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I see it as a public service.
My annual “Don’t be a mooncalf” editorial, directed to parents of school-age children and printed prior to the start of the new school year.
I’m busy preparing one for use this fall.
The essence of the message is simple: As a parent, you see your children as no one else sees them and it is always wise to remember this before making a complete fool of yourself.
When the parent goggles are on, little Jimmy and Suzie are surrounded by a halo of retina-shredding light. When little Billy and Donita do well, a tsunami of accomplishment washes up on the shoreline of Mom and Dad Island and the lapping of the waves creates the illusion that the tykes are perfect. That they actually accomplished something. In these cases, Mom and Dad can slap yet another snazzy bumper sticker on the mini-van, signalling the triumph.
When little Clem or Martina do less than well, things grow dark and threatening. When little Juan or Serena are criticized and, whimpering, carry home a dismal message, fraught with elements of conspiracy and bias — when cruelty and despair color the kidlets’ dialogue, a harsh bugle blows and the parental cavalry musters for a blind charge, usually ala Pickett, Custer or The Light Brigade.
Any parent worth his or her salt is prone to these reactions. They would be a poor excuse for a parent if their protective cocoon was not thrown over their offspring, if their defenses were not jacked up to Defcon 4 when a perceived attack was underway on the wee ones.
There’s a fine line there, however, and sometimes it is difficult to walk.
With a warning in mind, there is no need to jump off the edge.
A kid can be less than perfect. In fact, it is desirable. A kid can finish second or third. A kid can fail. It’s OK … really it is. In fact, at risk of riding a cliche to death, sometimes it is for the best.
In other words, if someone provides counsel, listen, take heed and you don’t have to be an idiot. You don’t have to endure a train wreck if someone tells you it is coming just around the next bend.
But, each year, not always understood.
Following a discussion of this topic, a fellow grew indignant and asked, “Just who do you think you are telling parents these things?”
“Well, that’s easy,” I replied. “I’m a pro.”
When it comes to being an utter ass or making a complete fool of oneself in the role of parent, I’m an expert.
I’ve been to the mountain.
And I’ve fallen off.
I speak from experience and I see no need for others to blindly stumble off the same cliff I did. We are not lemmings, you know.
Parents, especially those with children in the upper reaches of K-12, encounter numerous opportunities to act in humiliating and stupid ways. And more and more of them succumb as the character-challenged generation raised by the first of the Baby Boomers — themselves the most self-indulgent bunch of pinheads who ever mottled the face of the planet — rear their young ’uns.
A lot of the kids intuitively grasp their parents’ flimsy condition and, having trained mommy and daddy at home to run in fear from confrontation or controversy, they find ample opportunity in the classroom and on the playing field to manipulate the parental units and steer them to Chucklehead Boulevard.
It happened to me. I was a dumbbell and my oldest daughter tricked me.
I also managed to be a total ass with my youngest daughter … all on my own.
My older daughter played me for a sucker when she was a junior in high school. Read on, it’s a textbook case.
It was basketball season, and my sweetie was a dandy, playing at a monster 5A school in Denver. I mistook her success for mine and my head swelled through the first part of the season as I sat in the bleachers, waiting for someone to compliment me for something I did not do, waiting for someone to seek out my totally untutored opinion, giving me the chance to blab incessantly about things I knew nothing about. Nature abhors a vacuum, and there was a big one at dead center of my existence.
At the same time, my daughter had become increasingly moody and recalcitrant on the home front and, frankly, I was tired of butting heads with her.
I did everything I could to avoid criticizing her, making demands based on fair expectations, imposing meaningful discipline. Too much stress for a Boomer. After all, as long as she was a star on the court and my ego was massaged by association, everything was hunky dory.
Until the evil Mrs. Brown intervened and shattered the sparkly sphere that surrounded my tiny universe.
Don’t know why she’s doing this to me.
Out to get me.
Daddy, save me.
I fell for it. It never occurred to me I was being played for a fool by a remarkably Machiavellian kid.
This can’t be, I thought. How can someone pick on a kid, MY kid — lie to her, cheat her out of a grade? How can the administration let someone with such a clear bias pick on my baby?
I was an idiot. Not only that, I was working as a teacher at the time, amplifying the quality of my stupidity.
I stormed to the high school and beat a blustery path to Mrs. Brown’s room.
Nice lady. She had a professional demeanor throughout my diatribe and maintained it as she took her grade book from the drawer, opened it and showed me the line next to my daughter’s name. Most of the boxes were empty. Those that weren’t had alarming numbers in them — 55, 40, 19 — eerily similar to the numbers I saw on my own high school report cards.
Turns out my precious little angel, she who could do no wrong, beautiful apple of my eye, had lied to me. She hadn’t done most of the work assigned to her, and when she had, her performance was crappy.
I had a choice at that juncture: I could blame Mrs. Brown and, if I felt particularly loony, I could blame the principal, maybe take the issue to the superintendent of schools, or the Supreme Court. Or I could wake up, see I was manipulated in a situation of my own making, realize I had done a very poor job of keeping up with what my daughter was doing (or not doing) in the classroom and had mistakenly ignored the classroom in favor of the considerably less valuable world of the playing field and court.
I made the right choice.
I’m not sure I ever felt any lower. I skulked out of Mrs. Brown’s room like a dog that has soiled the heirloom Persian carpet.
Unfortunately, I was not done with my tawdry work.
Voltaire said “Once a philosopher, twice a fool.”
Call me a fool.
I had another shot at being a complete imbecile in a world-class performance involving my youngest daughter.
Turns out she was a pretty fair swimmer. Won a lot of ribbons. No, wait a minute … WE won a lot of ribbons.
For several years, my youngest and I had a ritual we observed when she finished one of her usually successful races. I would wait poolside and she would jump out, rush over and give me a full-body, very wet hug. My head would swell with unearned pride and she would get a dose of fatherly affection. It worked for both of us.
At the end of a season, however, she faced her nemesis in a state championship 100-meter race. Her rival, at 11 years old, was already 6 feet tall and had hands and feet as big as swim fins. The girl went on to a career as an NCAA Division 1 athlete. My kid looked like a flea next to her.
The girl beat my daughter that day. Not by much, but I still went into spasms of agony.
I had lost.
I was beside myself. The top of my head was coming off and I fled the scene to the parking lot, to sulk and stew.
My daughter, fresh off finishing second in the state to a frightening Soviet-style lab experiment hoisted herself out of the pool and looked around for her hug. She was pretty darned happy with herself and she wanted to share.
Dad was not there. He was being a moron. He had mistaken his ambition and goals for his daughter’s. He had falsely identified her experience with his. He had forgotten to simply be proud of her, for her. He was too busy using her as a means to his own pathetic ends.
Finally, I decided I would set the matter straight: I went in search of the coach to ream her out for her failings, but couldn’t locate her. Then, I found my daughter sitting alone in the shade of the team tent.
I attacked like a rabid wolverine. After all, I knew everything: the strategy was wrong, the start faulty, the turn inadequate. Her coach was to blame too, failing to provide my little Olympian with the best possible instruction.
I was prepared to rant the rest of the afternoon. Fortunately, my daughter stopped me.
In a whole lot of ways.
She looked up and said: “You know, dad, if you can get your fat rear end into the pool and beat me, then you can give me all the advice you want.” (Actually, she used a much tangier term than “rear.”)
Ever been hit by an ego-seeking missile? Boy howdy, when they hit you, they blow you up, big time.
From that point on, I got excited about my daughter’s athletic activities, but I held my advice to comments about the latest Consumer Reports tests of sports drinks. If I talked to the coach, it was to ask if there was anything she needed. I took an interest in my daughter’s classroom work and accepted her work for what it was— even when her teacher, including her own mother, rated her less than superior.
I worked hard to recognize the line between enthusiasm and idiocy. I worked just as hard to understand that my own children could and would manipulate me. I realized others would never see my precious babies in the same light as I, and I was thankful for it. If my kids went into this world with my opinion of them as their only guide, they would be eaten alive.
So, when I write an editorial to caution parents about their potential to be simps, I have some serious background; I know what I’m talking about.
When the urge hits to clomp down to a teacher’s room or the principal’s office to hoot and holler about one thing or another, when the urge hits to call the coach and say something stupid, take a deep breath, at least consider the possibility that you are not getting the whole story from little Sid or Wanda, that you are seeing the picture through your parent goggles, then make something good to eat.
Make something special for a special, albeit not always superior, usually average child. Something the kid likes. Don’t drag out the haute cuisine; aim for your kid’s heart as well as his or her stomach.
With both my kids, the recipe was the same. Still is, now they’re grown.
Green chile, my way.
With fresh flour tortillas and full-race frijoles. Maybe some guacamole, if avocado is in season.
Since it’s for the kids, I use pork loin. I trim the meat, cut it into half-inch cubes and season them. I cook the meat in a bit of olive oil, over medium high heat. I don’t brown it; I heat it until it begins to turn opaque.
Into the fat goes some white flour and I cook the resultant roux for a moment or two to get rid of the floury taste. I don’t brown the roux as you would for any of a number of gravies or Cajun dishes.
Into the roux goes chicken broth and five or six cloves of garlic, sliced. Maybe seven.
Next up: green chile. When I was young and full of energy, I would get a sack or two of hot Hatch green each fall, have the peppers roasted then peel them, bag them and freeze them for use throughout the winter.
Now, I purchase a tub of frozen hot, chopped green and add the contents to the mix.
Here’s where I veer from the beaten path and do things to offend the purist.
I toss in a handful of crushed tomato, and I add a tablespoon of high-grade Espanola red.
A bit of salt and pepper to taste, and the concoction simmers for a hour or so, reducing and thickening, the heat from the chile permeating the mix, the flavors melding in a subtle alchemical dance.
This is good stuff. It causes the endorphins to flow, fertilizing a sense of peace and goodwill.
Try this, or something like it, the next time you’re convinced little Dieter’s performance in the high school musical is the equal of any on Broadway or little Claudine, at 5-2, is destined for a career in the WNBA.
Too bad I didn’t have some before I went to see Mrs. Brown.