My Facebook feed is full of posts telling me to “slow down”, “relax”, and “this one trick will make you click this article”. As we race towards the winter solstice here in North America, bloggers everywhere start cranking out 500 word pieces of faux transcendental spiritualism telling me that I’m too busy, my kids are too scheduled, and I’m going to die alone and friendless unless I Focus On What’s Really Important In Life, like generating ad impressions for Buzzfeed.
No one ever said on their deathbed, “Gee, I wish I worked more.”
Know what else no one ever said on their deathbed?
“Gee, I wish I spent more time cleaning up other people’s messes.”
Hello, my name is Mr. Nostrikethat, and I Schedule The Crap Out of My Life and the Lives of My Children.
Well technically, Mrs. Nostrikethat Schedules The Crap Out of My Life, but she does it with My Complete Approval.
The not-so-subtle crushing burden of guilt from these articles is that we are spending too much time in our cars driving our children to soccer/irish dance/swimming/volleyball/mui thai and not enough time “making memories” or some crap that presumably involves reclaimed popsicle sticks and ethically sourced flannel.
I’m going to let you in on a dirty little secret.
I like it this way.
You know what’s worse than being busy? Being busy with a bunch of crap you have to do not want to do.
If we don’t plan to get out of the house, it means we end up cleaning. Usually constantly, because if everyone’s home the kitchen doesn’t stay clean for more than 15 seconds before someone comes in looking for a snack and leaves crap everywhere and HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU HEATHENS TO PUT YOUR DISH IN THE DISHWASHER OH YOU’RE GOING TO GIVE ME LIP BECAUSE IT’S CLEAN WELL GUESS WHO JUST VOLUNTEERED TO EMPTY IT MR. LIP-GIVER.
When I was younger there seemed to be a nearly limitless set of possibilities for what I could do. The day I realized that there was absolutely zero chance that day that I was going to get up and hike the Andes in Peru to see Macchu Picu was the day I accepted that my world had shrunk. These days, my universe of possibilities looks something like:
Clean something dirty
Fix something the kids broke
Fix something I broke
Walk the dog
Make food for one or more people
Go shopping for more food
Have a cup of coffee
Take everything out of the garage, and then put it all back in again
It’s not so much a routine as it is a well-worn trail through the overgrowth of life.
Unfortunately, a post called “Keep doin’ what you’re doin'” isn’t likely to be a viral smash hit, so we get to endure more of these posts until we get to the week before Christmas, also known on the Blogger’s calendar as The Week of the Year’s Best Lists, because there is absolutely no irony in writing a blog post telling people to get offline and spend more time with their family.
In fact, I’d probably write my own counter-retort, but I’m too busy.
One of the few upsides of having 1.5 more children than average is the gift of laughter. Specifically, laughter at all of the stupid things you used to do when you only had one kid.
Remember when we said we would never parent with television?
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Hahah. Heh.
Oh those were the days.
One of the most bizarre rituals I used to partake in was the Giant Elementary School Birthday Party.
Number 1: I Don’t Need More Friends
When your are in the throes of raising your oldest child, there are a lot of things that seem like a good idea at the time. One of them is the massively large and/or overly elaborate birthday party that you throw for them in Kindergarten or first grade. Like pretty much everything else we do for our first child this is A) largely a mistake and 2) doesn’t really benefit anyone except us. Here’s how it works.
You, the parent, drop anywhere from $300-$500 on a pre-packaged Birthday Experience Center involving inflatables, animatronic critters, and/or an 18-Wheeler loaded with video games. In return, you get a chance to impress the other parents in your kid’s class and hopefully make some friends for the next 4-5 years until they all split up for middle school, because if there’s one lesson we’ve all learned as adults it’s that if you need temporary friends the fastest way to get them is to flash the cash.
You also get to find out who “Ian” is and why he’s always on Red.
You justify this to yourself by adding up the cost of cake, ice cream, pizza, a carton of Marlboros, a bottle of Jack Daniels, a Johnny Cash CD and attorney’s fees for representing you when you lose custody of your children and decide it makes perfect sense to outsource the entire experience to a Birthday Experience Center.
The moment of truly poetic irony comes when you tell yourself that you don’t really have the time to do all of this anyway, even though this is your first child and YOU WILL NEVER HAVE MORE FREE TIME than this.
Number 2: The Trauma
I attended a Chuck-e-Cheese pizza party once in 1984. I must have done well enough to end up on someone’s “Top 10 Friends” list, or at least the “Top 15 Just In Case Someone On The Top 10 RSVPs No”.
I remember Loudness, Skee-ball, Pizza, and Dragon’s Lair. And tickets. Lots and lots of tickets.
Returning to the Lair of the Rat in 2014 was a completely different experience.
I freely admit that as an adult my tastes have gotten substantially more lame.
I no longer “Rock Out” with or without anything else that might rhyme with “rock” hanging out with me.
I listen to classical music mostly because it’s a reasonable replacement for Marlboro’s and Jack Daniels and far more acceptable to be caught consuming in a minivan full of children.
My idea of a fun Friday night is staring at a camp fire, listening to the crickets chirp, and enjoying some Chateau Vin du Box, vintage le Tuesday Last Week.
The occasion this time was Faceman‘s second best friend’s birthday party.
This year all of my son’s classmates must come from extremely wealthy homes because we’ve turned down invitations to:
The 1956 Yankees-Dodgers World Series
A backyard BBQ with U2
The Dali Lama’s reading of The Vagina Monologues
It’s only October.
Fortunately, Faceman is actually child #3 and I don’t need or want any more friends. Also if we ask our son “Who is Declan?” and the response is “Declan who?” we’re not going because it involves messing with one of our carpools for swimming and that dog don’t hunt.
As someone who is no longer 48″ tall, Chuck E. Cheese has lost some of the magic for me. My son seemed to enjoy running around and putting coins in machines to get a varying number of tickets out in a bizarre parody of strip club economics.
The pizza was a member of the pizza species in the same way that Taco Bell is Mexican food.
There was an Art History major in a giant rat costume who challenged the Birthday Boy to an air guitar contest. And lost. Hopefully on purpose because the dude was only 7 and can’t reliably spell “guitar” without turning one of the letters backwards in an adorable fashion.
There were animatronic characters lip-syncing to muppet characters displayed on flat screen TVs covering pop music from 10 years ago.
It was loud, cringeworthy, and tacky beyond description.
The kids loved it. Especially the Giant Talking Rat part.
I looked for a corner and curled up into a fetal position and silently sang We Built This City to myself over and over.
Number 3: The Mingling
The “best” part about these affairs is that they are conventionally not “drop off” parties, so the adults are contractually obligated to stay and mingle. This works really well because even in our fairly affluent and progressive community it’s still 99% of the time the moms who do these things so they get together and talk about particle physics or whatever it is women talk about when their men are not in earshot.
Mrs. Nostrikethat, however, is wise to these games, and so I am sent to make nicey-nice and be the legally responsible adult. Also, it’s easier than dealing with the other 3 kids.
As a dad, I can often get a lot more accomplished than a mom in a room full of other moms. Normally, I am completely ignored (just like high school), which mean I can just sit there, read my Kindle and collect gossip.
I am also really good at the “sit near a group and slowly move into it” move, where I just sit near a group of women who are talking and make eye contact with the speakers an an assertive but hopefully not sexually-harassing way and eventually incorporate myself into the conversation. This is a useful technique for when I have an opinion on something I hear being discussed, like the Halloween Party debacle at the school.
Mostly though the other moms don’t know what to do with me, so I’m left to fend for myself.
Just like high school.
It’s not that those of us with N > 2.5 kids are directly judging those of you with less, it’s more like we are marathoners listening to people who are training for their first 5K: everyone’s race is hard, we’ve just done a little more a little longer. Feel free to keep inviting us to your birthday parties, and we will dutifully consider at least a third of them before pressing the Delete key because this Franzia isn’t going to drink itself and you don’t need to impress me, nor I you.
This Saturday, millions of Americans will sit on a grassy field in camp chairs and watch their young children enthusiastically ignore a soccer ball. American Youth Soccer is where families of all backgrounds get to watch their children get their collective arses handed to them by That Other Team that has a child from a Country That Takes Soccer Seriously.
One of the great traditions in American Youth Soccer is the apres-game snack. Like all things in our society today, the snack we bring makes a statement to all of the other parents about what kinds of parents we are pretending to be.
Choosing an appropriate snack is a highly complex calculation involving nut allergies, ratio of SUVs to Minivans on the team, multiple calls to Miss Cleo, and a soul-searching evaluation of how much you hate that mom who wears the triathlon gear LIKE IT’S HER FRICKIN JOB.
To help you navigate this potential minefield of social stigma Nostrikethat Industries has compiled a handy reference guide. Want to make a statement next Saturday?
Sliced Oranges, the way God intended. It’s a food and a drink all in one, which is evidence of His Perfect Vision. If He had wanted us to have something different, He would not have given us the miracle of the High School Music Booster Fruit Sale.
The Warehouse Clubbers
Pre-sliced apples in the individually wrapped plastic packages and a 2 boxes of Capri-suns. The apple slices are a nod to healthy snacks, and the capri-suns come 4 boxes to a SKU so you can give two away and still have enough for lunches for a while. Alternately, substitute individually-wrapped mini blueberry muffin packages if you’re feeling saucy.
The Stopped On the Way to the Gamers
Big bag or box full of little potato chip bags and a case of Snapple. Look, they were in adjacent aisles and we left the van running in the bag pick up lane because after the morning we’ve had we’re cashing in some karma, okay?
The Trader Joes
Whatever the heck they’re calling granola bars and juice boxes this week (Trader José’s Montezuma Granola?), served from the Trader Joe’s reusable shopping bag because Trader Joe’s is the most amazing grocery store ever and way better than Whole Paycheck although we have to shop there sometimes because I like to buy quinoa in bulk. Trader Joes.
The Enlightened Followers of Food That Is Twice Half
Organic vegan nut-free flax muffins with fair trade coconut water, served on hemp napkins that were lovingly hand-selected on the family’s last eco-tour vacation to Guatemala. Namaste, y’all.
The Sugar Polizei
Hand-sliced carrots and raisins in a snack bag and mini water bottles. I care deeply about my family’s health, and as a result your children will learn a lesson today about politely saying thank you for the carrots. I hope we win today because no one has ever drowned their sorrows in raisins, either.
The Still Three Days to Paydayers
Pink lemonade in a pitcher and sketchy looking grapes. Look, this game is Saturday and we get paid again next Tuesday and I know what I should get but I had to choose between a haircut and new underwear this month so you get what I have in my pantry and the kids are just going to take marshmallows to school on Monday because we won’t have any grapes left but we have to keep up appearances because God help us if someone discovers we’re one of the 80% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck.
The Pixie Stick Partiers
Varies, but tends towards gatorade bottles and mini tins of pringles, occasionally with leftover Halloween candy thrown in if it’s late in the season. The kid who’s parents bring these is automatically the default game MVP, even as his parents themselves get the Stink Eye from every other parent in the tri-county area. Time may heal all wounds, but 210 grams of sugar at 11 AM turns that frown upside down in time for the 11:30 piano lesson.
We are so, so judging you. Choose wisely.
This post is dedicated to my mom friend Roger, who is a total Sugar Police. Roger I know you’re reading this, love ya babe 😉