There’s no prep class for life

When I’m trying to procrastinate I do what a lot of people do and that’s browse Reddit. There’s a thread where various teenagers are posting what is the biggest current problem they are facing, and adults are responding with why it’s not a big deal. As I read it, I was struck by the feeling that these anxious, stressed-out kids are doing exactly what we told them to do.

Cures for the common ennui

Here at Nostrikethat Industries, we are focused on solutions, not problems. Also, wine in a box. We focus on that a lot.

The cheaper, the better.
The cheaper, the better.

Because this is the Internet, I get to be an expert despite the lack of any formal training, aptitude, or even real intelligence.

By the way kids, that was lesson 1.

Here are my recommendations for the teens of today.

Go sell something for a living

Cures: anxiety. Also treats (but does not cure) “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up” syndrome.

One time I bought vinyl siding for my house because I really liked the door to door sales guy that showed up and I was afraid to say no. He even had that little kit where he poured the water through the vinyl beads and everything! I’m not sure I remember what that was supposed to prove, but it was impressive at the time. It turned out we could neither afford vinyl siding, nor did we really need it so through a little loophole called “both homeowners needed to sign the contract” we escaped sans siding.

Years later, I somewhat accidentally found myself in technology sales. I learned a lot, mostly about how hard it is to sell things for a living. I also learned how to take rejection and get on with my life. I’m no longer in sales, but I am no longer afraid of sales people, either.

First prize is a Cadillac el Dorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is you're fired.
First prize is a Cadillac el Dorado, second prize is a set of steak knives, third prize is you’re fired.

Hang out with little kids

Cures: ennui, existential crises, lack of motivation

For reasons unknown, one year when I was maybe 13 I signed up to be a camp counselor at vacation bible school. I have a younger brother so I thought I was prepared for dealing with little kids, but being around a bunch of 6 year olds making macaroni art and making animal noises during the Noah’s Ark song was awesome. Except for snack time: when they want their juice and crackers, they want it now.

Little kids have a refreshingly simple outlook on life. Most of it occurs over their head, so unless there are cookies up there it’s not worth worrying about. As long as there are legs to hug, grass to roll in, and friends to chase everything is pretty amazing. And little kids are so excited to do things! Maybe it’s only for five minutes, but man what a five minutes!

Create something awful

Cures: Apathy

We live in an time where, thanks to technology, the barrier to entry for so many things is so very low. Don’t wait to go to film school, start shooting movies now with your cell phone. Don’t go to college and study theater, just make machinima with Minecraft. Teach yourself to code. Write horrible blog posts.

You don’t have to go to college. There are no gate-keepers holding you back. Go. Create. Express yourself. Of course it will be bad.

That’s the point.

You don’t get to good until you go through a lot of bad.

And get off my lawn

One of the best comments in the Reddit thread was “Teenagers’ problems are just adult problems without perspective.” I get it, kids are kids, and the point of being a teenager is to have these kinds of problems. I still wonder how many of our children are this way because we made it so.

We wanted our children to be “team players” and “achievers”, so we made them play half a dozen sports so they could achieve trophies and medals, but now they don’t know have to have unscheduled fun.

We’ve taken away or neutered rites of passage except going to college, and so many our children are obsessed with this one at a time where the average cost of a college education at an in-state public university is almost $20,000 for residents, despite the overwhelming evidence that the world needs welders and mechanics.

We’ve made it so our children cannot leave our sight without us, and we have given them cell phones so that when they do we’re never more than two swipes away. Somehow, we’re surprised when they’re so comfortable around us that they move back in and never leave.

As parents, we are conditioned to sign our kids up for classes: art classes and music classes and SAT prep classes ad nauseum because if there’s something you want to do, there’s a class you should take first.

Unless that something is “live your life”, because there’s no prep class for that.


Have any more recommendations for the teens of today? Leave a comment!

The Back to School Night Drinking Game

If there’s one thing you develop an appreciation for as a parent of four children, it’s the ritual of the Back to School night.

By “develop an appreciation for” I mean “loathe with an intensity reserved for people who take up two parking spaces.”

In the Nostrikethat household, we have two versions of the Back to School Night: the Mommy version and the Daddy version.

In the Mommy Version, the Mommy:

  • Sits in the cafeteria with all of the other parents
  • Watches all of the PowerPoint slides
  • Takes copious notes
  • Goes to the classroom
  • Admires the handiwork of the all the students, not just ours
  • Makes note of the entire seating arrangement of the class for future conversation with the child
  • Leaves a loving, supportive note on the child’s desk
  • Stays for the grade level presentation
  • Takes additional notes
  • Mingles with other parents in the classroom afterwards

The Daddy Version looks a little different:

  • Stand in the back of the room thinking rude thoughts about everyone who dressed up
  • Roll eyes at PowerPoint slides
  • Leave early to go to the classroom
  • Scrawl “DADDY WUZ HERE” on a sticky note borrowed from the teacher’s desk and leave it on a student’s desk
  • Hope you got the right desk
  • Sneak out the side door avoiding eye contact with other parents

This year we split it down the middle and I ended up at the Back To School Night for 5th grade. Daddy skills activate!

Won’t Somebody Think Of The Children?

I was excited to learn that my school system was deploying an intricate sticker system to protect our children from homicidal maniacs.

This, combined with the “Buzz to Enter” system deployed last year, ensures my children are going to be as safe at school as they would be in a 5 floor walkup apartment.

Homicidal maniacs would then be confined with rainbow loom bracelets until the authorities arrived
Homicidal maniacs would then be confined with rainbow loom bracelets until the authorities arrived

I was also excited to learn that as part of a “Suck the Fun Out Of Life” initiative our school district will be serving broccoli and hummus at all Halloween and Valentine Day parties.

On one hand, I am happy that we are inching closer to reversing the notion that Ketchup is, in any sense, a vegetable. On the other hand, without pagan orgies both holidays have lost a little bit of their lustre and were being held together only by candy and the entire operating budget of Hallmark. I fear broccoli in the treat bag will be a fatal blow.

Recess shall remain a maximum of 30 minutes and occur immediately after lunch so the little fatties can hork up their Pepperoni Lunchables(tm).

As I stood in the back of the room the Principal (he’s my pal) discussed how math was going to “deeper” this year in the new curriculum. My neighbor was standing next to me. Because I am actually 13, I wondered out loud of it was going to be “harder” as well as “deeper”, and if they would be going “faster” too.

Uhhh huh huh huh huh... you said "math" ... heheheh
Uhhh huh huh huh huh… you said “in” … heheheh

My neighbor turned bright red and karate-chopped me with her copy of 50 Shades of Gray.

The Lady from the PTA started talking, which I took as my cue to fake an important phone call and leave the Land of Tiny Lunch Tables.

I narrowed down my daughter’s classroom to one of four possible candidates. Fortunately, I guessed right because I found the desk that smelled like chlorine with a little bit of “Bath and Body Works Lavender Apple Makes My Nose Itch.”

Whipping out my trusty Sharpie, I proceeded to draw on her desk “I ❤ Evan” (who sits next to her) and pray fervently that Evan gets to school first.

On my way out the student teacher, who looks about 2 years older than my daughter, has finally worked up the nerve to talk to me.

“Hi! I’m Ms. Waytooyoung!”

“Oh, that’s nice.”

“Is your child in this class?”

“Excuse me, I have to take this call.”

I hit the side door just as the main herd lets out of Broccoli Central.

DADDY WUZ HERE.


BONUS CONTENT!

The Official “Back To School Night” Drinking Game!

Rules:

  1. When someone mentions how important you, the Parent, are, take a drink.
  2. When there is a technical difficulty during the presentation, take a drink.
  3. When an educator makes a joke about how they’re not good with computers or “that email”, chug.
  4. One drink each for a slide containing any of the following words: empower, vision, nurturing, community, values
  5. When the PTA’s fundraiser involves candles, chug.
  6. Whenever applause awkwardly half starts, dies a little, and then starts again, drink.
  7. If there is a typo on any slide, chug.

To play: print out this blog post and give it to your friends. Or hit “reload” 5 times, your choice.

Cheating at life

One of the hardest things for me about being a parent is dealing with the idea that there are just certain things I can’t (and even shouldn’t) do for my kids. I didn’t realize just how strong the urge would be to jump in the middle of something they were doing and “help.”

I want to help them cheat at life.

Even by my standards this is a horrible idea. I still wonder, though, if I could give my kids the real benefit of my experiences, what would I give them?

Failures

When you’re a kid, life is really just a series of screw-ups waiting to happen. Sometimes I forget this, which leads me to ask the largely rhetorical question: “What were you thinking?”

I have failed atrociously over the course of my life; fortunately, the biggest Fails have happened well before the era of Social Media so they exist undocumented, save in the mythology of my old friends.

Note to old friends who may be reading this: I will be moderating the heck out of these comments. “Undocumented” is the key word here.

I wish I could rip some of these mistakes right out of my head, blow on them a  bit to dust them off, and then shove them Nintendo-style into right into their little brains.

 

For the cheat codes you still have to buy the strategy guide, though
you still have to buy the strategy guide if you want to get 100% complete

 

No, don’t ask that person out! Look what will happen! [thunk]

Beer OR Jagermeister, not Beer AND Jagermeister! Look what will happen! [thunk]

Watch out for that tree! [thunk]

 

Confidence

How is a kid supposed to know when they’re good at something or not, when they haven’t sucked at enough things to be able to know what being good at something feels like?

On the other hand, I have sucked at a looooot of things. Here’s a short selection:

  • I had an ill-considered foray into stand-up comedy my senior year of high school that resulted in the football team chasing me off the stage
  • I got fired from my job in gas station when I was 17. Fired. From a gas station.
  • All of 1997.

 

The first concert I ever went to see. Life lesson: a lot of your “firsts” are cringe-worthy 20 years later

 

I wish I could give my kids the feeling that no matter what, everything will probably be all right in the end, even if it takes a while to get there.

Resilience

Sometimes things aren’t all right in the end, though. Like a tree that’s been pruned by a 1976 Volvo, sometimes life comes along and takes a big chunk out of you and It. Never. Grows. Back.

Death of a loved one. Stricken by disease or injury. The world is full of stories of people who inspire us by not just surviving but thriving in the face of something life-altering. Even if you’re in really bad shape, you can get better.

 

Sometimes, though, you end up with a cool dinosaur shape
You might even end up with a cool dinosaur shape

 

Self-acceptance

I used to believe that if I ever ran away to a Tibetan monastery and devoted my entire life to mastering the martial arts and learning Ancient Secrets that I could one day become Batman. The fact that I wasn’t yet Batman was a matter of personal choice–I just didn’t exercise the option.

One day I groggily sat up, scratches myself inappropriately, coughed, and threw my back out. At that precise moment I realized that, like a cosmic odometer rolling over an infinitesimal probability, my chances of becoming Batman went from practically zero to exactly zero.

I am still coming to terms with the door closing on my once-promising career in the Justice League. I haven’t given up on the gadgets or the batmobile yet. On the plus side, I have realized there are an entire set of things that are not me, and I am totally fine with this.

My standards of dress have also loosened considerably

Appreciation

One of the things I never realized was just how good I had it, whenever it was being had. Consider:

When you’re a baby people feed you, ooh and ah over you, you can sleep as much as you want, and toes are a delicious and entertaining treat. It probably doesn’t get any better than this, but you’re a stupid baby and in a rush to be a “big kid” so you can do it all by yourself. STUPID BABY! GO BACK TO BEING A BABY!

When you’re a big kid your job is to play and learn. Sometimes things are hard–like the pavement, which you are always running into. If you make a mess of things, though, no one will really remember except your sister, because remembering all of your mistakes is what sisters are for. You still get fed with alarming regularity and you never want to sleep. Toes are not as delicious as pizza. You can’t reach the high stuff in the cabinets without climbing on the counter. If only you were a little bigger, a little taller, a little faster.

When you’re a teenager you don’t “play” any more (unless it’s video games or sports), but you do a lot of “hanging out”, which looks a lot like playing but is less lame.  Your parents claim they feed you, but you suspect they are lying liars because you are always hungry. You can finally reach the top shelf without having to climb on the counter, yay! You can also be tried as an adult just for having a girlfriend with high-strung parents, boo. Mostly, you just can’t wait to go to college.

In college you do less drudgery than you ever did your entire academic career and you’re entirely unsupervised. You are legally an adult but still mentally a child, with all of the rights and privileges that go along with making horrible life choices that entails. You are also broke and can’t wait until you get out of school and get a Real Job.

You finally land your first Real Job, only to discover that now you have Real Bills. You wake up dreaming of sucking on toes and book an appointment with your therapist because that can’t be normal…

Nothing says "I love you" like the gift of Social Isolation!
I should tweet that #weirdtoedream

Up Up Down Down…

I was swapping kid stories with a friend the other day and she was sharing an elaborate hoax she pulled off on their kids to get them to think they had school on a holiday, complete with a fake twitter account and everything, which was absolutely brilliant. This, I think, is the perfect metaphor for why experience has to be earned and not given:

Without the head start of old age, how the heck am I supposed to mercilessly troll my children?

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