Island Packet — Generally speaking, we don’t order or display school pictures very often, for one simple reason: I have seen mine.
My mom has hanging in her house the complete and unabridged collection of Godawful Jeff School Photos, everything from a mint 1980 Floppy-Haired Kindergartener to a 1986 Inconceivable Geek With Monstrous Plastic Brown Glasses to the 1991 Moody Teen Who Is Scowling Because His Parents Made Him Get Braces in the 11th Grade. The pictures are arranged in chronological order in an oval, ostensibly to simulate a clock and the passage of time. It’s a treasured and invaluable part of my mom’s home decor, and I want to smash it with a hammer and light it on fire, then smash the smashed pieces with a hammer and feed them to a moose, or any kind of animal that eats hopelessly nerdlinger school photos, I’ll have to look it up.
I bring this up because we got our school pictures from my younger son’s day care last week. Read more.
Stop looking at me like that, Paltrow
Island Packet — I casually mentioned to a friend last week that I’d made my son waffles and bacon for breakfast that morning. I also casually mentioned that I’d done it a few days before, and a few days before that, and probably a few times the previous week as well. My older son does not have an adventuresome palate, so when his dad finds something the boy will eat that doesn’t originate from exhaust-belching factory machinery with the words “VAT OF NUGGETS” on it, he sticks relentlessly with what works. So, sure, I said, waffles and bacon. Get some OJ, throw some fruit out there, breakfast of champions. Let’s get this kid to third grade.
But my news seemed to come as a solid surprise, like, wait, you make him waffles and bacon? Every day? Sure, I replied, feeling really pretty jaunty about myself and my breakfast-related fathering, given all this sudden affirmation and everything.
Well, obviously, this was a bit of a communication breakdown. It took me a few minutes to realize she was talking about actual waffles and actual bacon, while I was talking about something different — namely waffles that can be waffled in a toaster and come from Sam’s Club in a box of 35,000, and precooked bacon that can be re-cooked in a microwave and come from Sam’s Club in a box of 47,000.
Well sure, this clears it right up.
GateHouse — Like most humans of both the small and grownup variety, my older son tends to save his more pressing philosophical, scientific and spiritual questions for the end of bedtime, after the books have been read and the teeth have been brushed and the lights have been turned out, when there’s nothing left to do but think and stare at the ceiling — or, in his case, the structurally insecure-looking underside of the top bunk bed. (It’s fine, it’s fine, it just has a few alarming-looking cracks and some duct tape and it makes this creaking noise when you touch or make eye contact with it.)
Well, that’s not quite all: There’s also the matter of turning on the fan next to his bed, then turning off the oscillating function so it points 35 mph winds straight at his face, then moving the fan closer because he can’t “feel the breeze,” then moving the fan farther away because having a high-speed fan blade whizzing away two feet from your son’s face is generally frowned upon by the medical community, especially when said son sleeps like he receives a small-voltage electric shock every 20 seconds that causes him to fling his arms like he’s trying to hail a Manhattan taxi. Oh THEN there’s the locating of three stuffed cats, one stuffed dog and one very old blue blanket that’s less “blue blanket” and more “a kind of trapezoidal-shaped assemblage of yarn.” There’s also the assurance that yes, I’ll go turn on the air conditioner right now, yes, I heard you. There’s also the assurance that whatever he wants to tell me about Minecraft can most certainly wait until morning. (Or never, because as much as I love my son, his stories about whatever Minecraft is are boring enough to make me want to start re-knitting the blue blanket.)
But once that’s all done, once we’ve completed the 105-minute pre-bedtime routine, that’s when the questions begin. And that’s when, last week, the talk turned to space.
Island Packet — First, the good news: The 9-year-old loves books. Always with the books. He’s a big reader — at bedtime, in the backseat and at the breakfast table, which is why many of his favorites are frequently drenched in syrup. There are certainly worse things to be into, such as firecrackers or the Disney Channel or almost literally anything else, so I understand that complaining that your kid reads too much is a little like whining how you can’t get him to put the carrots down long enough to shovel a Baconator in there.
But the problem isn’t that he’s reading too much, it’s that his current favorites — a series of adventures starring a mouse in some sort of mystical dragonworld — are, to borrow a phrase from the world of literary criticism, rhinoceros poop.
These are such terrible books. They have terrible titles and terrible art, and they use terrible words. They have no discernible storyline, characters arrive and vanish for no reason (one turtle just up and leaves, which is odd, as turtles aren’t known for their speedy departures) and each chapter is about two pages long. Read more.
Yeah, yeah, I’m working on it.
GateHouse — So it’s totally normal for kids to almost fall off of piers into oceans during trips to the water with their dads, right? That’s a thing that happens pretty regularly? Right? All the time? I’ll take your collective silence as a big yes.
Being a brisk and glorious Sunday morning, and because it had been a gray and pallid Saturday and we were all tired of being in the house with each other, I took my youngest — an 18-month-old mucus production system — out to a local pier for some good old-fashioned rock throwin’. I contend there is no greater activity for children than rock-throwin’, in any capacity. Rock thrown’ into the water, rock thrown’ into the pond, rock throwin’ at a wall. Every Christmas, every single Christmas, we go through this profoundly insane charade of making a gift list, receiving presents from the gift list, opening said presents, writing thank-you notes for said presents and spending a few hours playing with presents that are all like 750% less fun than an average pile of rocks. Geology has given us the perfect toy, and here we are screwing around with Legos and action figures and whatever Monster High is.
So with a day to ourselves we headed to watch people casting nets into the Intracoastal Waterway. We’ve done this a number of times. Once my older son and I came across two fishermen, two youngish guys of probably 20 or so who had not spent a great deal of their day in the field of personal care and at least one of which was, unless he was suffering from a glaucomal condition not readily apparent, probably illegal.
This thrilling-looking excitementfest is what it’s keeping my son up late at night.
Island Packet — For going on nine years, the video game situation in our house has been happily deplorable.
By “deplorable,” I mean we don’t have video games. We are sans Wii. There is no Xbox here, no PlayStation. One time a friend brought over some device that you control by hopping around your living room like a hysterical lunatic, which wasn’t something I could see doing regularly. Somewhere in the attic there’s an ancient blow-on-the-cartridge-era Nintendo, which essentially represents the precise moment my video game evolution came to an end. And that’s it for video games. Somewhere, we are being pitied by the Amish.
Yet it’s hard for me to stand atop Hippie Mountain and say, “The scourge of video games shall not touch this castle!,” because in place of the Xbox, we’ve become obsessed with something called Minecraft. And apparently if you are the parent of a boy between the ages of 3 and 18, there’s a solid chance you just went, “Oh my God yeah, Minecraft!” — especially if you’re the kind of person who talks to your computer a lot. Read more.
ILLEGAL IN GREAT BRITAIN
GateHouse — It’s generally regarded as a fact of childhood that most kids will have a best friend. They will also have invisible friends. And imaginary friends, some talking animals, a superhero alter ego and at least one fictitious sidekick (mine was Han Solo, obviously, because I was awesome). They will also have several other best friends, several other non-best friends, some regular friends, passing acquaintances, people they sit next to because their last names start with the same letter, bus kids, basic deskmates, nondescript lockerneighbors and at least one arch-nemesis. I had all of these, especially the latter: His name was Chuck, he thought he was smarter than me and we faced off regularly in things like spelling bees, all of which I won because when it came to the primal ferocity of the fourth-grade spelling bee, I was not to be jacked around with.
But as I understood it, that’s what school was for, learning about “The Tempest” and the quadratic equation and covalent bonding and other things that you literally cannot go a day without referencing, but also stumbling around and attempting to carve out some social structure that you will go on to one day to apply to your adult life, assuming you don’t grow up to be someone who regularly comments on websites.
Yet this is apparently not what school is for in Britain, because as everyone knows school in Britain is about one thing only: defeating Lord Voldemort. Indeed — or I guess “prithee” or “to wit” or “I say dear boy” or however British people write transitions, I feel like it should include the word “fortnight”— in a story that almost certainly contains layers of subtlety and is born from psychological research but has been boiled down to “KIDS NOT ALLOWED TO MAKE BEST FRIENDS” in America, where most news is delivered in four-word increments adjacent to articles about actors who resemble cats, schools in parts of England have banned kids from having best friends. (The kids are instead encouraged to interact in larger groups.)
The gentlemen on the left once got fired for choking a dude, and now he sells mall food.
GateHouse — As is customary, I’ve been watching a lot of the NCAA tournament with my sons: the 18-month-old, who for the second consecutive year failed to turn in a bracket I could read, and the 9-year-old, who is making observations nearly as astute as those offered by professional sports commentator people. (So, to recap, you need to come back *after* halftime and play another 20 minutes? Will you need to shoot baskets during this time?) Several of them follow:
• I graduated from Indiana, so naturally they’re the house favorite. But the 9-year-old seems to consider a 1 seed as an incontrovertible golden ticket to guaranteed dominance, not only this in tournament but basically those in the next four to 30 years. And no evidence can convince him to the contrary, because 9-year-old minds are not equipped to process logic; happily, they make up for this shortfall by also being 100% unchangeable. I once had an argument with this kid about which pronunciation of the word “tear” I was supposed to be reading. I cannot tell you how right I was in this argument, nor can I convey how badly I lost it. I guarantee you he’s still upstairs shaking his head sadly and calling me a nincompoop.
• “No, see, Indiana is in the East even though they’re in the midwest, and Kansas is in the South even though they’re in the Great Plains, and there’s no North because the north sucks at basketball, and you’re right this doesn’t make any sense. This is why I haven’t explained the BCS to you yet.”