Parenting Fail

Raising kids is hard.  Not because it’s emotionally grueling or physically exhausting, but because kids are masters at finding the flaws in your plan, and since I have four kids, I have to work eleventy times as hard just to come up with plans that fail slightly less.  I have examples.  I bought a large vehicle for the express purpose of dividing and conquering my children.  The idea was that each child would have their own space, away from siblings, and everyone would be happy and get along.  Let’s get one thing straight, in my head this plan works.  In practice it is a routine, miserable failure and I am stupid to hope.  There isn’t enough space on the surface of the earth to prevent these guys from bugging each other.  So a while back, in an effort to prevent all the infighting that goes on in the car, I hatched a brilliant plan.  I would get little beanbags and throw them in the general direction of the kid/s who wouldn’t listen or stop fighting, that would at least get their attention enough to stop and listen — I should have seen this one coming.  I’ll spare you the suspense, this idea failed in the driveway.  I was trying to get everyone settled so I could start driving, I threw a beanbag toward kid #1 and yelled something.  As I started to put the car in reverse, I felt this rather large, rather painful, thump on the side of my head.  I look down and there is the beanbag I threw.  Kid #1 had returned fire from the third row.  My future flashed before me.  Cry havoc and let slip the beanbags of war!  My brilliant, creative plan would weaponize my children and turn my minivan into a tiny self contained battlefield.  Call it hubris, call it desperation, call it stupidity, but I swear this was a good idea at the time.

This next one, unlike the last one, would have worked except that kid #1 is smarter than I am, and that puts me at a distinct disadvantage.  Back when I had a job, I had a nanny.  I didn’t really want to make the nanny responsible for disciplining my kids so I came up with a genius plan: a chart with each child’s name where the nanny could put a check mark every time a child didn’t listen.  This way when I got home I could review the chart and do the necessary disciplining.  I put the chart on the fridge, explained the process to our nanny, told the kids what was expected, and went to work feeling rather proud about my new plan to restore order.  When I came home, I was excited to see how well my plan worked.  I went to see the chart and decide what, if any, action needed to be taken.  Before I even got to the fridge I could see something about the chart was not right.  The check marks were large and misshapen.  My daughter (who I knew was not a problem) had several distorted checks next to her name.  My oldest son, had one very neatly executed check mark next to his name.  Needing clarity, I asked the nanny to explain.  She told me my oldest son had not listened to her earlier so she put a check next to his name.  Ok, that explains that check.  Then, she went on to add, my daughter wouldn’t listen to my oldest son when he wanted her to do something, so he put checks next to her name to make sure she was punished for her insubordination.  This was both really clever, and severely annoying.  It was at this point I realized I should drink.  What was wrong with me?  I’m smart.  I know things about stuff.  Why can’t I come up with a fool proof plan to control my kids?!?  Because it’s like trying to reverse the direction of a whirlpool with a sizzle stick, which is really hard, probably.

Moral of the story: do not weaponize your children, you might get nailed in the head with a beanbag.

Why So Blue?

After I stopped laughing, I thought, “No, illiteracy is serious.”  Because, as one parent so accurately stated on Urbanbaby.com, “It’s all fun and games until you realize your second-grader can’t read.”  So true.  You pay $32k a year for school, you expect something more than really super self-esteem.  Reading, for example, is kind of important.

My friend sent me the NY Post article about the Blue Man Group’s progressive charter school for rich illiterate kids.  For more hilarity on this, see The Gateway Pundit’s take.  Don’t get me wrong, children failing to meet even the minimum NYC public school standards is just sad.  One mom put it this way, you have to try hard to be worse than public schools.  But it doesn’t matter anyway, it’s not like Blue School students can read this, and I doubt they taught “irony” during reflection time.  It’s just such an abysmal commentary on the progressive ideal of childhood education.  Which is why The Sunshine Academy comes to mind.  I’d like to think these parents were slightly more aware than Lindsay and Tobias Funke, but maeby not.

Here’s the NYT’s description of the school: “From the beginning, the founders wanted to incorporate scientific research about childhood development into the classroom. Having rapidly grown to more than 200 students in preschool through third grade, the school has become a kind of national laboratory for integrating cognitive neuroscience and cutting-edge educational theory into curriculum, professional development and school design.”

Contrast that with Thomas Jefferson’s ideas about education.  That there is “a direct correlation between literacy, citizenship and successful self-government,” and, “With literacy came knowledge and discernment and with these came the means of safeguarding self-government and independence.” Because, “He saw literacy as a liberating and transforming force the equalizer for the masses and the essential mechanism necessary for human liberation.”

Yeah, I can see why no one pays any attention to Jefferson’s stupid ideas about education.  It’s way more fun to go to a school that has no books, or structure, or start time.  Also, science.  Progressive thinking is always right because they have scientifical facts supporting their ideas.  The problem then must be in the failure to communicate clearly to the children, that they really should be reading at this point, because expensive science says they should.  It’s not the school, it’s the stupid kids.

Moving Advice, List No. 2: The Big Ugly Purge

Before you move, always, always get rid of stuff.  This is Moving 101 Basics.  Deciding how to get rid of stuff can be tricky, because most people assume, incorrectly, that they will “need” the elephantine sized industrial juicer at some point in the future.  You will not.  Just…. shhhhh…. let it go.  I’ve heard all the objections to getting rid of junk, mostly my own.  Remember, clutter is the mind killer, and purging is weakness leaving your house.  The following are parts of the purging process that although not readily apparent at first, will result in a big happy purge in the end.

1.  Cry, because even though you’re getting rid of stuff you’ve completely wiped from memory, and just rediscovered 10 seconds ago, it’s incredibly important and meaningful to you.

2.  Plan ahead for trash, keep, and give away.  Just so you know, the trash pile should be huge, the keep pile should fit in a shoebox.

3. Fight with spouse over what goes in every pile.  This is when you discover there are multiple meanings for trash.

4. Drink.

5. Cry over your kids baby pictures that remind you of all the horrible things you did as a parent.

6. Limit the amount of time you spend “reminiscing” over old stuff you find to about 20 seconds.  Seriously, this is not the time to reflect on life choices, just pick a pile.

7. They won’t pack your food.  All the meats in the back of your freezer can be combined with the 73 cans, and counting, of Cream of Mushroom soup you accidentally keep buying, thrown in a casserole dish, topped with tater tots and called a meal.  It will feed 400 church members for Wednesday night Pot Luck.  It should make up for the time you got drunk at the church picnic.

8.  Tell your kids that Toy Story is a lie and their toys will not be abused by day care children in the Caterpillar room.  Remind them that if they took care of their toys, you wouldn’t have to give them away.

9.  Buy your kids ice cream because you made them cry.

10. Spend incredible amounts of focused energy trying to figure out a way to NOT have to do anymore work, that won’t cost money.

11.  You can see the floor now, you begin to have hope there may be an alternative end to this process that doesn’t include prozac and a polo mallet. (h/t Manhattan Murder Mystery)

12.  With the end in sight, you now start to care way, way less about everything you touch.  It is during this phase that you need to be cautious you don’t accidentally throw out stuff you actually do want.  Like, a letter written by your great grandmother to your grandfather during WWII.  That, you keep.  Or the deed to your house.

13.  Don’t stop, you’re almost done.  This is where the big mistake of, “I’ll finish in the morning,” bites you in the BLEEP.  You won’t finish in the morning.  You won’t go back in that room for seven more days.  You have to push through until the bitter, bitter end.  Until it’s exactly the way you want it for the packers.  Now, I personally, quit towards the end, promise I’ll finish up, and never go back for seven days.  So if you’re like me, it’s important to have someone who will finish the job, working with you.  A closer.  That’s usually your spouse who is a Type A personality with compulsive tendencies.  They are GOLD in a move.  Exploit them.

An Open Letter to My Kids about Prometheus

To my wonderful children,

If you are reading this, it means that Ridley Scott has bludgeoned mommy’s hopes and dreams for a prequel to Alien that didn’t suck, like a Russian clubbing a harp seal, and I am dead, metaphorically.  You see, mommy didn’t want to believe, when she first heard that Scott was making a prequel.  She was convinced Sir Scott was going to BLEEP it up, somehow.  Exactly like he did with Robin Hood.  Which should have been a freakin’ awesome movie!  I mean, how do you ruin, cinematic gold, Russell Crowe as Robin Hood?  Give it an agenda, that’s how.  Which is exactly what Scott did.  He made Prince John not so bad, and King Richard, a jerk, because, crusades.  ALL WRONG.  I digress.

I  was suspicious, and highly skeptical that this was going to be just god awful.  I was right to be cautious.  Remember that, make smart choices first so when you look back, your life isn’t a mountain of poo filled mistakes.  Learn from mommy.  So I’m plodding along not getting sucked into the hype about the movie.  Very comfortable with my position, that it’s all going to be gut rot in the end.  Then it happened, as the opening night came closer, I changed my game, I watched Scott’s interview about the movie. Biggest mistake ever.  It gave me hope, stupid awful horrible hope.  That somehow, this movie might not be so bad after all.  NEVER change your game plan.  People who say, be flexible, learn to adapt, are dumb and wrong.  Always stick to your plan because you’re smarter than everyone else so your plan is just fine the way it is.

I will now go through my Prometheus stages of grieving in painstaking detail:

Stage #1: Tolerance

The movie opens in Scotland, where some smart people with evil corporate money are spending it looking for pretty pictures in caves.  They are called scientists.  It’s nice scenery, so far so good.  Then they find this picture with a guy pointing to five circles, they get all excited because it’s like all the others.  Girl scientist concludes it MUST be an invitation to come visit.  Clearly that’s what this ancient refrigerator art must mean.  Now we are on a ship, because, invitation.  Girl scientist is dreaming about her dad who says God exists because he chooses to believe.  Which is about as clever as saying leprechauns exist because we believe they do.  I’m annoyed at this point.  But, I tell myself, to accept and tolerate the story line.  So it’s not what I would write, that doesn’t make it bad.  Yes it does, but that’s a different rant.

Stage #2: Pissed Off

It took no time at all to get to this stage of my grief.  The movie took a complete nose dive shortly after landing on LV-422 (or something) and finding evidence of the Engineers.  Who as it turns out, made us, and they’re complete jerks.  So yeah, we were made by oversized man-babies.  Who rip heads off people who try to talk to them.  Does every single android in the Alien franchise have to be ripped apart by the end of the film?  Ash, Bishop, and now David.  As if it was somehow less morally offensive to shred an android.  But these things, they are trifles compared to what really stunk about the film.  I angry wrote my thoughts.

               1.  It didn’t have to be Alien, but it also didn’t have to be Alien 3.  I knew Scott wasn’t going to make another Alien, you can’t improve on perfection anyway.  But, I was hoping he would use at least some of the same directorial nuances. Like, don’t show us the entire alien because it looks goofy.  That was why you (Scott) cut him out in the first place, and it was cinematic brilliance.  Or if you are going to show us a bunch of alien stuff, make it not look like slimy rubber.  I don’t know, turn the lights down or something.  Remember this?

                                                                                                                  (source: www.otherlandtoys.co.uk)

And that was in 1982.  I know, you’d think we’d evolved beyond this.  Although, John Carpenter’s The Thing was pretty cool, it was still obviously rubber.  I     could suspend disbelief in 1982, because I was 8, but not in 2012, because I’m 38, and I’ve seen Jar Jar Binx.

                      2.  Leave God out of it, unless of course, you’re doing a movie about God.  But otherwise, it’s obnoxious for the viewer.  No one likes to be told how to think about what’s going on.  We, and by we I mean, I, want to use my own experiences and beliefs to piece together the moral elements, if any, in the story. I was completely robbed of that opportunity when the screenplay hijacked religion and made it some relative concept that was no more meaningful than color worship (See below), and then shoved it into the storyline.

And it never works.  Movies that try to be thoughtful about the existence of God without acknowledging the power of God, fall flat.  Although, someone in the film does raise the question, who created the engineers?  Which could then lead one to consider there may have been a divine Creator somewhere down the line, but it never gets any play in the movie beyond subtext.  Of course, then again, I could be wrong, and I just made up that point because I’m super desparate to find  the upside.  Where is the win in this movie???

                             3.  Corporations are not inherently bad.  How tiring and played out is this idea that Corporation are responsible for all the bad stuff, always?  NOT the alien life form that bleeds acid and is pure hostility, or the uber-humans that hate their creation and want to destroy them.  No, it’s the company that sucks rocks.

                              4.  No woman, I don’t care who she is, can haul a**, run and jump around an alien planet 3 minutes after having a cesarean.  I don’t even need to expand on that thought, because it can’t happen.  As an added bonus on the theme of female superpowers, here’s Helen Redding.

The morale of mommy’s Prometheus experience is simple, don’t care this much about a movie.  I do because I am past being helped.  But for you, my children, there is still time to learn how to read a book.  We have them in the house.  I have spent years discussing at length every aspect of Scott’s original Alien. Why? Because the movie is unique, and it leaves more questions than answers, and I like hearing the sound of my own opinions.

Moving Advice, List No. 1: Remain Calm and Panic Simultaneously

As I prepare to move for the 19th time in my life, I have discovered some things about the process which will be instructive, should you ever find yourself having to move as well.  The following is a list of helpful hints about the initial stages of the moving process; things you will need to do in advance of packing day, or P-Day.  This is gonna teach, so pay attention.

1. Cry, you are moving and this sucks.

2. Drink.

3. Tell every person you know, every time you see them, you’re moving, nothing feels better than ridiculous amounts of unwarranted sympathy from everyone around you.

4. Pray that God may have pity on you and strike you dead, or make you independently wealthy by striking dead an elderly relative who leaves you a killer inheritance.  Don’t judge me.

5. Go through your house and curse all the crap you’ve accumlutated throughout the years.

6. Manically throw stuff away in a fit of rage.

7. Yell at your kids.

8. While in a puddle of tears, apologize to your kids for yelling.

9. Buy your kids ice cream because you’re a jerk and money will solve this problem.

10. Go through your house taking note of all the things you’ve let go to crap over the years, loose door hinges, ripped screens, burned floor boards, closet doors you completely forgot fell off two years ago, etc.

11.  Kick yourself for saying stupid BLEEP like, “I’ll fix this when we move,” because you’re an idiot.

12. Drink.

13. Decide you’ve had too much and put everything off until the week before the packers come.

14. Cry, because you put everything off until the week before the packers come.

15. Remember all the things you forgot you had to do. Such as, informing the school your kids won’t be there next year, two days before schools out.  They love it.  All of your medical and dental records.  Go get those because they’re kind of important.

16.  Decide that you’re going to push through this because there is no alternative.

17. Cry, because there is no alternative.

18. Get up and push through again.

19. Start packing stuff up like a mad person because you think it will somehow make things less awful on P-Day. It won’t, by the way.

20. Take comfort in knowing that as bad as things are right now, they are going to get much worse.

The Lorax Takes on the EPA and Green Industry

I think we can all agree that a planet without trees would suck.  No one, not even George W. Bush, the most ardent espouser of tree hatred on the planet (fact), ever advocated destroying all the trees.  Furthermore, I think we can all agree that before we ever did cut down all the trees on the planet, there would have to be some astronomically compelling reason to do so.  Like the only way for the earth to avoid getting blown up by aliens for sport was to cut down all the trees to try to blend in with the moon.

Yet there was a time in the not so distant past when we almost lost all life on earth as we know it.  True story.  A time when evil corporations like Kerr McGee would probably dump radioactive waste water into school children’s drinking water.  When flying into L.A. looked like an IMC approach into the Degobah system.  That was a wicked smart use of pilot wordology by the way.  Rivers and lakes would spontaneously burst into flames like a Michael Bay movie.  Industry was running amok and people were suffering.  Babies were born radioactive, and not in the good superhero kind of way.  Something needed to done and so Dr. Seuss wrote a book.  The Lorax.  It pointed out all the bad things that people did to the environment for their own personal gain, namely, cutting down all the trees so that the fluffy tree fur at the top could be used to make a multipurpose sweater thing called a Thneed. Long and short, everyone wanted one so, all the trees on the entire planet had to be cut down to satisfy the greedy thoughtless consumers.

I’m going to stop editorializing so I can rant.  I don’t know which studio came out with the recently released movie version of the Lorax book, I googled “Lorax studio” and got links to Al Gore’s children’s book club.  Anyhow, it’s not relevant to my rant.  My kids saw the trailer and talked me into spending money to see it.  I make the point of mentioning I spent money to see only because I resent that fact.  Greatly.  The movie had all the trappings of a cute film with lovable characters, a bit of mystery, an evil villain and of course, singing.  Honestly, the singing seemed a bit forced.  The songs suffered uncomfortably between “Willie Wonka” playful mischief and the self-rightous hippy absurdity of “Hair”.

Some background to make my rant more coherent.  I can’t remember the names of the characters because they were not memorable.  The story opens in present day. In a village called Thneedville.  Where everyone is happy with their completely plastic existence.  No joke, everything is plastic and no living thing exists.  Which, is kind of cool, not the no living thing part but the plastic part.  It makes for easy clean up.  But the viewer is clearly supposed to be horrified by the self centered greedy product worship going on.  In walks a boy, who likes a girl. The girl wants more than anything to see a real tree. The boy wants the girl so he sets out to find a real tree.  I’d like to stop here and point out that none of this perfect little plastic happy community would have been upset if a boy hadn’t been trying to please a girl. (Garden of Eden).  In his journey to find a tree, he discovers how all the trees disappeared, due to shear selfishness, all the trees were cut down.  It’s a sad commentary on something I’m sure. But it fell on deaf ears here because it was so completely implausible. NO ONE thought to plant more trees?  People were so caught up in making huge profits from this thing,

that they never stopped to consider the ramifications of totally deforesting the land?  So, now there are no trees, and the air quality is rapidly getting worser.  Something has to be done.  Someone must intervene and save these stupid greedy face sweater wearing people, FROM THEMSELVES!!  In comes, clean air man, O’Hare.  He has a solution that will clean up all the polluted air choking the life out of the good, but greedy citizens of Thneedville.  So he comes up with air scrubbers that filter the air and keep it clean down to the particulate level.  You could eat of the air it’s so clean.  Now back to the boy who wants to get the girl by bringing back the trees. O’Hare, catching wind of the boy’s sneaky scheme pitches a hissy fit and screams violently at times about how if you plant trees I can’t make money of off all clean air I’m selling to people because trees make clean air for free.  That parts true.  They do in fact do that.  Trees are awesome carbon filters.

It’s at about this point in the film that it dawns on my grossly offended sensibilities, Mr. O’Hare the clean air guy isn’t representing the manufacturing industry, he’s representing the environmentalist industry.  Go back to when I told you about self combusting lakes of fire.  Nixon started the EPA to help put a stop to industrial pollution that was arguably harmful to both people and the environment.  Along with this came the Clean Air Act which gave the EPA the regulatory authority to ensure these, and other more punitive safeguards were being implemented and followed.  This created a whole new industrial niche called Green Energy.  These are the companies that come in and save stupid humans from themselves by making our environment better, through their really expensive and inefficient alternative energies and regulations that support their profit margins.  They also get really nasty when you try and point out the fact that solar and wind are not really all that great at providing energy, or oddly enough, all that environmentally friendly either.

So my take away from the Lorax, it was far more of an indictment against the Green Energy Industry than it was against manufacturing.  There was a serious problem that required an immediate environmental solution, but as with all things, those solutions don’t necessarily remain the most efficient way to do things and change is needed and companies need to adapt instead of bilking the tax payer with a loan guarantee.  In the case of the Lorax, the whole sordid drama could have been avoided if someone would have replanted the stupid trees to begin with. Seriously, nobody even suggested it.  It was like that episode of Portlandia in the feminist bookstore where the intern tried to alphabetize the books and the two lesbian store owners looked at her like she was a straight man.  Just bottles the mind.

Leadership Issues Plagued Rebel Alliance, Prolonged War

Ron Ashkenas writes in his article Why People Micromanage, “Over the past few decades I’ve worked with hundreds of managers, and many complain that they work for micromanagers. But strangely I don’t recall anyone who ever admitted to being one.”  The problem with this approach is beautifully articulated in this Avoiding Micromanaging quote, “Micromanagers take perfectly positive attributes – an attention to detail and a hands-on attitude – to the extreme. Either because they’re control-obsessed, or because they feel driven to push everyone around them to success, micromanagers risk disempowering their colleagues. They ruin their colleagues’ confidence, hurt their performance, and frustrate them to the point where they quit.”  This was really what lay at the heart of the Rebel Alliance’s failure to secure victory for so long.  A micromanager whose management style eventually drove Han Solo to quit.  If you look at the organizational chart below (not comprehensive), you can see there was only one person in charge of like everyone, and it made no logical sense to have her in charge.

Why was Princess Leia briefing X-Wing fighters about the tactical assault on the Death Star? (h/t Family Guy for pointing out the absurdity).  Was she a pilot?  Did she pick off rat thingy’s in Beggars Canyon back home that weren’t much bigger than 2 meters? No. She was adopted by some Senator and handed the title of Princess, and it was never made clear why. (Don’t send emails explaining how this happened, I don’t really care)

Had the rebels had a better sense of who was in charge, they would have found the confidence they needed to succeed and push through to victory sooner.  One author said it this way, “Poor organization structure and work processes (in other words poor organization design) stop many organization’s from achieving high performance. Unfortunately many leaders think of organization design as something done by the H.R boffins.”  Perhaps Princess Leia felt the same way, she would just let the boffins take care of the rebel’s performance issues.  Or maybe she simply failed to see her role in the problem.  Whatever the reason, the question remains, why the hell was she in charge?

Let’s now take a look at the Empire.  You’ll recall they had some strategic victories against the rebels, Hoth not the least of which.  But why should it be that they had such marked successes?  They were after all evil.  Well, they had some distinct advantages, the Death Star for one.  But the also had an impressive organizational structure, where the chain of command was clearly defined.  See below:

Unless you were stupid or dead, no one could have been confused by this.  It was simple and straightforward.  The other advantage was the ability of the Emperor to delegate responsibility to Darth Vadar.  He new the dark side of the Force was strong with Vadar, this skill set allowed the Emperor to build the evil bond of trust which was so vital to the mission of crushing the rebels.  Finally, the Death Star was tidy.  Kyra Sheahan puts it’s this way, “Working in an office environment that is neat and tidy will reduce the amount of time you spend hunting files down, and increase your ability to get things done.”  The insistance of the leadership to keep the Death Star clean was evident on all levels, from the garbage dumping before jumping into hyperdrive, to cleaning up dead generals after Vadar Force choked them.

In the end, the rebels were victorious.  Their righteous cause and huge assist from Wookies and teddy bears could not be thwarted no matter how illogical and token Princess Leia was as a leader.  She did unfreeze Han Solo and kill Jabba the Hut in a space bikini, to her credit, but her failure to step out of the way, only prolonged the war unnecessarily.  Had she done so, we may have all been spared the Ewoks.  Why even have those things? WHY?