will say, whilst the teenager routinely chuckles at my turn of sarcastic phrase, saying I am ‘genuinely funny.’

And as I sit in the car, g-star jeans wrapped around peddle-pushing legs, Spy-optics sunglasses on, moving and swaying to music from Jesus and his disciples, I realie it’s OK, I’m not ready for my bus-pass just yet and that in an hour I’ll go into the gym and show those 20-something students that this ‘sort-of-young-man’ is still ready to rumble with both the world AND his own kids…

(can I now take a nap please?)

*other personal Jesuses have included Ricky Villa, Glenn Hoddle, David Bowie, Tony Benn, my Mum, Leonard Rossiter, David Ginola, Jermain Defoe, Eddie Izzard and Peter Cook…

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I have watched the teenager slowly make his way back from knee surgery over the last 10 months. As easy as it hasn’t been for him, it’s also not been easy for me. Watching the quiet diligence, watching the battle to maintain some semblance of fitness, watching the quiet, determined and stoic plod through physical therapy and months spent unable to play his favorite sport, the sport where he injured the knee in the first place. Just watching. Doing nothing but offering support and help and whatever else can be done to help him.

That has always been highlighted whenever the High School soccer team has featured, and particularly his ‘relationship’ with the head coach. As a caveat to all I’m about to say, I coached him for 6 years so I know how he can be, and equally, I’ve backed subsequent coaches and taught him to stay quiet on the occasions he disagrees, put his own head down and work harder to prove them wrong.

A bit of history. His High School coach (or ‘The Coach’ as I will from now) spent the first two years of the teenager’s High School seasons cajoling him with a combination of positive and negative reinforcements. He’d jaw at him. He’d shout at him. He’d give him instructions as to what he needed to be doing (for what it’s worth, the man does not know the game beyond some very basic fundamentals) and when they played practice matches, he’d go into the teenager like a steam train. incidentally, when asked why by the teenager’s mother, the answer was that it was to ‘teach him how to use his body.’ I remember wondering how crudely putting in potential ankle-breaking challenges was teaching anyone anything constructive –  remember, this is a game I play and coached for 7 years.

One coach I remember sent the teenager home from a club practice a few years ago, telling him that if he was only going to half-run the athletic drills, then not to bother coming. He told him that he needed to spend the next few practices just doing various running drills, and if he didn’t want to do it then not to bother showing up. I told him that if he wanted to grow, wanted to mature, wanted to prove himself, that he needed to do everything which was being asked of him. In silence and with respect. I told him to learn that this coach was doing him a favor. And I told him to take onboard from every coach a positive, because every coach has at least one.

One thing The Coach was trying to do, was encourage the teenager to be a leader. He made him a captain. He gave him responsibilities. He gave him a lot of playing time. He’d make some absurd tactical decisions, ones that had many scratching their heads, but his heart was in the right place.

As last season started, the teenager was in the best shape of his life having shed 35  lbs the hard way, and was looking forward to the school season. In the first few games he played 11 different positions, often switching positions four times in a match. He was captain. And then, suddenly, it stopped. Game-time became shorter and shorter, he was no longer captain. And most critically, there was absolutely no communication as to why beyond one muttered explanation that in a 10 minute spell as forward, he didn’t score and thus didn’t do enough to justify his place. The Coach would throw him on for 10 minute as a sub and then sub him off again. When the teenager asked him for some feedback, he was told that either he ‘hadn’t done enough to warrant his place’ or not to question his Coach.

I became concerned that between the teenagers clubs side and training and school training, he was over-training. I asked him to ask his coach if he could miss a school practice every week, as I knew that three or 4 matches a week plus daily training would wreck him. And then he tore his ACL and chipped bone off the very very tip of his femur whilst playing for his club side.

Two weeks ago, he played his first competitive match since the injury. He started upfront and asked if he could drop to centre-midfield. Agreement was quick, and subsequently the team won 4-0. Despite the bullshit of last season, the lack of communication, the lack of proper tactical nous and the lack of any basic empathy, it was looking OK. And then yesterday, the same bullshit. The same ‘switch all over the pitch.’ The same lack of communication. The same ‘here’s 20 minutes on the pitch and then you’re subbed.’ The same ‘tough-love’ garbage. And the glaring fact that The Coach has forgotten that the teenager is 17 years old. Not 10, not 11. The teenager had asked The Coach if he would be going back into the game. The Coach had said yes. 40 minutes later, the teenager had asked The Coach when he’d be going back into the game. The Coach said ‘you won’t now’ that he had been ‘working’ on a way to get him back into the match (not rocket science per se) but that because he’d asked, now he wouldn’t go back in. Full stop. He told the teenager never to ask that question again.And when the teenager asked if there was any feedback on his performance, The Coach said no, not really and that he thought he’d played well. I ask you, what sort of moronic pre-school autocracy is it when a player cannot ask a coach if he’s going back into the game or when he’s going back in? I never minded being asked by players I worked with, it showed me they were enthusiastic, and for the lads that were a bit more persistent, well, I talked with them a little bit more, gave them a little more feedback and guidance.

I am not a fool. I do not expect my son to be given special treatment, and I know what a prick he can be (show me a teenager who is never a prick and I’ll show you someone who’s lying about their age!) but what I DO expect from any coach, even The Coach, is communication and decent people manager. That this idiot has not got the first clue about the game I love, and have loved, for nearly 40 years is beside the point. That he engages in this weirdly perverse, almost passive-aggressive behavior with the teenager is wholly annoying. If he was anybody else I’d already have said my piece, but I can’t do that right now, because this

isn’t

my

fight.

But the frustration of recognizing that is so immensely stressful that last night I literally found myself shutting down in a combination of repressed anger, frustration and undeniable fatigue. I was furious with what I saw last night. I remain furious with the double-standards employed by The Coach (there’s more but we don’t have the time do we!). And it reminded me unequivocally that for all the objectivity I show, for all the times I’ve told the teenager to stop blaming others and take care of the portion of a situation HE can control first, here was a situation where the adult was behaving like a petulant child  and the teenager, my teenager, was being wronged once again.

And there I was, watching, fuming, helpless. Just like when he hurt his knee and the antagonist who had helped cause the injury looked at him on the floor, laughed, said ‘get up’ and told the referee he should book him. Helpless.

This is how it will be. This is how life is. You watch your kids get bumped and bruised throughout their lives, even when they’re you’re height and sporting more facial hair than you. And you have to learn to be quiet and take it. To discuss it with them but not to address it publicly.

It might be the hardest work we ever do as parents…

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The teenager has just started his final year of High School, and having spent the summer with an expanding wombat splodged on his head plus a smattering of fuzz across his face, he arrived upstairs from his lair the night before his first day back with a blonde crop, a clean shave and decent clothes.

“It LIVES!” I yelled with genuine, unbridled joy, “it LIVES AND BREATHES LIKE A PROPER HUMAN BEING!” He looked good. Sharp. Handsome. My low-key sarcasm over his summer-sartorials had finally paid-off, at least that’s what I told myself.

“I was always going to do this before school started back,” he snorted, “I was just waiting until right before I went back to do it.”

Teenagers and appearances are a bizarre enough combination. Let’s face it, we all committed major fashion faux-pas as youths, and I certainly remember indignantly staring at my Mother when she viewed my long, puffy black mop, thick aviator-style glasses and Weird Al-like moustache as though it looked horrific. “What’s wrong with you? I look cool!” I  remembering yelling as I walked away in my red canvas super high-tops and my white- padded -cotton- jacket -with-belt. Thinking about it, I could get angry that she didn’t have me wrestled to the ground and kept under house arrest. Somewhere in there, this knowledge had kept me from going on too much about the teenager’s summer wombat. Aside from which, with teenagers you have to choose your battles, and marsupial mulletry was not worth the combat.

I am already lamenting the return to my day-job as taxi driver (I got half a summer off) and the fact I still have to be his alarm call (like a hotel receptionist) still grates me (in fact, combine the two and I realize why I can be such an asshole before 8 am unless infused with coffee almost immediately upon waking up). But in all fairness, it is a filthy evolutionary trick that sees your first years as a young adult awash with those pesky hormones that render you stupid (and immune to common sense/ working/ giving a shit) coincide with high school, early starts, intensely important periods of grading and  your entire future potentially being decided. Rare is the teenager who is functional, let alone coherent, before 11 am, thus I was always amazed that no-one proposed 11 am starts and 7 pm finishes. It would seem to suit everyone, but alas, it’s probably too frightning for the cookie cutter society we live in, so instead, let’s just beat our teenagers into conformist cubes as best we can, suck the life out of them, stuff any dormant enthusiasm they might have into a far-off mental recess and then tell them they screwed up if (as many do) they, err, screw up. You don’t need me to explain my personal theory on this stuff, needless to say, I don’t eat cookies and conformist cubes piss me off.

BUT in order to live comfortably outside a system, you must first learn how said-system works, thus I keep the teenager firmly on the straight-and-narrow, repeating ad nauseum how putting in maximum effort for this small period of his life will enable him to remain in TOTAL CONTROL of it for the forseeable future, as opposed to having some frustrated middle management wanker chipping away at him and telling him what’s what.”THAT,” I roar one morning,  under-caffeinated and grumpy, at no-one in particular, “would make me very unhappy!”

I return from dropping my daily fare off (around $44 per outbound journey, thus the total owed to me since middle school began and based on 292 school days a year would be approximately $73, 584) to encounter the pre-schooler running around the house giggling and waving her finger in the air.

“SNIFF MY FINGER, SNIFF IT SNIFF IT!” she screams with unbridled joy, and just as I am about to bend forward and proffer my nose to the raised digit, she squeals through her unbridled glee that, “I PUT MY FINGER IN MY BUM, HEE HEE HEE!”

I have long-known that children have a deep fascination with bottoms, Lord knows many adults do too, but for a child it is most certainly a bizarre and wonderful piece of apparatus that is yours to keep for free! Think about it from a 4 year old’s perspective. Your bottom makes these extraordinary sounds, unleashes ferocious short-hit odors which cause entire rooms to groan and then, as a bonus, it delivers  this mysterious yet intriguing brown squidgy stuff which adults refer to as ‘poo’, which smells like a concentrated version of those noisy odors and which causes absolute pandemonium should it be shed anywhere but into that big ‘pit’ seat called a ‘toilet’. Indeed, the panic if some of this ‘poo’ ends up in, say, your underwear is really something! Seriously, try and put yourself in this child’s mind place for a few minutes, and all that I’ve just said will make perfect, perfect sense.

So it was that I found myself with a high degree of resigned tolerance for the act just described. I believe the teenager did it (at that age!) although not with the same degree of intense joy. This is one of the joys of parenthood that you won’t find in those What To Expect…books, though a chapter which outlines interests of this nature might help some parents who will otherwise think their children are weirdos.

I explained to my daughter that putting your finger in your bum is not a good thing, either from a social perspective or for cleanliness. “You’re not a monkey!” I said, feeling that such a phrase would close the deal, when instead, she tried digging for brown gold again whilst making monkey noises. “GO AND WASH YOUR HANDS IMMEDIATELY!” I yelled…”WARM WATER!” I furthered.

She obviously didn’t use warm-enough water. Two days later, she complained of eye irritation, and a close inspection revealed that had a stye in her left eye.

“How on earth did she get it?” I mused to my wife as we applied yet another hot compress to clear it up. She replied by raising her right hand and wiggling her index finger. “In the bum,” she mouthed so as not to attract attention.”

“And this stye,” I later told the victim, “came about because you didn’t wash your hands properly after the bum escapade.”

“What’s ‘escapade’?”

“‘An ‘escapade’ is a small adventure, or escape, from conventional behavior to something which is not mainstream, and in this case, putting your finger in your bum was an escapade. Don’t do it again. Aside from anything, it’ll give you crappy eyesight ” I giggled from behind a straight-expression. At least I didn’t go all the way and say what I really  wanted to about having ‘shitty vision’…I’m slowly maturing it would appear…slowly.

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