Sunday, November 27, 2016

What Not to Gift

Before I get to the main topic du jour, just an observation about American culture.  While free trade to a degree but mainly automation have killed American manufacturing, there is one thing we continue to manufacture at levels unseen anywhere in the world: Stress.   No country on earth can compete with us, for we are always finding new and unexpected ways to add it to any and every situation.  Case in point: The Holidays, in theory a time of enjoying family and friends.  In actuality, a time of enjoying very little because of all the things we think we need to do and buy and also the fact apparently a lot of people don't actually like their family and very many of their friends.  I've seen so many "handling holiday stress" stories on TV and magazine covers, I'm starting to think that if I don't feel stressed at the holidays, I'm doing something wrong.

Now that that general observation is out of the way, let's turn to one of the things we Americans get very worked up about, gifts.  What to give people who already have whole houses full of crap and have zero capacity for delayed gratification, which is pretty much every American to some degree.  And what to give to those tiniest and most spoiled of Americans? Well, I'm here to help.  I've not got a clue what you should buy your children/grandchildren/other spoiled small humans in your life.   But I'm going to give you some general guidelines about what NOT to get them.  The main thing to think of when choosing a kid's gift is What effect will it have on the mother of that child? Will it ease her burden or add to her insanity?  Unless you do not like the mother in question, or if you are the mother in question and live with an abiding self-hatred, you want to avoid gifts that will result in a trip to the psychiatric ward.

More specifically, when choosing a gift, ask yourself the following questions, and if you answer YES to any of them, PUT DOWN THE GIFT AND WALK AWAY.  Do NOT buy it.  Do NOT.

Does the item make spontaneous noises that cannot be turned off?  Noises are OK in general, especially if they feature in a toy that will actually engross children long enough for mom go to the bathroom, to include thorough butt-wiping (I don't know about you, but there have been many unfortunate instances when I had to rush off to do the Heimlich maneuver on a child without adequately tending to that task).  In addition, most noises are easily drowned out by children fighting over them (I think Pokemon Go has sound, but I've never heard it), or valuable items crashing to the floor, or hordes of feet stomping around or anxiety-ridden dogs freaking out over any of those other things.  But there are some toys the noises of which give the distinct impression of demon-possession, and that's not going to be good for anyone's mental health.  They turn on without warning or provocation, like Kanye West at a charity telethon.  You are just walking through a room, and suddenly, you hear a chipper voice say something creepy like, "I love you, hee hee."  It startles you enough to send you fleeing, barefoot, over a field of legos, which you will then spend the next several days dislodging with tweezers (and perhaps then reassembling into an x-wing fighter).  Or, you will be drifting off to sleep, safe in your bed, only to be roused by the random, mocking chirps of a Zhou Zhou pet in the other room because a faint, molecular disturbance has mistakenly alerted him that someone wants to play or his hamster wheel is in the vicinity.   My friends, battery-operated toys require an on-and-off switch. So do tweeting Presidents-elect, but we ain't getting that, so please choose your Christmas gifts more wisely than you do your government officials.

Does the child need assistance with the gift?  And I do mean ANY assistance.  If the child can't grab it off the shelf, know what to do with it within 5 seconds, and operate its every feature completely alone while mom is passed out on the sofa, do not buy that toy.  In a similar vein, consider age appropriateness. Yes, your 3 year-old nephew is a genius who needs intellectual challenge, but let's face it, he is not going to be able to dissolve insect carcasses in homemade hydrochloric acid all by himself.  In fact, science experiment sets in general are a big NO unless the child is old enough to have no interest in them anymore.  As are most crafting sets.  My 5 year old will not be able to sew a sock puppy unless I sew the sock puppy.  The sock puppy is really for me to make, if we are being honest.  And guess what, I DO NOT WANT TO MAKE A SOCK PUPPY!!! I also don't want to make a mosaic stepping stone, excavate dinosaur bones from a block of cement, or weave a bunch of rubber bands together to make fine jewelry.  I want to read a book while my children do things that don't involve me.

Does the gift have more than 3 pieces? Let me tell you what children do with toys that have parts.  They take the toy apart.  They scatter the pieces all through the house as if they are venturing into an enchanted forest and will need a way to get back out without being eaten by a witch.  They take pieces into the car.  They take other pieces over to someone's house and leave them there.  They bury some pieces in the sandbox.  They eat pieces, poop them out, and flush the toilet.  They use their evil child magic to vanish the pieces into thin air.  And then they cry because they cannot find the pieces to their toy and it is now ruined and they can't possibly sleep until all the pieces of the toy can be located and the toy is placed whole again in the their bed where it will ward off all the other evil toys that tried to dismember it so they could then come and feast on the child in the night.  Nor can they shoot those evil toys with their nerf gun because all the foam bullets have eloped with some very essential legos.

And now, A Very Special Word About Legos.  Legos are the Thomas Jefferson of toys.  Brilliant, creative, inventive, and generally a force for good in the world.  Until they go and own some slaves--or in the case of legos, have one million billion tiny pieces that do not stay assembled--and ruin everything.  Parents keep buying legos because they are cool and because parents themselves love legos, but then like that awesome guy you dated in college who turned out to be a serial killer, legos come for your sanity and they do not rest until they have crushed it into a million lego-sized pieces that they then mix in and get vacuumed up with.  Last Christmas, my children convinced me to buy them a 6 million piece rendition of the Ewouk village from Return of the Jedi.  It wasn't a hard sell, because Oh My Dear Aunt Jemima IT'S FREAKING STAR WARS.  And if I had been on the fence, one glance at the teeny tiny Ewouk figures would have finished me.  Those things are the cutest.  I bought the set, and I then had an absolute blast assembling it (not joking, it was really, really fun), with minimal help from my largely uninterested children.  When it was done, they were thrilled.  They immediately seized upon it and began playing.  One piece fell off, two, three, 23, 53...I frantically tried to reassemble it in real time.  I was like Kellyanne Conway trailing Donald Trump with a pooper scooper.  After giving up on that, I tried to grab the pieces and at least put them in a separate container so I could fix the set at a later date.   That later date never arrived, and my kids found the container and dumped in in with all their other billions of legos which they then scattered to the four corners of the earth as if they are blowing dandelion seeds all over creation.  The set now sits a sad ruin of its former self, a testament to a proud past of mommy accomplishment that will never be revisited.  Maybe I should have just bought a lego set of the Parthenon and made that, then you wouldn't be able to tell when it was wrecked.

So, will I ever buy another massive lego set again?  Yes, yes, I will. I now have my eye on the Millennium Falcon.  But I have also since bought lego glue (yes, it exists), and I'm going to build that thing to withstand Hurricane Katrina.  You just wait.

Does the gift have any glitter of any kind anywhere on it?  Glitter is of the devil and should not exist among any species that hopes to outlive cockroaches.  Glitter may even kill the cockroaches, I wouldn't underestimate it.  In fact, the only thing I could imagine worse than a nuclear bombing would be if the bomb was laced with glitter.  If anyone survived the initial explosion, radiation poisoning would be the kinder way to die slowly.  

Does the gift make any kind of mess whatsoever that a dog/raccoon cannot ingest?  Messes are like noises, some amount is tolerable if it buys parents some free time. But it has to be proportional.  If the activity lasts 5 minutes and results in a mess that takes 3 hours to clean up (I'm looking at you, silly string), that is obviously unacceptable.  Unless it's edible, then send in the wild beasts.  Or even if it's not edible but won't kill anyone.  Maybe the silly string is OK in that case.

Is it harder to get into the packaging than it is to get into Hamilton? Oooh I really want to see Hamilton.  Anything that makes American History cool and annoys Donald Trump is what I'm about. But you can't get in, not without a million dollars.  Much like toy packaging these days, except that all the money in the world won't save you.  I'm waiting for someone to actually die from opening toy packaging. That hard, sharp plastic could easily sever an artery, and you would definitely bleed to death because everyone would be so preoccupied by the children having seizures at the time it is taking for their toy to be liberated that no one would even notice your life ebbing away.

Does the gift NOT come with Hamilton tickets, a gift card for spa treatments, prescription psychiatric drugs, or offers of free babysitting?  Ideally, all children's gifts should come with adult accompaniments, because even if you have meticulously gone through this list and have tried your best to pick an unobjectionable toy, you will probably fail.  Children excel at making even the best things in life a form of torture (see legos), and whatever you give them, the adults in their lives will probably live to regret it.  So just preempt the lawsuits by slipping in something special for Mom and Dad.  Maybe a lego set of some vegetables or something children are afraid of.

Good luck with your holiday shopping everybody!!!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

How To Talk To Your Kids About the 2016 Election

So I am super depressed today about a certain president-elect.  I can't even put his name in the vicinity of the word "president."  Just seems like an insult to George, Abe, FDR and the gang.

But life must go on and I gotta get out of bed, mainly because I have children who really are capable of surviving for at least a few days by themselves, but whose whining borders on listening to Donald Trump say "China" on loop as one of my Top 10 Ways I Don't Want to Go Insane.  Interesting Top 10 list, you might say.  Begs the question of how you WOULD want to go insane.  Thanks for asking, I have actually thought about this extensively, since my insanity is pretty much assured anyway, and I've settled on being licked incessantly by kittens OR living the rest of my life in the grocery store cereal aisle OR, my perennial favorite, baking cookies with my children.  Those all rank highly because, while they will indeed drive me insane, there could intervals of enjoyment.

In addition to whining and various other annoying activities, my children are also looking to me for (shudder) leadership on how to view this election.  After ruling out running through the house screaming "The end is NIGH, Patriots!!!!" while throwing random things into boxes marked with an address in rural Cataan, which my husband has repeatedly settled with great success, I've decided to go with some more measured options that will reassure my children and even show them the upside of this election, which I will share with you now, because as you know, this blog is ALL about offering expert parenting advice on a variety of difficult life topics.

Emphasize that they are not going to die from the election. Today.  Kids don't really know how to take the long view, they live in the now.  And right now, the adults in their lives are subtly signaling to them that the world will spontaneously combust soon, and that may be upsetting to many children.  But you can share with your children the good news that this election is highly unlikely to cause their deaths today, especially if they simply play away from the windows and doors through which angry mobs of feminists are likely to fling their pantsuits. If you feel up to it, however, you can go ahead and have a more challenging discussion in which you gently tell your children that everyone and everything on earth dies eventually, including two-hundred-and-forty-year-old democracies, and that the world actually will eventually spontaneously combust since we are apparently not going to do anything about global warming.

Explain to them that hypocrisy is actually very normal and nothing to be ashamed of.  The ways of adults can be baffling and overwhelming to children because they simply have not acquired the neurological maturity to process them.  For instance, children assume that when adults tell them that certain behavior is wrong--such as calling people names, lying repeatedly and compulsively even when there is TV footage proving you wrong, grossly stereotyping whole groups of people and then strangely adding "the" to the groups' names, and light sexual assault-- children actually believe that we are serious.  They don't understand that those things are only wrong when there isn't a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and that the rest of the time, hypocrisy is a perfectly normal thing that  grown ups do sometimes within the context of a loving relationship with their own righteousness.
And that goes doubly for Christians, because Jesus called us to win every single time and at all costs and when Paul said they will know we are Christians by our love, what he really meant is that they will know we are Christians by our single issue voting.

Tell them that sometimes good people make bad choices.   It doesn't mean they are bad people.  Ask little Susie if she remembers that time when she chose to eat cat poop and then vomited it up all over the new, Constitution-shaped sofa and then ate the vomit and threw that up, too. Was that a good choice? No. But did Mommy still love her and think she was her adorable baby girl? Yes, she did.  However, the sofa was never the same, and nor was Susie's digestive tract.  Sometimes there are consequences to our actions.

Explain that there are almost certainly historical preservation and zoning codes that will constrain the new president's White House decorating scheme.  Children find it reassuring when their external environment remains unchanged.  You can gently assure them that it is highly unlikely that Donald Trump will be able to gold-plate the White House or set up a casino in the basement, although a red velvet throne in the Oval Office is a distinct possibility.

Assure them that McDonalds will not cease to exist as a food option.  McDonalds is a top priority for our children, and though America as we have known it may be ending, McDonalds is here to stay, because if McDonalds can survive Michelle Obama, it will certainly survive Donald Trump.  Until he deports all the undocumented immigrants.  OK, McDonalds may indeed cease to exist as a food option BUT we will still be able to buy chicken nuggets at Costco and China will provide the Crappy Meal toys to all American children for free.

But certain vegetables might.  Your children will feel much better about the future once you've told them that trade embargoes could easily make avocados and other vegetables unavailable in the United States.  On a similar front, coffee may also be unavailable, which means their parents' vicious cycle of drug addiction and their own co-dependency may finally come to an end.

Reminisce to your child about how fun the fear of nuclear holocaust was.  The Cold War was a super interesting and exciting time to be alive--the drama! the intrigue! the cheesy movies! the oversimplified dichotomies!  You have not lived until you have seen Red Dawn, and if the movie was that good, imagine the real thing.  No more boring Saturday afternoons around here!

Explain that Donald Trump will not let Robert Mugabe take all our land.  OK, this one may be case specific to my household.  But if you also have a child who is terrified of Robert Mugabe and fears that his fellow autocrat will invite him to America to pillage our property, you can soothe your child by explaining that Donald Trump almost certainly does not know that Zimbabwe exists and thinks Mugabe is the name of the villain in Zoolander.

Tell them that there WILL be other elections.  Actually, scratch that, that might scare them worse.  

I am sure I not covering all the pertinent issues that your child may bring up.  Feel free to forward me your questions, and I will do my best to help.

Peace out American parents!!! And today's parting tip, just for dads: Remember, your daughter needs to be regularly assured that she is sexually attractive enough for you to date in order to have the confidence to compete in today's job market.