Parents of a Jr. High Schooler

I wonder if we had fed her less over the years, she would have stayed small and cuddly?

I wonder if we had fed her less over the years, she would have stayed small and cuddly?

I remember the day she popped out her mom. It was yesterday. Or it feels like it. I remember every detail of it.

Where did all of that time go?

Today, our daughter started Jr. high school. 6th grade. Holy Tweener, Batman, when did she get that old? I remember going to the school’s Christmas shows and thinking, “wow, look how big those Jr. high school students are. Glad that’s a long way off.”

I AM AN IDIOT. That time is here.

So, on my 29th work day in a row, I’m a little discombobulated by the speed at which my daughter aged. It seems very unfair. And, if there is a God, I’d like to register a complaint with her right now.

The sweet spot of childhood is definitely over. Ages 2 to 11 are the golden years – pajamas with feet, princess dresses, riding on my shoulders, Santa, the Easter bunny, Disneyland trips just before Christmas, a homemade dollhouse, the beach, bringing home a yellow lab puppy.

Don’t be surprised if you read my blog post in seven years about how I’m going to miss the last seven years and how quickly they went. It’s gonna happen.

Yes, Heaven, hello. Please connect me to the complaint department. I’d like to discuss the concept of time and childhood and how to improve it. Yes, I’ll hold. 

Day of the Dolphins

(Warning: Adult language used immaturely. No dolphins were harmed in the writing of this post. And, as it is with all human interactions in my life, everything is my fault)

Pop Quiz

1) The primary reason I, the Unknown Idiot, don’t go to children’s birthday parties is:

A. I hate birthday parties
B. All of the mothers stare at me and undress me with their eyes
C. I believe I will catch a cold and end up in the hospital
D. I break out in hives if I eat cake without first drinking a six-pack of Old Milwaukee

2) True or false: Raising an 11-year old daughter can, on certain days, make you want to ram your head into a brick wall.

A. True
B. False

********

I broke my rule of not going to birthday parties with my daughter. However, I had a good reason to jump aboard the most recent invite: whale watching.

Spending the afternoon on a boat on the Pacific Ocean looking for giant mammals? I was so there.

And there I was with my wife and daughter Sunday afternoon as we boarded a double-decker boat for a four-hour journey to the waters of two Channel Islands: Anacapa and Santa Cruz.

********

Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

Anacapa in the distance. A perfect February day on the Cali coast. Life is good.

3) Approximately, how many Anacapa islands can you fit on Santa Cruz island?

A. 1
B. 10
C. 100
D. None unless you’re Godzilla and you like to tear up islands and move them other places

********

According to the tour guide, you can fit about 100 of the tiny Anacapa on Santa Cruz, the largest of the Channel Islands. Good to know.

So, the boat ride was a blast, as the wind created exciting swells. I stayed on the covered upper level by myself, away from the lower deck, the elements, and the party with its toilets filled with vomiting parents, and had my own zen moments staring at the water and watching people flinch every time they thought a whale popped its head out of the water. None did.

I made trips outside to the exposed deck and cold wind – it was ball-freezing cold – and enjoyed the sun and heaving. I wore my hunting cap, not that I hunt, but it covers my ears better than the paper bag I usually wear over my head.

The offending pants. The front isn't looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The offending pants. The front isn’t looking so hot either. Retire or wear?

The rest of my stylish ensemble included a windproof, lined jacket, turtleneck, two t-shirts and my special “hot pants.” Not the “hot pants” that models wear, though I am a male underwear model in my spare time and could totally get away with wearing the short type of hot pants.

When you're on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That's what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn't find the whales. But we found something better.

When you’re on the water looking for whales, look for birds. That’s what they told us. We found the birds, but we didn’t find the whales. But we found something better.

My hot pants, made by Abercrombie, are literally “hot” because they’re lined with flannel, keeping my rock-hard buns and jewels nice and warm on cold days. Unfortunately, after 15 plus years of wearing them, they’ve seen better days. One might say that I look homeless wearing them.

Oh, and they upset my daughter now that she’s a self-conscious 11-year old (more on this later).

Though no whales made an appearance during our trip, we did see something very special: hundreds of common dolphins racing to a feeding area occupied by hundreds of gulls.

Think: dolphin party.

They swam next to the boat, under the boat, around the boat, in the distance, and up and out of the water. Hundreds of them.

All I can add is that it’s a good thing the fuckers can’t fly because we would have shot them out of the sky and feasted on dolphin stew. Kidding, this isn’t “the cove” where killing dolphins is allowed.

No, mother*******s, this is California and we don’t eat our dolphins here. We love our dolphins. We shoot them with iPhones and digital cameras and post their pictures to our blogs with cute captions, like “Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.”

Back to the day trip.

It's very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don't listen to direction and surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

It’s very hard to photograph dolphins, as they don’t listen to direction or surface in a coordinated fashion. The white splashes, well, I just missed them.

Whales: zero, dolphins: a shitload.

Back to shore we headed. Shortly after 5 we were off to downtown Ventura for some Thai food, where we joined a good friend and her daughter.

Now my daughter, who was tired and hungry from being in the cold and running around the boat with her friends, sat there on the vinyl bench-seat one wrong comment away from Tasmanian Devil mode.

And sure enough the spark arrived when her friend said to me: “Hey, you have holes in your pants.”

I find that lying in these situations is best.

“No, I don’t. You’re imagining things.”

But she stuck to her guns and disagree with my attempt to deflect by telling a blatant lie.

Hey, it's Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

Hey, it’s Flipper, my little dolphin buddy.

My daughter’s eyes focused on me. Arms crossed. She shook her head in disgust.

“What?” I said to her in a light and fun tone, hoping to make her smile.

“You embarrassed me, daddy.” Repeat that sentence two more times.

Scene: Angry daughter, all conversation at the table halted.

Disappointed my usual charm didn’t work, I let it go and focused on my Tom Kha soup. I decided to discuss it at home and not get into a fight that would have led to the burning down of one of my favorite Thai food restaurants, then going to jail for it, with my daughter telling me, as they took me away in handcuffs, I shouldn’t have worn those pants,.

“But I didn’t even get to taste the pumpkin curry with chicken,” I would have said, adding to my wife, “Honey, get it to go. I’ll be out in five years. Wait for me.”

Well that didn’t happen. Fortunately.

But we did talk about it later, which was like me talking to a dolphin about not worrying about what other dolphins think of her daddy dolphin.

“What?” the daughter dolphin said. “No comprende human language.”

Then my daughter gave my wife some attitude and that was all she wrote. My wife delivered the hurt and guilt. Tears, crying, and an apology for moi. Nice job, Hon. Hey, that worked out. Boy, this parenting stuff is a boatload of fun. A boatload.

All I can think these days, and that night, as I tried to go to sleep and the bed rose and fell, “God, don’t let me mess her up for life.”

It was so easy when my daughter was 4 or 5 or 7. Now she’s a genius whirlwind of love and emotions, and dynamite.

Look at her the wrong way, wear the wrong pants, discount how she’s feeling about a situation (Mommy understands, you don’t), and “bang,” here’s a boat oar to the head.

But still, even with a cracked skull, it’s impossible not to love this little dophin girl more than life itself.

********

4) True or False: The loser known as Unknown is always one step away from a major disaster of some sort or another. 
A. True
B. True

Speaking to my daughter’s future self

I hope there is a God so one day I can thank her for my daughter.

Kicking back at the beach with a yellow Labrador pillow.

How I got so lucky, I will never know. But I did. And it’s best not to question why.

I’ll also thank the Universe for my wife, too, because I won the marriage lotto. And, as a jackpot bonus, she contributed all the best genes and qualities to my daughter, especially the love, goodness, and kindness – because our 5th grader didn’t get any of those from me.

I’m the guy with the low opinion of humanity who thinks the world is going to collapse under the weight of billions of people with resources to support millions. No matter how much ketchup you use, you can’t eat an iPhone or iPad, or fish from a poisoned ocean.

But there in the middle of the madness is my daughter, bright, shiny, ready to join the ride I’ll be getting off of soon. And it’s everything we can do to keep her from harm, especially the self-inflicted kind. It’s almost as if the important talks we have with her now anticipate that she will become someone else, someone different from her 10-year-old self.  We speak to her future self, which feels a bit sci-fi like, and hope what we tell her sticks, and she remembers it when needed years from now.

We have conversations about alcohol and drugs: One day a friend will offer you drugs, someone you never expected (disbelief from daughter). What will you do?  If your friend drinks too much at a party and wants to drive you home, will you remember to call us? We’ll pick you up. No judgment. 

When she is a teenager, will she still love us? That’s a question my wife and I ask ourselves a lot. I’m not as concerned. I’m just not. I can only do so much.

But now that my daughter is almost 11, I’m feeling sentimental and a little bit . . . scared?

I read too many news stories about harm coming to women. I used to worry about our cabinet doors being secure and the bumper around the coffee table being in place, or wearing her helmet while biking. The stuff I worry about now feels more real, harder to see, like it’s waiting outside, lurking – a jungle filled with scummy people, losers, and criminals. We can prepare her, coach her, but in that moment when she in on her own one day, what can we do?

Our neighbor’s adult daughter has a drug problem and history with the police. We use her as the poster child of what not to do with your life. But I still wonder what happened to her. What signs did the parents miss? What mistakes did they make? How did she go from bright, bubbly toddler to living in her car and homeless? How did that happen? And what can we do to make sure it doesn’t happen to our daughter?

So, what does the future hold for our daughter? Will we prepare her properly to succeed in the world? I’m in no hurry to find out.

Protecting my family is one of my greatest challenges

My wife and had a little tiff at dinner tonight.

The source of our discussion and tension happened while I was at the reclaimed lumberyard this afternoon (and getting my hair cut, but the lumberyard part of my errands sounds more manly). While I was gone, several losers came to the door. I’ve talked to my wife about what to do, or not do, when someone we don’t know comes to the door – don’t open the door. This is L.A., not Mayberry.

If you come to my door to sell me something, scam me, or harm my family, this is what you have to look forward to. (A handsome model with a shotgun – scary.) © auremar – Fotolia.com

So, here is a shortened version of the conversation:

Wonderful wife: We never have people come to the door anymore but we had a few today. 

Evil me: Really, who?

Wonderful wife: Two kids. I opened the door . . .

Evil me: You opened the door?

Wonderful wife: Yeah, I thought it might be UPS with my sunglasses?

Evil me: Why didn’t you look in the monitor first to see?

Wonderful wife: I don’t know. I didn’t think of it.

Evil me: Why did you open the door?

Wonderful wife: I don’t know. The dogs were there.

Charming 10-year-old daughter who always takes her mother’s side: Yeah, Daddy, the dogs were there. She only opened the door a crack.

Wonderful wife: I made a mistake. Sorry, I’m not perfect. I don’t want to talk about it anymore.

Evil me: Why did you open the door? You could have talked to them through the glass.

Wonderful wife: I don’t want to talk about it.

Evil me: Why did you open the door?

Now if my wife were writing this, she would have added, “in an angry tone,” next to all of my lines. And she’d be correct about that. I was pissed because I tell both my wife and daughter never to open the door when I’m not home. I don’t even open the door anymore. I talk to the assholes who invade our privacy through the glass or window. The police told us most of the time it’s either a scam or someone casing the house. There is no reason to open the door for anyone you don’t recognize. It’s why I’ve considered gating in the house.

Most of the people who come to the door are creepy, with crazy-ass stories they’ve perfected while smoking meth day after day in the back of the Scooby van. Their stories require instant decoding to understand and sort the bullshit from the truth.

They’re the “door-to-door” equivalent of spam emails asking for money.

(Hello, good Sir, I’m Herbert Harold Henningsworth the fourth, and I’m here at your door today to give you share of 1 million dollars in Spanish bullion discovered off the coast of Florida. But I had the bad fortune to park my van, which holds the gold, illegally, and your local constables towed it away. I need $500 and a share shall be yours when I retrieve my transportation from the impound lot. Cash is preferred, please.)

My favorite scam is when teenagers arrive at my door and say, “I live over on [insert street name of your choice]. I’m Ron and Mary Wilson’s son. Ronny Jr., Hi, and I’m working to earn enough points to go to China to help orphan children learn to read and assemble iPads. I’m hoping you can help me, a good local kid, save the world. Cash is fine.”

Oh, the Wilson’s son, because I know everyone in a 10-mile radius around my neighborhood. Yeah, Ron and Mary. What the heck?

These little scum artists try to knock you off guard because your brain is trying to make out if this is a real neighborhood kid, which means you don’t want to tell him to F off, lest his real parents show up later with baseball bats and pitchforks and a little payback for Ronny’s Jr.’s humiliation and trauma, all caused by you.

I know I’m overly protective. But there are only two people I value above all else in this life, and protecting the two of them isn’t always easy, especially when they are nice and loving and caring females. I, being the complete opposite in sex and temperament, try to keep the lions and hyenas away from them.

But some days, it ain’t easy. Nope, it sure isn’t. But every day I try to figure out new ways to do it better.

The parenting gods deliver another lesson to moi

I should know better.

My wife and I like to have a “clown night” once a month. It makes us laugh and keeps the relationship fresh. (This photo may or may not make more sense later in the post.) © pirotehnik – Fotolia.com 

Fresh off the letter I wrote to my daughter the other day, and thinking about the person she became this year, I decided to surprise her with American Idol tour tickets. We hadn’t planned to go this year, but then I thought, what the heck, she deserves it (and how many concerts can you take a 10-year-old to these days?). So, I bought tickets. Three bills, including parking and ticket insurance.

When my daughter came home from school, I let her know we had a surprise for her and would reveal it during dinner. She asked for two guesses. Clothing? No. My little pony? No.

Off she went to guitar and singing lessons where she told both instructors about the coming surprise of surprises. I don’t think I made it out to be that big. But once again I underestimated the mind of a 10-year-old and the things she can dream up in a section of her brain called, “Cave of Super Cool Surprises.” Evidently it’s quite a spectacular place. No adults allowed.

“All she talked about in the car was the surprise,” my wife said.

Still optimistic, delusional, and blind, I sat down at dinner and started telling my only daughter how we thought she really grew this year. My wife added some nice words and we both realized none of it was sinking in. We were the adults in the Charlie Brown holiday special, “wa wa wa, wa, wa wa,” speaking unintelligible words to a child.

I handed her the piece of paper with the concert information on it.

Then the parenting gods sent in The Clown. And he delivered a large pie to my face. Smash. Cream filling up my nose. “You should have seen that coming,” the Gods said.

My favorite pie to be hit in the face with. © xmasbaby – Fotolia.com

Disappointment on my daughter’s face. I never learn.

She was polite, but we could tell she had something else in mind.

“What were you hoping for?” we asked.

After 30 seconds of not wanting to say it: “an iPhone.”

Send in another clown. Smack, brick to the face. Is that my blood dripping in my pasta?

An iPhone? Hello, left field, are you kidding me with that one?

Oh, yeah, she’s 10. It came from the “surprise” cave in her mind.

And then we had the painful “gee, we sound like parents” conversation about how she didn’t need an iPhone.

“Who would you call?” Silence. “You can use your mother’s iPhone.” Silence. Clearly, she’s a government agent and needs her privacy. Can the government not afford the cost of iPhones for their agents?

I ate my dinner and we talked about the upcoming concert. Once again, I felt like a chump. And my wife salted the wound by reminding me of the bike at Christmas (see post in Dec 2011) and the pain of that unwanted gift.

Lesson learned: Never surprise a child with anything other than the exact gift they want. (In other words, don’t surprise them.) Otherwise, the parenting gods will serve up a harsh lesson delivered by an imaginary clown.

But it will feel like the real thing.

Letter to my daughter – 05/09/12

Dearest Munchkin,

I’m not sure why I chose this image. Well, I do know, I think. But I’m not telling. © INFINITY – Fotolia.com

10 years have blown by, a heavy gust of wind, and when I rubbed the sand from my eyes there you were tall, funny, and with feet almost as big as your mother’s.

In a few years the two of you are going to see eye to eye, literally, which may be the only time the two of you do during your teen years. But in case I’m not around, remember what I’ve told you since you were a baby: No one will ever love you more than your mother does. So, treat her love with respect – as if it’s the most precious, fragile object in the world and it’s your job to carry it from point A to point B without dropping it. Godspeed.

I’m writing to your future self tonight to tell you how proud I am of the way you handled this entire soccer season. If you remember, the previous season ended with a hard talk about your effort and not being a top player, which didn’t match up with your self-assessment. But you found some inner fortitude and proved you had it in you. I hope you never forget what you did and who you became. And I don’t mean the goals or assists or defense or transforming into a better soccer player. It was about more than that.

I’m talking about the effort you put into it and the results you earned and the person you became. Yes, that is what had me in awe the whole season. And I’m hoping it’s a lesson you’ll take away and remember forever, or by reading this letter you’ll be reminded of the spring you grew in more than height.

You learned one of the most important lessons in life: great effort equals great reward. And that’s what I want you to remember in this world of instant fame and riches for being an idiot. Most of the time, barring a lotto win or role on an MTV series, it still comes down to elbow grease, passion, and not giving up against great odds.

You displayed a great deal of character this year. It’s been a pleasure watching you evolve into a more complex person, which probably doesn’t describe it well, but that is what you are now. You’re more interesting to watch and listen to not because you’re a kid doing kid things that parents find interesting, but because you’re becoming unpredictable and surprising, with depth. And that feels like a huge compliment in my book of life.

She shoots, she scores. GOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLL.

The next 10 years may be rough sailing at times. But after seeing you explode into a solar storm of character and confidence this year, I’m certain that no matter how hard things get at times, you will have the inner strength, humor, and craftiness (like a fox), to make it through the darkest moments of doubt and come out stronger and wiser.

Have faith, my daughter. Have faith. But it also doesn’t hurt to have a good plan and an understanding that you’re going to get everything out of life that you put into it.

So remember, no slack for the timid. Or goals.

Love always,

Daddy

My daughter at age 10

She’s funny and makes us laugh. Not in the way she did for the first nine years. This is different. She is more aware of her ability to make us laugh, and she goes for the funny remark or action with a purpose. And if she scores laughs, she’s prone to repeat the joke over and over until we tell that was one too many times and it’s not funny anymore. But she likes pushing to see how many times she can make us laugh and where that line of funny and unfunny is.

She’s a good student and hardworking and bright. And though it feels like she only listens to 10% of what I say, which may not be a bad idea at all and why she’s so smart, she did listen to the part about hard work resulting in good things, like good grades. And she does her homework now without prompting and is proud of her success.

She’s a moody at times. One day it’s, “I love you, Daddy.” The next, she comes home from school and doesn’t say a word to me. I’m wondering if this is a female thing? I don’t understand it.

She still likes My Little Pony and watches the cartoon on Saturday mornings. But she doesn’t want anyone to know. Oops, I just let that pony out of the bag. Yes, she’s caught in the fragile strip of time between childhood and being a tweener, or whatever it’s called.

She’s competitive. My wife blames me for this. Okay, guilty. My genes, no doubt. We recently played a 3-day game of Monopoly. First, she and I bankrupted my wife. Yes, we’re awesome. However, my daughter was more compassionate than I about this (her mother’s genes). Then, after my wife was knocked out, I thought about letting my daughter win, but then she was so . . . I don’t know . . . boisterous, overconfident, that something kicked in with me and I couldn’t do it. And I won, of course. She was pretty upset about it. Oh, well, she has her entire life ahead of her to get over it. (Get over it, honey, it was a long time ago.)

She is confident, but hasn’t always been. It’s a fragile confidence we don’t want to break, especially since we feel we’ve played a role in getting her to this point. But it’s not a confidence built on a foundation of “everything you do is great, dear.” We’ve tried to be balanced in our praise and use it when its earned. But something clicked this year with her and she’s a new “her.” Example: she wanted one of the lead roles in her class play and got it. We were amazed she wanted it. She’s also taking singing lessons and we have to ask her not to sing over the American Idol and Voice performances so we can hear the actual performers.

She plays soccer and runs track.

She is imperfect like the two of us, her parents, but maybe not as much. And that fills me with hope that she will grow up and be happy, something I haven’t mastered.

But I’m working on it, always.