Hey, remember this?

Let’s see how old my readers are:

This isn’t exactly a deep revelation or anything, but for some reason this commercial popped into my head this morning as I was getting ready for work.  I strongly suspect if you’re within five years or so of my age you have this jingle memorized still, but have you ever really thought about just how impossible it would be to market My Buddy in today’s kids’ toys market?  Things weren’t as rigidly gendered in the 1980s as they are now– that is a straight up doll being marketed directly to boys, doing boy things like riding Big Wheels and hiding in a clubhouse and climbing trees.  They’re not even trying to muddy the waters with the label “action figure.”  My Buddy was a doll, and never wanted to be anything else.

There are not many ways in which I think American culture has backslid since the 80s, but the rigid adherence to gender essentialism in absolutely fucking everything related to kids is definitely one of them.  I had a parent come in this morning looking for white bedroom furniture for her son, and it threw me for enough of a loop that I almost needed to have her repeat it to make sure I was hearing her right.  Because no one buys white bedroom furniture for boys.  We have a couple of sets that are gender neutral and you should see how incredibly confused people get when they can’t immediately figure out what genitalia the children in the room with the furniture are supposed to be.  It would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

Both directions, uphill

logoThey say– well, I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone say this specifically, but I assume someone has– that you never really understand your parents until you’re a parent yourself.  And I feel like there’s a lot of truth to that, right?  I feel like I understand my mom and dad a lot more now that I’ve got a son of my own, and there are things I have in common with my parents now that only became things in common once I became a dad.  I got raised right, as near as I can tell, or at least as right as my parents were capable, and for the most part I’m trying to raise my son the same way my mom and dad raised me.

Mostly, anyway.

Anyone who is around my age will remember the vaguely patronizing way most if not all of our parents treated video games.  When I was growing up I couldn’t name a single parent of one of my friends who was into games.  I remember my mom playing Pitfall! and Pac-Man on our Atari and that’s it.  My dad, to the absolute best of my recollection, never touched a game controller once.  Nobody’s dad played video games.  Absolutely nobody’s.  And games were treated as something that was For Kids and always would be For Kids; it was assumed we were all going to grow out of gaming eventually and put down the controllers forever sooner or later.  The idea that anyone could ever make a career out of video games was openly laughed at.

That idea may be the single most incorrect thing our parents thought about my generation, right?  Some of us stopped playing eventually, but the idea that I’m 41 and still playing video games isn’t even a little bit odd, and there are tons of careers connected to games.  You can even make good money literally just playing games with the right Twitch stream or YouTube channel.

So I used part of our tax refund to buy a Nintendo Switch.  I came home with the new Zelda game (which turned out to be terrible) and the new Mario game, which … didn’t.  And for the first time, my son is not only allowed to play a video game system that we have (I haven’t let him touch the PS4, for obvious reasons) but he also wants to.  He’s literally playing right now, next to me, while I’m writing this.

And any minute now, he’s going to hit a patch that he has trouble with, and do you know what he’s going to do?  He’s going to hand me the controller and ask me to beat it for him.

And I will ask him if he tried, and I won’t do it unless I feel like he tried hard enough before asking me to jump in for him.

I cannot even imagine what my dad might have done if I’d tried to have him help me beat a stage or a boss in a game.  The entire idea is completely ludicrous.  And for my son, the idea that Daddy is better at video games than he is is perfectly normal, and eventually he’s going to beat me at some fighting game and it’ll be like the first time I beat my dad at basketball.

(I’ve never beaten my dad at basketball.  I don’t play basketball.  Neither does my dad.  We’ve never once played basketball together.  This is not a criticism of my upbringing.  Substitute “beat him at euchre” if you want something more directly salient to my family if you’d like.)

(My uncle David taught me to play chess.  I don’t think I’ve ever beaten him.)

And sooner or later this kid is gonna get mad at me for not wanting to beat something for him, and he’s gonna hear about how when was a kid, we had these things called lives in video games, and passwords, and nobody to help us because not only could nobody older than us play the games, but there wasn’t any Internet to look up clues, unless you had your parents’ permission to call the Nintendo hint line, which cost money, so sometimes you just had to stop playing something basically forever because you couldn’t figure out what to do next.)

Yeah.  Uphill, in the snow, both ways, that’s how I played Nintendo as a kid.

In which I contain multitudes

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I have always been very ambivalent about Santa Claus.  Hell, as a non-Christian I’m ambivalent enough about Christmas, so the idea that I’m compounding celebrating a holiday that’s supposed to be about the birth of a divine being who I don’t believe in with lying to my kid about a white dude who drops presents down the chimney just hasn’t ever sat well with me.  I don’t like lying to my son– and yes, I think telling your kids about Santa is lying to them, unless you also want to explain why Santa seems to like wealthy white kids more than everybody else.  But I’m not so opposed to the idea of Santa Claus that I’m stomping on it, so to speak.  The position my wife and I have evolved over the years is that we simply don’t talk about Santa.  My mom can tell the boy whatever she likes; he can absorb whatever messages about Santa he wants from the wider culture.  Hell, I’ll even read A Visit from St. Nicholas to him on Christmas Eve if he wants, like my parents used to do with me.  I let him read Captain Underpants and don’t make a big stink about him not being real; why should Santa be any different?  My policy has simply been to neither confirm nor deny, and I don’t write “from Santa” on presents that we bought him– the “from” tag on all his presents is just left blank.  He hasn’t seemed to notice that Santa seems to think he lives at his Grandma’s house.  And we’ve never done the “go to the mall and sit on Santa’s lap” thing either.  Which, honestly, as I’m typing this, I gotta admit I regret just a little bit.

So last week he told my wife that one of the kids in his class was telling everyone that Santa wasn’t real.  My wife, caught by surprise, fell back on our usual “What do you think?” shtick and eventually he dropped it, or so we thought.  This morning, as we were getting in the car to go to school, he ambushed me with the same question, and seemed frustrated that I reacted the same way.  He is 6, and in kindergarten, just so you can properly contextualize this if you’d like.

And then he said something that really caught me by surprise, which was that he thought that this other kid was “ruining Christmas” and “taking all the fun out of everything” by telling the other kids that Santa wasn’t real.  I pushed back on this as gently as I could– if Santa wasn’t real, does that mean that the tree and the lights and the presents and the cookies and the family stuff weren’t fun anymore?  Surely the fat white guy isn’t the most important part, right?  He didn’t answer, but I could see him thinking about it.

And then my reaction surprised me, because I found myself more than a little bit pissed at this kid, and by extension this kid’s parents.  I think the family in question is at least nominally Muslim, as I’m pretty sure they’re ethnically Pakistani, but at any rate they’re from that area (the boy may or may not have been born here; I’m certain the parents weren’t) and while in general they’ve struck me as more or less secular people they’re definitely from an area where Christianity isn’t the majority religion.  So, okay, your kid got raised with no Santa.  You told him the truth.  Cool.  But maybe you go ahead and make sure your kid knows that showing everyone else the light isn’t so much the way to go?  My son is friends with this kid, and he’s visibly upset with him for, again, “ruining Christmas.”  And if my son decides that the boy is right about that, then I’m going to have a talk with him about not screwing the shit up for the other kids.

And I gotta admit, I’m thisclose to dropping an email to either my kid’s teacher or this other family (our school makes sure everyone has everyone else’s emails) and in the most polite way I can manage to phrase it suggesting that they tell this other kid to knock it off.

That’s probably in utter contradiction to everything in the first couple of paragraphs.  Do I care?  I dunno.  I care enough that I wrote this to try and hash it out in my head, and I probably need to be talked out of contacting any of the other adults involved– which, again, I promise I’d do politely.

“Eventually ruining Christmas for him was my job, dammit” is not the most persuasive line of argument, after all.

Blech.  Parenting is stupid.

On my lawn, and your need to get off it

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Last week– seven to ten days ago, if I’m being precise– a sweet elderly lady and what I can only assume was her grandson came into the store.  Grandma spent some time looking around and purchased a single barstool from me.  She was unusually happy about it, proclaiming it “perfect” for her needs.  Her grandson, who was perhaps seventeen, did not say a single word during the entire time I was observing the two of them.  In fact, he did not look up from his gaming device– a Game Boy Advance SP, I’m pretty sure, despite that system’s advanced age– a single time.  He, in fact, shuffled a few feet behind her the entire time she was in the store, neither speaking, looking around, or interacting with anything.  It was as if she had some sort of robot following her and not a human being.  She never spoke to him either.  He wouldn’t have heard her, I assume, as he also had big, beefy headphones on, which were attached to the system.

She came back yesterday to pick up her barstool, and this time had both her grandson and (again, I’m assuming) her daughter with her.  Her grandson this time stared at his phone the entire time he was in the store, interacting with neither his mom nor his grandmother, and again he had his headphones on.

I went back and got her barstool out of the warehouse and brought it to the front of the store.  “Want me to carry that out for you?” I asked, assuming that she would say no and that the grandson– or, at the very least, the daughter– would carry the stool rather than the elderly lady.  She said she didn’t need me to and I had her sign her paperwork and then watched in no small amount of shock as the old lady picked up the barstool and left the store, her worthless progeny trailing along behind her.  One of my warehouse guys was standing next to me at the time.

“I asked her if she wanted to carry it,” I said.  “You heard me say that, right?  I didn’t imagine it?”

“Yeah,” he said.  “I kinda wanna smack that kid.”

“Maybe he’s autistic,” I said, and then wondered what the hell is going on that this kid being severely autistic– because I know plenty of kids with autism for whom “carry shit for your grandma” is still an ingrained behavior, so it’s got to be way down on the spectrum– is the best of the available outcomes.

A few minutes later, I had reason to get something from my car.  And then helped the old lady put the barstool into the trunk of her car, as her daughter and grandson sat in the vehicle and waited for her to be done.


I don’t really have strong feelings about screen time, but I feel like I should have strong feelings about screen time, if that makes any sense.  After dinner tonight I asked my wife if she had any recollection of what she might have been doing just after dinner when she was six.  Her father would likely be watching TV, she decided, and she’d either be watching with him or playing, and her mom would be watching the dishes.  So let’s call that one and a half people staring at a device.  When I asked the question, she and I were still sitting at the dining table fiddling with our phones, and the boy was in the living room watching some godawful YouTube video where someone opens packages of something.  If I hadn’t been staring at my phone, I’d likely have either had a book in my hand or the laptop I’m typing on right now in front of me.  Or, since I’ve decided that the ridiculously named Horizon Zero Dawn isn’t violent enough to hide it from my son, maybe playing that.

We have all sorts of evenings where each of us is staring at his or her own device– well, the one the boy uses is mine, but you get the idea– or where we’re all watching the TV.  That’s not what bugs me.  What bugs me is that I really can’t think of what the hell else we might be doing.

Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews: POKEMON

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You may have heard of this show.

My son has, in the last few months, become entirely obsessed with… whatever the fuck these things are.  They come in types, apparently, Water and Fighting and Nonsense and Flatulent and Clown and probably a few others I’m unaware of.  And they live in little plastic balls, except for the little yellow one, who won’t go in the ball.  And they only come out of the ball when it’s time to fight each other, which they are willing to do at any time and for any reason.

Except, see, they don’t know how to fight.  They have no fucking idea how to fight even though fighting is literally the only thing they’re for, or at least it’s the only thing they’re for once they go in the ball.  The ones out of the balls seem to live perfectly normal wildlifey sort of lives.  So they need people to tell them how to fight.  All of their moves have names and they have “trainers” who tell them, step-by-step, how to fight each other. Picture somebody outside a boxing ring hollering at a boxer to “Use Jab!” and “Duck!” and “Use Roundhouse!” or “Use Spousal Abuse!” and you have the basic idea.

The main character is a homeless orphan named Ash.  His last name is Ketchum, because his job is to catch all of the Pokémon– to catch ’em— and this show is nothing if not fucking subtle.  He only has one set of clothes and his electric rat lives on his shoulder.  He literally wanders around in the woods with his friends and looks for other electro-rats and fire-bears and flatulence-sloths and such and he finds them and he makes them fight his electro-rat or whatever and then if he beats them he gets to stuff them into a ball and keep them.

I think.  It’s hard to pay attention to if you’re grown.

Then there’s these assholes:

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These are… the bad guys, I think?  They seem to really want the electro-rat.  So maybe they want to steal him, or something, or maybe they just want a different electro-rat to go with their weird horn-cat thing they have, I don’t know.  But here’s the thing: there are eleventy fifteen thousand different versions of Pokémon.  There’s Pokemon XY and Pokemon Black and Pokemon Silver and a bunch of movies named after individual Pokébeasts and all sorts of shit.  And I’m pretty sure these three are in every one?

And every time they show up on screen they introduce themselves with the same rhyme.  

I’m pretty sure that this is actually supposed to be happening in the real world.  Not, like, in their heads or some shit like that.

Try and imagine knowing these people, and every time you see them they have to introduce themselves with this stupid fucking rhyme.  Each and every single time.

These may be the most annoying people in the history of television, and we live in a world with Super Why.