Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Religious Upbringing of Children

The late Douglas Adams wrote a wonderful story in his incredibly misnamed five volume trilogy, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, about a distant race of people who wanted to know the meaning of life, after thousands of years of work, and building multiple computers, they learned that the answer was 42. Unfortunately, after Adams gave us the answer, he never got around to explaining the question.

When What’s-His-Name was about 12, he began to leave childhood and become self-aware, he began questioning the world around him. So it was only natural that one day he asked me the same question.

“Dad?” he asked. “Why are we here? What is life all about?”

“42.” I promptly answered. I can’t say I was expecting the question, but I was ready. Thank you, Mr. Adams.

“Dad! Be serious, I want to know what life is all about.” What’s-His-Name was practically yelling.

“Son, if you don’t believe me, go ask your mother.” This was another great answer. My son and I both knew I had never missed an opportunity to play a practical joke on him, and he knew better than to completely believe me. His mother, The Doc, is absolutely trustworthy, having had her sense of humor surgically removed during the third year of med school.

So my son promptly ran to the other end of the house and asked his mother the same question and just as promptly got an answer, “42.” The Doc loves Douglas Adams as much as I do. She used to operate in scrubs with “Don’t Panic” stenciled on the back. Okay, some vestigial remains of her sense of humor are still attached.

You could hear What’s-His-Name wailing from the other end of the house. I’m still not sure if he was upset at an answer he couldn’t understand or the realization that all of his genetic material came from the two of us.

This incident happened years before I had worked out the tenets of my own church, St. Mark’s Buddhist Bar and Tabernacle, but even then I knew that every child needs some form of religious or ethical foundation. Eventually, we settled for something simple; Life Sucks and Then You Die.

Simple religions for simple people and this one fulfilled all the needs of a religion. It explains why bad things happen; Life Sucks. And it handles the question of an afterlife; You Die. It encourages a practical, though somewhat stoic, lifestyle. Okay, it probably fails one major test of a religion, it doesn’t coerce tithing, but my boys didn’t yet have the resources that would attract an established church.

Faithful readers by now realize that my philosophy of raising children is to take every possible opportunity to fill their heads with bullshit and lunacy. I believe in stretching their brains before life locks them into a role. Having been raised in Our Lady of Perpetual Motion, a church that was constantly terrified that someone somewhere was having a good time, I was determined to have my sons avoid this infection until they had developed sufficient antibodies. Besides, I was worried that if I was caught back on church grounds, they might burn me at the stake.

I wasn’t sure the boys completely understood this philosophy until I attended a parent/teachers conference when The-Other-One was in the third grade. The teacher was a little upset with my son’s history report about the hardships faced by the Pilgrims. She couldn’t understand why the son of a history professor would end his report with… and you guessed it… “Life Sucks and Then You Die.”

I could have told her there were 42 reasons, but she wasn’t ready for a religious breakthrough.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Thoughts On Being a Grandfather, Honorary Second Class

When your children are small, it is amazing how little you know about being a parent. Every situation is new, the children are fragile, and the job is impossible. I distinctly remember trying to dress What’s-His-Name in a snow suit. I think he was three, all elbows and knees and it seemed impossible to get both his arms in that blasted suit at the same time. I suddenly realized that I was exerting on this tiny little arm approximately the same force necessary to remove a frozen lug nut from a truck tire. It was just blind luck that I didn’t end up with that arm ripped loose in my hands.

Right about the time I began to understand small children, I blinked, and suddenly the boys were teenagers. For a while, I thought this was an improvement, after all, I remembered being a teenager myself, I was a treasure trove of relevant information. Unfortunately, my sons had discovered that both their parents were morons; neither of them would listen to such unreliable people. The best they could hope for was that we wouldn’t embarrass them in public while they tried to borrow my pickup.

Then suddenly, they were adults. Now, they are not only willing to listen to us, but are plainly astounded at the sudden knowledge my wife and I possess. Obviously, we morons have been studying nights. Unfortunately, we still don’t seem to be of much use as either our lives have sufficiently diverged from theirs or our memory has degraded. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t seem we have much relevant advice.

Another possibility is that their father just wants to see the boys crash and burn. Bad mistakes make good stories. Somebody has to write this blog, otherwise there are no ads for you to click.

For whatever reason, it seems that as a parent, you are never really as much help to your children as you would like. Raising kids is a cruel joke that you play on yourself.

Then, suddenly, it is Act II and you have grandchildren. At first, this seems like a great joke on the parents bordering on sublime revenge. For Christmas, I’m thinking of giving the Munchkin a set of drums. I hear ferrets make horrible pets; I’ll buy her two.

Some of the fun of being a grandfather disappears when you realize there is work involved. Undoubtedly, the worst chore is the Christmas pageant. How many millions of hours have been wasted by men sitting in a school cafeteria, their ass wedged into a tiny chair designed for someone about 4 foot tall, while they listen to a flock of pre-pubescent tricycle motors sing Christmas songs in an octave only dogs can hear?

The entire herd stands on the stage like deer caught in headlights as they sing the same words to every song:

La –la Santa la-de-la-de-la

O Bethlehem’s Reindeer

La Holy Night O’ Holy Nose

You Better Be Christmas Bells

All around you, soccer moms are videotaping every second. Who exactly will ever watch this? This is a new age, we have internet and YouTube. When you are probably just a Google search away from watching a video of the most wildly improbable event you can possibly imagine; say a chimpanzee attempting to mate with a football, why would you suddenly decide that tonight would be a perfect night to watch a badly filmed video of tiny children singing, “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa’s Reindeer?”

Bored out of my mind, all I could do was sit there and ask myself questions. Why do schools have the acoustics of a snare drum? How do they expect a grown man to smile all the way through a Christmas pageant with nothing more fortifying than a plate full of vanilla wafers and a Dixie cup full of mystery punch? And most importnantly, exactly how much trouble can you get into if you spike the punchbowl in a pre-school?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Christmas in New Mexico

It is Christmas in southern New Mexico. You can tell by the weather, it is unseasonably cold; it only got up to 60 degrees today. Blue skies and warm sunshine, New Mexico has the perfect winter weather. If you don’t go outside in the middle of the night, our winter’s amount to only a few cold days scattered across a couple of months. We had one of those days last week; it snowed half an inch in one day, the schools closed, people panicked as if they had never heard of snow, and then we were back to normal.

For us, snow is mainly a spectator sport; we can see it on the mountains as we play golf. Snow belongs on Christmas cards and Yankees’ heads.

But you can tell it is Christmas because all the college students have left town. It is so quiet! God knows I love my students, but it is nice to drive to work without 5 cars driving so close behind me they seem to be auditioning to become my own personal proctologist. I know a librarian who once wished the students would never return; “It would be so much easier to keep the library neat if we didn’t have all those students.”

The southwest has its own form of Christmas decorations; luminarias. A tradition that dates back to when this part of the country was part of Mexico, luminarias are small paper sacks partially filled with sand that anchors the sack and provides a base for a burning candle. My family uses a modern version, a plastic waterproof sack containing a small electric light. The traditional name for these is fakolitos.

My wife, the Doc, is unhappy that Christmas seems to become more commercialized every year. Once again, I disagree. I don’t think the holidays are commercial enough.

Let’s cut the crap, by commercialization, we are talking about money. Can you have too much money in something? There have been periods in my life when I didn’t have any money; if it had cost a dollar to go around the world, I couldn’t have reached the next county. And there have been times in my life when I was relatively flush. Trust me, flush is better.

Exactly what is supposed to be wrong with money? Somehow money has become synonymous with evil. While I have no idea where this silly idea came from, I can tell you exactly what is wrong with it. Money is nothing more or less than the present incarnation of an ancient idea. Thousands of years ago man worked and fought for meat. If you had enough, you did not starve. Today, civilization notwithstanding, modernization has simply substituted money for meat. And if you have enough, you still won’t starve. Money is meat.

So bring it on, commercialize the holidays all you want. Let’s start the Christmas season even earlier, put the tree up Halloween night. Turn Thanksgiving into a Christmas brunch, and New Years can be the morning after party. While you are at it, you can merge a few other holidays into Christmas.

Hanukkah lasts 8 days, Kwanzaa 7, but Christmas is limited to one? Let’s combine them all and shoot for 100% participation. Happy Kwanistmaskuh!

Not only would this maximize shopping time, but it would eliminate all the false pretenses that have cropped up lately by the university and most stores about Christmas. Season’s Greetings, Happy Holidays, Winter Break, my ass. Who the hell do we think we’re fooling? By combining the various holidays, all of them lose their religious significance, and we can concentrate of the business of Christmas. The expanded economic season will mean full employment, rising industrial profits, and increased tax revenue for the government.

As a first step, I believe the government should enact a Christmas stimulus package. Uncle Sam Claus can leave cash in my stocking.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Who Wants To Be A Grandfather?

Suddenly, and without much warning, I seem to be a grandfather. My son, The-Other-One, not What’s-His-Name, has managed to find a shortcut. Instead of adhering to the Brady Baby Bill with the mandatory nine month waiting period, he found a loophole and started dating a young woman with a three year old daughter. The child is tiny, like her mother, The Leprechaun.

I have to admit the child is adorable. Cute, smart, loving, and already house broken. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that I am ready to be a grandfather. There was a time when I wanted a lot of children, but 30 years later, I can no longer remember why. Unlike Angelina Jolie or Madonna, I have absolutely no desire to collect the entire set.

The Munchkin has provided me with several educational moments. Just last week, she informed me that as she was too young to be an adult, she was a “little-dult.”

And I have learned an awful lot about children’s clothes. Thank God I had boys. Boys will wear a paper sack if you cut holes in it for their legs, but little dresses for a three year old cost more than the clothes I wear to work. I remember an August a few years back when both boys and I needed back-to-school clothes. From the house to the mall and back home in under an hour, we had shirts, Levis, socks, and underwear for all of us and still had money for a pizza. We only had to go to one store; Sears. My motto: Buy your clothes where you buy your drill bits.

Evidently, clothing shopping for girls of any age requires the logistical support of a D-Day landing, a trip to every store in the county, and cost as much as my first car. I had no idea that a three year old girl needed jewelry. Mark my words; the first company that introduces a line of cosmetics for toddlers will reap a fortune.

I confess most of the problems are caused by me; it seems that you can’t raise little girls the same way you do boys. With little girls, you’re not supposed to cuss, threaten an ass-whipping, or teach them to shoot craps. The consensus around the house seems to be that if I had raised a daughter she would have turned out to be a sadomasochistic psychotic whore. Maybe so, but I bet she could make a decent martini.  (Both boys learned quite early to make a great martinin, but they never understood why I had them go outside to the far corner of the yard and whisper, "Vermouth."  I like a VERY dry martini.)

With the boys, I tried constantly to fill their heads with nonsense and bullshit. No question was ever answered truthfully, and story time was always a challenge to everyone’s imagination. When cooking, I used food coloring to dye every meal into outrageous colors. For a while, the favorite meal of both boys was a dish of my own invention; Monkey Blood Chicken. Rare was the breakfast without Green Eggs and Ham. Ours was the only house where Dr. Seuss was a cookbook.

Now, suddenly, this is frowned on. The Leprechaun doesn’t like it when I tell the story about Curious George and the Electric Fence. I’m not supposed to say that raspberries are actually blood clots. And personally, I thought it was hilarious when I had the Munchkin searching the house for our new pet, the Mexican Barking Spider.

I will admit the little-dult is adorable. She climbed into my lap and asked me if I would be her Grandpa Mark. I was so touched; I told her the story, Mr. Fork Marries Miss Electric Outlet.